Virtual currency

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Virtual currency is type of digital currency that is unregulated and accepted among a specific digital ecosystem or community. It has similar characteristics as traditional fiat money, except that it is not legal tender[1] and not issued by a central bank. Virtual currencies may not be universally accepted, but it is accepted within a specific community. For example, in the gaming community like World of Warcraft or an ecosystem of commercial ecosystem, e.g. QQ coins in Tencent’s ecosystem.

Characteristics of Virtual Currency

Not Legal Tender

Virtual currencies are not legal tender[2]. That means that:

  1. there is no obligation for someone to accept it
  2. it does not have to be accepted at full face value and
  3. the currency has no power to remove the repayment obligations.

Centralized Governance

Virtual currencies are governed by its developers[3] and/or institution that created it. The 4 developers define the amount of supply in circulation of the specific community.

Closed-Loop Economies/Circuits

Virtual currency exists within a specific community or economy. It is used to transact and trade within the community and not on secondary markets to trade and speculate. While there are cases of virtual currencies like World of Warcraft’s currency being traded on a secondary market, that is usually not allowed or discouraged.

Convertible Virtual Currency

However, some virtual currencies are convertible (convertible currency). They can be bought and sold back for legal tender. For example, Twitch is introducing a new virtual currency[4] in its ecosystem called Stream+. Players can buy the virtual currency to use it within the ecosystem. Another example is QQ coin[5] by Tencent’s QQ. Each QQ coin is worth 1 RMB and can be 6 bought or earned in QQ’s ecosystem. Instead of converting to legal tender, it is used to purchase commodities[6] in the physical world.

Virtual currency vs CBDC
Virtual currency CBDC
Currency format Digital Digital
Unit of account Invented currency or

virtual form of

national currency

National currency
Legal status Unregulated Regulated
Acceptance Within a specific digital

community or ecosystem

By undertaking of the issuer
Issuer Non-financial or financial

private company

Legal established institutions

like the central bank

Types of risk Legal, credit,

liquidity, operational


Source: ECB edited[3] by Economics Design[7]

  1. Authority, E. B. (2014). EBA opinion on virtual currencies. Available on
  2. Adapted from Authority, E. B. (2014). EBA opinion on virtual currencies.
  3. 3.0 3.1 European Central Bank (ECB), Virtual Currency Schemes *5 (Oct 2012), online at
  4. Twitch to start offering a virtual currency. (2016, September 30). Retrieved from
  5. Fowler, G. A., & Qin, J. (2007, March 30). QQ: China's New Coin of the Realm? Retrieved from
  6. Here's how the transactions work: A small-time retailer offers QQ coins for sale at her online shop at a discount price -- currently about .8 yuan. Customers then pay the seller yuan through a debit card, money-order transfer or special online payment systems such as Paypal. The retailer then transfers the QQ coins to the buyer's account, like one might do with air miles, or even just gives the buyer access to her own QQ account (including username and password) where QQ coins are stored.
  7. More risks can be found in the report of EBA’s opinion on virtual currencies. Details about risks of payment systems can be found on page 270 of the 2014 Q3 report by Bank of England