My No Man’s Sky journey, like that of so many others, started in disappointment. The game’s 2016 release was shrouded in game-breaking bugs, uninteresting core gameplay, and a myriad of missing features (including a lack of multiplayer). But those days are over. Today, No Man’s Sky is awesome.
The game has been transformed from a lonely, desolate, and annoyingly repetitive galaxy to an open-world masterpiece that regularly exceeds 10,000 concurrent players on the Steam platform alone. The game is a sci-fi epic that offers hundreds of hours of engaging solo gameplay, but has also been emerging as a great multiplayer experience. No Man’s Sky first became a multiplayer title in 2018 with the release of the NEXT update, and the multiplayer community has been growing ever since as updates made playing with friends easier and more scalable.
This rollout of multiplayer was great news to players, not least of all the Galactic Hub Project. This coalition of players, founded in late 2016 a few months after No Man’s Sky’s release, with a clear goal: establish a hub somewhere in the galaxy where players can exist in a shared space. Even though they couldn’t see each other, they still wanted to make exploring space a collaborative effort. The Galactic Hub, NMS’ oldest civilization, was born.
The Galactic Hub (or simply the Hub) has grown in scope over the years. With the advent of multiplayer in NMS, the population of players living in the Hub has soared well over 100. The Hub has received attention in VICE, Polygon, Kotaku, and many other publications as it expanded in scope and launched new projects, annexed new worlds, and created new government services.
One such new service launched in 2021: HubCoin, the Galactic Hub’s official tender. Administered by the Hub Treasury Department. HubCoin is not an in-game currency, but rather runs on a third-party blockchain cryptocurrency system. It cannot be purchased for real-world money, instead it is distributed and circulated through in-game goods and services. The system is run on a “testnet”, a blockchain system where currency can move between accounts without any payment needed. For most applications of blockchain, testnets are only useful for testing code and R&D.
In Summer 2022, news of HubCoin did the rounds of the media. Even non-NMS players took an interest in the program that NME dubbed the Hub’s “own useless cryptocurrency”. The new currency offered a great deal of publicity, but it seems like the media was more interested in pointing out that HubCoin exists, rather than analyzing it in the context of the Galactic Hub’s playerbase.
But this is MMORPG.com— The site that answers your questions about cool player communities and projects in your favorite MMOs. How does the HubCoin economy actually work? Who uses it? Is it just a gimmick, or is there a real use case here? I had to know the full story, so there was only one place to go: Drogradur NO426, capital planet of the Galactic Hub.
The Hubcoin Economy
Here on Drog, there’s lots to see and do. It really puts into perspective just how barren the more remote parts of the galaxy are. Prior to my arrival at the Hub, I’d spent most of my time flying from uncharted rock to uncharted rock, never seeing a single soul. It’s amazing to see a planet that’s dotted with player-built creations.
I’d have time for sightseeing later, though. Right now, I needed to speak to the locals.
M3tz is a “Hubizen”— a resident of the Galactic Hub— and he’s been a user of HubCoin since its launch. He was inspired to launch his very own restaurant: Hubnautica Horrid Delights. The restaurant was built in an underwater base, and got some initial business before things slowed down.
M3tz observed a trend as HubCoin picked up: novelty services in the tertiary sector (like his restaurant) were slowing down, whereas the primary and secondary sectors (resource extraction and processing) were beginning to gain value. People who are new to HubCoin aren’t going to spend money on novelty products forever. No Man’s Sky can be a resource grind, which is why M3tz got out of the restaurant industry and got into selling plant-based resources under the brand Deep Space Botanicals.
Administering the Market
I’ll be honest— when I first envisioned the Galactic Hub Treasury Department, it sounded like the most boring, drab organization imaginable. I couldn’t even conceive of why someone would want to come home from their school or their day job and work for a virtual tax office. But I was surprised by just how friendly and enthusiastic the team at the Treasury Department seemed to be. Director 7101334, the leader of the Galactic Hub, also oversees HubCoin.
Prior to launching HubCoin, 7101334 had been workshopping ideas for a Galactic Hub metacurrency for a long time. He developed an interest in cryptocurrency back in 2021, but he wanted to implement crypto and blockchain in a different way than most game developers at the time:
“Most game devs utilizing blockchain seem to try making the game around the monetized features instead of utilizing the potential for the tech. One inspiration for HubCoin was the cryptocurrency Enjin (ENJ) - although all the games I saw which utilized Enjin were [crappy] cash grabs, it's still a really cool technological premise despite that. HubCoin didn't end up resembling Enjin much but it did help start my thought process as to how a game can use cryptocurrency without making it terrible.”
When I set out to tell this story, I expected there to be two perspectives to talk about: the perspective of business owners, like M3tz, and the perspective of economic administrators, like 7101334. However, these groups are far more intertwined than I expected.
SullyKiwi, another member of the Treasury Department, is the proprietor of Spaghettification Studios, which is an in-game photography studio. For a nominal fee, players can visit his studio, get photos and videos taken with custom backgrounds, props, and costumes, and have them edited and delivered with premium quality.
It almost sounds silly, given that all players in No Man’s Sky have a default camera function. But SullyKiwi gets clients. His products are high quality, and HubCoin has enabled him to get paid for his stills in photography and videography. He was the first person that I talked to about HubCoin. He got me in touch with many members of the Treasury Department, many of whom were themselves business owners.
Part of me found this a bit concerning, given that there could be a conflict of interest between them, their businesses, and their civil service. But talking to these people convinced me of their sincerity. The Treasury Department doesn't really stand to make any money by manipulating policy. It’s less of a tax office and more of a Hub chamber of commerce. What they really care about is the community and the encouragement of Hubizens to use HubCoin as part of their day-to-day life in the Hub.
Despite his enthusiasm, M3tz was straightforward about the low value of HubCoin. When asked about the health of the Hub’s economy, they expressed concern about inflation of the currency:
“Unfortunately, I think the value has plummeted. Due to being a free market, there was a lot of price gouging in the early days that has diminished the value of Hubcoin. It seems like to keep up, especially with resource sales, we have to keep our prices low to keep buyers coming.”
M3tz isn’t talking about the value of HubCoin in terms of real-world currency (remember— there is no way to exchange HubCoin for money). They’re talking about the value of HubCoin in terms of actual in-game goods and services, things that were already being exchanged between No Man’s Sky players prior to HubCoin’s launch. The fact that HubCoin is inflating indicates, if nothing else, that it is being used by enough people to generate supply and demand forces.
M3tz is optimistic about the future of HubCoin, though. For them, it seems like more government oversight would be a good move to ensure HubCoin’s viability as the Galactic Hub’s official currency for years to come. Currently, there is little regulation on the HubCoin market and there is zero barrier of entry for new businesses. With plenty of money being paid out by the treasury to new upstarts, it’s no wonder why businesses are feeling the impact of inflation.
That said, it’s very clear that the market is working, at least in some aspects. The introduction of HubCoin as a common currency has created clear forces of supply and demand. M3tz themself has hired someone to hunt down a very specific design and color of spacecraft (something highly sought after in No Man's Sky) and it was delivered within a couple of hours.
The purpose of a currency is to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. People are obviously using HubCoin for very practical in-game reasons, and I think that speaks a lot to the value of the system. However, there’s more to HubCoin’s value than how it performs on the market.
Valuing a Currency
To an outsider observing the Hub for the first time (or as the locals would call you, an Interloper), many things about this MMO metacurrency seem peculiar. Many of the products offered on the market are novelties and not something that a player would ever need or think about before seeing. The overlap between Treasury staff and business operators is surprisingly high. And, yes, the Galactic Hub’s current free market policies could be causing inflation.
But consider this: the value of HubCoin is more than just how it performs as a currency for the enabling of commerce. HubCoin adds character to the Galactic Hub, just like its military, its scientific programs, and its infrastructure systems. People use HubCoin not just because it facilitates exchange, but because people want to use HubCoin for the sake of it.
If you’ve never been, you should check out the Galactic Hub. The people there are incredibly friendly, and every one of them is dedicated to making the vacuum of space in No Man’s Sky seem a little warmer and less lonely. And if using HubCoin will help the community in the Hub thrive, then players are willing to do it– even if it’s not perfect.