GENEVA — Compensating people for time spent on their smartphones. That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind Bitcoin Bandit, a video game created by a group of Geneva-based programmers and available free on Android and iOS.

With Bitcoin Bandit, the five developers, all aged between 25 and 30, are looking to pick up where the free-to-play model (think Pokémon Go) left off: Not only can users download the game for free; they also get paid to play!

Players control a rabbit bandit who goes around collecting golden coins in a highly retro 2D universe. The coins collected in the tournament mode — available every 30 minutes — allow players to move up to the head of the rankings, which are updated and converted into bitcoins on a weekly basis. The objective is to attract a user base of 15,000 to 20,000 members.

Photo: Bitcoin Bandit Facebook page

The developers promise to pay out 50% of their advertising revenues to gamers. But players shouldn't expect to strike it rich, the group's chief technology officer, Sami Perrin, explains. He says the company is not in a position, right now, to pay top players a full bitcoin, a highly volatile currency currently valued at roughly $580. But gamers "could win a few dollars," Perrin says.

Despite the volatility of the so-called cryptocurrency, Perrin and his colleagues are big fans. And they hope that with Bitcoin Bandit, others will get on board too. "The Swiss are still more skeptical than the Scandinavians," the company's founder, Guillaume Pedrazzini, says. "The currency is still seen as untrustworthy because of its volatility and its decentralized system."

The bitcoin's market capitalization currently reaches about $9 billion. But the vast majority (99.7%) of market participants are small-time players, with less than a single bitcoin each. There are some 500 people, on the other hand, who control 30% of the total bitcoin wealth, according to the website Bitcoinrichlist.com.

The cryptocurrency, in other words, has yet to go mainstream. In Switzerland, few businesses accept bitcoin payments even though a Zug-based company, Xapo, has developed a debit card system able to convert bitcoins into other currencies.

Jacques Favier, secretary of Le Cercle du Coin, a bitcoin promotion association that has approximately 50 members in Switzerland, France and Belgium, applauds initiatives like Bitcoin Bandit. He believes that the online gaming industry can only benefit from a currency that does not imply having a bank account and allows for immediate payments.

"The bitcoin will always be less valuable than cash," says Favier. "Its future does not lie in neighborhood businesses, but in cyberspace.”