Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are radical innovations that could transform everything from banking to how government works. But unfortunately, many of the companies building new crypto or blockchain frameworks and launching ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) are built on little more than thin air—as was the case with the famous example of Prodeum.
The past few years have seen an explosion in cryptocurrency and blockchain startups, many with immensely ambitious goals—countless companies claim they will “stop fossil fuel emissions,” “change the legal world,” or “revolutionize the banking industry.” The goals themselves are admirable, but whether due to naive entrepreneurs or genuine bad actors, many of the startups behind them have little to contribute besides marketing materials and hot air.
In cases like this, the most exciting companies often aren’t the ones trying to remake the world in their image. Rather, they’re the ones focused more on building practical, small-scale products focused on attracting users and building real momentum.
Products like CryptoKitties.
CryptoKitties, built by blockchain startup Dapper Labs, is an online game based on the Ethereum network that uses blockchain technology to facilitate the breeding and trading of cartoon cats. Think Neopets, but on the blockchain—and as far-fetched as it sounds, they’re doing some really cool things.
What’s impressive about CryptoKitties is two-fold. For starters, they’re taking a complex and poorly-understood technology—cryptocurrencies and blockchain—and gamifying it. Their cartoon cats, or “CryptoKitties,” each have a set of ‘genetic’ characteristics that is 100 percent unique. New cats are created by breeding different cats together, resulting in an offspring that’s a combination of the two parents’ features, and is again, unique.
The cats themselves aren’t cryptocurrency tokens, but rather “cryptocollectibles”: a unique digital asset, pioneered by the Dapper Labs team, that exists on a blockchain network. There are billions of potential attribute combinations for unique cats, but there will only ever be 50,000 “Gen 0” cats that enter the ecosystem and ‘seed’ the cat economy. Cats can be bought and sold with real money at user-defined prices, and each transaction is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.
It may sound trivial. But CryptoKitties takes complex concepts like tokenization, blockchain transaction recording, and coin mining and puts them into a simple, tangible game. By presenting these concepts in this way, they demystify the blockchain, providing an entrypoint for people to start using blockchain tech and learn as they go.
But there’s something even more significant about the CryptoKitties platform: people are using it. There is an active community of people breeding, buying, and selling these assets every day.
This is no small feat. The hardest part about building a digital product is attracting and retaining users, and this is probably why the company has attracted major marquee investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. Nasir Jones, better-known as rapper Nas, is even an investor, tweeting that the platform’s smart contracts have been “#3 overall across all of Ethereum & any time period.” Furthermore, a recent study found that CryptoKitties is still “one of the pillars of the crypto-gaming ecosystem even almost two years after its launch,” with some five million total transactions to date.
These numbers are impressive. They also get at one of the biggest problems facing blockchain startups right now.
The fact is, the vast majority of the general population barely understands what blockchain is, much less engages with the technology on a regular basis. The only way for blockchain to reach its potential and start making the impact it’s capable of is for people to get interested active, and engaged with it.
CryptoKitties may seem silly, but its ventures like this one—practical, accessible products—that seed a real user community. Once more people are engaging with blockchain tech, that’s when understanding, interest, and new possibilities can start to grow. While the goals may be admirable, many startups in the blockchain space choose objectives that are simply too ambitious to be practically achievable.
ICO and blockchain companies have many problems, but one of the biggest is usage. CryptoKitties has managed to build an active user community where people exchange blockchain assets on a daily basis. This is a very different picture than what happens in most ICO startups, which is people simply hoarding tokens.
In order for cryptocurrency and blockchain to work, there needs to be a functioning economy on the platform. And whether it’s crypto tokens, fiat currency, or favors, an economy requires the movement of assets and currency. An economy requires exchange.
This is something we’re not seeing in the vast majority of blockchain companies, and it’s a serious problem. Without community, without adoption, no blockchain venture can ever get off the ground.
Blockchain will change our world in ways we barely imagined possible. But before that happens, we need to inculcate people to the technology and drive adoption. The specifics of the platform don’t matter: what matters is building practical applications that drive adoption.
Dapper Labs created CryptoKitties as one way to do that successfully, but it won’t be the last—even now, Dapper Labs is teaming up with the NBA to launch a platform for trading unique video clips as cryptocollectibles. They also recently announced new funding and the development of a new blockchain called Flow, which intends to enable decentralized applications at scale.
That’s why in the crypto and blockchain space, the real changemakers won’t be startups looking to create a new world order. At least not yet. They’ll be savvy coders building novel approaches to blockchain that explain the technology, make it usable, and attract real user communities.
As with any other digital product, it’s the users that count. Without them, you have nothing—no matter how many buzzwords you use.
This article is presented by T1.
Photography by: CryptoKitties