I’ve been in the blockchain industry since the beginning, and while many elements of the technology have integrated into the mainstream, there’s still an air of mystery around it. People will discuss the blockchain as a platform for future innovations — but then admit that they’re not quite sure how it works. Cryptocurrency is all over the news, yet a lot of the discussion centers around whether or not ICOs are stable and sound, despite the $5.6 billion raised in 2017.
This clearly shows that blockchain technology is at a crossroads. It’s stable enough as the engine for currency and data-exchange platforms that it no longer needs proof-of-concept examples. What it does need, though, is the so-called killer app to bring the technology to the masses, to simplify it and build a path to usage without inherently needing to understand the intricacies beneath it. With something like this in place, the platform grows and becomes inherently trusted — and more tested and scaled — without the constant examination under the hood.
But what is that killer app? What is the tipping point that will transform buzzwords into everyday terminology?
As an industry veteran, I pondered this upon leaving my last company. A range of possibilities exists to power such an app. Anything involved with making money is clearly a candidate, from cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to ICO possibilities. (In a way, you could argue that Bitcoin was the first killer app for the blockchain.) Another possibility is the idea of self-sovereign identities, which provide a person with the agency over their own identity rather than relying on governmental agencies (passports, driver’s licenses, etc.).
I took my post-departure vacation in the Caribbean, considering the future of technology while lounging on the non-tech world of beaches, sun and surf. The juxtaposition struck me — the serious nature of life-changing technology next to laying in the sun with only the sounds of the ocean. I realized that things like cryptocurrencies, ICOs and identity verification were all weighty topics, clearly critical but also not exactly fun for the everyday person. And wasn’t the goal of a killer app to reach the everyday person? For my personal technology hangover, all of these heavy topics were draining my passion for tech — I needed something fun to re-stoke my fire for the industry.
Even Better Than Cat Videos
Then I met a cat (a virtual cat, that is, from a game called Cryptokitties). Cryptokitties was adorable, easy to pick up and fun — users bred unique digital kitties and put them up for adoption and collection on a marketplace. Each cat is a unique creation, forever stored as a record on the blockchain that powers Cryptokitties. This game is powered by ERC721, a new token standard that allows users to create unique digital assets capable of being sold at any price set by the owner, as long as the market will bear it. (Adam Smith would be so proud.) Under this standard, each asset can be assigned unique characteristics, which then affects how it interacts with other assets.
For the layperson, the details of that standard might be lost behind technical jargon. However, it can probably be distilled easily to the general public this way: It’s a game where you can create 100% unique virtual cats that you own unless you want to sell them — and you can breed them with other virtual cats to create even more 100% unique cats.
The elements that get communicated there are:
- Unique and immutable token (100 percent unique virtual cats)
- Permanent record (owned by you unless you want to sell them)
- Unique characteristics that affect its interaction with other assets (breed them with other virtual cats)
The Fun Way To Become Mainstream
The simplicity of Cryptokitties (both in user interaction and the way it transcended the blockchain/cryptocurrency discussion) blew me away. The incredible part is that despite its simplistic user interface, the game had users creating wallets, utilizing cryptocurrency and using a form of sovereign identity. It underscored one of the ideas for genuinely breaking through to the mainstream: the all-important fun factor.
Is Cryptokitties the blockchain’s killer app that will take it into the mainstream? It’s certainly gotten more buzz than anything else on Ethereum, with plenty of transactions to boot. There’s the issue of long-term stability, as Cryptokitties struggled to scale after its unexpected massive launch. So the future of Cryptokitties is unsure, though it’s certainly the first step.
However, it demonstrates the path to a killer app, be it feline-based or something else. It should be simple, demonstrate a model only capable with the blockchain (e.g., Cryptokitties’ individual ownership of unique cats) and be fun enough to engage a casual user. While secure connectivity in the Internet of Things or the decentralized stability of cryptocurrency offers much more tangible real-world impacts, gamification connects with the public in a way that those functional applications never will. It’s the reason entertainment software rather than business software powers technological advancements.
What’s the next big thing in the blockchain? No one knows for sure, but I feel pretty confident that it will feature gamification in an elegant and fun way. In fact, I’d bet my cryptocurrency on it.