Every new technology needs a breakthrough before it truly becomes a success. The PC computer turned heads with early spreadsheet apps like Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc. Where would the internet and its gigantic economy be today without the Mosaic and Netscape browsers of the early 1990s? Digital video streams are currently stealing market share from cable, satellite, broadcast, and movie-theater video options, and Netflix (NFLX -0.75%) kick-started that revolution a decade ago. You get the drift. One innovator (or sometimes a small group of them) provides the early excitement that makes the target audience sit up and take notice.

Cryptocurrencies are still looking for that magic moment after a number of false starts. Rumor has it that video game developer Take-Two Interactive (TTWO 1.14%) might bring the initial fuel to the large-scale crypto fires.

What's the big deal?

Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA 5) is the second best-selling video game of all time, shifting 165 million units since its release in 2013. Even now, nine years later, GTA 5 remains one of Take-Two's most important and profitable titles. According to data from GamesIndustry.biz, GTA 5 was the biggest-selling game title in Europe in August 2022. Yes, that's nine years after the original launch.

Gamers are hungry for the next helping of Grand Theft Auto, of course. You can't leave them hanging forever, even if the current title continues to sell well. Whenever Take-Two gets around to releasing the next tentpole title in this dominant franchise, you can bet that it will break records and set standards.

OK, so what is Take-Two doing?

Last February, Take-Two confirmed that its Rockstar Games studio is actively working on the next installment of the Grand Theft Auto series.

"Our goal is always to significantly move beyond what we have previously delivered," the development studio said at the time. "We look forward to sharing more as soon as we are ready."

Taking that next big step is quite a challenge, but the rumor mill whispers that Take-Two may be up to that task. GTA 5 includes a simplified stock market with about 80 tickers spread across two stock exchanges. Players can invest in-game cash and earn or lose their (often ill-earned) money over time. This system is tied to real-world dollars because you can always buy a lot of game money for a little bit of cold, hard cash. One-hundred thousand dollars of GTA 5 cash costs $3, and an $8 million game-cash infusion will run you $100 in actual dollars. Going the other way around is tougher. The so-called Shark Cards are changing hands in online marketplaces like eBay, often for less than half of Rockstar's official prices.

Other game companies have improved on this idea over the years, led by Roblox (RBLX -3.50%) and its reasonably liquid Robux currency. In games like Roblox, it's possible to make a real-world living by creating in-game items and experiences that other players want to buy. The Robux system is the lifeblood of that company's business plan.

Against that backdrop, Take-Two could make a real difference to the real crypto market by building blockchain-based features into the next Grand Theft Auto.

The word NFT on a clear panel set upright over a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

How could crypto coins work in Grand Theft Auto?

Crypto could appear in the new GTA game in several different ways. First, Rockstar could rely on actual blockchain ledgers to track in-game data such as items, money, and rewards. Unique characters, vehicles, digital real estate properties, and weapons may be represented by non-fungible tokens (NFTs). This way, the company would create a very real trading platform for its fictional assets.

With or without crypto-based game features, the game could reward gamers for playing the game by sending out small amounts of actual cryptocurrency. This idea could be similar to the Brave web browser, which shows extra advertising on some pages in return for sharing the ad-based revenues with the browser's users. For example, I earned four Basic Attention Tokens (BAT -2.78%) last month for using the Brave browser a lot. That's worth about a dollar at current exchange rates, but Take-Two could up the game with a richer revenue-sharing flow. Gamer loyalty is important and valuable, after all.

And of course, Rockstar could skip the real cryptocurrencies altogether and simply make fun of the crypto market instead. Rockstar could even boost its own fortunes by signing a sponsorship deal with an entity like Coinbase or Crypto.com. That would be entirely in the dry humor spirit of the Grand Theft Auto games. This would be the least beneficial form of cryptocurrency inclusion, but the company would still discuss digital assets in front of a massive user base where many gamers tend to engage with the game world on a daily basis. That's still valuable to the crypto market.

Fingers crossed for a serious cryptocurrency feature or two

The rumor mill has not found consistent evidence of cryptocurrency features in the upcoming Grand Theft Auto, but I'll be shocked if that game hits store shelves without even a nod to the popular cryptocurrency sector. Rockstar and Take-Two could become the standard bearers for a new generation of blockchain games, or they might chuckle and snicker over the whole idea. But there will probably be some sort of crypto content, and that's enough to make a significant difference.

Mind you, only the in-game tokens and play-to-earn ideas would make the game count as a killer app for cryptocurrencies. Otherwise, it'll be more of a missed opportunity that leaves the pioneering action in some other innovator's hands. Either way, crypto should get its first real killer app fairly soon.

Crypto may not look cool right now, but the story will probably change again in the next year or two. I think it would be a shame if Take-Two Interactive wasn't jumping on this opportunity to write some real-world history. Grand Theft Auto 6 might become the VisiCalc or Netflix of the crypto market for millions of people.