Can a crypto app be too easy and fun?
That might be the case on ethereum, where one project is proving so popular it's putting pressure on the network's technology. Best thought of as a decentralized Tamagotchi, CryptoKitties appears to be striking a nerve with new users, making ethereum fun and accessible to those who aren't in the tech nerd domain.
But the application is clogging the ethereum network, putting transactions in a long-time limbo.
"Due to network congestion, we are increasing the birthing fee from 0.001 ETH to 0.002 ETH. This will ensure your kittens are born on time!" the CryptoKitties team stated in a tweet surrounded by siren emojis to express the direness of the situation.
In its short lifespan, CryptoKitties has grown to make up 20 percent of all ethereum computations, a number that seems to still be growing.
While it's certainly not the sole culprit behind ethereum's lagging transactions, as ethereum developer Nick Johnson pointed out, it is one, and at the very least, it's where people are placing the blame for exposing ethereum's limits.
Johnson continued, telling CoinDesk:
The issue is a bit ironic, seeing how ethereum is touted as a world "world computer" that hosts unstoppable decentralized applications, replacing the internet.
With aspirations like that, it might seem strange that one app for trading otherworldly kittens could clog the network, but because of the way blockchains work – with every transaction needing all network nodes to process it – there are limits on the number of computations that can be done all at one time.
Not only does that mean that an insane amount of kitty trading can slow down the network, but it can also add to the expense of using ethereum as well.
And whether people are right to point fingers at the CryptoKitties app or not, it is laughable that kittens are bringing new awareness to the messy underbelly of public blockchains, including ethereum, bitcoin and many others – scalability.
As a tweet from coder Boris Kozak displays, the issue is well-established and there are many proposed fixes, including state channels, Raiden, sharding and Casper – ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin's and other developer's interest in moving ethereum to proof-of-stake – but all these solutions require major engineering work and are still unfinished.
"It may also hasten the ethereum scaling crisis," tweeted BlockTower chief information officer Ari Paul.
Others made parallels to bitcoin's fierce scaling debates – which this year saw several groups split from the main bitcoin blockchain to create new versions of the protocol, in bitcoin cash's case raising the block size limit to allow for more transactions.
Johnson Lau, Bitcoin Core contributor, quipped on Twitter:
Blessing in disguise?
In short, ethereum has its work cut out for it.
And as usual, whether or not you think CryptoKitties is a positive movement for the ethereum community is colored by whether you support the protocol in the first place.
Ethereum supporters have a reason to be excited that an app is finally showing what the platform is capable of, as outlined in a reddit thread, which lauds the game as a successful proof-of-concept.
"I'm glad smart contracts are productizing a variety of use cases beyond speculation," said The Initiative for Cryptocurrencies & Contracts (IC3) researcher Phil Daian, pointing to the bout of speculation generated by the thousands of initial coin offerings (ICOs) that have launched on the blockchain.
And Buterin even chimed in, tweeting: "I actually like the digital cat games. They illustrate very well that the value of a blockchain extends far beyond applications that would literally get shut down by banks or governments if they did not use one."
And, as far as scaling ethereum goes, many are glad it's bringing awareness to the issue – one ethereum user even called it a "blessing in disguise."
Martin Köppelmann, founder of ethereum app Gnosis, echoed that sentiment, telling CoinDesk:
Kitty image via CryptoKitties website
CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.