Collecting as a hobby has been around for centuries. It’s simple, when you think about it — finding something you like and building a collection of those. This can be anything from rocks to baseball cards to dolls, even cars. Regardless of what is being collected, one common element is the assignment of value to each piece in the collection. The rarer it is, the more valuable it is. For example, in the collectible card industry, low-value cards (often called “commons”) are printed at higher quantities, while cards with greater perceived value have smaller print runs, making them harder to get.
But does this model apply in the digital realm? We’re already seeing a shift in the idea of physical ownership when it comes to consuming media: Owning music — CD or vinyl — is much less common these days, and instead, many people opt to pay for access to a streaming library. What is the purpose of amassing a physical collection when digital access becomes an on/off switch?
The problem with this is that binary all-or-nothing digital rights eliminate the idea of rarity, and that kills a lot of the fun in collecting. However, the blockchain can be used to bring the best of both worlds together: the anywhere/anytime device-based access to digital assets and the rare distribution found in physical collecting.
Gamification As An Industry Driver
It’s clear that the blockchain has become a technology buzzword, so much so that it’s common to hear just about anything associated with the blockchain. In some cases, the technology itself isn’t even important; simply adding the term “blockchain” to a company name has become a strategy in itself. However, the gaming and collecting industries actually make a lot of sense when it comes to integrating the blockchain.
In essence, collecting has been a part of gaming for decades. In physical card games, Magic: The Gathering has turned collectible cards into assets of a game. Pokémon Go is the wildly popular augmented reality craze that focuses on rarity and collection — and it’s still going strong as players continue to seek rare characters. Pokémon Go does not, however, use blockchain, so while Ditto may be hard to find, it is not truly rare in the sense that only a certain amount of people can own it. The collection of things, be they paintings or baseball cards or Pokémon characters, is about the providence of the item and the scarcity. But achieving those things for digital items remains a hurdle to clear.
The solution, though, is inherent in blockchain technology — particularly the creation of the ERC 721 token standard on Ethereum. ERC 721 is an open standard that provides guidelines on completely unique tokens. Or, as its own website puts it, “Think of them like rare, one-of-a-kind collectables.”
With this model of completely unique tokens, the creation and distribution of digital assets on a particular blockchain is the digital version of printed or manufactured items. While every piece is technically a unique individual item, the rarity in a specific print or design can be controlled. In addition, Ethereum provides other useful functions such as payment and proof of ownership. For offline items, these functions were made possible by central authorities such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s — this independent arbitration of value establishes the true scarcity of items and their value.
Proof Of Concept
As technology fads tend to come and go within months, even weeks, the so-called killer app for the blockchain was the release of CryptoKitties: a virtual pet collection game where every “born” kitten was truly unique. This game picked up so much momentum that it had a significant and crippling impact on the Ethereum network. Regardless of that, CryptoKitties — which is still thriving today — gave the strongest proof of concept of entertainment driving the blockchain’s adoption into the mainstream.
Putting gaming with the blockchain in a successful way represents a huge leap forward in the industry for a variety of reasons:
* It creates a more tangible way for the public to discuss and digest the blockchain rather than, say, digitized medical records.
* It opens the door for more developers using the platform creatively.
* It pushes the technology further, as entertainment often does.
A Foundation For The Future
The missing piece of the gamification puzzle is securing these new digital collectibles. However, recent developments have seen the emergence of newly specialized wallets such as Vault.io and Trust Wallet. By crafting a secure and functional method — essentially a safe digital display case for collectibles — the blockchain now has the foundation to power the collecting and gamification elements that we often take for granted in the real world. And while scarcity can be simulated in the digital realm, the idea created by the blockchain and ERC 721, in particular, is that a rare item can truly be just that rather than a variable in an algorithm.
Where does this lead the industry next? That’s perhaps the most exciting part about all of this: Entertainment often uses technology in new and creative ways that power innovation. Whether it’s through CryptoKitties, Pokémon or something else, the gamification of the blockchain promises excitement, even past the so-called year of the blockchain.
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