With the price of Bitcoin recently soaring above $10,000 USD according to online cryptocurrency tracker Coindesk, lots of people are wondering whether or not now is the right time to add digital currencies to their personal financial portfolios. As these currencies, including Bitcoin and a wide number of alternatives like Ethereum and Litecoin, become more popular, it will be necessary to teach a new generation of investors what they are, how they work, how to invest with them and how to keep those investments safe. It’s a big ask, and many firms are trying to find the best way to introduce these concepts to worldwide audiences.
Fortunately, even if you haven’t been able to tell a blockchain from a smart contract thusfar in life, there’s a new web platform aiming to get more people conversant in the ways of digital currency trading. The platform is actually a game called CryptoKitties. It’s developed by Vancouver and San Francisco-based Axiom Zen, a venture development firm whose aim with this project is to bring blockchain technology to a new audience. It’s doing so with the help of a whole bunch of the internet’s number one favourite things: cute kittens.
Remember Beanie Babies from back in the late 90s? The colourful, cute stuffed toys manufactured by TY Inc. set off an international craze whose scale was hard to imagine at the time. Many people passed around hushed warnings that we should keep the heart-shaped tags affixed to our plush buddies, stored in mint condition lest they appreciate massively in value on the secondary market. Stories abounded of rare colour combinations that could be listed on eBay for thousands upon thousands of dollars. As such, a robust internal economy of sale and trade opened up for Beanie Babies, with some even appreciating enough to become real investments for their collectors.
The engine behind CryptoKitties works on essentially the same principle, updated with a Web 2.0, gamified twist. Subscribers to the game have access to a vast virtual pet store populated by legions of big-eyed, colourful cats, many of which can be purchased with the easily obtained online currency Ethereum (ETH.) Each digital feline is encoded with a 256-bit numerical “genetic code” determining what it looks like and what its future offspring may have a chance to look like. Through trading and breeding between players, new and desirable combinations of traits may open up, which may cause certain kitties to shoot up in real-world value. The mechanics of buying, selling and siring your pixelated puffballs are a genuine hook, and the excitement comes from never quite knowing whether you might find a rare and delightful prize.
It sounds ridiculous, I know! However, participating in the game essentially teaches users the fundamentals of blockchain-based systems. You need currency, a digital wallet to store it in, and a way to track all the transactions made with each piece of that currency. The ledger in which all of these transactions, taken together like a pool of genes interacting and recombining, is the blockchain, to which new, unique data are constantly being added. The scarcity and value of resources within the CryptoKitty ecosystem are completely decentralized, and not shaped by outside forces – in effect, making the game a compelling model for the action of much larger blockchain systems.
By the time you’ve traded and bred a few of these “cryptocollectibles”, you’ll be well on your way to a more comprehensive understanding of how and why blockchain systems work. From a purely nerd-centric point of view, the potential of hashing technologies to produce uniqueness may be an undervalued asset in the cryptocurrency space. However, the biggest win here is the creation of an appealing, simple and user-friendly approach to teaching anyone about the most important concepts that underpin the value of digital currency markets.