Six months ago, CryptoKitties was the hottest blockchain game in town, raking in over $12 million last December alone. Since then, the game has seen a slump in interest with current daily users averaging just 300. However, with China’s answer to Google, Baidu, recently announcing their own blockchain based game, “Du Yuzhou”, or Du Universe, is momentum building around the area of blockchain gaming? Could we see a serious marketplace develop around blockchain-based games and non-fungible crypto collectibles over the next few months, or is gambling the most likely endgame?
The Rise and Fall of CryptoKitties
CryptoKitties, built on the Ethereum network, created serious network disruption during the peak of its craze last December. According to CNBC, one cat sold for a record $155,000 and, with bitcoin’s price heading towards $20,000, CryptoKitties epitomized the ‘crypto mania’ of the times. Despite the collapse of cryptocurrency prices during the first quarter of this year, a group of investors (including Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures) gave the game a total of $12 million in March, according to Business Insider writer Zoë Bernard.
So it’s all going swimmingly?
Using data from blockchain analytics site Bloxy, Bernard recently pointed out that CryptoKitties transactions during June have collapsed by 98.4 percent compared with their peak of 80.500 last December. While falling transactions seem to indicate falling interest, other factors are at play. Gas fees on the Ethereum network have increased fifty-fold and the average price of a digital cat is just $5, according to blockchain analytics site Diar.
The number of daily CryptoKitties users?
Just 300, according to data from DappRadar.
Down but not out?
As CryptoKitties cofounder Bryce Bladon pointed out in an email to Business Insider, increased gas fees are one factor behind the decline in transactions and daily users. Bladon noted that there are now many more ways to engage with the game, besides simply buying and selling kitties. And this is where Baidu enters the fray. They recently announced ‘Super Chain’, their own blockchain protocol that is fully compatible with both the Bitcoin and worryingly overloaded Ethereum network. Crucially, Baidu’s protocol is promising to solve the one problem plaguing blockchains: scalability.
Could Baidu’s Super Chain help resuscitate blockchain-based games?
Last month, as Baidu began storing the revision histories of Baidu Baike, its answer to Wikipedia, on its Super Chain, it was revealed that their protocol has much lower mining energy requirements than bitcoin and Ethereum networks and can scale to allow 100,000 transactions per second. It is onto this protocol that Baidu has released its new game ‘Du Universe’. The idea behind the game is that users participating in the blockchain will receive rewards in the form of ‘elements’. They can then use these elements to build their own unique planets. According to the official website, as these planets grow, their ‘gravity’ increases and they attract more elements. The significance of this launching on the Super Chain is clear: Du Universe will exist on a highly scalable network and will not be plagued by the problems facing games that run on the Ethereum network.
Beyond gaming…and into gambling
The real potential for crypto gaming to expand into a serious marketplace over the next few months is obvious when you look at what Du Universe is really being used for. According to Josh Ye, Du Universe isn’t simply the “digital society experiment” that Baidu’s official literature would have you believe. As Ye points out, thousands of players are gambling their elements on a planet called the ‘Soccer fairy’ and essentially betting on the outcome of World Cup matches. While Baidu is legally obliged to maintain the pretense that Du Universe is a social experiment, user actions paint another story. In a country where cryptocurrencies are banned, Du Universe elements are a great way to gamble, even if they cannot be exchanged for real money.
Baidu’s move into blockchain-based gaming could simply be a way of maintaining interest in cryptocurrencies in a country where they are banned. Longer term, the compatibility of Baidu’s Super Chain with the Ethereum network could help it overcome scalability issues and breathe new life into other blockchain-based games such as CryptoKitties. As Du Universe user data shows, however, the real potential of blockchain based gaming for developing into a serious marketplace will most likely be realized via gambling.