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The Importance of Having Fun Technology with Dieter Shirley, Co-creator of CryptoKitties and CTO and Lead Architect of Dapper Labs

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A lot of times people look at someone who changes the world and think that person must have known exactly what they were doing right from the very beginning. A lot of times, people are dead wrong. Creating comes from a place of not knowing exactly what comes next but being willing to try to make something new anyway. Sure, trying something new takes courage; but, it’s more about being willing to try things and not be concerned with the outcome. Also, in reality, individuals don’t change culture — people join forces to do that. If a company wants to change the world, then they need to develop a culture that promotes creativity. Dieter Shirley, the Co-creator of CryptoKitties and the CTO and Lead Architect of Dapper Labs, explained the creative process he has learned to employ.

“We would try all sorts of crazy stuff,” Shirley said. “Of course, most of it didn’t go anywhere. But that was how we learned. Even if CryptoKitties hadn’t taken off, we would have learned a ton and been able to try something else.”

Creative people often make objects that other people collect. Creative-types do this because creating new things help them to interact with the materials of the world and then shape them into a certain type of order. Collectors collect because these items help provide meaning to their lives. In this way, both creators and collectors are attempting to create order. Today, these objects can be digital too. CyptoKitties — digital blockchain cats — the latest basketball sneaker, or the hottest painting are now all one in the same. People will queue up for digital collectibles just like they would stand in a line at the sneaker store. They’ll outbid each other for digital memporbila just like they would for that painting.   

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Shirley shared all he and his team learned when they created CryptoKittes, the limitations that blockchains such as etherium placed on their ability to scale CryptoKitties or other similar products, and how they’ve applied that knowledge to NBA Top Shot — which are digital NBA and WNBA collectibles they build on their blockchain, Flow. He explained how, at first, creating CryptoKitties was all about learning through building.

Main Takeaways

  • Try Crazy Things: Just create new things. Not knowing where everything is going is okay. The creation process is never wasted time even if a certain project isn’t considered successful. Creating is about learning. Regardless of the outcome, what’s learned can always be applied moving forward.
  • The Power of Fun and Games: Having a spirit of playfulness in the creative process allows new things to be tried. It’s also really important to make technology that’s fun too. If consumers find the tech fun in itself, like a game, for instance, they’ll take the time to interact with the technology. 
  • If You Build it, They Will Come: Just build the tech and keep it simple. If you build something, that gives it a chance for consumers to use it. If it’s simple, even better. If it’s fun, that’s the best because people will take the time to actually use it. People don’t need to know everything about a certain technology to use it. They just need to be interested in it and be able to learn just enough to engage with it. 
  • If You Need To, Build It Yourself but Better: Sometimes, taking matters into your own hands is the best path forward. CryptoKitties crashed the Ethereum network. Rather than relying on Ethereum or any other blockchain, Dapper Labs built its own blockchain, Flow, that increased efficiency and met their requirements to scale. 
  • Something That Never Dies: Digital memorabilia is attractive because it never dies. Collectors collect items to create meaning for their lives. Digital items, that can live forever, can provide comfort to collectors in that they will always exist and be there for them to provide that meaning. 
  • Trust Your Team: As a leader, it’s imperative to trust the team. Even if a leader is initially very involved in the creative process of a certain project, over time the team members working on the project every day will likely develop greater expertise. When that happens, the best thing a leader can do is trust the team. This, of course, also opens up the leader to meet other responsibilities, including dreaming up new projects.

For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.

Article:

A lot of times people look at someone who changes the world and think that person must have known exactly what they were doing right from the very beginning. A lot of times, people are dead wrong. Creating comes from a place of not knowing exactly what comes next but being willing to try to make something new anyway. Sure, trying something new takes courage; but, it’s more about being willing to try things and not be concerned with the outcome. Also, in reality, individuals don’t change culture — people join forces to do that. If a company wants to change the world, then they need to develop a culture that promotes creativity. Dieter Shirley, the Co-creator of CryptoKitties and the CTO and Lead Architect of Dapper Labs, explained the creative process he has learned to employ.

“We would try all sorts of crazy stuff,” Shirley said. “Of course, most of it didn’t go anywhere. But that was how we learned. Even if CryptoKitties hadn’t taken off, we would have learned a ton and been able to try something else.”

Creative people often make objects that other people collect. Creative-types do this because creating new things help them to interact with the materials of the world and then shape them into a certain type of order. Collectors collect because these items help provide meaning to their lives. In this way, both creators and collectors are attempting to create order. Today, these objects can be digital too. CyptoKitties — digital blockchain cats — the latest basketball sneaker, or the hottest painting are now all one in the same. People will queue up for digital collectibles just like they would stand in a line at the sneaker store. They’ll outbid each other for digital memporbila just like they would for that painting.   

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Shirley shared all he and his team learned when they created CryptoKittes, the limitations that blockchains such as etherium placed on their ability to scale CryptoKitties or other similar products, and how they’ve applied that knowledge to NBA Top Shot — which are digital NBA and WNBA collectibles they build on their blockchain, Flow. He explained how, at first, creating CryptoKitties was all about learning through building. 

“Our expectations were zero,” Shirley said. “Our expectations were that if we build something, we will learn something and we didn’t know what we were going to learn. We didn’t really understand what we were building. It actually took us a while to see how the users  interacted with it to really understand what we had created.” 

Even at the beginning, there was a spirit of playfulness when making CryptoKitties. The team wanted to have fun and hoped other people would be interested too.

“We decided to make a fun little cat game,” Shirley said. “We figured people on the internet love cats and what could be more internet than the blockchain.”

That spirit of fun, particularly fun involving blockchain kitties, was absolutely contagious — beyond what Shirley, or anyone, could have anticipated. 

“Within a couple of weeks of launching, we brought down the whole Ethereum network,” Shirley said. “It was virtually unusable for a couple of weeks because we brought in just a whole slew of new users and something like 40% of CryptoKitties users had never touched crypto before. We really knew we were onto something. So [in] the first part of 2018, we spun it out into Dapper Labs.” 

After crashing Ethereum, Dapper Labs became the cat’s meow. Potential partners were pawing at Dapper Labs to see what other applications this sort of digital memorabilia might have. But Shirley and Dapper Labs had learned three important lessons in their experience with CryptoKitties.

“The first lesson was that people care about this stuff,” Shirley said. 

Dapper Labs realized that there was a tremendous appetite for digital memorabilia. On the other hand, they learned that they needed to make it easier for people to get involved with digital collectibles on the blockchain. In order to do so, they built their own crypto wallet.

“We built Dapper Wallet, which is, in my opinion, hands down the best consumer onboarding experience for crypto,” Shirley said. “People can come in with nothing but an email address and a credit card and they can get started right away so that they can play with it before they have to understand it. With CryptoKitties, and almost every other experience, you have to understand it before you can interact with it.”

Building Dapper Wallet made it easier for people to play with the technology. The more people can play with a new technology, the more they will understand what they need to, and then be able to delve deeper into it. The final lesson Shirley and Dapper Labs learned was that they needed a blockchain that could scale along with consumer demand.

“The third thing we learned was that Ethereum just can’t handle this kind of scale,” Shirley said. “We did a ton of research on other blockchains and we ended up deciding that we really needed to build our own and that became Flow.” 

Flow helps to solve issues of scale in terms of efficiency. Shirley explained how breaking the blockchain transactions into collections increases efficiency.

It’s more efficient to transfer a bunch of transactions all at once in a collection instead of all of these little transactions,” Shirley said. “Let’s make that a job and we’ll have a set of nodes that do nothing but that. Then there’s this notion of consensus, which is the heart of every blockchain. What is the canonical chain? How do we decide what the official blockchain is going to be? We have a set of nodes that do nothing but that.”

The second blockchain aspect that Dapper Labs had to solve was execution. 

“We create narrow participation where we say, ‘Look, we can have a small number of really powerful computers doing this work because the work we’re giving them is what we call deterministic,’’’ Shirley said. “It’s math. We’re asking them to add two plus two together. If they don’t come back with four, we don’t have to vote…The computation they’re doing is more complicated then that but if they make a mistake, once somebody points to the mistake, then everyone knows what that mistake is and we can punish those nodes.”

With all these lessons learned, Dapper Labs was ready to team up with other companies to create digital collectibles. Ultimately, Dapper Labs found a great teammate in the NBA and they partnered to create Top Shot. Essentially, Top Shot consists of digital cubes built on Flow that contain significant basketball plays, such Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot against the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the 1996 NBA Finals, or Shaq breaking the backboard against the New Jersey Nets. The cubes can then be purchased, collected, and owned in perpetuity. They also are individually numbered and can be tracked forever. Though there were many companies that wanted to team up with Dapper Labs, Shirley believed it was clear from early on that the NBA was the right teammate.

“Their team was saying, ‘Here is a way for our fans to engage with the sport that they love in a digital, native way that is going to make our fans happy,’” Shirley said. “And yes, there’s a business model around it and there’s a revenue stream and all of that stuff. But they were really committed to the idea that this was not something we were going to do in the next couple of years, [but] that this was the beginning of a partnership between us that was going to last five, ten years. And that this was going to be the beginning of a new part of basketball culture.”

The partnership with the NBA is only the beginning for Dapper Labs and their journey with digital collectibles and so much more. Their culture of creativity is inspiring as is their focus on making technology fun. Shirley pondered the reason it’s so vital to care about fun. 

“What is the reason why we take seriously the business of fun?” Shirley asked. “It’s because that’s how we’re going to get people to try this stuff out.”

This mentality about fun has already led to an entirely new blockchain that will continue to be a foundation that allows both creators and collectors to make meaning and order in their worlds. 

To hear more about how Shirley and Dapper Labs are building a culture of creativity and fun, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

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Episode 313