AllMine Demonstrates Pitfalls of Cryptocurrency

SAN FRANCISCO — AllMine is a game that helps you mine cryptocurrency in the background — a blockchain based currency called Jewelz, specifically. For some online speculators, that’s probably enough to get their mouths watering.

Credit: MyDreamCredit: MyDreamThere’s no denying that AllMine is a cute puzzle game that just might give you an opportunity to earn some money without completely obliterating your processor. But something about the marriage of video games and cryptocurrency feels artificial, and it reinforces cryptocurrency’s primary problem: It’s built on a house of cards.

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I got a firsthand demonstration of AllMine at GDC 2018, courtesy of Andrew Leker and Allison Huynh, COO and CEO, respectively, of MyDream, the company behind the game. The game, which Leker hand-crafted in less than three months, is a whimsical drag-to-match puzzle title in which you match tiles with mystical creatures that crave them: rainbow pancakes for unicorns, gold for dragons and so forth. The rotund little avatars are called “Adoraboos,” and the name fits.

From the moment I first heard the pitch for AllMine, I was ready to dismiss it. If there’s a better representation of the current internet zeitgeist than a casual puzzle game starring sugary-sweet mythical creatures that also mines cryptocurrency, I can’t think of it. If a team of comedy writers thought of such a game to satirize in an episode of BoJack Horseman, I’d nod my head and say, “Yeah, that fits.”

Leker and Huynh, however, are too earnest for that level of cynicism. Both of them walked me through every facet of earning blockchain-based cryptocurrency — many of the details of which still flew over my head, to be honest — and they were both energized by the success of currencies like Bitcoin and Monero and eager to learn from those currencies' mistakes.

“Cryptocurrency is obviously the way of the future,” Huynh told me at one point.

To me, it didn’t sound like a cache of corporate buzzwords; it was a statement made in good faith. And Huynh and Leker both want to make cryptocurrency mining accessible to the average person rather than let the Bitcoin and Monero fat cats rule the digital world.

Briefly, here’s how AllMine works: You run the game in the foreground, feeding gems to the Adoraboos and, getting your puzzle fix. As you play, a program called JewelzMiner runs in the background mining blockchain currency.

Unlike a Bitcoin miner, which can bring systems powered with the latest Nvidia GPUs to their knees, JewelzMiner deliberately takes up few system resources. In a quad-core processor, the mining program took up one-half of a single core, leaving the others free for productivity and gaming. The program more or less leaves a system’s RAM alone. You can even run AllMine on a mobile phone (although Android is better than iOS, Leker pointed out, since Apple gets a little finicky about apps running in the background).

Huynh and Leker were also keen on pointing out that this method of mining is not  dangerous to the environment. Bitcoin mining uses a lot of electricity, which generates a lot of heat. If taken to its logical extreme, Bitcoin mining (and spending) could change Earth’s entire ecosystem through massive carbon dioxide emissions. AllMine uses somewhere between 1/300th and 1/10,000th as much power, depending on the math.

However, even if JewelzMiner becomes the safest and most ethical coin-mining software on the market, it doesn’t answer the fundamental question of how cryptocurrency can be profitable — or even sustainable — in the long run.

Leker explained that coin-mining works by running random numbers through a 256-bit hashing algorithm. Some of these numbers turn out to be useful in figuring out cryptocurrency transactions, which grants currency to the miner whose computer entered said number.

In a system like JewelzMiner, miners will share their profits with the developer, and the developer will be absolutely clear and upfront about this. The developer can then turn some of these resources into in-game currency to share with less lucky players as an incentive to keep them mining.

It’s not an unethical plan, by any means, but it does highlight a painful truth: The point of AllMine is not to play AllMine. The point of AllMine is to have a currency-mining program running in the background.

Multiple times during our meeting, Leker referred to the game as a “friendly face,” and although he meant it in a positive way (the Adoraboos really are as adorable as he claims), it’s not hard to see how another, more cynical company might exploit this model. Leker wants this technology to be available to other small game companies as a method of making profits and sharing some of their earnings with players.

Ultimately, whether AllMine is fun or well-meaning doesn’t address the central issue. A game made for its own sake is a valuable thing. It can provide entertainment, or convey an artistic meaning. Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, has proven to be an excellent method of generating wealth without creating anything of real value. Say what you will about the pitfalls of fiat currency — or the pitfalls of the shiny rocks and gemstones on which fiat currency is based — but at least that currency represents the relative strength of a country’s economy and the potential services said country and its citizens can provide.

AllMine will be out in the third quarter of 2018 on PC, if you want to try it for yourself. It won’t harm your computer and you just might make a few bucks. If you do, my only advice would be to spend them quickly.

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