Obviously, one has to doubt that there is an infinite appetite for these utterly useless digital “collectables”, so we’ll have to see just how many such games succeed. Of course, I would never have predicted the phenomenal success of Pokeman or Minecraft, so I wouldn’t care to bet one way or another.
Alyssa Hertig reports in Coindesk that CryptoKitties is actually notable as the first implementation of “ERC721”, a standard for “Non-fungible Tokens”. Most Ethereum projects have been using fungible tokens (which, I learn, is supported by the “ERC20” standard), but CryptoKittese are, by design unique and not interchangeable—i.e., non-fungible.
As Hertig says, this technical accomplishment is interesting because it opens the way not only for clones of the Kittie game, but possibly other applications that track ownership of uniquely identifiable objects. This might include tracking ownership of real world objects, as has been discussed for a long time.
It remains to be seen if Ethereum executable contracts are a good technology for these apps. After all, there are already (several) provenance tracking systems, and even digital asset licensing. These earlier systems use cryptographic signatures and publish records on a blockchain, but do not rely on Ethereum-style executable contracts.
At a very abstract level, the principle technical difference between CryptoKitties and say, Ascribe, is that CK has pushed some of the transaction logic out into the Internet. But only some of the logic. Key parts of the system run on conventional servers.
More important, both CryptoKitties and Ascribe require users to trust the company, and both organizations take steps to earn and keep that trust.
Using the “trustless” blockchain is supposed to make the system “more trusted” by eliminating the “centralized” services that are a point of failure. In these hybrid architectures, that certainly is not 100% true. Or even close to 100% true. (I have yet to see any non-trivial system that is completely decentralized and also works.)
What, then, is the advantage to using the slow, balky blockchain?
Perhaps we shall see.
- Alyssa Hertig, Crypto Collectables? Ethereum’s Next Killer App Is on Its Way. Coindesk.December 15 2017, https://www.coindesk.com/crypto-collectables-ethereums-next-killer-app-is-on-its-way/
- Shirley, Deter, ERC: Non-fungible Token Standard #721. Ethereum Foundation, 2017. https://github.com/ethereum/EIPs/issues/721