This is an interview with Jeffrey Zirlin on the current state of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), crypto-gaming, and crypto-collectibles. Jeffrey aka Jihoz is an early CryptoKitties and crypto-gaming player. He’s currently part of the Axie Infinity team as their growth lead. As someone involved with multiple games/collectibles in the space as both a player and now working for a startup in the space, Jeffrey has some good insights to share, especially for those who may be new and are looking to understand the current NFT landscape on Ethereum.
In the crypto gaming sphere so far, we see an interesting interplay between gamers that want active play and collectors that can be more passive. What’s your take on the right balance here?
Gaming ecosystems have had a mix of players and collectors for decades now. In my view, robust collectors markets emerge when you have the right mix of scarcity, utility, and aesthetics around your game assets. We’ve been quite focused on baking as much fun into Axies as possible(utility), while keeping the art quality high(aesthetics) and carefully managing the in-game economy of the universe(scarcity).
You’ve been a CryptoKitties player in the past and still own some valuable kitties. What do you think the CryptoKitties team has done right?
I think the CryptoKitties team did a good job with the artwork and having the inspiration/conviction to build a product around blockchain game assets without much of a previous demand signal for such a platform.
What are the driving factors for CryptoKitties in your view, and are they sustainable long-term?
I see CryptoKitties as a probability-driven artistic creation platform on the blockchain. Collectors drive the CryptoKitty market, just as collectors drive conventional art markets forward. The sustainability long term will depend on whether the game can continue to attract collectors with deep pockets– this most likely depends on how this whole experiment in decentralization and cryptocurrencies works out.
What types of games do you think would succeed in this space in the future and benefit the most from putting their in-game assets on the blockchain?
I believe games in the spirit of Neopets or Pokemon will do best at first. These games will focus on the art style, collectible game-assets, building a strong grass-roots community, and basic but addicting game-play. MMO’s, in my opinion need to scale quite massively in order to be fun, so I think the talent and funding needed to pull one off are still years away.
When building Axies, how important is it for your team to have third-party developers build tools and additional uses for Axies?
Right now we have some amazing third party developers building analytics tools for Axie and they’ve helped so much with lightening the load on the dev team to help us focus on core gameplay. Freak, Onedayplay, and Uselessz have built two great sites that I use on a daily basis.
In addition, we are starting to see mini-games pop up that are serving as interesting content marketing tools for our game. For example, https://flappy-axie.herokuapp.com/ has been a fun way for our community to stay immersed in the Axie universe while they wait for their battle cooldowns to refresh and introduce new players to our artwork since the game does not require an Axie to try out.
What are the most interesting trends in your opinion with respect to the collectability of these NFTs, as the space has evolved?
I think it’s amazing that sale prices in some of the popular games are starting to rival the prices we see in Mainstream games like Magic the Gathering. For example, an Axie recently sold for 50 ETH, over $10,000, so prices are well on their way to eclipsing what we’ve seen with collectors items like the Alpha Black lotus from Magic the Gathering.
What advice would you give someone looking to enter the crypto-collectible/crypto-gaming space today in terms of how best to spend their money?
I think players/collectors should focus on analyzing the quality of artwork, the “fun” that the platforms for the specific NFTs provide, and making sure you are investing in a project that has a strong grassroots community of evangelists, hobbyists, and content creators..
Are there other games or use cases of NFTs that interest you today besides Axie/CK?
I’m interested in seeing how Loom Netowork’s Zombie Battleground app does as that will be a major testing point for the space and also provide some clarity around regulation around apps involving NFTs.
We’re already seeing an explosion of new games modeled after CK/Axies, and some are already shutting down or not performing well in regards to player activity. What does it take to survive and succeed in the long term in the space?
I think most of the games that have tried to replicate our success have made half-hearted attempts and lack the development speed, art quality, and strong community we’ve been able to cultivate. There are no shortcuts to success in this space and I think now that some of the early games have proven there’s a market out there for these types of games, some less talented actors are trying to enter the space. The big game studios are still sleeping at the wheel, content with their current business models.
You were an early pioneer with CryptoKitties gameplay. What’s your quick pitch to a CK player to give Axie Infinity a spin?
Axies are the first fully animated NFT’s with an engaging, animated battle system on the Blockchain. Also it only costs .002 to breed your Axies, so your creative juices can flow freely! In addition, battles are completely free.
The joy of breeding that perfect battler for your team is something I believe has eclipsed the thrills I used to experience in the Kittie universe.
We had the opportunity to interview the Axie Infinity team about their game. For those who aren’t aware, Axie Infinity is a new game built on Ethereum where the game assets are stored on the blockchain. In addition to being a ‘crypto-collectible’, the Axie team has focused more on the gameplay, to make it more interesting for players. Many of the early CryptoKitties players have now found a home with the Axie team. We had a chance to interview the team.
Tell us a bit more about how the team came together and how the idea of Axie was formed.
In late december Trung came to me with an idea for a blockchain game. He showed me CryptoKitties which was obviously very successful. However, we believed that a game with better graphics, animations, and a battle system that interlocks with the gene system could propel both crypto collectibles and blockchain gaming forward.
My first mission was to lay out a vision for the creatures and gameplay. I grew up surrounded by nature and fascinating animals in Vietnam. As a child I treasured my pet fish and turtles. I wanted our game to bring about an organic sense of awe, something akin to what a pet owner feels when they raise and bond with their animals.
In order to achieve this I designed the game from not only a gamer and collector’s standpoint, but also from a pet owner’s. That’s how I got the ideas for terrariums since every pet owner wants to show off their animals!
The first sketch I did of an Axie was Puff, our Axie #1 in the game. It was a quick sketch, everything flowing from instinct. The name of the project was originally Chimera because Axies are a mixture of all the coolest body parts that I’ve observed in nature. Puff has the gills of an axolotl, antlers, and a fish tail. Axie Infinity isn’t confined by the rules of nature, just the laws of our genetic system which allows for potentially infinite combinations of Axies. Kotaro and Ginger took longer to plan and then sketch out. Once those were done I delivered them to Trung. We changed the name to Axie Infinity and that set off a series of amazing events that we hope will play a role in raising the profile of decentralized games.
Some large VCs like A16Z and USV are betting on cryptoassets and have invested in CryptoKitties. How do you see the market evolve? Do you see a few cryptoasset networks like CryptoKitties dominate the market or do you see a long-tail of issuers succeeding in the market?
I think we’re at a super interesting time in the decentralized game space. Institutional capital has seen the potential but most of the decentralized games on the market right now are closer to decentralized “casinos” or “pyramid schemes”. This has given institutional investors few options when seeking to deploy their capital into the space.
However, there are a handful of legitimate projects that are gaining traction and pushing the space forward. I don’t think Cryptokitties will dominate the market– they are more analogous to beanie babies which piggy-backed off of Ebay during the internet era. We see ourselves more akin to Pokemon and Neopets. There will be plenty of room for dapps and I expect Cryptokitties and Axiom Zen to help build out the infrastructure for the decentralized app space more so than trying to crush anyone they deem “competitors”. There are so few users now, we need the pie to grow rather than fight over the slices.
What’s your general sense of cryptoassets as a ‘collectible’ or ‘asset’ (i.e. something you just hold on to) vs. use for gaming (i.e. something you use for game play)? Which use would dominate in the community for Axie?
We see Axies as both collectibles and toys that you can use to play our game with. The problem with other cryptocollectibles so far are that they very little proven utility so collectors and players only have aesthetics and rarity go on to determine value.
However, in Axie Infinity, players can battle their axies and actually watch an animated battle take place. Therefore, we believe the utlity of an axie in battle will be one of the key determinants of value alongside scarcity and aesthetics.
Tell us a little more about the team, where they are from, their background in gaming and blockchain, and any other interesting tidbits about the members.
My name is Trung Nguyen, I left my role as a software engineer with a US-based startup to work on Axie Infinity full time. I am the lead engineer of Axie Infinity and have had a hand in all aspects of development: from developing and deploying our smart contracts to implementation and design of our product. I’ve been interested in MOBA and FPS games for most of my life but this is my the first game i’m building.
Masume hasbeen designing and creating games for most of his life. In elementary school, he designed games similar to Dungeons & Dragons and even his own version of the Pokemon card game for hisclassmates. So since an early age, he’s also owned rare+ exotic pets which I think has affected the game. For example, the terrarium mode was inspired by his experiences as a pet owner. Everyone wants to show off their pets!
Jihoz, our community manager has a background in evolutionary biology, military strategy, and investing. He’s also one of the top CryptoKitties players in the world so he has a lot of really good insights based on past experiences which is incredible since this space is basically 4 months old.
Give us a quick pitch to CryptoKitties players why they should also check out Axie.
First, I’d like to point out the four crucial flaws in CryptoKitties.
Due to the high breeding costs, withouta steady stream of new CryptoKitties players, much of the eth will flow into the hands of the auto-birthers in the long run.
It is impossible for your Cryptokitty to be improved by sinking in your time and effort. In fact, if you breed your cryptokitty, the value of it goes down. So rather than being able to improve your token by “playing” with it, you degrade it. Not ideal.
Because the kitties have so little utility now, the only real way to value them is through scarcity + aesthetics. New players have a hard time learning the breeding and gene systems so there is a big barrier to entry and it’s quite hard to answer the question “what should I buy as my first Kitty”.
Axiom set an arbitrary limit of 50,000 gen 0’s. That might be way too many, or way too little depending on the size of their future user-base – they have boxed themselves into a corner. Many community members are worried about what will happen to the game after November.
In comparison, we have done everything we can to avoid the autobirther solution that Cryptokitties used. Our breeding costs are .002 ETH (as opposed to .008 ETH in CryptoKitties), and we are looking at ways to lower this.
Players will be able to improve their Axies by battling them and raising them to gain exp points. Exp points can be used to breed, but they can also be used to upgrade body parts! Thus, our game has a time and effort sink that should allow an actual sense of progression and a potential way for players to earn eth by leveling up their Axies and then selling them to someone who lacks the time or will to do the same. We want our players to actually use their Axies.
How much of the game is run on Ethereum smart contracts, and what parts are centralized?
We’ve kept all the genes and ownership data on the blockchain. The egg sales for new trait releases are on a smart contract and so was the sales contract for the pre-sale.
Our battle system will be a hybrid system where we will have some elements on a contract but we also want to add fun centralized elements like entrancing battle animations and a cool soundtrack. There is also potential to add a real time- off chain battle system in the future as well.
Axie battles are a new and interesting feature compared to say CryptoKitties. Tell us a little more about the battle mechanics – how much is determined by the Axies’ characteristics and how much by luck? If you have a certain Axie, would it always (statistically speaking) be able to win? How much of the battle dynamics is on the blockchain?
We believe that our battle system is unlike any other battle game ever released. Before battle, players will choose their team of 3 Axies, the moves that the axies bring into battle, the order that the moves will be used in, and the “positioning” of their axies on a 3 v 3 special battle terrarium.
An Axie’s genes will determine it’s base stats and also the moves that it can bring into battle. There will definitely be an RNG (Random Number Generator) element to the battles, but in the long run, teams that synergize well together can do quite well in terms of % win rate.
We believe that the ‘meta’ for the game will be constantly evolving. If a certain strategy is overpowered, we anticipate players breeding axis that can act as “counters” to those strategies. In this way, Axie Infinity might actually be self-balancing— a reflection of the way nature works.
For the battles and mini-games, are the rewards to the winner paid out in ETH?
Players will be rewarded experience points and other in game points that they can then use to improve their axies to reflect the time and effort they have sunk into their pet. We do plan on having tournaments with interesting prizes including ETH prizes in the future!
Can you explain the mechanics of how raising an Axie in the Terrarium helps them later in say battles? Does this cost money?
Terrariums will help Axie Owners organize their collections and help them power up their axies.We are currently developing the system and hope to keep as much of it as off-chain as possible to reduce transaction costs and aid in user experience.
Axie seems to have more gameplay elements than other such games in the marketplace. What about the collector-friendly aspects of the game (say something along the lines of fancies in CK)?
There are, and will be some super rare and unique Axies for collectors to accumulate. For starters, the Pre-Sale Origin Axes have mystic parts which will never be released outside of the origin gene pool. We have retired all origin traits and capped the supply of Origin Axies at 4500 meaning collectors that wish to obtain mystic parts will need to either purchase an Axie with Mystic parts or unlock an origin Axie using AOC tokens— a special in game currency that is exchangeable at a 5-1 rate for our remaining supply of origin Axies. The non-mystic origin traits will also never be released from Axie Infinities egg sales so players will need to buy Axies with those traits from the market, buy eggs from origin axis owners, or use AOC to purchase origin axies in order to access these parts(and their corresponding battle moves).
We also plan on introducing a cool achievements system which will add a bunch of collectibility to the Axies.
How does the Axie team make money from the game?
We have many different sources of potential revenue. We will be selling Axies with new body parts from our Egg shop starting in early May and will also launch terrariums and terrarium decorations for sale soon after.
What’s the launch schedule look like for the different elements of the game?
We released the breeding system on May 4th. We will be starting our battle beta in July!”
Are there any specific game features you’re most excited about?
I think we’re super excited for the battle animations— they look amazing and can’t wait to share them with the community.
Do you have anything else for the community to add?
The best way to learn about the game and get started is to join our discord! Ask for Jihoz— he’s been known to give private tutoring lessons to new players over discord voice.
We interviewed the Aethia team about their new game, Aethia, built on the Ethereum blockchain. After the success of CryptoKitties, we were looking for other gaming efforts that can really be benefited by the blockchain. Aethia stood out in our mind in terms of details and depth of play. It is also not really a ‘battle’ game, like some other efforts but instead is an elaborate game world. If the team can pull it off, Aethia can be a great game for all types of players.
We also did a comprehensive, in-depth article on Aethia that you should check out, if you’re new to the game or want to learn some details and specifics. Check out the Aethia site here, which will start its alpha soon.
Here’s the interview by the team. The team consists of –
Ayuni – product manager, ex-developer, game freak, Pokémon lover. Responsible for the overall game.
Matías – developer, responsible for all game interaction
Fionn – marketing
Estelle – designer, head of the art department
Joseph – cryptocurrency expert, insights into blockchain games
BTC Geek: Tell us a bit about how the idea behind Aethia came to be. Aethia (Ayuni): I’ve had the idea brewing in my head for more than two decades now, really. I think I was an eight-year-old when I got my first Tamagotchi. I loved that thing. I didn’t understand any of it, but I knew my ‘gotchi was mine and mine alone. I fed it, I cleaned up after it, I took care of it. I raised that Tamagotchi, and I loved that Tamagotchi. That experience, which was not just the game, but the game coupled with my age, I suppose, is something nothing else has made me experience.
And then, a few years later, maybe two or three, my parents got me Pokémon Red. That was amazing! That game I understood even less. We had just started with English in elementary school, and I could hardly understand any of it in the game, so I suppose Pokémon was one of my English teachers as well (and a crappy one at that).
I suppose that’s what really drives my core ideas on Aethia. Of course, there’s the stuff we learned during actual game development courses, but the core idea behind Aethia is powered by those two different themes. Oh, and of course World of Warcraft, how could I forget. The feeling of doing raids together with everyone on comms, and the whole guild vibe, that was amazing. Community bonds is something I think Blizzard did really well with WoW, and is something that will be core to Aethia as well.”
BTC Geek: Can you describe what Aethia is, in short? Aethia (Ayuni, Matías): Well, the thing is, there are two Aethia’s, Aethia, or however we decide to pluralize it. You have Aethia, the world upon which everything is happening, with its many continents, its rich history, the different civilizations as well as their interaction with the plethora of Ethergotchi, and then you have Aethia the game. In hindsight, we should’ve called the planet something else, I guess.
If we’re talking about game mechanics, we can say that Aethia is Spore-like in the sense that different stages of the game have different interactions. It starts with pet-raising mechanics, like Tamagotchi, and as you progress in the game you start being able to interact with the world more in the form of Pokémon and something like the Sims. Let’s say that Aethia is a pet breeding game where pets, the Ethergotchi, have an RPG and simulation game aspect as well.
BTC Geek: It seems one of the big differences between Aethia and a game like Cryptokitties is that you make decisions that affect how the Ethergotchi evolves. Why is this important? Aethia (Estelle, Ayuni): How about common sense? Of course any sort of interaction with a creature changes its perception of the world. My cat didn’t miraculously end up as awesome as it is now, you know. When you receive your Ethergotchi egg, you will most likely be there for the entirety of its first life. Maybe even longer if you properly care for it. All actions imprint upon the Ethergotchi and affect it in some way. This allows for a myriad of ways to play the game, which, to me, makes it extreme fun and gives it a ‘replayable’ factor. Also, I would refrain from saying evolves, as that’s a rather special word in Pokémon. The better word would be ‘grows’. Ethergotchi can also ‘evolve’ in a manner of speaking, but that’s more of a transition from one stage of life to another, as they have three stages of life: egg, child, and adult.
BTC Geek: Can you explain star alignment and how new star alignments get released over time? Aethia (Estelle): You bet your ass I can, Fionn, you know that! Star alignments are my jam! They’re heavily influenced by hexagrams from the I Ching, as well as astrological signs, and magic circles from various sources. The I Ching book consists of sixty-four hexagrams. Compared to those sixtyfour hexagrams, we only have a meagre fifteen different star alignments in Aethia. A star alignment is set at the time of egg creation, and here I mean when the horizontal tango has been done, and the fastest swimmer has won, you know?
Anyway, the star alignment of an egg depends on the alignments of its parents, as well as the time it was conceived. The eggs we distribute for the alpha stage are from specific parents and have been ‘created’, hehe, in a specific time range. For this reason, there are only five possible outcomes for the referral eggs. The alpha egg is set to an awesome star alignment as a thank-you to the initial player base. Star alignments affect the growth rate of various Ethergotchi base attributes. So depending on a ‘gotchi’s alignment, it would be more or less inclined to follow a certain play style or career path.
Ayuni adds, “Yes, and regarding the release of the other star alignments, players will have to find out by letting their Ethergotchi interact with each other, and ‘creating’, as Estelle so nicely put it, new eggs.”
BTC Geek: How does the Aethia team make money if it is free to play? Aethia (Joseph, Ayuni): Like all other greats we will be living off of the in-game shop and micro transactions, baby! Also, there will be items available for purchase using the CHI token, which itself is a purchasable item.
BTC Geek: Can you explain the reincarnation system in more detail? Do the players choose when they are reborn? Aethia (Estelle, Matías): The reincarnation system is actually pretty simple. Ethergotchi have a lifecycle that consists of three stages: egg, child and adult. At the end of its adulthood, an Ethergotchi contemplates the life it has led up until that point. If it concludes ‘Yo, my life was freaking awesome’, it will turn into an egg again but retain some of its attributes, and all of its growth rate. Think of mythological phoenixes, and how they are reborn, but without the whole fire-and-ash thing. Oh and if its life was kind of crappy, because it didn’t get properly fed and cared for, had no toys, didn’t play, bla bla, stuff like that, it will just die.
Ethergotchi can die during their child stage as well as their adult stage from being malnourished for too long, or from loneliness because its owner didn’t spend any time with it. Luckily, the in-game shop has ‘Ethergotchi Crystal Cores’ in stock. A single core can be used to revive an Ethergotchi, if used within a week after its death, or well, within six-hundred-and-four-thousand-eight-hundred seconds, which is equivalent to a week. We understand that some people might not be able to access their ‘gotchi for a while, like going on a holiday. More than a week is too long, though, so then you’ve really lost your ‘gotchi. Or well, with lost, I don’t actually mean lost, the token will of course still be assigned to you, but you will not be able to interact with it any more. Its function within Aethia would cease.
BTC Geek: What parts of the game are on the Ethereum blockchain, and what parts are going to be run centrally? Aethia (Matías): Alright, that’s actually a difficult question. This has been a bone of contention within the crypto community for a while, ‘How much do you decentralise?’, and has no clear answer. For us, however, we are building and designing everything as we go along, giving us extreme flexibility in rolling out the game architecture. We built it in such a way that we can easily replace various game components for up- or downgrades. For internal play-testing we always build everything blockchain first. The more we can run on the blockchain, the better for us, and the ecosystem. However, this is only the case if it does not detract from the game experience. If we doubt the scalability of the network at some point, we will be forced to centralise parts of the architecture, and send aggregate data to the blockchain, until such a time the Ethereum network is ready to handle it. That being said, alpha stage one will be fully played out on the blockchain. I’m pretty sure the network will be able to handle it fine.
BTC Geek: Is there a limit on how many Ethergotchis exist in the Aethia world? How are new Ethergotchis created? Aethia (Ayuni, Matías): There is a technical limit, which is the maximum amount capable of being stored inside of an two-hundred-and-fifty-six bit unsigned integer. This is in the one-hundred-quattuorvigintillion range, and I know that word for reasons, but to put in layman’s terms, it’s big and we won’t reach it. And about the latter question, that’s like how Estelle put it, done by two Ethergotchi performing the horizontal tango. Ethergotchi are genderless, and the act is always initiated via a mating dance by one Ethergotchi. If the partner Ethergotchi accepts, the mating ritual is performed, and an egg is created from that.
So what happens under-the-hood is that the owner of an adult Ethergotchi first buys the ‘Ethergotchi Mating Potion’ item. Using this item will allow the Ethergotchi to mate. Each Ethergotchi can only mate once during its adulthood. After using this potion, the owner requests a mating ritual by calling the Aethia mating contract with the identifier of the Ethergotchi it would like to mate with. This can be coupled with a payment in any amount of ether. The other Ethergotchi owner will be notified of this request, and may choose to accept or not. If the other person accepts, both Ethergotchi will be unavailable for a few days, while they perform the mating ritual. After this period, the owner that initiated the request will receive the resulting Ethergotchi egg. The breed and type of egg depend on its parents. The other Ethergotchi owner will receive the amount of ether that the requester put forward during the request. The requester can cancel the request if the other owner has not accepted yet. The owner can then hatch the egg via the normal game system again, or sell it.
BTC Geek: How does CHI as a currency work? Is it an ERC20 token? Is it limited in supply? Aethia (Matías): CHI will be a nonmineable, non-mintable ERC-20 token. In Aethia, everything costs CHI. You want food? Then you buy it with CHI. If you want toys for your ‘gotchi, you buy it with CHI. That being said all egg owners can receive a monthly allowance of CHI by requesting it from the Aethian Crystal Bank, this allowance is what keeps the game free-to-play. The amount of CHI you receive depends on the types of eggs you own. If you want specialized food, potions, or items, you will have to buy more CHI. Adult Ethergotchi are able to work for CHI, this however does lower their satiation and happiness bar, as well as making them unavailable for other interaction whilst they’re working.
BTC Geek: What are the factors that affect what an Ethergotchi becomes in the Aethia world? Aethia (Ayuni): Ethergotchi are a bit like us humans in the sense that they’re more inclined towards certain aspects of life. I don’t have the super gene that apparently all top athletes have, for example. Ethergotchi are born with a certain distribution of attributes, as well a growth rate for those attributes; this depends on its parents as well as its star alignment. This doesn’t mean that Ethergotchi will perform certain tasks better, per se, but it does mean that they would progress easier if they followed a different career path. Don’t let this stop you from achieving your ‘gotchi’s dreams, though.
BTC Geek: How do different Ethergotchis interact with each other in the Aethia world? Or are they just separate beings without any interaction? Aethia (Ayuni): This is actually really interesting. As players might have deduced, the egg stage of a ‘gotchi’s lifecycle is a rather one-on-one affair. It’s up to the owner to guide the egg towards its child phase. Even then children are mostly sheltered, but they could be sent to a daycare or school to interact with different ‘gotchi. Some owners don’t have the time to look after their ‘gotchi continuously. These experiences are things an Ethergotchi remembers over its lifetime. Afterwards, during a ‘gotchi’s adulthood, there will be many ways of interacting with other ‘gotchi. Let’s keep the mystery of that alive for now.
Matías adds “Just to cut in a bit, and give a bit of insight into the technical aspect of things, all types of interactions occur in their own contract, which makes it an incredibly flexible system to build, deploy and maintain. New patches could introduce entire new faculties to school, a gym to perform sports in, a battle arena, a chapel, etc.”
BTC Geek: What are the differences between the various types of eggs, such as common, rare, mythic, legendary, etc.? Aethia (Estelle, Ayoni, Matías, Joseph): That’s an easy one! The higher grade your egg is, the more awesome it is and the more amazing it looks and the higher its initial attribute points and growth rate is. Anyway, there’s also a limited amount of legendary Ethergotchi. Specifically ten. Additionally, it’s impossible to get a legendary ‘gotchi egg from a mating ritual, it will be mythic at the highest. Oh, we might also want to add that, of those ten legendaries, one will be sold on a first-come-first-serve basis at some point during the alpha. It’s to satisfy that one dude or dudette that wants to start off with a legendary ‘gotchi, and keep us fed for a while at the same time.
BTC Geek: Did the success of Cryptokitties take you by surprise? Aethia (Ayuni): Yes, and I think the success of games in general was a surprise. I still think it’s somewhat strange for interactions to be so costly. Looking at the network now, though, it appears it has stabilised and is ready to try a more interactive game.
BTC Geek: After the success of Crytpkitties, it seems that are many new cryptocollectible games being built. What are your thoughts on those, and how does Aethia distinguish itself from these? Aethia (Ayuni): We’re not positioning ourselves as a so-called ‘cryptocollectible’. It’s not that I find it demeaning, but I don’t remember anyone calling Pokémon a collectible game, nor was Tamagotchi a collectible game. Aethia is a simulation and role-playing game on the blockchain! We believe players will get attached to their ‘gotchi, and raise them correctly over their lifetime, instead of seeing the Ethergotchi as simple collectibles.
Atlanta will host its first Bitcoin Consumer Fair from April 17th to April 18th 2015. The focus is on merchant adoption and consumer usage, which is still lagging what people predicted a year ago. The goal of the Atlanta Bitcoin Consumer fair is mostly to inform the merchants how easy it is to accept Bitcoin payments, and that there is a ready consumer base that will spend at these merchants.
The event isn’t just about consumer/merchant adoption of Bitcoin though. There are talks scheduled, in two tracks, so it will also resemble some of the other Bitcoin conferences. Check out the event here, and if you’re in or around Atlanta, do make sure you’re able to attend!
We got to catch up with Jason Cronk, who has been a regular Bitcoin conference attendee in the past, and is involved in several startups as well, related to the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency space.
What kinds of Meetups are possible for people in Atlanta to meet up with fellow Bitcoiners? There are two Meetup groups in Atlanta. The larger one is more general and has over 300 members, which is one of the more impressive meetup groups I’ve seen around the world. Scott Discroll who will be speaking at the Bitcoin Consumer Fair runs that one. I run the other group, which is more focused on business and technology, this has about 50 members. There actually used to be a smaller group of miners and tech geeks that met, but they disbanded a few months ago coinciding with the drop in mining activity.
What’s the goal of the Bitcoin Consumer Fair? What kind of response have you seen so far? The goal of the fair is to drive consumer adoption and let people actually see Bitcoin transactions in practice in a retail setting. I go to a lot of Bitcoin events and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to purchase things with Bitcoin. We want to change that. Almost everyone in the space agrees that this is sorely needed. Too much focus has been on merchant adoption, we’ve got to show the other side of the equation now.
What’s the state of Bitcoin in Atlanta in general, considering BitPay is from Atlanta? Do you see lots of local merchants accepting Bitcoin in your everyday experience? While there is quite of lot of interest in Bitcoin, with BitPay, GeorgiaTech and Atlanta being a financial technology hub, merchant adoption is fairly low. We haven’t seen the sorts of small communities like there are in Germany and San Francisco. Consumer adoption is even less. I went to pay at a Barbershop that takes Bitcoin and I’m guessing I was the first customer because they were quite perplexed how to handle it. This is the reason we’re putting on the Fair to try and drive adoption locally.
What’s been your personal experience with Bitcoin so far? I’ve been in Bitcoin for a few years now. I run a blog on the legal issues of Bitcoin and I’m an avid user but I want to see it grow. People have be shown the benefit. It will grow, but it’s going to take time as non-techies learn about it and get a chance to use it.
What do you think is needed for more mainstream Bitcoin adoption? Do you see the future more in the payment side of Bitcoin or more in the Bitcoin 2.0/smart contracts side? I’m bullish on Bitcoin as a payment and value transfer mechanism. Don’t get me wrong, Bitcoin 2.0 is great stuff but people have to learn to fly propeller planes before we start building rocket ships. Bitcoin converts need to keep evangelizing it. They need to show the benefits and focus on the core use cases. It’s a much more difficult sell in the United States because we have a much more stable currency and useful banking system, but there are still people that could benefit from it, name the 17% underbank and unbanked people in the US, those who want to remit money overseas or those who want to travel or buy goods and services from overseas.
You’ve attended quite a few Bitcoin events. Any favorites? What do you normally like to see in a Bitcoin conference? I like to be able to use my Bitcoin, buying things. I like to see people excited by the future. I like the big conferences as well as the small conferences. I don’t really have a favorite. I’ve tried to combine all the elements from each of the conferences I’ve attended into the Bitcoin Consumer Fair.
What startups in the space currently excite you? Do you find any other cryptocurrencies apart from Bitcoin to be promising? I like how BitPay and BitWage are targeting the consumer side by allowing people to get paid in Bitcoin. I think there needs to be more focus on that. How do people get money? They get paid. One area that needs a lot of development is using Bitcoin to pay contractors, especially those overseas. I’ve used fiverr.com which takes Bitcoin, but the bigger sites don’t yet. Bitcoin is well suited to contractor payments because you can have escrow agents who can determine where the funds go without actually having access to the funds using multi-signature wallets.
Christopher Mrozek is a crypto-currency enthusiast and he makes physical bullion for crypto-currencies. The coins are beautiful and people who ordered them seem very happy with their purchase. He’s targeting Primecoins at the moment. You can find this information on his website Finite by Design or at his Bitcointalk forum thread where people are already ordering his 0.999 fine silver 1 Troy Ounce coins (similar to American Silver Eagles in 1oz). The first batch has a limited supply of 50 coins, so if you want one for yourself, go ahead and order one.
BTCGeek: Why Primecoins? Chris: Primecoin was selected for a number of reasons. Primarily because I am a huge fan of Sunny King and his work as a crypto developer. I have confidence that he will not walk away from the project – which is a danger investors must be cautious of in this new crypto-currency landscape. A strong following and loyal supporters is another reason, as evidenced by the rapid ascension of XPM in popularity and market cap.
BTCGeek: Any plans for other crypto-currencies too? Chris: Yes, actually I am putting the finishing touches on our next product line, physical Cryptogenic Bullion bars. These will be 1 troy ounce of .999 fine silver with the hologram sticker just like Primecoin, however will be the shape of a bullion bar rather than a coin. We are shooting for a release date by the end of October for this product. Additionally I have had a couple requests for other crypto-currencies to be created and I plan on continuing to add product lines. I will be running a public poll soon to help identify which other lines the community wants to see.
BTCGeek: How can buyers be confident that their private keys are secure and that you don’t have a copy of their private key? Chris: This is a critical concern for me as well as for my customers. Privacy and security of my customers and their products is imperative to my companies sustained success. Unfortunately there is no perfect answer and I have no way of proving that the private key is destroyed other than giving my word and sharing the argument that the longevity of these product lines depends on maintaining this verbal bond. I single handedly manage the generation of each unique address and private key and do the painstaking task of constructing the coins by hand – no one else is involved or privy to the process or the byproducts of this process. Once the coins are assembled, the private keys are destroyed by me personally leaving the only existing copy to be the one hidden under the tamper resistant, security hologram sticker on the back of the physical piece.
BTCGeek: What got you interested in crypto-currencies and Bitcoin? Chris: I originally got interested and involved with crypto-currencies thru Bitcoin which I had the fortune to stumble across relatively early. This lead me to also discover alternate currencies. I found the entire concept to be fascinating and decided to invest a portion of my savings into these currencies. I have been an investor/trader ever since thru some wild fluctuations but in the end have seen growth in my investment portfolio and I have a firm belief that mass adoption is inevitable and hence continued growth.
BTCGeek: I ask this to people in the community because crypto-currencies attract a very interesting bunch of people. What are your political beliefs? Chris: Politics and religion, a couple subjects I try to steer clear of, lol. I will try to delicately dance around this question as not to alienate anyone. I was born and raised in America so the concept of freedom is deeply engrained in me. My political views are aligned with this belief and also with the understanding that anything as an absolute can be hazardous, hence a balance must be maintained.
BTCGeek: Quite a few people in the community think that alt-coins are a distraction from Bitcoin and the energies spent developing and promoting them should instead be used towards Bitcoin. What are your thoughts? Chris: I think competition forces the envelope to be pushed and innovations and improvements to continue to evolve. Bitcoin is an excellent prototype but I believe it to have limitations and I suspect the likelihood of an alternate currency taking the market lead to be very likely. I believe the staunchest Bitcoin supporters are large stake holders for the most part and thereby have an interest for ensuring it as the one and only. This narrow-sighted view however is ironically similar to the one that Bitcoin supporters find themselves involved with when battling against the conventional government backed financial system paradigm.
BTCGeek: Which alt-coins are your favorite? Chris: Of course I am a fan of Primecoin for it’s uniqueness. I also am a big believer in Cryptogenic Bullion as I see this to offer some of the best features from many different coins blended together into one rare commodity. NVC and PPC are a couple others that I am fond of, primarily due to their respective devs for whom I have the utmost respect and confidence, Sunny King and Balthazar.
BTCGeek: Which ones do you see the most potential for? Chris: I am partial to Cryptogenic Bullion for a number of reasons. Rarity, transaction speed, 51% resistance via Proof of Stake as well as interest, rapidly diminishing supply and well designed difficulty adjustment algorithm to prevent being taken advantage of by mining pools, active and public development team and dedication to marketing and growth.
BTCGeek: It is interesting how something as digital as crypto-currencies have a market in the physical coin form (Casascius coins for Bitcoin, for instance). Why do you think that is? Chris: I think the early prospectors/investors in digital currencies are those who truly believe in diversity regarding their finances. I think the same mentality that leads one to diversify their portfolio into crypto-currencies also leads one to diversify into precious metals. Due to this I feel the merging of a precious metal with a digital currency to be extremely popular among collectors. I am not sold on the functionality of these pieces but the collectibility is undeniable.
BTCGeek: What’s special about the number 11 in offering 11 XPMs? Chris: The number 10 was actually my original selection for the physical pieces but in a conversation with Sunny King, he suggested the use of a prime number instead. Obviously I liked the idea and hence the number 10 was changed to the more fitting prime number 11.
BTCGeek: How do you monetize the crypto-currencies that you receive? Do you convert everything to USD to pay for material, etc. or do you keep a part of it in the original form? Chris: As of now all of my received payment via crypto-currency remains invested in crypto-currency’s. I do plan to transfer some to USD to recoup my initial investments from family savings but am working with my accountant to insure that this is handled by the book.
BTCGeek: What are your thoughts on the regulation of Bitcoin? Chris: It is a bit of a double edged sword and oxymoronic, but I think regulation will be critical to mass adoption and therefore I support it.
BTCGeek: Do you think the US is doing a fair job at it? Chris: I will have to get back with you on that after I have finished working with my accountant and payed my taxes, lol.
I had a chance to speak with Rob, the co-founder of Bitcoin Web Hosting, which is a site that provides services like hosting your website, VPS, dedicated servers, etc. and you pay with Bitcoin. This helps with keeping your anonymity intact. Rob is an entrepreneur and Bitcoin enthusiast and he has some very interesting thoughts to share about the crypto-currency universe and its use in small businesses. Read on!
BTCGeek: Give us a little background about yourself. Rob: I am originally from Northern California, lived in the Bay Area, Frisco, Hayward; stayed in Oakland for a bit. I also spent a good deal of time north of Sac in a small town called Chico. It’s a small party town, plenty of good times, although it’s pretty slow paced – and it’s hot as hell during the summer.
I went to school at CSU, with a focus on Business, and ended up leaving after a year and a half. I really didn’t think I was learning anything that I couldn’t learn on my own, so I left. I had plenty of friends that had Bachelor’s and were still working dead end jobs and didn’t really see the value. A lot of people told me I was an idiot, but you know what? I don’t have no debt and they’re still trying to pay theirs off working for someone else. Go figure.
BTCGeek: What was the philosophy behind Bitcoin Web Hosting and how did you get started? Rob: http://bitcoinwebhosting.net/web-host-provides-anonymous-web-hosting/
BTCGeek: What fascinates you about the whole Bitcoin idea? Rob: What fascinated me the most about it was that some unknown person had a single idea can have an impact around the world to the point where it is actually being used for commerce and that kind of really speaks to the power of the internet. It’s like the whole open-source community where they tinker around with things and make them better.
BTCGeek: Do you see any drawbacks to using Bitcoin or any impediments to its mainstream adoption? Rob: I am fully behind it. How I look at it, the volatility, although I do speculate on them. It really needs to be broken down in a way where the average Joe can understand it. There are lot of things in there that isn’t going to appeal or be understood by a broad spectrum of people. Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing but regular people off the street, they don’t really know about Bitcoin.
BTCGeek: Where is the big push going to come from? The tech entrepreneurs? Rob: I think with most things – you can even talk about iPhones, tablets, Google glass, any type of new innovation that is right on the cusp of something new, it’s always the tech crowd that adopts it first and they are the ones who make things mainstream. I am not saying the volatility or not a lot of people knowing about it is a bad thing per se, it’s just the natural thing. Especially with the new currency thing not controlled by a government, it’s a monumental thing in history.
BTCGeek: What do you think of alt-coins? Any of them promising in your mind? Rob: I wouldn’t say I am an expert on Bitcoin and certainly no expert on alt-coins but with alt-coins I look at it like this – because Bitcoin hasn’t reached a critical mass yet, and because there are so many things to deal with such as regulation, we need major advocates, even lobbyists for Bitcoin who can get things moving. I think alt-coins kind of distract from Bitcoin because all these resources and all this time spent on creating alt-coins could be spent on making Bitcoin a better system and protocol and getting it into the hands of people.
BTCGeek: But don’t you think alt-coins are easier to experiment with considering it is very hard to experiment with the Bitcoin protocol because of its size? Maybe we can have more innovation in the crypto-currency space with alt-coins, no? Rob: Yeah, that was actually a conversation I had with another person and in that regard, I do see it as a good thing because you can’t just do any types of wild experimentation with something that is already in use. Litecoin does sound interesting to us.
BTCGeek: Do you have any plans for introducing Litecoin for your business? Rob: It’s something that we are kinda looking at and watching it and learning more about Litecoin but it is not something that we are ready to jump into yet, so not a yes, not a no.
BTCGeek: Tell us a little more about your business and how you operate. Rob: We’ve got VPS locations across the US, UK, Ireland and dedicated servers in Romania, Germany, UK and US.
BTCGeek: Do you have any other startup experience or is this your first time? Rob: I would say it’s my first startup in a sense but my first company was Status Engage. I am still doing that as well. It’s my first startup and my first partnership with someone else.
BTCGeek: How hard was it on the technical side of things to integrate Bitcoin into your site? Rob: I would say it was as easy as setting up anything else. We use BitPay as our processor. Another friend of mine in the travel industry who does wine tours and world travel tours and he’s going to be accepting Bitcoins as well.
BTCGeek: Can you share any numbers with us in terms of how many websites you’re hosting? Rob: I’d rather keep a lot of that private. We’ve got really good feedback and have got quite a few customers in the VPS space. We also partnered with Andrew Bently, the author of Bitcoin Unveiled and have a sweepstakes going on right now for another week.
BTCGeek: Do you have an active Bitcoin community in San Diego? Rob: There are small meetup groups. I bring it up with everybody I meet and I haven’t yet met many people who really know about this.
BTCGeek: Bitcoin can tie in closely to people’s political beliefs; how do you describe your political beliefs? Rob: Well political beliefs wise, I think politics is just a mess these days. That’s why I think Bitcoin is a good thing because people should have an option to have an alternative. I think borders, nationalities, races and even religion do more to divide people than bring them together. Politics wise, I think the government is too big and too overreaching.
This is my interview with the co-founder of PrimeDice, who goes by the nick ‘Stunna’ on Bitcointalk forums. PrimeDice is a Bitcoin based gambling site that offers a number of features such as a low 1% house edge and instant confirmations of funds. PrimeDice has been quite a hit since it’s inception in the gambling community. It’s interesting to hear Stunna’s thoughts on the industry, Bitcoin, etc.
BTC Geek: Tell us a little bit about your background, interests and how you got into Bitcoin. Stunna: I have a background in business and marketing and have been following Bitcoin since 2011. However, I wasn’t a strong believer until this year. Reasoning behind this was I never took the time to fully understand what Bitcoin was and was concerned about the volatility previously.
BTC Geek: What got you interested in online gambling? How is Prime Dice different from all the other Bitcoin gambling sites out there? Stunna: I’ve always been a bit of a betting man, from playing against my odds to playing with them. The entertainment value of gambling has always been unmatched for me, even if just making a $10 prop bet with a friend about what team will win a game. What got me interested in bitcoin gambling specifically was when I learned about SatoshiDice and saw the volumes they were getting a year ago despite having what I felt was a heavily flawed system. During my test runs there a while back it was taking significant amounts of time to receive my result and off-chain solutions had not yet been made. I saw an opportunity to innovate and take some of their market share and improve bitcoin gambling as a whole. PrimeDice is different from other gambling sites due to the simplicity and responsiveness of the entire experience. I firmly believe that PrimeDice is the first bitcoin gambling site created for the masses. Some of the features I feel will truly define PrimeDice have not been released yet and are in progress, I hope to further differentiate ourselves from other sites in the future.
BTC Geek: What do you have to say to those who say online gambling sites like Satoshi Dice pollute the blockchain and makes it unnecessarily bloated? Stunna: I understand the notion that SD is “bloating the blockchain” and I firmly disagree with it. This issue of blockchain bloat is an issue within the bitcoin protocol itself. If this problem is not solved then bitcoin will never go mainstream. Just imagine the amount of daily bitcoin transactions versus fiat, there is no comparison. SD has been heavily stressing the network unnecessarily but it brings to attention an important issue that must be solved for us to proceed.
BTC Geek: How do you handle the business side of things? Do you have any co-founders or employees? Did you ever experience any problems with hacking or insufficient funds? How much of reserve currency do you keep? Stunna: Myself and one other partner run the majority of the day to day of PrimeDice. I handle the business, support, advertising, operations and PR. My partner works on back-end with various devs and does most of the work that must be done behind curtains. However, our work heavily overlaps and we both do what we deem necessary at any given moment.
BTC Geek: What are your thoughts about alt-coins in general and adding alt-coins to PrimeDice specifically? Stunna: I don’t feel that alt-coins have contributed much to virtual currencies, no alt-coin has proven significant competition to bitcoin. It can be argued that alt-coins have only worked to discredit bitcoin and make people take it less seriously. J.R Willet said it best: “Alternate block chains compete with bitcoins financially, confuse our message to the world, and dilute our efforts” – J. R. Willet On that note J.R. Willet’s goal to create altcoins with bitcoin’s blockchain is particularly interesting. That’s a bit off-topic though. With Regards to PrimeDice specifically: Adding in litecoin support is definitely something we’re interested in doing, it just isn’t a priority at this time.
BTC Geek: What is the business/profit of Prime Dice? Any other interesting stats that you can share with us? (e.g. which countries/cities do you see the highest traffic from?) Stunna: Majority of our traffic is coming from the USA, we’ve had several translations made for various languages which are yet to be implemented. We think our volume is quite good, we are probably profiting less than people think though as our house edge is a mere 1%.
BTC Geek: Even though Bitcoin has been in the news several times, it appears that the general public isn’t ready to adopt it yet. What would be the catalysts for mainstream adoption of Bitcoin in your opinion? Stunna: Bitcoin needs to be easily accessible to the public for the general public to adopt it. As much as we all hate paypal we can’t deny the simplicity of creating a paypal account and using it to pay for a transaction. Bitcoin needs to be “dumbed down” to reach mainstream appeal. Services such as coinbase are doing a tremendous service to bitcoin as they have greatly simplified the process of making and using your own personal wallet and buying BTC.
BTC Geek: How do you think the governments and financial institutions will play the rise of Bitcoin? Stunna: Bitcoin is too small right now to attract serious attention from financial institutions. As we’ve seen the government has expressed an interest in “taming” Bitcoin. Government regulations will either ensure the long-term success of Bitcoin or greatly hamper it.
BTC Geek: What Bitcoin services/businesses are your personal favorite that you see a good future potential for? Stunna: As I’ve mentioned earlier I’m a fan of coinbase. I don’t use their wallet but I respect the service they are offering new users of bitcoin. I also feel that blockchain.info is a great service to bitcoin. At PD we’re not simply working on gambling sites, we’re working on building services which we feel will greatly contribute to bitcoin in the long run, more on that next time though.
BTC Geek: Bitcoin seems to have two big pushes right now – one from the entrepreneurial side that see a huge potential for building solutions and another from the necessity side in countries like Cyprus and Greece where they use Bitcoin more as a store of value than as a payment system. Which side will be more dominant in your opinion? Stunna: I firmly believe that it is the entrepreneurial side driving the growth of Bitcoin. Many people such as myself see opportunities to make our own websites or businesses and gain a valuable experience. It is very difficult to create a successful business geared towards fiat as the market is very saturated and regulations pose a massive barrier to entry. Occurrences such as that of Cyprus and Greece can’t be relied on for bitcoin to continue to grow.
BTC Geek: What are your political leanings/beliefs? Stunna: I’m a libertarian and I identify closest with minarchism. Basically this means that I feel that governments should leave most of their functions to the private sector other than certain necessities such as maintaining a military. I’m a firm believer in the non-aggression principle. With regards to religious beliefs I’d categorize myself as agnostic.