Arthur Camara is a co-founder of CryptoKitties, created by Canadian innovation studio Axiom Zen, where he focuses on product and engineering to help bring blockchain technology to the masses.
The following article is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk's 2017 in Review.
I admittedly wasn't investing in any cryptocurrency in the early 2010s.
By this time last year, I was reading CoinDesk's 2016 Year in Review, just starting to fully grasp what the power of distributed ledgers and decentralized networks could mean for our future and our society. And despite all that, I am now standing alongside a team who are pioneering entrepreneurship and innovation in the blockchain space.
Don't let this year's unprecedented growth in the crypto community fool you. We are not late to the party, we are very early — we're still the Neil Armstrongs of our time, especially if we focus our efforts in the right places. What we've seen in 2017 is just a sneak peak of what's coming. The new year will bring a lot more talent, more revolutionary ideas and new cats to the blockchain.
We'll also see a whole bunch of new consumers as well.
The shift begins
A few weeks ago we launched CryptoKitties, a game where users can buy, collect, breed and sell genetically unique, digital cats on the blockchain. Technically speaking, they are non-fungible tokens on the ethereum network that implement the ERC-721 token standard proposal, recently created by our technical architect and co-founder Dieter Shirley.
On the outside, however, they are adorable digital kittens with unique combinations of traits, brought to users through a high-quality user interface that allows users to interact with CryptoKitties' smart contracts on the ethereum blockchain. Users who have never signed a blockchain transaction before can quickly understand the mechanics and the technology, and learn how valuable their ownership becomes in a decentralized ecosystem.
We put a lot of attention into user experience, gameplay, and design, and the reason for that is simple: our goal is to bring blockchain — often mistaken for an exclusively financial instrument — closer to the masses. We are ultimately making it more approachable.
What happened in the course of a few days after launch was not something we could have predicted: CryptoKitties took the entire Ethereum network by storm.
Hundreds of thousands of users, most of them new to the crypto world, flooded into the app and started breeding and trading hundreds of thousands of kitties. Our contracts, across multiple days, peaked at over 20 percent of all transactions in the main ethereum network, making CryptoKitties the most used and consumer-focused blockchain app we see in the world today.
With the success, we also reached unprecedented levels of congestion and pending transactions. It was the first time we could really test ethereum's scalability (and, unfortunately, it was unable to handle such volume gracefully).
But there's a bigger point... The ability to create, trade, and tokenize things is the centerpiece of many blockchain projects, including ethereum. (That's exactly one of the main premises on ETH's value, which has seen approximately 10,000 percent growth in comparison to last year's price.) That same tokenization concept could be applied to a variety of unique assets, like virtual goods or physical ones, like art or real estate.
With kitties on the blockchain, we've been able to effectively prove that such use case is not only theoretically possible or speculatively desirable, but that there's real and tangible consumer demand for this exact value proposition.
All of that with a game.
Looking back, it isn't hard to understand why.
In the past, the gaming industry introduced millions of new users to the personal computer. It helped pump traffic into today's social media giants during their early days, and it's frequently been at the leading edge of smartphone popularization.
With CryptoKitties, history is repeating itself and through gaming, a new multi-million dollar market has quickly formed. It's a new market of users who are now a lot more knowledgeable about the benefits of blockchain and the value of decentralization; people who are eager to expand and experiment more, quickly defining new sets of demands and seeking new innovative solutions.
CryptoKitties is just the beginning of that chapter. Finance, exchanges, sovereignty, sure. But much beyond that.
In 2017, we all followed the big ICOs, the ups-and-downs of various cryptocurrencies, tokens and altcoins, speculation about the future and various versions of what banking, governance, currencies, asset management, identity, infrastructure and other backbone services might soon look like. But perhaps what we haven't paid as much attention to is to how strongly this growing user base is demanding new and better blockchain products right now.
Product Hunt, one of the most popular websites for launching, sharing and discovering products, conducted a global hackathon last month with a special category for blockchain and crypto. We can already find a new product or prototype in that category being launched on the site almost every day.
Metamask, one of the most popular ethereum browser wallets, has reached almost half a million users this month. This year alone, we saw the number of blockchain-related development job posts triple. Coinbase grew to over 13 million users.
Even Walmart has been launching pilot projects using blockchain.
The next hurdles
But along with advancements that have been predicted for various industries, what we will also see next year are accelerated steps forward in the direction of consumerization of blockchain with:
- Unprecedented growth in blockchain users and consumer-facing applications.
- Major initiatives for scalability. We already follow important work in progress with sidechains, lightening network, proof of stake, and state channels, but user demand and capital will push scalability efforts further.
- Gaming, virtual assets, consumer, and business products as entry points to blockchain adoption.
- Blockchain use cases flourishing in emerging markets.
- Major focus on excellent user experience.
There's still room for centralized players.
Finally, as we grow toward mass adoption in the new year, it seems inevitable that stronger de-facto standards will emerge, regulation and self-regulation will start to take place and mature, and traditionally central institutions will widen larger interest in decentralized systems.
While there is certainly an opportunity for major disruption, more hybrid systems will be created, where centralized and decentralized pieces are combined to enhance key consumer values like transparency, freedom, agility, accountability, security and warranty.
After all, the same expanding bulk of consumers who are now understanding the benefits of decentralization through new applications like CryptoKitties, have started to push the markets and instigate competition to bring those same benefits to most of their everyday services. And they want those fast.
What we've seen in 2017, and especially in the last few weeks, has been nothing short of incredible. But it's only just the beginning for what blockchain will do for the world.
Still too early for mainstream blockchain use cases? CoinDesk is accepting submissions to its 2017 Year in Review. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your voice heard.
Bitcoin cat image via Shutterstock