Architects of Consensus is a series dedicated to shining a light on the unseen figures who are developing EOS, and advancing the most battle-tested, highly performant, community run blockchain protocol in the world — Antelope. These are the intrepid explorers whose lives have traced the elliptic curves and merkle trees of blockchain technology to reveal its many potentials, and who have returned to share that knowledge with us.
Like a quantum entity fluctuating between wave and particle as one adjusts their method of observation, Bart Wyatt possesses a protean intellect that will simply not be pinned down. His cool blue eyes and mellow disposition hide an exceedingly sharp wit, and in between fits of laughter at his offhand quips, I am led down several rabbit holes into reflections on a decade of life lived at the bleeding edge of blockchain development, but Bart never lets me wallow in my amazement for long, and the North Star of his inquisitive nature slowly comes into focus. Like Neo in the Matrix, Bart somehow bends the usually zero-sum game of blockchain around the gravity of a prosocial vision for the potential of GameFi, and a whole new field of possibilities emerges.
Bart is a computer programmer, entrepreneur, team builder, and blockchain pioneer. He completed his BS in Computer Science at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2002 and went on to gain considerable experience in the gaming industry. His first forays into blockchain led him into his now legendary work on colored coins, stablecoins, and some of the core technologies that gave rise to the blockchain ecosystem of today, Following his muse towards ever more complex and performant blockchain systems, Bart dove headlong into development on EOS, becoming one of the top contributors to the Antelope (formerly EOSIO) codebase. For a time, he moved over to explore the “funner side of blockchain”, during the now famous NFT Summer where he got a taste for other more additive forms of value. After his explorations in NFTs, Bart heard the call of the EOS community as it rose up to claim its independence and he returned, this time in the capacity of CTO with the EOS Network Foundation. Bart is now drawing upon his love of gaming and his considerable engineering and leadership experience as he coalesces a world class team of engineers to chart a course that will make EOS the home for interactive innovation.
You’ve been in the blockchain space for quite a while, and have had some significant experience interacting with the Bitcoin codebase, when did you first begin?
I first got involved in blockchain in 2014, and we had been talking about it for a while before then, so I’m coming up on 10 years of coding in blockchain and putting that code out there in the world, beginning with modified Bitcoin nodes.
I hear you were one of the pioneering developers at the forefront of “colored coins” on Bitcoin, let’s begin there. Tell us a little bit about what is a colored coin, what your involvement was, and how that was a precursor of things to come.
So it seems a little strange looking back from the perspective we have now with the technology we have, but there was a time in the early days of Bitcoin when the idea of anything beyond simply being able to spend a transaction output, a Bitcoin itself, was all fantasy—ICOs, Smart Contracts, NFTs, stuff like that didn’t exist. Bitcoin was interesting, but it wasn’t extensible. It wasn’t programmable really, at least not until some later extensions got enabled, and Bitcoin was the only blockchain that existed.
So one of the theoretical models for how you would build additional features and functionality over the top of the Bitcoin core protocol was this thing called colored coins. And the basic concept was one of these Bitcoins out there in the world would be marked implicitly or explicitly by some sort of other protocol, and then software and indexers could track the provenance of that specific Bitcoin as it changed hands and wallets through the protocol. This was tricky, because the model for Bitcoin is when you put a transaction out there, it consumes, as in destroys, all of the input Bitcoin and then basically creates new output Bitcoin that add up to the equal or lesser value of the original inputs and the lesser value becomes a fee. So to be able to then create a protocol where if one of the marked coins comes in, then we know which coins going out are also marked coins was the hard part. Everyone had a different way they wanted it done. Now what it meant to have a marked coin, who knew? This was simply a way of tracking that provenance over the Bitcoin ledger as it existed. And that’s the general concept of a color coin.
One early implementation of a colored coin at the time was called Mastercoin, and it was one of the original ICOs before the concept of an ICO existed, because again, there was no way to issue an additional coin on Bitcoin. This concept didn’t exist. So how are we going to raise funds for doing projects like this? And so Mastercoin was the first one to introduce this concept of a burner address, an address that pretty obviously, due to the way it looked, didn’t have a private key associated with it. So any Bitcoins you sent there were going to be stuck there forever, but they would use the record of who basically marooned, or burned, their Bitcoin in this null address, to issue the initial series of Mastercoin. So that became a way for you to buy into the ICO.
Mastercoin itself did not exist on a ledger, at least not on a ledger the way we think of it. It was a colored coin protocol over the top of Bitcoin. So the entire state of who owned Mastercoin was maintained by a set of software that would parse the Bitcoin blockchain, and then as a result of messages embedded within the Bitcoin blockchain, it would figure out where funds had moved and who they belonged to and who could control them going forward. And that gave them flexibility to define new modes of operations for these coins and new ways of doing these coins. So in addition to doing their own ICO, they opened up an entire market for ICOs in general. And during that time is when the term ICO kind of came out because they were able to give people the ability to issue new coins and track them and they had a wallet that would be able to show you your balance.
And this was a Cambrian explosion of concepts where everyone was raising funds and so many of them were doing it on Mastercoin because it finally gave them the capability of doing it without having to also bear the brunt of launching your own entire blockchain network like Dogecoin or Litecoin or something like that. You could just say, “Okay, Bitcoin’s got the network, I just want to put data on the network.” And bear in mind Ethereum didn’t yet exist, so there was just no other way to do that at the time.
So, early on I got involved with Mastercoin, now called the Omni Protocol, through a friend who was their CTO at the time. He had this concept where instead of doing some sort of programmatic issuance and basing it on burner addresses, he wanted to have a bank account somewhere, kind of a Scrooge McDuck money bin, where deposits of actual US dollars would be recorded on the blockchain, transmuting them in a way to a digital version. Later someone could get the actual US dollars back if they wanted. It sounds pedestrian at this point, but this was novel back then. No one had really thought of an idea of a stable coin. No one had really thought of a digital dollar, at least not in terms of blockchain. So here he was saying, “How do we do this?” And so I made some changes to the Mastercoin protocol to allow that type of token to exist, that was my contribution. Basically a token managed by a central depository that ended up becoming Tether. So I didn’t actually have a hand in Tether, but I basically helped that boat get prototyped and launched, and I think for at least the first couple of iterations, it was running on top of the code that I added to the Mastercoin protocol.
So at that time, I was going around doing projects like that for various people, strangely, not really believing in the kind of core ethos of blockchain in general. I didn’t understand the finance side of it, so I didn’t participate even though I had the opportunity in the original Ethereum pre-sale. I thought it was an interesting toy, a really cool piece of technology, and I couldn’t really see past that. So I was playing with it, I was developing in it, I was earning a wage in it, but I wasn’t really like a true believer in it. That came much, much later. But I was willing to continue running the experiments because the things that people were building with it were just totally interesting and fascinating to me. So yeah, that was my early dabbling in it.
Would it be fair to say that Mastercoin was a hack of Bitcoin, in the original non-pejorative sense of the word hacking, as in to explore.
In the early days it was, because we were definitely hiding information inside of places that weren’t meant to have information, as in we were forging public keys and putting things into multisig with the rest of the public keys, not actually as public keys but as encoded information. So it was hacking or it seemed clandestine at the time, but there were a lot of people doing it back then, so it’s not like we were the only people messing around or really even leading that. We didn’t develop a lot of the information hiding and embedding techniques. We just used them for a good purpose. And then eventually, the protocol itself did adopt ways of embedding information more directly. So once enough people were doing it, the Bitcoin core dev group acquiesced and added the ability to embed little tail bits of information in your transactions. And then when that happened, the Mastercoin protocol got more efficient as a result.
Well, much respect, respect for being there at the beginning and meddling with such things. It’s really wild how all this functionality evolved. You’re talking about the early mods and hacks to Bitcoin that essentially created the notion of “burning” a token, the ICO as we know it, and even permissioned vs permissionless blockchains.
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because there was definitely some controversy back then about, why are you using this Bitcoin ledger to store data or to put information over the top? And it was one of the first demonstrations by hackers on the chain of—well because you didn’t write anything in the protocol that would prevent us, and this is a shared common good where we think this kind of use has value—so we’re going to do it. It was an eye-opening point in time for a lot of people in the community because that’s what it means to be permissionless. It means I don’t have to ask you for permission before I do it. And even if you think what I’m doing is malicious or anathema, improper, doesn’t matter. It’s permissionless.
We were doing things for a specific benefit. Other people in the future were not so benevolent. And so the idea that someone would come along and use this for a purpose that you didn’t expect also hit some people the wrong way. But now it’s become, again, commonplace. So much so that a lot of the game theory of blockchains goes into this idea of how do we disincentivize actors or actions that are generally seeking anti-community, whatever the community norms are, there would be a set of behaviors that fall outside of it and if the game theory can’t somehow disincentivize those, then there’s not really much enforcement. They can be hacked. It’s a totally different way of thinking about problems, for sure.
After all of your work with these foundational elements in blockchain, what brought you into EOS?
What I was originally looking for when I found EOS was a blockchain that wanted to take a measured approach to the idea of decentralization in the world. At the time, the prevailing narrative among all the major blockchains was very heavy into self sovereignty, very heavy into all the extreme takes of decentralization. And that was good because they needed to prove out the space in which the industry was different. So I don’t think anyone expected Bitcoin or even the original Ethereum to not take those stances. But once we proved that out, I think there did need to be bridges built back to the rest of the world. Not everyone who got into blockchain was going to want to do everything themselves the hard way. That was a certain cypherpunk aesthetic that was really big in the early days, and for good reason.
But I think as we started to get into second and third generation blockchains, it was really important to look at making an approachable blockchain. And so at the time, more so than say, the governance layer or any of the other things that were in the white paper, that’s what really struck me about EOS, it was willing to make a considered compromise on some of the ideals in order to get the bulk of the value propositions, like decentralization, auditability, and transparency, into the hands of people who could build things with it without having to fully adopt the other side of the coin. So that was kind of what drew me in. Of course, I got drawn into EOS before it existed. It was a white paper and an ICO raise, and there we were trying to essentially determine where those compromises would be made and wouldn’t be made and what we would do and which bridges we would build and things like that.
I think we took a lot of leaps there, no pun intended, with the technology that has ended up becoming somewhat standard in the blockchains that came after us. And whether EOS gets the credit for it or not is beside the point. We really took the idea of Proof of Stake (PoS), especially proof of stake where the majority of the stake stays with the token holders and put it into production. Before that, proof of stake largely meant you as the validator or block producer, accumulated the stake, and so you had all the money bags. We were really the first blockchain on the block, I think, that allowed you to keep your money and yet put the governance power that value had behind someone else. That was the root of Delegated Proof of Stake (DPoS) Since then we’ve seen a whole bunch of other blockchains that have learned the lessons that we learned in the early days of DPoS who have also deployed it.
And now it’s kind of the unwritten law of a proof of stake chain that you’ll have some way of delegating your stake and earning rewards. But that didn’t exist when we were making that play. It was still very much a Proof of Work (PoW) centric world. I think when you look at what has transpired, we were right. Proof of stake and the derivatives of it had a place at the table, a big place. And someone had to be willing to be one of the first chains to do it and do it big time. And that was us. And then I think you also see a lot of protocols now that have non-EVM based capabilities and they do things like feeless transactions of some sort, and they allow certain security primitives like multisig at the protocol level, and none of that existed before EOS.
I think it was the fact that we were willing to make those compromises, to make a better product, as opposed to making a theoretical best version of an ideal, that was what I was onboard for. I was a little tired. I had been doing side projects in the Bitcoin area and modifying that code, and I was getting a little tired of the unwavering interpretation of some of these ideals and putting that before actually being productive. In the early days I found a kindred spirit in Dan (Larimer) that way. He was very much about the idea that we need to build something to actually get something done rather than making a shrine to a concept. We wanted a usable product from day one, and really wanted it to be a product first kind of design.
So, you left EOS for a time and had something of a walkabout, what did you get up to in that intervening period?
So when I left EOS originally, kind of a little burnt out, a little crispy, a little sad that we hadn’t really been able to achieve what we wanted to. As I was looking for what was next, I told everyone: I’m never going to build a Layer One (L1) blockchain again, and that will come back to bite me later in this story.
What I ended up looking for was a version of blockchain that wasn’t so deeply based in finance and all the complications that big money brings. I was looking for what I would end up calling, the funner side of blockchain, and I found NFTs. NFTs had been a blip on the radar, but this was right before what would come to be known as NFT summer. This was post CryptoKitties days, but before NBA Top Shots and Bored Ape Yacht Club and stuff like that. I joined a group that was trying to innovate in that space and trying to attach to all manner of things. Some things that I found a little boring like identity and credentialing, but other things that I found really interesting like gaming and the blockchain and having fun. Not necessarily making money using the blockchain, but literally trying to have fun and trying to reinvigorate that feeling you had when you were a child playing with whatever it was, whether it was Pokémon cards or Magic The Gathering cards and really, really bringing that connection back to something more childlike and in my mind, way more fun and way safer than finance.
Shortly after I arrived, big money came into it and that created the NFT summer and NFTs just went off the rails. We did a couple of good projects with really major influencers. I was on one of the support development teams for Gary V’s V Friends, and then a couple of other notable one-off drops for people such as Tim Berners-Lee, and Muhammad Ali. So I got to really see blockchain take on a different light where it was attached to a different part of people’s psychology, not just their pocketbook, but also kind of their feeling of belonging, their feeling of community, their feeling of fun, and it was invigorating. It was reinvigorating because we’d spent so much time worried about finance and TradFi and DeFi and those aren’t really things that speak to me. They’re problems that I find interesting and want to solve, but they don’t speak to me personally. And this was something that spoke to me a little more personally, the idea of this being a method of belonging or a way of experiencing something as a community or a way of supporting an artist or a way of having fun with this technology that I’ve been working on for years and years.
So after your explorations in how to deploy blockchain in the cause of fun and community, what made you decide to accept the position as CTO of the EOS Network Foundation?
Many things that happened in between the early days of EOS, and when I joined ENF were unfortunate. There’s probably no blockchain other than EOS that has been besieged by so much drama and controversy. I think we took the lead on that one too. And as a result, I think EOS has never really had a fair shake at the market, but at that time, it was after three and a half, four years of putting it out at the market and trying to fight all those fights on all those fronts and really get it recognized for what it was, I had just kind of burnt out on it and that’s why I left. And then of course a lot of people had been burned out and they left as well and went and did something else for a little while.
And then the community, what was left of it, kind of gathered around this concept of the ENF, and it was that spark of life from the community that caught my attention. I still thought there was a lot of promise in EOS. I had a lot of unfinished business with EOS, but maybe I had temporarily lost faith. And to see the community come out in such a big way and make that happen and make those big changes and really take control of the direction of the network and then ask for help, that was a pretty easy call for me to answer because I think that was the one thing that I felt could actually change the narrative, the unfortunate story of EOS so far.
I am occasionally reminded of how much of a saga EOS has been, and you just did it again! I think your return itself is a very optimistic sign for EOS.
EOS had such a promising beginning, a really, really difficult midlife sophomore career and now hopefully we’re coming out of that trough into some real prominence and recognition for what we have and where we can go with it.
You bring a great deal of expertise to the scene, but also a fascination with something you touched on earlier. You expressed that part of what motivated your explorations was to rediscover that childlike experience of play, just having fun without all these financial elements being so front and center, which leads me to wonder—how has all of this experience informed the way you think about the emerging GameFi space?
I got burned out on the serious side of blockchain, and the reality is, while I could style myself as a pretty good software engineer, I never got into software engineering to build financial software. I originally got into software engineering to build video games. That was how I learned how to code in the beginning, with little toy games and modifying other people’s games that I would literally pull out of a magazine, type into my own computer in a little language called Basic and then play around and see when I change this, what happens. So video games have always been why I’m here. And it’s also something that I get lit up by and it’s a very different experience between that and the serious world of finance. As an adult now, I have to live in both worlds. I can’t simply ignore the idea that there are financial institutions, there’s a market out there, things are happening. But I do long for the times when I was able to just play games and have fun. For me, these two things are largely incompatible. I’m either working to make money or working to have fun. It’s really hard to do both.
So when I look at blockchain, this thing that I’ve spent so much of my life helping to build, and I look at what I really want to be doing, which is having fun making some entertaining products, I think there’s a pretty big gap there that needs to be worked on in order to at all have them align. And so people talk about GameFi, they talk about blockchain gaming, but no one outside of the NFT space was really talking about that childlike aspect of play, what it actually means to be free to play and experiment with things. And I think generally speaking, that is incompatible with risk, with taking huge risks or maybe even any risk. I don’t know if you could have fun if you feel like you are at risk, and that’s a big problem right now for blockchains because everything you do puts you at risk. If you use your wallet, you could get phished and you could lose some assets, and so forth.
The reigning successes in GameFi thus far, are largely games where you were always putting financial assets at risk, whether it’s a piece of virtual land or something like a collectible card game where these things have real world value and you have to invest in them and then maybe experience some loss or gain based on whether they’re valuable in the future. And I think it’s not that gamers in the real world aren’t used to paying money to play games a certain way. It’s that I think once you start changing it to where it’s no longer the kind of transaction where—if you pay money, it’s because you’re going to have some fun, to more of a situation where—but maybe you could have a little less fun and earn that money back? And so that just doesn’t make sense. It changes the game where you feel like you’re putting a financial asset at risk, you feel like you’re actually losing something or you might lose something. And that makes it very hard to have fun. It makes it very hard to relax, makes it very hard to play, at least not in the sense that children play. Some people might say that they’re still playing when they play the markets or when they’re gambling, sitting at a poker table and stuff like that. But I think that is a fundamentally different version of play than what we talk about when you talk about children’s play and actually having fun. Not to say that people don’t have fun gambling, some people do, but I think the majority of people have fun when they are truly in a safe space.
Do you think that the whole play to earn (P2E) model deserves the vitriol it has received from the gaming community? And is it completely incompatible with fun, or is that going too far?
I don’t think playing to earn is incompatible with fun. As I said, some people will have fun at a poker table or some people will have fun at a slot machine. Some people will have fun earning in a play to earn game. Where I think play to earn gets on the wrong side of me is often I hear that version of blockchain gaming equated with this notion that somehow eventually P2E will get into the broader gaming industry. To make the connection of play to earn games into mainstream gaming is a bit of a misstep for me because I don’t think most of those people are the type that get their fun from gambling or from sitting at a slot machine or grinding. I think they have fun in a very different way.
I think the total addressable market for P2E is actually a lot smaller, in my personal opinion, than most people see it as. I think that is a niche thing and that there are probably other versions of GameFi and blockchain gaming that can supplement games as opposed to becoming the only reason you play. I think that’s really the risk of P2E gaming, that people will cease to see it as fun and start to see it as a job and that will sour the market on this idea. And we already see this from real gamers.
The feedback from the gamers in the broader mainstream ecosystem is not very good for that because I don’t think they want jobs. I think they want fun, they’re willing to pay for the fun, and they already have a job, that’s how they pay for their fun. They don’t need a job that is a half crappy job and half crappy version of fun. They would rather have maybe a job they can tolerate and that allows them to pay for a really potent version of fun as opposed to compromising and getting the two for one there. So that’s the kind of measured and considered version.
I personally also have an issue with economic disparity and what P2E games tend to do to that. Because I feel like at least in the current mainstream gaming, if you find a game that is what they would call pay to win, the whales are just paying some server somewhere to tell them that they have amazing inventory items and stuff like that, and that doesn’t incentivize creating a cottage industry of essentially a wage-grinder class, that can grind those things on your behalf.
And I think while we can say it’s possible for P2E games to create a good wage, I think the economics of it don’t actually work out that way. And you end up essentially with an exploitative system that preys on the global poor at the service of the whales and the economy. I think the actual reality of that doesn’t look as bright and shiny as some people will claim it can be. I think it looks just like every other economic system where we’ve had that kind of tiering of participants, I think it ends up in a cycle of abuse. And so I’m not really interested in perpetuating that side of it.
Do you think that blockchain offers the possibility to add a layer of transparency and integrity into GameFi in a way that could facilitate those abuses not occurring?
I think the existence of transparency can provide some back pressure against an exploitative loop there because it would be harder to hide what is currently pretty easy to hide, shipping low wage jobs off to some places, whereas it would be very difficult to hide on the blockchain. I just think that as a technology, blockchain offers better solutions as far as building more fair reward systems that hopefully more directly reward good participants rather than setting up a situation where whales can basically manipulate the lesser participants. Now granted, that’s a slippery slope. It’s very hard to design a game that doesn’t essentially have a cheat code for people who have lots of money. But I think that is the holy grail, shining light on the top of the mountain type of thing that you’d be looking for. And not necessarily just leaning on transparency to root out some of these bad behaviors.
It seems like, as with many things, there’s kind of a cultural component to it all where it’s maybe not strictly code enforceable, but it could be culturally codified in a way that participants in a particular sphere do not abide certain behavior. But it’s tricky, isn’t it.
It ends up being like the original colored coin and protocols. Again, I might ascribe negative moral value to behaviors like that, but not everyone will. And so if there’s no way for the community to come to consensus and also build into that consensus rules that prevent it, then those behaviors will emerge from that system, which is why I’m kind of hoping for better systems to compete and prevail.
Given the recent moves to begin positioning EOS as a home for GameFi, and some of the challenges we’ve just highlighted, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on some of the lesser known possibilities lying dormant within GameFi.
Yeah. I think one of the more interesting aspects of GameFi that will eventually emerge is an idea of using GameFi systems as part of the infrastructure of building a community for a game rather than as part of the direct incentive model of participating in the game.
And what I mean is that in DeFi or really in any finance, there’s an inherent zero sum game going on in order for you to buy low and sell high, there has to be a certain value changing hands. And when you look at fun, the idea that I could go into an environment and have an experience that I enjoy that is actually decidedly not zero sum. In order for me to have fun, trolling aside, EVE Online aside, I can go into an experience and I can have fun and you can have fun. And in fact, that’s probably somewhat additive in nature. It is an emissive event that the two of us came together and we created more fun, so to speak, then existed before the two of us came into that experience. And so when you’re no longer dealing with a zero sum game, we could reframe it as everyone who plays in a certain community has a cooperative goal of increasing the fun that everyone is having in the community. And there’s no liability there. There’s no loss, there’s no risk. I’m not necessarily saying that in order for you to have fun, I have to have less. In fact, it probably works out the other way. And so when you frame it as a cooperative game, then you ask yourself a completely different set of questions as far as, “Okay, well how do we incentivize a cooperative game?”
And maybe somewhere in that cooperative game, there is a very good GameFi-esque incentive model where the goal isn’t to dominate and acquire assets. The goal is to promote and achieve more of this communal fun experience. And as such, people who are bigger contributors to that probably deserve some more of this kind of infrastructure rewards pool. Whatever the community or the game developer or the ecosystem offers, think of it almost like an affiliate marketing type of layer of their economics, that could get rewarded through a blockchain incentive mechanism framed as a cooperative game, not as a zero sum game. So while you might have influencers or participants there competing for their share of the rewards in a somewhat zero sum game, the output of that competition is growing this other game, this experiential non-zero sum game. And so, you think about the value created there for the players who may or may not participate in the actual incentive model that we would call GameFi. and it’s immense.
So then it all starts to make sense economically, as a cooperative game, we are coming together and creating this immense value in this other system. There are some people who participate in that system just because they want to experience that immense value. They don’t really care about the underlying incentive model and all this other stuff. It’s an infrastructure level to their experience. And I think those are the kind of things where we will see a new life get brought into gaming and GameFi because we’ll stop thinking about it as though all of the game has to fit into GameFi. We’ll start thinking of GameFi as a component, as a value add to a gaming ecosystem or to a product or whatever as opposed to as the whole reason for the product existing. And as soon as we can start thinking like that, I think we can start really making headway. Maybe that’s influencers, maybe that’s content developers, maybe it’s programmers and artists coming together to create an experience, a metaverse experience or whatever you want to call it, through a more DAO-like structure. It could take on so many different forms, but the fundamental premise is it doesn’t have to include everyone in the game. GameFi doesn’t have to be all inclusive. It can just be part of a successful blockchain gaming enterprise.
I like this idea of a cooperative game environment, and positive sum game mechanics. It’s a multiplier effect, unless you’re a sadist and you enjoy having fun at someone else’s expense, but that kind of antisocial behavior is usually regulated by the gamers themselves.
Well, the weird thing about it is, even in games that have a high number of trolls, a sustainable community of trolls, like EVE Online, a substantial part of the games mechanics are built around making sure that they have other players who are also having fun in excess of the experience of being trolled, to troll. And so even though that is not a cooperative behavior, not a prosocial behavior, the games that have successfully incorporated that aspect of mischief and trolling, have still made it into a cooperative and growth multiplier type of thing. Not all games are that way. Some games have to basically relegate trolls into their own leagues and or try to get them pushed out of the ecosystem because that antisocial behavior doesn’t work for that game ecosystem. But there have been notable exceptions that have figured out a way to somewhat incorporate and encourage trolling.
The typical board game version of that is a game called Diplomacy, which is essentially built around this idea of we’re all here together and building coalitions and making deals and stuff like that, but there is no way to win that game without stabbing people in the back. So you have to integrate a certain amount of antisocial behavior in what is otherwise a prosocial game. You can’t get to the point where you win without being prosocial, but also eventually you have to do something antisocial. And so there’s ways of architecting games like that, but those games still benefit from more people participating and more people having fun. It doesn’t have to be such a hard line as long as the overall game is balanced.
I’m outing myself here as a gaming noob, but I don’t know anything about EVE Online
The stories there are just breathtakingly trollicious. If you get any kind of pleasure from reading about trolling stories on the internet and stuff like that, it was a wealth of trolling stories back in the mid 2000s.
It is a game like Diplomacy where they have balanced it in such a way that there is a certain amount of anti-social behavior expected and encouraged because it creates the kind of broader pro-social game mechanics and narratives. It is a dystopian space MMO. And so the idea that there would be space pirates and peril and all sorts of stuff is made all the more real because there are severe trolls in that game and some of the stories are epic, and I don’t think it would be the same game and I don’t think it would be as well loved by the people, even the people who aren’t like rabid trolls if it was a completely safe space to go fly a freighter around and mine asteroids. It has really gotten its niche from the idea that there are some people behaving badly here.
So what do you think makes EOS uniquely suited to power the cooperative GameFi renaissance?
I mean, I think it can’t be understated that the power that EOS has here is that at this point it is completely driven by its community. So unlike most of the other competitive layer one blockchains, there is no single entity or organization that’s driving an agenda here. And I think that makes EOS uniquely fit to run experiments on because all it really takes is a willingness of a small part of the community to affect change and it can happen. I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be able to shift the core protocol to be a GameFi centric thing, but the community itself and the governance of it and the way funds move around is way more open to new ideas than I’ve seen in other layer one blockchains just because they all have identities that are set in stone and those identities end up becoming more precious than forward motion.
So in some ways that’s an advantage of EOS having kind of a stumble in its early years, but it’s really more of a credit to the community. On top of that, I think even to this day, we remain one of the most extensible blockchain platforms. This is why the core protocol Antelope has launched so many chains. And so that alone gives you longevity and flexibility that allows us to adapt to these things quicker. So if success lands upon us, if we do hit this renaissance and suddenly it becomes something where new needs become obvious because of the success, we’ll be able to fulfill those needs in stride.
EOS is starting from a really decent level of performance that I still think is in the top tier of the industry and then add to that a community that’s willing to take risks and have a little bit of fun and the flexibility to thrive on success. It’s a weird thing to say, but there have been so few opportunities for major blockchains to really take a success and blow it up out of the water, just really take it to the next level. And for the most part, we have all failed. They just haven’t been able to rise to success and really make that a sustainable growth path. They’ve all been flashes in the pan, and I think part of that is because of the difficulty of taking an opportunity like that and really focusing on sustaining it and/or growing it as an ecosystem, as a community, as a technology. So our flexibility on all three of those fronts is very important should we succeed in this renaissance.
What was your most formative game experience?
So there was a game a long time ago called Rocky’s Boots…
Sounds like some old time Commodore title.
Yeah, it was that old. We had all four colors. And I think there’s probably a black and white version of it too. Anyway, the purpose of Rocky’s Boot was that you were this raccoon that somehow had a mechanical boot, and these symbols would fall from the sky and you had to basically build a circuit, like a logic circuit that would read these symbols falling and tell the boot when to kick out the right pattern of symbols. I had no idea what I was doing at the time because I was a kid. I was just having fun. I was just playing this game. But it’s totally a game where you are building logic circuits and it teaches you about effectively digital signal processing and a whole bunch of stuff. I wasn’t using any formal methods. I didn’t have truth tables built out and stuff like that, but that’s what I was doing. I was doing the practical side of building circuits and I was having a super fun time doing it.
I think it took a little while before I moved on to programming in basic and then programming in C and C++ and stuff like that. But I think that was the early taste that kind of showed me there was something here, that this was fun. I was too young to then think, “I’m going to make video games or I’m going to be a programmer,” or anything like that. But that was super formative. I remember that game to this day and there were lots of other games, but that one was super cool and I wish I could find an equivalent for my children, but I feel like these days the equivalent would be something dramatically different because I don’t ever really want either of them worrying about programming and logic gates or anything like that. They’ll program on ChatGPT or something similar.
Another real-world formative game experience was when I used to play Hearts with my grandmother when I was really young. She was a very, very pleasant woman, very grandmotherly and a vicious, vicious Hearts shark. I have very fond memories of her teaching me that there’s no mercy when it comes to gaming, of her shooting the moon in Hearts against me, a five year old, and just cackling like crazy as she’s doing it because there’s nothing you could do to stop her. She knew the game so well and she knew exactly the point at which there was nothing you could do to stop her from shooting the moon and just cackling. So I mean, it was a different lesson and a different thing, but it was not unkind. She wasn’t trolling us. That was the game and it was a certain formative experience of learning how to have fun in defeat and how to have fun even if you are not the best at the game. And I think that probably single-handedly kept me from being too competitive and too crazy about the games, seeing games as a way to have fun and to have fun with other people as opposed to seeing a game as a competition in which I must dominate and win. I don’t know if that’s the lesson she was trying to impart, but it worked.
Rocky’s Boots is really interesting. It was released for the Apple II, CoCo, Commodore 64, IBM PC and the IBM PCjr. and they had some other ones and prequels and sequels to it, what an era! It actually blows my mind the fact that you had a formative game experience that you singled out among all possible game experiences that was, an educational game.
I know, right? It’s The Learning Company.
The game that was actually intended to be educational for children actually worked and fascinated you. Amazing.
Yeah, I don’t know that the game changed anything about me. I think it just allowed me to see part of me that I hadn’t seen before. So I don’t know if it would work on everyone, but certainly for me back in the day.
Ok, moving on to some other territory, here’s a question I’ve been dying to ask, and you’re up. What’s more difficult, blockchain or the moon landing?
I mean, this is going to be a controversial statement, but I’m going to go with blockchain, because of people. If blockchain were just about computer consensus, then I might actually say no, the moon landing was harder. The thing about the moon landing is that everything that they were dealing with, while complex and hard—and I’m not taking anything away from the human intelligence that was levied there—it all behaves well. Generally speaking the celestial bodies are all behaving well, as in, we’ve made observations, we can predict where they’re going and they go there. So I know I’m dramatically underrepresenting the amount of work there, but just having that simple level of things behaving in a predictable way, makes that problem tractable. It makes that problem possible. The problem with blockchain is the people, and people, despite what an economics 101 professor might tell you about rational actors, people are never rational actors.
That’s one of those things that falls out of statistical analysis and averages over a long period of time, is that things start to appear rational. But in the moment, people are never rational. Even the people who think they’re rational, they’re not rational. There is no such thing as a rational person in the moment, and that presents a really big problem when what you’re trying to do is build consensus and community amongst people, even though they’re doing it through technology. If it weren’t for the people, we could make blockchains really easily, but the people are kind of the problem, and that means that we will never solve this problem. There is no equivalent of the moon landing for blockchain because as soon as you show people that you have the “right or correct or perfect” blockchain or whatever, they’ll figure out a way to break it. It’s as if the moon would change its trajectory and behavior because it didn’t want to be landed on. And so that in and of itself means that I think blockchain is more difficult than the moon landing. That’s one perspective.
A great perspective, I think you make some excellent points! Let the debate begin.
What advice would you give to others wanting to build in the blockchain space?
The advice is always very easy. Start building. It doesn’t really give you a cheat code or a faster path to it, but it’s always easier to create a hypothetical idea or shoot down someone else’s hypothetical idea or live in your head or live on a forum or live on Twitter. It is always the hardest and the most rewarding thing to actually build. Even if it’s a failure, you’ll learn way more actually trying to do something, build something than just talking about it and discussing it.
If you’re not an engineer, if you’re not in software, then start building coalitions, start building organizations, start building the people-infrastructure. There’s a lot more to building than just simply slapping code together or putting a product plan in place or anything like that. Building happens on all levels, and if you are not actively trying to build, if you’re not actively doing that, then you’re on the sidelines and it can feel good to be on the sidelines. But the real payoff, the real advice is figure out a way to go from being on the sidelines to being in the game. And to be in the game, you must be building at some level, whatever level that is, you’ve got to be building.
Any future aspirations? Is there life after blockchain for you?
There might be life after blockchain. I don’t really define my future aspirations by what I’ll be working on or building. One future aspiration I have that I’ve never gotten to, is one day build a thing for me, if that makes sense. I am often in a situation where I am building to someone else’s idea, someone else’s playbook, someone else’s experiment. I’m good at it and I like it. It’s enjoyable, it pays off, but I do have this long-term future goal to one day define the experiment itself rather than just run it, if that makes sense.
I think there’s opportunity in a lot of places, blockchain being one of them. So yeah, it’ll be a serendipitous moment of the right experiment crossing at a time when I also have the capability to go off and actually start building it, and I’ll probably have to have that moment a couple of times before it succeeds, if it ever succeeds. It’s very unlikely that will happen the first time out of the gate. So I probably have to have it a couple times. Lightning will have to strike it a couple times before there’s any success, but it would be nice even if I failed just to try it once. No lie. Failure is a part of trying things, and if the time I finally get to go and run an experiment for myself, it fails, I’ll still learn something from that.
What if I said, all right, Bart, here’s a billion dollars. I don’t want to see you again until you figure out what the hell you’re doing with yourself.
Like everyone, I’m late to this party, but I think there’s a big opportunity in using AI to further education of people, to change where humans operate on a day-to-day basis through AI. And there’s a lot of dystopian versions of that, but I feel like there’s also plenty of space where it doesn’t have to be antisocial or dystopian or disconnected to the community.
I just think that we haven’t quite found it yet, where we can use AI for what it’s good at and have that still basically expand on what humans are capable of, rather than fearing that it’s going to take away from it. So I don’t know, if lightning strikes there, then I would happily step away from blockchain to do it, unless the lightning that strikes includes blockchain. Lightning hasn’t struck yet.
There are a few of the ENF engineers that have singled out AI as an intriguing sort of outlying tech that maybe one day they would be interested in exploring.
So that’s a specific unlock, using AI to further human education. The more generic unlock would be to somehow lower the barrier entry of doing AI related work and experience because right now, the things that have become mystical and magical and have inspired a lot of people also require so much input, so much data, so much cost. And so it’s outside of the reach of your normal hacker, your normal dabbler, and something that there’s not really many garage enterprises firing up that have the same level of AI power that Open AI has, and open AI is stereotypically not open. So I think an opportunity to, I hate to use the word democratic because I feel like it’s overplayed. It means something different to other people, but a more democratic way of getting that power into the hands of people who could experiment with it, I think would be kind of amazing.
Bart, it’s been a real adventure going down all these rabbit holes with you. Whether it’s deep into the code, or exploring all the different aspects of game theory, you bring a lot to the table! Thanks for taking the time to do this!
Likewise, thanks for the opportunity to wander through some of these topics with you.
If you enjoyed this installment of Architects of Consensus, know that we will yet go deeper into the mysteries of blockchain as seen through the eyes of the world class developers continuously working to advance EOS and the community led Antelope protocol.
You can read the previous articles in the Architects of Consensus series here:
The EOS Network is a 3rd generation blockchain platform powered by the EOS VM, a low-latency, highly performant, and extensible WebAssembly engine for deterministic execution of near feeless transactions; purpose-built for enabling optimal Web3 user and developer experiences. EOS is the flagship blockchain and financial center of the Antelope framework, serving as the driving force behind multi-chain collaboration and public goods funding for tools and infrastructure through the EOS Network Foundation (ENF).
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The EOS Network Foundation (ENF) was forged through a vision for a prosperous and decentralized future. Through our key stakeholder engagement, community programs, ecosystem funding, and support of an open technology ecosystem, the ENF is transforming Web3. Founded in 2021, the ENF is the hub for EOS Network, a leading open source platform with a suite of stable frameworks, tools, and libraries for blockchain deployments. Together, we are bringing innovations that our community builds and are committed to a stronger future for all.