Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 12.00.14 PMThere's no doubt that the App Store is trending towards free to play, and has been for years now. Just a quick glance at the top grossing will show the first game with a price tag associated with it is Minecraft [$6.99] at #50. As the free to play world gets more and more crowded, developers have been forced to find new ways to squeeze money out of their user base, and this morning we stumbled across what is easily the most ridiculous free to play scheme we've seen yet: Turning your players into a bitcoin mining botnet.

If you're not familiar with bitcoin, I don't really blame you. It's been a bit of an underground internet currency that's big use up until recently has been to buy drugs online and for currency speculators to go hog wild with. As a total unregulated cryptocurrency its value has been incredibly volatile and between startups raising money to make bitcoin mainstream and a guy who forgot he bought bitcoins and now discovered he's rich, bitcoin is at the forefront of the news cycle once again.

Unity plugin developer Icoplay has decided to capitalize on the relative hotness of bitcoin right now by releasing the Icominer plugin. Per an editorial piece over on PocketGamer.biz by Icoplay's Simon Hill, the Icominer plugin is easily dropped into any Unity project. Here's the dream they're selling:

A developer installs the software, and every instance of its game running at any time, anywhere mines Bitcoins using the latent power of the device it's being used on.

The developer then takes its Bitcoins to spend or invest.

Much like the way distributed computing projects like SETI@home or Folding@home work by using the idle processor cycles of your computer to contribute to crunching numbers in a massive swarm, the Icominer mines bitcoins to funnel into the developer's wallet. The main difference here, however, is you're actively opting in to downloading and installing SETI@home or Folding@home, versus having your battery drained to mine bitcoins for someone else on your iPhone.

It's a scenario that borders on so ridiculous it's hard to believe, but, competition in the free to play world is really driving developers to crazy lengths to figure out how to maximize their ARPU. Treating players like a botnet you can abuse also seems to be setting a dangerous precedent, and one that I hope doesn't catch on.

[via PocketGamer.biz]

  • Atomos

    This would work so much better on a console indie than a mobile title. I can't imagine people would be playing a game that will sap battery that fast.

    • MkRwilliams

      SAP DAT ;D

  • hourglass

    So very sketchy... I can't imagine that Apple would allow it.

    • DannyTheElite

      Really hope Apple keeps this out of the store.. They probably won't...
      Who will use this ? EA/Gameloft?
      Surely it's unlikely that top developers will risk this. If people knew about this they wouldn't download their apps...

      • ZarieoZ

        Yeah but the problem is, we already don't download their Apps, or at least that's me with gameloft & EA in 2013 and maybe even before, I'm not supporting their freemium policy!!!

      • Ziekke

        Yea same here. I don't download or buy any games that have an IAP or DLC option which includes any sort of premium currency. There are enough good games out there that I don't need to mess with freemium or P2W garbage.

      • anabolicMike

        I don't see EA caring about bitcoins. Bitcoins is for 37337 h4xx0r5. Guy up above made a good point. Battery life would get eaten up. I played around with this for a bit. It's down right surreal and pretty neat but I foresee massive issues and a monkey. Mark my words.

      • anabolicMike

        By this I mean bitcoins not running it on a phone. Oops I missed the button and liked my own post! I iz cool!

  • TrencH

    Really creepy...this kind of thing left unchecked and grows in popularity could seriously degrade ppls confidence in the mobile ecosystem. I hope Apple is watching as it's not just a watch for the sake of morality but also because it could effect them too with the bottom line. This kind of stuff should never happen unless we are alerted to it.

    Crazy...

    • Atomos

      If it's just a unity plugin, I don't know whats stopping devs from making it on console or PC titles as well. Frankly, it's a terrible move for not just mobile f2p gaming, but gaming in general.

      • ZarieoZ

        I think it's a terrible move for humanity in general.. When people are that cheap that they develop such ways to exploit others. Oh god, and I thought freemium was bad, it kinda looks innocent compared to this!!!

      • nini

        Terrible move for humanity? I know freemium is a bad model but hardly the death knell for humankind.

      • ZarieoZ

        Wasn't referring it as bad to humanity for what is used, I'm talking about why it is used!! Nothing that happens in the gaming industry would affect humanity, games just don't have that power, they are entertainment more or less. So regardless if it being this in the gaming industry, or something else in another industry, what I'm saying is how many people keep thinking of ways to endorse other people in a way to gain from them. I meant things aren't as pure as they used to be, where games were just freaking games.

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        Ya "terrible move for humanity" is a bit of a stretch.

      • anabolicMike

        Hmmm what a good movie.

        FRANK: "mom what's the matter?"
        FRANKS MOM: "omg frank to take another breath I have to have .99 cents! I don't get paid till tomorrow!!!! Oh no!"
        FRANK: "here mom borrow my card the PIN is 549...."
        FRANKS MOM: "yes? YES? Frank?? Nooooo"
        NARRATOR comes on the screen. "Frank used up all his energy, his mom couldn't wait the five minutes until recharge. Franks timer had expired."
        Franks Mom: -Dies-

      • ZarieoZ

        You know there is actually a movie about that were people lose their lives if their timer isn't recharged before it goes off... And no I'm not kidding :-) it was by Justin Timberlake, I can't seem to recall the name of the movie, but I'm pretty sure it had the word "time" in it, maybe it's "In time" but I'm not sure!!!

      • Manu

        it was "in time"

      • ZarieoZ

        Oh and they can actually take time from each other, so if someone care about someone they'll lend them time, but this same time is used to take the taxi, order food.. Pretty much everything. Yup, really messed up!!!!

      • Atomos

        Humanity is a stretch. This more or less falls under a first world problem.

  • dancj

    This could turn out to be really good. The world of freemium games could become dependant on people playing rather than paying. So no paywalls driving people away. Just games that want to be played for free.

    • DannyTheElite

      No. Just no.
      I'd rather play a glu game loaded with IAPs than some ridiculous unity app with hidden intentions. How do we know that developers won't make this so it can steal personal data and modify other things . I wouldn't trust an app with this on any device, so I am no longer going to play unity games. Developers are treating us like dirt... Anyway I can see some drawbacks already. With the amount of currency that would be produced by these apps wouldn't it become worthless due to being oversupplied??

      • dancj

        I can know they won't be stealing data because the app will ask permission to see contacts or photos or whatever and I'll say 'no'.

        The idea that a game mining for bit coins will be any more or less likely than any other game to try to steal my data is just silly.

      • Drummerboycroy

        Liked because it's funny... "Permission." Hilarious. Oh wait, you weren't serious, we're you?

      • dancj

        Okay they could try to sneak something past Apple that's against the App Store rules - though I'm not sure if that's even possible with the sandboxes environment that iPhone games run in.

        The bigger point really was that there's no connection between bitcoin mining and stealing data. That's the kind of sensationalist thinking I expect from the Daily Mail (I think the closest American equivalent is Fox News).

      • TrencH

        We have seen the fun side of sneak ins with emulators and such but now we see the dark side of it. The scary part is not just the bitcoin stuff but the stuff we don't yet know about. I don't lose sleep at night about it but just makes you think twice about new games I guess. Would it ever get so bad that I would have to research a new gamemaker (as opposed to just taking a chance on gameplay as the only downside). Would we have to start generating lists of known people who make games that do stuff like that as a warning to the gaming community? Idk.. I hope it don't get popular enough to make looking for a good game more like work. Mobile gaming ease of finding and purchase, diversity and ease of travel is what it's strengths are.

      • jclardy

        If you are jailbroken, then sure, anything is possible. But in the sandboxed environment of the app store no personal information can be gleaned unless given by the user themselves. So if you are dumb enough to enter your own contact information into a form inside the app to get extra coins then yes, they can get your information. Or click that "connect to Facebook" button. There is nothing stopping developers from transmitting data that the user inputs, but there is no inherent way to grab information from the OS itself.

      • ZarieoZ

        Most people would say they would rather play freemium than this too... Now I'm starting to think that maybe this is just a virtual move, a conspiracy if I may, to push people into loving freemium ;-) after all they'll think that freemium is not the worst case scenario!!!

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        Intentions don't have to be hidden necessarily. The game devs could be up front about this sort of thing and just let people decide. I for one wouldn't want a game eating up extra battery life and processing power but some people don't care.

        As for bitcoins getting devalued by this sort of thing no, that's not possible. The bitcoin system is set up in such a way that it responds to how quickly the last bitcoin was created. So the next cryptography puzzle to create the next bitcoin gets a little hard/easier based on how quickly the last one was cracked. Because of this they actually know the precise time and date the very last bitcoin will get created. And besides, VERY few bitcoins would ever get created this way anyways. Even a sea of mobile devices can't compete against the countless super computers specifically designed for and dedicated to the purpose of bitcoin mining.

    • Atomos

      While you do bring up a good counterpoint, I wouldn't expect this to be used "instead" of IAP/microtransactions, but in conjunction with.

      • dancj

        You may well be right - but if they try to use IAPs at the same time as this the a lot of people (me included) will stop playing the game - and that could actually wind up costing them money.

      • Atomos

        If I knew something was bitcoin mining on my phone, I wouldn't download it in the first place.

      • dancj

        Why? Assuming it only mined while you were actively playing the game

      • Atomos

        Because that's a game that causes an unnecessary power drain.

      • dancj

        So nothing that sinister then.

  • hvianna

    I'll start suspecting of crappy games that make my iDevice heat more than usual..

  • crunc

    Can someone please explain to me how you pull bitcoins out of the air? What does it mean to mine for bitcoins? It sounds like a joke.

    • SpacePenguinBot

      Welcome to the present.

    • hourglass

      Basically, bitcoins are money paid out by companies that need a LOT of processing power to do something, ie science labs, colleges, whatever.

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        No, that's not true. The processing that goes into creating a bitcoin has no real world application besides validating bitcoin transactions. Bitcoins are based on complex cryptography that can't be easily duplicated. Every new bitcoin requires TONS of processing power to create (it would take the average mobile device decades to create one). Because of their difficulty to create there is a limited supply and hence they have value to the people who use them as currency.

      • defmad

        Best explanation I've read about bitcoins so far. I actually understand it better now. Thanks mate!

  • garret44

    It already took an evil turn

  • workingman

    I wish I knew what this means! Doesn't make any sense to me

    • Atomos

      Bitcoins are generated through intense number crunching on some very powerful computers. They are a virtual currency, but have a dollar-value exchange rate. So a guy who makes plugins for the Unity game development platform has created a way for developers to have your phone's unused processing power do a tiny amount of number crunching. This tiny amount of crunching, in conjunction with everyone else who has the game who's also doing a tiny amount of number crunching, can create bitcoins for the developer to have.

      TLDR: Devs can use this to make anyone who plays their games do some calculations that earns them money.

  • CaptLudd

    Ok sorry i do not get this, exactly HOW does this plugin generate revenue (in bit coins) which then apparently are merrily sent on to the developer? It is crap like this that have made me stop buying anymore video games at all. I have gone back to board gaming, and actually i have the ipad to thank for pointing me in this direction with the nice ports. I hadn't looked at a board game in decades since the playstation1 came out and the modern games are far more interesting than the ones i grew up with. And considering games like forzamotorsports ($90 in 2cd, $160 in both 3rd & 4th each) not to mention the wheel setup i had, even the most expensive with expansions are about the same drain on the wallet.

    • Atomos

      Well then, you are a perfect candidate to buy any of the angry birds board games.

  • CDRwasabi

    Is greed contagious?

  • whitestatic

    It's hard to believe or trust a plugin developer that can't even spell monetization correctly. I can't speak for Android, but this isn't how iOS apps work. To run in the background and bypass the suspend state, this "plugin" would be violating App developer guidelines and would be banned from the store--assuming they are able to mimic one of the approved background tasks.

    • whitestatic

      Also, the site is light on details and it wouldn't surprise me if this was a stunt to drive views to their other legit plugins. Not really surprising, when lack of innovation strikes, nothing beats a sensational, controversial story to drive traffic and PR.

    • DannyTheElite

      I hope you are right.

      • whitestatic

        Approved tasks that can run in the background (all other apps suspend after a pre-fixed time):
        - Location Services (GPS)
        - iTunes sync
        - Network Activity*
        - VoIP

        * Network activity limited to the following actions: Photo Stream, App Updates from App Store and Newsstand, Automatic downloads (music, books, apps), iTunes Match, iCloud restores

        That being said, to get this to work they would have to either a) mimic one of the above services or b)they've found a hole. Either way, Apple will never allow this type of service to run--there are too many issues (privacy, security, etc) that extend beyond some two-bit developer trying to make a quick buck.

    • dancj

      I can't see anything in the article to suggest that it'll mine when the game is in the background.

      I think it's just while the game is running. Seems fair enough to me.

      • whitestatic

        Actually, it's the exact opposite of fair. Regardless of whether the app has focus or not, the point of the plugin is to consume additional, unused resources for the sole purpose of generating revenue for the developer. Forget the revenue aspect, what this plugin encourages is bloated software where the actual app part will consume the smallest percentage of the CPU possible while the plugin consumes the most CPU possible. I remain highly skeptical that any app running this plugin ever officially gets into the iOS App store (and remains).

      • dancj

        The app will only be running as long as the player is enjoying the game. The worst that happens here is that the app uses a little more battery than it would have otherwise. If the processing is so much that there's not enough power left for the game then people will play something else.

      • jclardy

        Assuming the developer was up front about the bitcoin mining and the user was enjoying the game I don't see what the issue is? They are essentially "paying" the developer with their phone's CPU cycles rather than actual money or viewing ads.

        Of course the plugin itself suggests that it be "invisible" to the user, so that is shady. But assuming the developer is up front I don't see the issue.

  • https://www.facebook.com/DigitalDistillery Scot Damn

    I kind of hope this catches on. All so F2P gets a bad name and dies off like a gas fire that nobody wants to get near.

  • crunc

    So now that I see what the deal is. I have to say. I don't really see how this is worse than the F2P we have now.

    • dancj

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who's not seeing doom.

      • whitestatic

        It's not about doom. It's about the shell game being played out in the mobile space. Companies seeking to remain solvent look to "creative" business models instead of creating quality product. Quality product is forced into these models because customers won't pay for it. It's not a perpetual cycle, it's a death spiral. Until both customers and companies reach an equilibrium of sorts, these kinds of approaches will continue to come out.

      • dancj

        I'm not seeing the problem. This gives developers more incentive to make a quality game because if the game isn't good enough people won't play it and it won't make money.

      • iPhallex

        Or rather, in the real world, more incentive for Devs to find ways to hide code that gains them money from unsuspecting users. How is that good in any way?

      • dancj

        Where do you get the hiding part from?

    • Atomos

      From the way it's described, the game would consume an insane amount of battery. Imagine how much battery playing an Internet-connected game alone is. Now imagine playing that game, and the rest of your unused processor and ram capacity goes to number crunching. Huge power drain.

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        It will be a power drain which is why its not as scary as some people are making this out to be. People aren't going to play a game if 10 minutes of gameplay means 25% of their battery life.

    • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

      It really isn't. And if "greedy" devs who are trying to feed their families can put a little food on the table (which I actually doubt quite a bit) and cheap iOS gamers can play a game for free WITHOUT any IAP then I don't really see the big deal.

    • Atomos

      Because it's an unnecessary drain on your phones battery, Say you have some awesome f2p game you can play while offline. Maybe it kills 5% of your battery in 20 minutes.

      Now imagine that this same game is running this bitcoin mining plugin, while still playing your game. Bitcoin mining is a a very processor intense activity, so the dev would want to stretch as much processor capacity, especially

  • Papa Deuce

    I read all these comments and I still don't know if I understand it. But one thing I do understand is that I value privacy and security, and this sounds like it may violate both of those things.

    • Wedge598

      I'm not sure I understand it either. Is this a case where by downloading and playing a "bitcoin" game you would be giving permission to have your device used for extraneous data crunching by some random company?

  • Holcman

    So now, every time I get off an app, I need to close it from running because it may use excess system resources... Just great.

  • rotopenguin

    If you added up all the iPhones out there, could they out-compute a $300 GPU? How about a modest rack of them? Mining on GPUs is too slow now, people are mining on ASICs that are hundreds of times more powerful than GPUs.

    The whole idea is just silly, an entire install base would net a dev pennies, and just make users miserable. Apple would end up taking a bad rap for having devices with horrible battery life, it's very likely that they would use the app store veto to shut this crap down.

    • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

      Absolutely! Even with millions of users running this full time 24/7 a struggling dev wouldn't even earn enough to pay for the salt packet he pours on his Top Ramen each day for lunch.

  • araczynski

    nice try, probably will infest the android world, but i think it goes against apple's TOS.

  • addicted2games

    I'm all for the developer making money for the hard work he/she puts into to creating the game. But this bitcoin plugin rages me. If the developer openly warns that the application uses such plugins before downloading then that's fair enough. But if not…
    Either way, I will be installing firewall ip on my device and blocking all bitcoin connections!

    • rangent

      Don't think it'll work. It just adds CPU-intensive cycles every NOP your processor would do. Nothing leaves your device except for a minimal "no, these set of keys didn't work, send me the next set" message (overhead is less than an email).

  • C. Stubb

    NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

  • one.sixty.four

    ok, I'm a bit confused. I get that bit coins are made by having the unused processing power of your phone do some number crunching, but how will this have a negitive effect? will it harm our devices?

    • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

      No, just might slow them down a bit and eat up battery power. Its really not that big of a deal but by the same token won't actually generate much of any income for even games with enormous user bases.

      • Papa Deuce

        Well, wait... If it steals your power from your battery, then that leaves you with less charges on your battery before it totally dies, so in that vein, it does damage your device. And now I understand this, and I hate it more than I thought I would.

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        I dunno--playing Infinity Blade III will also drain your battery faster but no one is mad at Chair for damaging their device. But again--I wouldn't worry about this. The money to be made with this sort of strategy is minimal to say the least. If Rovio implements it in all their games first thing tomorrow they'll earn a cool $20 in about a decade or so. Plus devs who use this sort of thing are going to get a bad rap. Its really NOTHING to be afraid of.

      • one.sixty.four

        Do you mean slow down the device or slow down the game? Speed is very important for me on my device.

      • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

        It would slow down the device only when you're playing the game. When the game is suspended so would the bit mining processes.

  • Zeldaniac

    Genius. Evil genius, but genius nonetheless.

  • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

    This really doesn't worry me too much. It will eat up battery and processing power which users of the game are going to notice. This thing is going to lead to lag and overall lower game performance because your not using the full capacity of the device. And if its subtle enough that users don't notice then who really cares. If your totally oblivious to it happening then is really hurting you very much? Plus typically bit-mining is done by super computers--so a mobile device's left over processing power is extremely minimal in comparison. Even if you have a network of thousands of devices I can't imagine it being very significant. And if limited money can be made something like this won't attract a whole lot of devs.

    I agree with the general sentiment here--it certainly feels super shady. But fortunately I REALLY don't think this thing has legs. Plus its no more shady then the $99.99 pile of gems every FTP game tries to convince susceptible gamers is the "best deal."

  • Earth Vs. Me

    "And your user will never know". No one ever says something like that unless they're doing something illicit.

  • skylerolson

    So I'm a little confused about why bitcoins are worth anything. If it just takes processing power to make this things, how does that equal real monetary value? Wikipedia said each one is worth like 200 dollars or something. I don't understand how a developer makes 200 USD by using our phone's processing power...

  • MonkeyChunks

    This is definitely bad and abusive toward the players who downloaded that free app.
    Does it in any way inform the user what it does? Either in some kind of agreement terms, or directly on screen?

    Another thing. The post's author described bitcoin as if it is a bad thing that it is an unregulated currency, that it is volatile, etc.
    No, I think it is what we all will be using in 10 years along with real money unless the corrupt government shuts down this competition. Although I do not know how they could shut down bit coin due to its nature.
    What is good about it is that it is unaffected by the government's manipulation of money by printing or bailouts, and bitcoin is essentially international currency, not constrained by borders or political entities.

    I don't know how people can "mine" for it though.

    • rangent

      Are you aware of what an idle computer cycle is?

  • rewyan

    I don't understand it completely, but it sounds bad. It sounds sneaky. But hey, maybe they can get rid of IAP if they are satisfied with mining bitcoins with us.

    • jfrank7

      In order to mine bitcoins they are going to make crappy games so that they use more of the proccesing power of your device and this will affect your device by decreasing battery life and overheating it, try the game real steel world boxing, that game will overheat your device within 5 minutes i actually believe it has some kind of plug in

  • rangent

    Wait... Are you people aware of what idle cycles are?

    • rangent

      I mean, you guys aren't even paying for hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of developer hours with free games. If your battery consumption goes down 5% because you're using something you didn't pay for, and that pays developers for their work, who are you to complain?

  • chaos215bar2

    I don't think there's really any need to worry here. At the current difficulty, most games would have a hard time making back the price of the plugin itself.

  • epik5

    if these guys accepts this, does that mean every freemium around the appstore that may include glu games, are going for? I think its time to buy some games, lets see... Bloodmasque oh wait! free right now!!!

  • epik5

    if that causes power drain and its mining bitcoins... does that mean we have to turn off wifi to avoid some power deains?

  • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

    To anyone whose actually worried about this. If you really truly think big evil devs can make millions mining bit coins on your phone then go download some bit mining software, run it on your computer, and see just how much money you make! I'll tell you exactly how much you'll make. With your computer's entire processor dedicated to the task you'd literally be MUCH more likely to die tomorrow by a comet impact to your skull than make a single dollar--even after leaving your computer on for centuries. I'm not even exaggerating. The odds are unfathomably small that you'd ever create a single bitcoin from the exercise.

    The people behind this plugin are just preying on how naive most people (including a lot of devs) are about bitcoins. No need for outrage--this will never ever ever catch on as a mainstream monetisation practice, I promise.

  • Luke Johnstone

    I love the mainstream talking points that bitcoin-noobs such as this author follow.. It's honestly highly entertaining.

    • homosaur

      Oh great the Bitcoin brigade is here to set us all straight on this scam

      • Luke Johnstone

        I may be a part of the brigade, but I definitely won't be setting anyone straight. Nay-say as much as you like. There were nay-sayers to electricity, the car, the internet, 5" smartphones and now, obviously, there are nay-sayers to BTC. Meanwhile, us 'tech-savvy' people are getting into a currency that offers great things over the current payment systems we have.

  • oneironaut

    Well, that's capitalism isn't it? You asked for it..

  • Amos Bairn

    It takes a LOT of processing power to mine bitcoins. The only people making money at it right now are those who use specially designed chips (asics) built for mining. There is no way that a developer using that plugin could get enough bitcoins to make it worth it.

    • Papa Deuce

      IMO, the fact that they can't make money isn't the point at all. The point is that they are trying at your device's expense.

  • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

    As an iPhone 4 iOS 6 owner, I wonder how much processing power my phone could offer bitcoin dev? That said, will I even be able to play the upcoming games anyway?!?!
    A humorous sidenote of my getting dusted by the tech curve -- less gaming and more 'smart' uses of my smartphone are more likely, until I can no longer send an email or fiddle with my calendar.
    And I don't have a lot of free space either, so no massive 1gig+ mobile games for me.

  • quizoid

    Wait... Why is this so terrible? It seems a decent and fair method by which to pay for a free game. It doesn't have to be hidden. I can totally see an app saying, "This game is 100% free to play, but will use extra battery power to mine for bit coins. Pay $2.99 to support us and turn off mining." It would seem analogous to turning off ads. I'd prefer that to tacky ads or IAP, though I wouldn't begrudge a company for using all three (though, I dislike in-app currency for a variety of gameplay reasons). Anyway, people should be compensated for their long hours and hard work making games we like to play. As long as they are honest about it, I'm happy to donate some battery power while I play a game.