This was originally posted May 30th 2019. Edited February 8th 2020.
As I drove home listening to a podcast about cryptocurrencies (one that’s often quite optimistic), I couldn’t help but critique some of the comments they were making; here are some of those thoughts jotted down. Instead of technical critiques, I want to focus on behavioral challenges and implications.
One of the ideas I heard get echoed over and over again was the idea of “a unified gaming platform.” Why the hosts of the show thought it was a good idea is explained below:
- Being able to move digital assets from one game to another—such as levels, experience, items, etc—would be cool.
- The work you put into one game would be transferable to another game.
- There would be an economic system that will support all of this (evidence given was of WoW ’s black market).
In fact, it was argued so convincingly by these venture capitalists (the hosts of the show) that I—for a while—believed it to be true. However, as I thought about it more and more, I found their argument to be based on weak presumptions of the gaming community.
Indeed, at its surface, this is a fascinating idea! How cool would it be if your WoW character could do a Fortnite dance earned by playing Fortnite? How great would it be if, a level 100 mage in game A transfers over to a level 100 mage in game B? On closer look, however, we can quickly pick out the flaws.
One of my biggest concerns was that games—especially indie games—have an artistic and emotional context just as much as it has technological. In fact, I would further argue that the sort of artistic expression that these game developers pour into their creations would be perverted by the idea outlined above. Furthermore, multiplayer games will start to tread dangerous waters as players can more easily pay others to do tasks for them. This obviously gives unfair advantages to “non-premium members”.
Another concern is that games have their own community. By inviting different sets of games and communities to permeate their bounds, we end up—not with a pleasant merge of communities—but with a chaotic and dysfunctional pigpen.
In addition, a decentralized game is inherently implying a sort of “open-sourceness.” In this situation, players of the game would be governing the direction the game with each update. However, while most players would like to argue they understand the “best direction,” often times, they are misguided. The reason we have needed leaders in history is the same reason why this cannot possibly work.
One could counter and say, “if a game is led astray, an individual or group can fork and invite others to share in their ideas.” To this, I defend my argument with these remarks:
- People are inherently lazy—rallying people to move away from the main fork is difficult and many times, not worth the effort (there has to be a great incentive).
- With so many creative minds playing, this will inevitably lead to divisive communities and unsatisfactory experience. Finally, going back to a point raised earlier—such an “open-source” game will betray the original maker and his or her vision.
Moving onto a different concern—
These experts of cryptography seem to have an idealistic view of the consumer—one that would partake in governance, have due diligence, and be educated to make the right choice. I believe one of the fundamental problems with the current blockchain and cryptocurrency system is the difficulty in making sure there are enough “good users.”
An average consumer using Facebook or Instagram wants to consume. They want to be shown images, videos, and entertainment without giving much heed to privacy or targeted advertisements. Indeed, even I–a consumer aware of the privacy issues–can easily become engrossed by the flashy pixels.
For an average Joe, he does not want to go through the trouble of auditing code, making sure his data is truly private (with the option to share), and being part of the governance process. For an average Joe, he does not keep up with the political grounds of the platform. For an average Joe, he’d rather trust a relatively safe central authority. Thus, the idealistic consumer breaks down, along with the idealistic view of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Yet, I have immense hope; even through the problems listed above and those not even mentioned, I believe we will one day respond adequately to these challenges. Some of these answers will be met by cryptographic advances, a better understanding of game theory & economics, and a balance between decentralized and centralized.