Like many other ICO success stories and subsequent leaders in their respective market segments, Augur, the preeminent platform for decentralized predictions, faces constant public scrutiny. The latest episode that drew public attention is the allegation, voiced by cryptocurrency hedge fund Tetras Capital partner Alex Sunnarborg, that a developer group behind the platform significantly overstates the volume of trades that Augur processes.

While the real trade volume is an essential metric indispensable for understanding the scale and impact of a given project, it is still a quantitative, rather than qualitative measure. In this regard, a dispute around how much money is staked on Augur at a given moment of time is different from two major previous fracases, which sparked debates about fundamental aspects of decentralized prediction platforms’ usage and governance. Those two episodes concerned the so-called “gimmick markets,” and, earlier, Augur’s capacity to host death pools.

Tricky wagers

When betting money on the outcome of future events, like with any other contract, the rule of thumb is to make sure that you get all the details straight. What exactly is the outcome that liquidates your futures contract at a win or loss? When exactly does it occur? In most cases, these conditions are straightforward enough to go without saying. After all, when you wager on Real Madrid beating Liverpool in the Champions League final, 90 or 120 minutes after the kickoff time, everyone knows who won. And if something goes wrong, you can always appeal to the bookmaker.

This is not quite the case, it appears, when predictions go decentralized. Once everyone can set up a market, the terms of some contracts may become vague — either due to amateur bookmakers’ unintentional lack of phrasing precision or due to malice. And once the bets are in, users have no recourse if they suddenly realize that they were wagering on something different than the market is really about.

The latter likely describes the situation many people involved with the recent Augur political market have found themselves in. The question looked simple: “Which party will control the House after 2018 U.S. Midterm Election?” Anticipating that Democrats will have flipped the House as a result of the midterms, 95 percent of the bettors wagered on them. Indeed, the “blue wave” that pundits predicted yielded the Democratic-majority House post-election. However, the important caveat is that the newly elected members were not to come in until January 3, 2019; as of the market closing date, Dec. 11, the House remained exactly the same as it was before the midterms — that is, Republican-controlled.

The Augur community went abuzz: Those who thought they were betting on the election outcome demanded that the market be called for Democrats, while others — including the alleged creator and designated reporter for the market — insisted that the idea was to measure the state of the House on Dec. 10, which, to be fair, could hardly be different from what it was on the day the market opened. In a Reddit post, the self-avowed creator made this clear by referring to the deal as a “gimmick market” and declared his or her intention to call it for Republicans.

The fact that more than $1.3 million were at stake rendered this conundrum perhaps the toughest test for Augur’s on-chain governance system so far, and definitely made for the platform’s biggest publicity crisis since the summer hype around assassination markets. Despite the fact that these two controversies look quite distinct on the face, they are manifestations of the same deficiencies intrinsic to the nature of decentralized prediction markets.

Markets for death

In an episode of the British techno-dystopian series Black Mirror entitled “Hated in the Nation,” mysterious assassins begin to eliminate public figures, one by one, decided by whomever social media users post the most #deathto hashtags about. Once the bloodthirsty online mob realizes how the death pool works, they readily rush to bid on the next odious MP’s or obnoxious rapper’s demise in order to trigger the murder that mysterious assassins immediately carried out.

As Augur, a blockchain-powered — decentralized prediction market, went live in July 2018 — the media was quick to latch onto the minor yet captivating facet of its functionality: the capacity to enable the creation of so-called “assassination markets.” In the dark spirit of Black Mirror, albeit under a somewhat different mechanism, these arrangements could spell death for those in the public eye. Indeed, it did not take long after the platform’s launch for such markets to appear, with a number of prominent politicians, actors and entrepreneurs put on the spot.

Augur provides a decentralized infrastructure for users to set up bets on whether certain events will or will not take place. Taking advantage of blockchain’s anonymity and the absence of a centralized authority to censor the content on the platform, malicious users could potentially procure a tool for incentivizing other people to “help” certain outcomes occur. For instance, by creating a market on whether politician X dies before the end of their incumbency and staking a huge pot of money on a “no,” someone could effectively put a bounty on the person’s head. Wagering against the massive “no” market and then contributing — to put it gently — to a “yes” outcome, any villain could run off with the money.

Horrendous as it sounds, the scenario was not invented by the Augur community. The idea of a cryptographically anonymized death market has been present in the cypherpunk milieu for a while — at least since cryptographer Jim Bell had formally recorded it in his 1996 essay “Assassination Politics.” He envisioned a market that would predict the deaths of government officials as a means to punish those who indulge in corruption. The Augur subreddit has also been rife with various takes on the death market principle long before the protocol went live.

Larger problem

So, is this what blockchain is for: letting scoundrels ease the remiss bettors of their money or even anonymously order people dead and get away with it? The clamor over the dubious Augur developments jibes quite well with the broader, ongoing debate that concerns platforms’ responsibility for the content their users choose to publish on them. Think Facebook and fake news/streamed deaths, or Twitter and political botnets, or Youtube and videos of dead bodies on popular suicide sites. The centralized social media gatekeepers’ mantra of “we are not publishers, we are merely infrastructure providers” is sounding ever less convincing with each high-profile blunder, forcing corporations behind those platforms to haphazardly design new policies and interventions.

Critics often point out that, in the case of a decentralized, blockchain-powered marketplace for anything, there is no corporation or government to go to if the goods or ideas in question turn out to be immoral or otherwise unacceptable for the majority of users. Furthermore, immutability of distributed ledgers that carry information about transactions renders it impossible to take the content down. This takes us back to a more general problem of blockchains’ capacity to perpetuate the wrong — be it flawed land titles, unjust copyright claims or transferring a scam victim’s money to a con artist’s wallet. Does this mean that a responsible society should avoid using decentralized, permissionless systems to underpin any sensitive sphere of transactions? Not really.

The classic notion of the marketplace of ideas, as John Milton and J. S. Millconstrued it, rests on the assumption that, once all ideas are allowed to clash freely in an open marketplace, the best of them will eventually prevail. Even though such reasoning might not seem indisputable, one need not take this leap of faith in order to be comfortable with blockchain-powered markets. Regardless of whether the natural tendency of good ideas to defeat bad ones is really a thing, there are still other mechanisms to fall back on — namely, governance systems’ design and a broader set of social norms that govern human behavior.

Prediction markets, as well as other blockchain-based idea marketplaces, may — and probably should — incorporate some on-chain mechanisms of community self-regulation. In the case of Augur, the community of REP token holders — who are also called “reporters” — are incentivized by the system’s design to document the correct outcomes of the events in question. The same people have the power to declare a certain bet “invalid,” in which case nobody gets paid after the outcome is decided.

This instrument of community self-policing looks like a relevant tool for stopping morally reprehensible bets from enriching those who might want to use the platform for malicious ends. The “gimmick market” case is a great way to test the system’s capacity to handle situations that are less unambiguously unacceptable than facilitating murder. Assassination pools constitute a marginal fraction of Augur’s overall trade volume, with just a handful of transactions. In contrast, gimmick markets on high-profile, highly bettable events may well become a feature of the Augur landscape, should the community set a precedent that lets the first one be.

In addition to on-chain community governance, there are things happening off-chain, too, that may serve as checks to potential abuse of prediction markets’ infrastructure. Even if we adopt the radical stance and accept that “code is law,” there is a larger ecosystem of constraints that influences human behavior. In the words ofLawrence Lessig, one of the preeminent legal thinkers of the Internet age, there are at least four discrete forces that shape people’s actions online: law, choice architecture, market and societal norms.

Even if the distributed ledgers’ architecture allows people to anonymously sponsor — and subscribe for — lawless action or con markets, and given the demand for them, social norms are still there. These norms suggest that murder is highly unethical, and fooling people into betting on the event that cannot possibly occur is not the best way to make them like you — even if you say sorryafterward. Also, there is a consideration of a perhaps more forceful effect: Both murder and fraud are criminal offences punishable within the legacy legal system, which still exerts a lot of influence over us all. On Augur, bets come in Ethereum, not REP, meaning that payments are very much traceable by law enforcement. And rest assured, the authorities are watching closely.

Regulatory concerns

Most certainly, Augur already has regulators’ close attention, and recent developments are not going to make things better. Since markets that the platform hosts are essentially futures contracts, Augur and other decentralized prediction markets fall under the purview of the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

Reports emerged last summer that the agency was scrutinizing Augur for allegedly facilitating illicit gambling activities, since prediction markets as a form of gambling are illegal in the U.S. Those that manage to operate do so with multiple buffers and protections. For example, PredictIt, the largest non-blockchain platform that allows American citizens to wager on political events, is operated by a New Zealand-based, university-affiliated nonprofit and has strict limitations on the amount of money that users can stake.

In his October speech at a technology conference in Dubai, CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz raised a question of accountability on blockchain and sketched potential regulatory boundaries in the context of smart contract-powered futures products. In his remarks, Quintenz first demarcated the subset of smart contracts that potentially fall under the commission’s jurisdiction — the ones that manifest essential features of a swap, future or option — and then turned to the parties involved in their creation and operation: core blockchain developers, miners, developers of smart contract code and end users.

Quintenz suggested that it would be impractical to hold the first two categories accountable if some of smart contracts that operate on top of their ledger would be found to be in violation of the CFTC rules. Going after individual users of illegal decentralized futures, while normatively defensible, would likely be what Quintenz calls an “ineffective course of action,” given the pseudonymous and global nature of public blockchains. The only category left to directly target is, therefore, those who create and define the potentially illegal smart contracts.

Albeit Quintenz made sure to present his remarks as personal opinions, he is clearly not the only person on the commission who is pondering the ways to tackle these emergent challenges. Enter million-dollar gimmick markets springing on top of the largest political predictions platform available to U.S. citizens. Clearly, the whole deal looks primed for the regulator to step in and protect the investors — and if Brian Quintenz’s approach is the dominant one within the CFTC, it might be the right time for the Augur core development team to start getting concerned .

Governing with prediction markets

While regulators have yet to figure out how to deal with decentralized idea markets whose operations are apparently in conflict with the standing laws, it is unlikely that prediction platforms are going anywhere anytime soon. Since they essentially represent the pools of aggregate collective wisdom, such markets are often a feature of many projects aimed at creating systems of decentralized governance. Arguably, the most publicized of those is the futuristic form of government — called “futarchy” — that economist Robin Hanson proposed as a framework for enabling citizens to vote for optimal policies. The concept apparently gained traction with Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, who, in 2014, had dedicated a grant to support research on the topic.

There are projects that seek to build a versatile governance protocol around a pool of “collective intelligence”, where users determine visibility and prominence of policy suggestions by staking tokens on predicting whether they become a success or not. This way, a prediction market becomes a device for managing collective attention, stimulating members of the community to sift through policy proposals and evaluate their relative worth.

Meanwhile, blockchain-powered prediction markets are doing just fine in their primary capacity as platforms for betting on outcomes of future events. In November 2018, Augur’s trade volume in midterms-related contracts surpassedthat of Predictit, the largest centralized competitor in the domain of political forecasting.

Humankind has had the habit of betting on the future for thousands of years, and the idea of doing it without a middleman for the first time is incredibly appealing. The CFTC seems to be up against an enormous task of wrapping the red tape around an ever-expanding infrastructure that facilitates an activity that many people enjoy.

This post credited to Cointelegraph. Image source: Cointelegraph

Sterling Witzke, partner at the Winklevoss twins’ family office Winklevoss Capital, says she doesn’t think 2019 will be the watershed year for institutional investors to get into crypto. Witzke backed her claim by arguing that expectations are running ahead of facts on the ground.

Witzke made her remarks during an interview with Cointelegraph at the Crypto Finance Conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Jan. 17. She argued that the upshot of the 2017 crypto market bull run — when Bitcoin soared to all-time highs of $20,000 a coin — has been a skewed perception of what it takes for traditional capital to embrace innovation:

“Because the end of 2017 was so crazy, people tend to think the space moves at lightning speed [..] At the level of underlying [tech] development it [often] does […] but I think it takes a while for institutions to get comfortable. There needs to be better custody, healthy debt and credit markets to get [them] really excited. So I don’t think 2019 will necessarily be the year.”

Witzke added that while she’s seen many investors thoughtfully dip their toes into crypto, she hasn’t really seen any take the plunge. Two factors she isolated as important were a lack of regulatory clarity — especially in the United States — and concerns over security.

As reported, the twins’ Gemini crypto exchange has recently launched an ad campaign which places a strong accent on solid regulation and compliance — encapsulated in slogans such as “crypto needs rules” and “crypto without chaos.” In light of some community opinions that this agenda runs counter to the original peer-to-peer ethos of crypto innovation, Witzke argued consumers in crypto deserve the same protections as traditional investors.

“The distinction comes,” she said, “between the protocol layer and the companies and applications that are built on top of it. At the protocol level, it’s absolutely correct you don’t need more regulations or rules, because those are already built in.”

A report issued last fall from “Big Four” auditor KPMG proposed that institutional investors are what is needed for the crypto industry to realize its potential as a full-fledged asset class — an opinion that is shared by many prominent voices within the crypto industry itself. Others have voiced concerns over the potentially adverse or — for some — unwanted impact of the increasing financialization of the sector.

In interviews tied to their recent ad campaign, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss steered the conversation beyond regulatory matters, saying they believe that stablecoins and tokenized securities are today among the most exciting developments in crypto. Their view was echoed at Crypto Conference this week by Bitcoin Association Switzerland board member Luzius Meisser, who said“stablecoins are a precondition for average companies to bring their equity onto the blockchain.”

This post credited to Cointelegraph. Image source: Cointelegraph

According to a press release quoted by the Financial Times on Monday, HSBC, one of the largest banking institutions in the world by total assets, reported $250 billion in settled transactions in 2018, using the blockchain technology.

The press release revealed that during the last calendar year, HSBC settled over 3 million blockchain-based foreign exchange transactions. Performed through its blockchain platform, “FX Everywhere,” the bank says it has processed 150,000 payments since the platform launched in February 2018. HSBC completed its first blockchain trade finance transaction in May 2018.

At the time, the financial services group used the technology to issue a letter of credit to agriculture firm Cargill. The letter of credit covered the transportation of produce from Argentina to Malaysia. It was issued by Netherlands financier ING.

FX Everywhere Enhances HSBC

FX Everywhere helps with “orchestrating payments across HSBC’s internal balance sheets,” and the reports suggest that it saw heavy adoption over the last year. The company revealed that settlements were made easier with its proprietary blockchain-based platform. Amongst other things, platform ensured payment confirmations didn’t require additional protocols.

HSBC’s Other Blockchain Efforts

HSBC has been exploring various applications of blockchain technology over the past year. In October, it partnered with Standard Chartered, PNB Paribas and others, to finance a blockchain trade finance platform. Dubbed the “eTrade Connect,” HSBC launched the platform with the aim of improving the efficiency of international trade financing. To achieve this, the platform will cut the time required for the approval of trade loan applications from 36 to 4 hours.

Further Pans for DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology)?

Richard Bibbey, HSBC’s Acting Head of Foreign Exchange and Commodities, stated that the bank “currently hosts thousands of FX transactions.” He added that the integration of blockchain technology has made the process particularly smoother.

He said,

“Following prosperous implementation inside the bank, we are now exploring how this technology could help multinational clients – who also have multiple treasury centers and cross-border supply chains – better manage foreign exchange flows within their organizations.”

Although the release didn’t cite the bank’s total payment volumes for last year, Bibbey revealed to Reuters that DLT’s $250 billion represented a small portion” of it. Nevertheless, this is a significant feat that highlights the benefits that come with the adoption of blockchain in the traditional banking sector.

This post credited to CCN. Image source: CCN

Consulting giant McKinsey & Co recently published a report on the state of the blockchain industry, claiming that while crypto technology has potential, it has been unable to break away from the early “pioneer” phase with most use cases failing to take off.

The Report: ‘Blockchain’s Occam Problem’

The report is not entirely critical, stating that blockchain is viewed as a potential game-changer in many industries. It does, however, point out that a huge amount of money has been pumped into blockchain projects, adding the view that “little of substance has been achieved.”

The consulting firm states that blockchain is an infant teleology that is “unstable, expensive, and complex. It is also unregulated and selectively distrusted.” A chart is included in the report, illustrating the industry struggling to emerge from the first stage of a four-stage cycle moving from pioneering to growth, maturity, and decline.

The report goes on to detail emerging doubts regarding crypto technology, with the report title referring to Occam’s Razor, the concept that the simplest answer or solution is the best one. The implication here, of course, is that blockchain technology is not the simplest solution.

Crypto Firms Respond

Anyone reading the report could be forgiven for taking a rather dim view of the technology. While not an outright dismissal of blockchain tech, McKinsey’s report certainly aims to drastically temper the expectations of any blockchain enthusiasts who firmly support the technology as a potential solution for many cross-industry problems.

Blockchain firms have not remained silent in the face of the report, with multiple CEOs addressing and debunking various points made within.

CEO Angel Versetti of blockchain supply chain tracking company Ambrosus acknowledged that blockchain hype had clouded expectations, but firmly asserted that in its intended use case, blockchain is indeed the best solution by far:

“The report claims that competing emerging technologies are hindering the progress of blockchain, however, I think there is no technology that really competes with Blockchain in terms of its core value proposition: censorship-resistant, universally trusted ledger of transactions and contracts with no central point of failure,” said Versetti.

Blockchain will not solve all the problems of the world. But in the core value proposition of data integrity and immutability, blockchain is king.

Utopia Music CEO Brent Jaciow focused on solutions to the issue, pointing out that blockchain tech was still an emerging industry.

Developers must work hard to remove any roadblocks to firm’s harnessing its capabilities. This feat may be accomplished by creating API’s which integrate into existing solutions or developing a user experience that is simple and easy to use whilst integrating blockchain technology as the backend software.

Is Blockchain The Future?

The McKinsey report runs the gamut of regulatory, scaling, and security concerns which have of course featured heavily in all criticisms of blockchain technology.

Dale Sanders@drsanders

McKinsey report on Blockchain, Jan 4: “The bottom line is that despite billions of dollars of investment, and nearly as many headlines, evidence for a practical scalable use for blockchain is thin on the ground.” https://lnkd.in/gfWbiaj 311:16 PM – Jan 6, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyBlockchain’s Occam problemBlockchain has yet to become the game-changer some expected. A key to finding the value is to apply the technology only when it is the simplest solution available.mckinsey.comSee Dale Sanders’s other Tweets

Blockchain company responses to CCN seem to tackle these concerns with the suggestions of API development and the assertion that blockchain truly does outshine competing technologies when it comes to immutability and data protection, but it’s perhaps too soon to say whether the crypto industry is ready to break through to the second phase of the growth cycle outlined in the report.

However, the report reads more like a stern lecture from a well-meaning parent than it does a smear campaign from competing interests. While highly critical in some cases, even McKinsey agrees that blockchain is potentially revolutionary. Three guiding principles are cited:

  • Organizations must start with a problem.
  • There must be a clear business case and target ROI.
  • Companies must agree to a mandate and commit to a path to adoption.

The report states that industries are “downgrading expectations” regarding blockchain, but acknowledges that the technology has the potential to revolutionize processes in banking, healthcare, insurance, shipping, and more – but only if the above principles are observed. Companies are urged to “adapt their strategic playbooks, honestly review the advantages over more conventional solutions, and embrace a more hard-headed commercial approach.”

The consulting firm concludes an occasionally bleak report with a more hopeful outlook by saying:

If they can do all that, and be patient, blockchain may still emerge as Occam’s right answer.

This post credited to CCN. Image source: CCN

As blockchain technology hits the gaming industry, most game developers are only exploring subtle integrations. Meanwhile, a Seattle startup is making extensive use of the technology to completely reinvent how tabletop card games are played and distributed.

New Gaming Paradigm

CryptoSlate recently spoke with Seattle studio Cryptogogue about their unique crypto-backed trading card game and radical plan for distributing it. Having noticed that many companies are “trying to map existing paradigms to the blockchain”, Cryptogogue set out to take this concept to the next level and “gamify the blockchain” itself.

The result is Volition, a hybrid concept that combines a traditional printed trading card game with all of the features of crypto-collectibles. The game’s name, Volition, means “an act of making a choice or decision; the power of choosing or determining.”

“There are so many crypto projects out there that help facilitate a better physical to digital transformation,” says Ken Pilcher, “but not many that help bring it full circle and back to something tangible.”

The game is built on top of a new digital-to-physical distribution platform where the game’s content is published and sold to the community of miners running the network. Meanwhile, the game is actually played on a physical tabletop with real-world friends.

When it comes time to play, anyone who owns a card can print it out and use it in a game.

Changing Play and Trade

Thanks to blockchain technology, proof of ownership and authenticity can easily be verified by scanning a code on the card and checking it against the network. Cards may be checked casually by scanning them with an app on your phone, or systematically by judges and organizers during tournaments.

Because a blockchain is the distribution platform, it will be the community of users that keep the game going. Volition will run on an entirely custom blockchain platform with specialized mining nodes and wallets.

Related: How EOS, TRON and EthereumHave Impacted the Gambling Industry

New game assets are distributed algorithmically through miningpacks. Cards are released as virtual booster packs that need to be opened just like real packs. Miners can even configure their systems to mine for specific sets.

Then, these assets can be traded across built-in marketplace nodes. Users can create their own stores on the network to trade and sell cards with no fees using the currency built directly into the platform. Alternatively, cards can still be traded online or even in person, changing the dynamic of digital ownership.

Since game assets are stored digitally, Volition allows for the evolution of player cards; cards can level up, get combined, and unlock powers over time.

Since these assets are tracked on a blockchain, gamers can also see a card’s entire immutable history, including previous ownership. If a card was used by someone famous to win a tournament, then the next owner will have a record without a pen ever touching the card.

Tenacious Games and The Spoils

To understand how the team got to where they are today, we have to look more than a decade into the past.

In 2006, freshly minted gaming startup Tenacious Games released a clever trading card game called The Spoils. The Spoils was well received and quickly developed a dedicated cult following. The game offered a variety of innovations and was known for being the first trading card game to offer a free and open beta.

Victims of bad timing, Tenacious Games entered their series A financing just as the financial crash hit in early 2007. By 2009, struggling from undercapitalization, Tenacious Games sold the rights for The Spoils to Arcane Tinmen—who continued to support the game until it was finally shelved in December of 2016.

The Path to Volition

It was The Spoils that originally brought Cryptogogue’s two key founders together: technologist Patrick Meehan and game designer Ken Pilcher. Meehan was one of Tenacious Games’ original founders.

After selling the rights to The Spoils, Meehan left the hobby gaming scene altogether and returned to his core skill as a software developer working on anything from embedded mobile to virtual reality. Meanwhile, Ken Pilcher worked as a key designer on The Spoils until near the end of its lifespan.

Pilcher has a deep interest in tabletop gaming, with 25 years of experience playing games like Magic: The Gathering, running gaming events, and heavily collecting trading cards. With complementary talents, well-aligned interest, and shared experiences with The Spoils, the duo seemed destined to collaborate on another project.

In early 2017, drawing on their collective knowledge, Meehan and Pilcher began a collaborative exploration of blockchain-centric distribution models.

“Further into understanding the technology,” Meehan says they realized “we really ought to dust off our blockchain game publishing skillset.”

The duo soon became a trio with the addition of Meehan’s former colleague Scott Teal and by early 2018, they decided on a vision and announced to the world their intention to develop Volition. The team has been hard at work ever since.

Digital Cards for Traditional Gamers

Since nothing like Volition exists, many gamers are curious what gameplay will look like. While considered a spiritual successor to the gameplay model from The Spoils, Volition will be a distinctly unique game.

The team is creating something even leaner and cleaner than what they did in The Spoils. The team describes gameplay that is “accessible like Hearthstone,” yet more “skill-heavy, like The Spoils and Magic: The Gathering.”

Game designer Pilcher wants to be sure that players never feel stuck traveling down only one path of play. In our interview, Pilcher said:

“In many resource-based games where resources are in the deck, you have issues where if you don’t draw those resources, you can’t really do much until you do. With Volition, players are always able to continue building up a board or draw additional cards if they find themselves lacking specific cards they might need at that time.”

From distribution to play style, Volition is all about building and supporting the community. The official forums already host a modest, yet enthusiastic, core group of fans, many of them carried over from The Spoils. Community members provide ideas and feedback and engage directly with all three team members, and will be the playtesters for the first iterations of the game.

Physical Game Stores in the Digital World

While Cryptogogue intends to replace the gaming industry role of distribution, they are focused heavily on supporting retailers—especially dedicated game stores. Meehan believes that “gamers like to go to game stores; people like to see and touch a product.” Although a tabletop simulator could be made on top of the technology, the team is more focused on the physical, print-on-demand card gaming experience:

“As the world becomes more screens and wifi, I feel like digital experiences will become typical and people will crave face-to-face human contact.”

Retail shops will be offered a number of perks. Stores can have their own inventory that can either be sold using QR codes on a poster or as physical products printed and displayed with the transfer code on the back in a card sleeve. The founders have even thought about distributing a percentage of mined card packs directly to partner game stores.

Volition is just the first of many games to be distributed this way; The network that will distribute Volition will not be limited to a single game. Cryptogogue hopes to build an ecosystem that changes how games are played and distributed, aiming to help indie game developers bring all sorts of collectible card games to market over the network.

Determining the Future

Volition is expected to go live in Q1 of 2019. While the Volition blockchain will have an internal currency, Cryptogogue emphasized that it’s not looking to get listed in exchanges or get involved in the ICO. Instead of pushing their product on gamers, the team considers Volition a “conceptual project” intended to explore the possibilities of card gaming on the blockchain.

Blazing the same trail as Crypto KittiesRare Pepe, and MLB, Volition is venturing into uncharted territory. With Volition, the team is looking to determine the future of tabletop card gaming.

This post credited to Cryptoslate. Image source: Cryptoslate

CCN had a chance to talk to Arjun Mendhi of MTonomy. MTonomy is a NetflixGoogle Play, or Amazon Prime experience for Ethereum users. Based in Cambridge, MTonomy went live this week. Part of their team come from the MIT Media lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, which a number of famous Bitcoin developers have worked through, including Gavin Andresen.

They will be adding at least one new title every day this year.

MTonomy isn’t decentralized. It shouldn’t be.

We’re the only system out there that I’m familiar with that is able to provide enterprise-grade content delivery and security. […] It’s essentially the same technology that Netflix uses to secure its content. This is the first time that’s ever been available on the blockchain.

It does use Ethereum to process payments. Metadata is stored in smart contracts. To deliver a good experience, it uses the same enterprise-level servers that others use. It has encryption and Digital Rights Management protections. Content creators get the same level of protection they would elsewhere.

The real power is that this is available globally. So people across 170 countries can purchase content. Every single transaction is settled, as of today, in about 14 seconds worldwide. Additionally, people can also get content who are either unbanked or have issues with using a credit card and so on.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Google Play accounts are frequently hacked and trafficked on the dark web. This is not an issue with the MTonomy system. Thieves would also have to compromise the Ethereum wallets of the associated accounts.

Competing With Pirates

When this reporter brought up the issue of piracy, Mendhi opened up. Regions where piracy is rampant are a target market for his service. A native of India, he has a keen understanding of the dynamic. Users don’t have any other way to access content. They resort to piracy instead.

I grew up in India. I saw a lot of piracy out there. DVDs being sold on the streets and what not. Essentially, what people don’t realize is that there is a good deal of demand there. People are willing to purchase that content. But what really ends up happening is they don’t have access to the content.

Arjun Mendhi // YouTube

Access to Global Markets

When studios make agreements, they make a deal for an entire region. Services like Netflix, Google Play, or Amazon have limitations in this area. Some countries are worth a fraction of what Western markets are. The costs of collecting and processing funds are extreme. Operating in many places is a losing proposition.

I was sitting with executives at a major studio last month. We were talking to the international executives. They live in a very, very fragmented world. So in the US, when they do a deal, they do like a few hundred million dollars. Outside, even for such a big studio, a country like China, the entire country could be just like $5 million in revenue. And then it gets worse when you go to places like Thailand, Vietnam. It’s extremely granular. Extremely fragmented. Different languages. Different currencies. It becomes so much of an overhead with such little return that eventually all these major studios end up losing money.

Mendhi believes that his company is developing can remove this friction. It’ll enable people in these regions to get access to quality content. Using Ethereum, it removes the barriers and pinch points that drive up costs. It removes the necessity of the banking system or credit cards.

Transparency For Content Creators

Another aspect of streaming that Mendhi says his company is superior on is transparency. Streaming services are an opaque system. They trust that the service is being honest with them. By using smart contracts, creators know when their content is purchased.

Every piece of content has a smart contract. It’s best integrated with MetaMask. MetaMask is a popular browser wallet for Chrome/Firefox. The site doesn’t require much personal information beyond an e-mail address. They use accounts so it can recommend content like Netflix does.

As to the revenue share, it depends on the deal that is made with MTonomy. It’s not a YouTube-like scenario. People can’t just upload and sell content. The technology could be used for that, though.

A Potential Industry Transformation

MTonomy won’t be a single service, either.

They intend to license their technology. Others may have a need of it. For example, a movie studio might want to directly release content globally. This is something that can’t easily be done. Not even with services like Amazon Prime and Google Play. They can license the technology and tailor it to their needs. Mendhi says people will likely being using MTonomy without having any idea they are.

As MTonomy goes forward, it is also likely that other services and platforms will be developed where the user will not even be aware they’re using the blockchain. They’ll use some XYZ website but licensing technology, money movement technology, could very likely be powered by MTonomy.

It’s not only good for video content, either. Music and other types of content could use MTonomy with the same setup.

On the subject of using native Ether instead of creating their own token, Mendhi said:

Our goal is essentially to provide intellectual property licensing with the blockchain. It does not need a new token whatsoever.

He did say, however, that they eventually intend to “support all forms of cryptocurrency.”

MTonomy is now live.

This post credited to ccn Featured image from Shutterstock

The Reserve Bank of India has shelved its plan to launch a state-backed cryptocurrency amidst increased government pressure and concerns around money laundering.

Indian Government Still Cautious About Cryptocurrencies

It seems that regulatory clarity has evaded the crypto community in India, yet again. The country’s central bank announced it was looking at issuing its own digital currency back in April of 2018 and set up an interdepartmental group to conduct a feasibility study.

While the findings of the study were meant to be published by June 2018, the report has yet to see the light of day. An unnamed source told the Hindu Business Line that the government doesn’t want to implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC) anymore. The development might explain the lack of news on the topic.

Narendra Modi’s government is still refusing to provide any respite for investors or cryptocurrency exchanges. So far, Pon Radhakrishnan, the minister of state for finance, admitted that no deadline has been made to regulate the digital asset class.

The Country Still Not Ready for a CBDC

The Reserve Bank of India has echoed the parliament’s stance, refusing to ease pressure on the industry. The central bank has banned banks from servicing cryptocurrency exchanges, companies, and traders, effectively stifling the industry.

Related: India Stalls Cryptocurrency Regulations, Uncertainty Continues

The bank’s plan to launch its own central cryptocurrency was well received, with many thinking that the move could pave the way for other digital currencies to enter the market. The Reserve Bank planned on using the CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) to tackle money laundering.

Yet, the RBI still doesn’t have a formal unit in place that would track and format policies on cryptocurrencies or blockchain, which is indicative of a general lack of preparedness.

Praveen Kumar, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange and blockchain start-up Belfrics, told the Hindu Business Line that it’s is still too early for RBI to issue its own cryptocurrency and that delaying the process was the right decision.

Kunal Nadwani, the CEO of uTrade Solutions, was optimistic about the future of cryptocurrencies. That said, he also mentioned that central banks need time before making the transition as the economic effects of cryptocurrencies are “sizeable and largely unknown.”

This post credited to cryptoslate Image source: Cryptoslate

Plunging cryptocurrency values in 2018 and the collapse of the money-for-nothing white paper market in initial coin offerings (ICOs) took much of the focus last year for many people when it came to blockchain mindshare.

All of that marketplace drama, however, concealed an enormous amount of real progress for the technology that will, slowly but surely, lay the foundation for a robust revival of the blockchain markets in the future.

Over the last year, the market did provide lots of drama related to ICOs. Nearly a quarter of all the ICOs from 2017 lost most of their value, and the market as a whole declined by nearly two- thirds.

The first half of 2018 was no better. There were nearly 1,000 ICOs every month, but only 5% of them raised more than $1 million – with one, EOS, raising around $4 billion.

Not only did the bulk of the money raised go to a very small number of the ICOs, but nearly every aspect of the world of blockchain also became more consolidated and, dare I say, centralized, in 2018 – rather counterintuitive for blockchain, since decentralization is at its core.

Public blockchains consolidate

According to a study by EY that examined the ICOs’ progress and investment returns, ethereum, which is the dominant platform and shows the highest activity among developers and on social media, became even more dominant, with more than 95% of all ICOs and funds raised.

The market for exchanges consolidated rapidly as well, with 73% of daily trading volume in the first half of the year taken by the top 10 exchanges. Though the full-year numbers are yet to be updated, that trend seems set to continue.

The biggest exchanges are consolidating their positions in part by rapidly maturing their processes and approach to regulatory compliance. Know-your-customer procedures are being tightened and many of the big exchanges are, or soon will be, audited by some of the major financial services organizations (EY included). These same exchanges have been beefing up their security as well, with fewer large-scale thefts in 2018 than in 2017.

Another big trend last year in the world of public blockchains was the surge in popularity of stablecoins of all kinds, mostly based on fiat currencies. While stablecoins offer some advantages, including stability, they do raise the single most important question remaining for public blockchains: why are they useful?

Parking money in a stablecoin is beneficial if it’s between investments or purchases as a way to avoid volatility, but it’s not a very good investment in and of itself. The purpose of capital markets is to allocate capital to productive uses and, at least for the moment, that doesn’t seem to be happening. For public blockchains in 2019, this is the single most important question.

Private blockchains deliver

While public exchanges have been consolidating their hold on the market, private blockchains are getting to work by delivering real business value for enterprises. At EY, a number of systems entered production status, including our software licensing solution with Microsoft and a maritime insurance joint venture with Maersk and Guardtime.

Looking at the enterprise space, there are three key learnings from the work with blockchain in 2018.

First and foremost, the biggest rule in blockchain seems to be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Over and over again, when companies are working on projects where blockchain seemed to be an excellent fit, they did not move forward because they already found a solution to their problem. Despite the fact that blockchain in nearly every case would be better, that isn’t necessarily enough to justify replacing already existing processes, given the cost and risk.

Second, and very closely related to the first learning, is the primacy of solving real problems. While chief innovation officers sometimes love to do blockchain proofs of concept, the technology is far past that. It’s all about the focus on productizing and solving solutions for line-of-business executives — with real ROI. If one can, with confidence, point to an ROI from a solution, then there’s no need to worry about which blockchain platform or future comes to pass. There is a return from this investment, no matter what.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is clear that companies are prioritizing operations before finance. While tracking products and assets as they move through the supply chain is useful, there are a lot of financial services that could add value, from the very simple approach “payment upon delivery,” to complex services like factoring receivables and trade finance.

However, in most cases, companies want to achieve confidence in their operational systems before closing the loop with payments and financial services, a challenge they will start to take up at the start of 2019.

This post credited to coindesk Image via Shutterstock

Digital assets platform Bakkt — created by the operator of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) — has announced the completion of its first funding round in a blog post today, Dec. 31.

The institutional investor-focused cryptocurrency platform from the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) has officially raised $182.5 million from 12 partners and investors, according to the post.

The partners and investors reportedly include major names in both traditional finance and crypto-oriented investing, including ICE, Boston Consulting Group, Galaxy Digital, Goldfinch Partners, Alan Howard, Horizons Ventures, Microsoft’s venture capital arm and Pantera Capital.

Bakkt also noted in the announcement that the company is working with United States regulators — namely the  Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — to obtain “regulatory approval for physically delivered and warehoused bitcoin,” adding:

“We have filed our applications and the timing for approval is now based on the regulatory review process.”

Also today, ICE separately announced in a notice that the firm “expects to provide an updated launch timeline in early 2019, for the trading, clearing and warehousing of the Bakkt Bitcoin (USD) Daily Futures Contract.” In late November, the long-awaited digital assets platform stated that it was targeting Jan. 24, 2019 as a launch date, pending CFTC approval.

ICE first announced plans to create a Microsoft cloud-powered “open and regulated, global ecosystem for digital assets” in August, as Cointelegraph reported at the time.

Multiple experts and commentators in the crypto and blockchain industry have pointed to Bakkt’s coming launch as a major factor that will help crypto markets rebound from this year’s ongoing bear market.

This post credited to cointelegraph Image source: Cointelegraph

The end of 2018 is not the end of a year. It is the end of a decade, a decade that changed the world of money and finance.

I do not mean the decade since the release of the Satoshi paper that CoinDesk properly celebrated a couple of months ago. With the typical egotism of young, brilliant innovators, the crypto community loves to think that this is the end of the first decade of the crypto-era. But the rest of the world has been celebrating quite a gloomy anniversary this autumn: the 10th anniversary from the beginning of the Great Financial Crisis.

With Lehman’s default, the world woke up and found out that banks were not the safest industry in the world. They could not borrow enormous amounts of money from the public and invest them in very uncertain financial markets without running any material risk of default.

2008 taught us that banks could run out of the cash and capital necessary to manage their risks, and that they could default or require taxpayer money to be saved and avoid a default on their deposit liabilities.

What happened in the next 10 years? Did banks disappear? Was commercial bank money replaced by a new global cryptocurrency? Did financial markets, that were the spark that lit the crisis flame, get replaced by a network of trustless smart contracts? No, banks survived, and so did financial markets.

And now that banks and financial institutions seem to have discovered that blockchain is not a magic software giving easily safety and efficiency to existing processes (neither is it the weapon of a overwhelming digital gold crushing all existing world money), they tend to disregard that this was also the decade that saw concepts like distributed systems, financial cryptography and consensus algorithms become part of a public debate.

Yet, 2019 could be the year when banks really understand what these concepts mean for finance. Remember, finance had to pay a price for surviving, as a review of financial markets over these 10 years clearly reveals.

It became clear that the role of banks in money creation through deposits made them systemically too important and fragile for allowing them to play freely their other roles of moving liquidity and value in space (through helping efficient trading), in time (through safe intermediation between investment and credit) and across different states of the future (through advanced derivative contracts).

They became over-regulated entities, their operational costs grew, their funding costs became much higher due to a new perception of their risk. Additionally, their dependence on centralized entities increased. Not only central banks, but also other institutions like CCPs or CSDs (where the first ‘C’ always stands for “central”) now crucially manage financial markets such as bond, equity or derivative markets. Centralization was seen by regulators as the only way to increase standardization, transparency and to mutualize the resources of the individual banks toward market risk management.

The concurrent single-point-of failure effect was considered an acceptable collateral damage. In the same years, the financial industry stopped being the darling of investors, and was replaced by internet companies, which now total a much higher capitalization than banks.

Crypto in Context

What has the crypto and blockchain decade to say about such “old finance” topics?

We have to go back to the roots of blockchain and forget both the temptation of considering it “just a software” and the opposite temptation to consider it “heaven on earth.” The Satoshi paper was probably not the beginning. In the days when we celebrate Timothy May, we have to recognize that some ideas being realized today started to grow 30 years ago.

In this way, bitcoin is not a magic creation of perfection. Satoshi spotted that the internet lacks some of the fundamental features needed to store and transfer value. It lacks an enforceable form of native identity, an unanimous way to order messages in the absence of an official time-stamp and some alternative to the client-server architecture to avoid value to be stored by a single entity for all users of a service.

No matter how early or limited, Satoshi made a feasible proposal to overcome the above issues. It was a mutation of the web in the value management environment, and it is thanks to mutations that systems evolve.

In the past, while banks were expanding their balance sheets by creating more money and taking up more risks, some thinkers introduced the concept of Narrow Banking. This alternative idea of the role of banks could have spared us some of the big financial issues of the last decade. Narrow banking means banks with a narrower role, more similar to the role they had in some moments in the past. Banks without enormous balance sheets of deposit liabilities, used by everyone as money, matched by corresponding risky investments.

Narrow banking would require a way to free banks, at least in part, from the role of creating electronic money in the form of deposits.

The crypto decade shows that forms of electronic money that do not take the form of a commercial bank deposit are possible, and can be managed outside commercial banks balance-sheets.

The application of this principle could free banks from part of their money creation role and allow them to go back to a role of real intermediaries, helping those with money to take up well managed risks, and providing services to real and digital economy, without enormous books of assets and liabilities.

A Convergence Ahead

Yes, you read it correctly. I said that blockchain technology could help banks to resume their role as intermediaries. You read so much about blockchain tech disintermediating banks that this may sound strange.

Yet, today the systemic risk posed by banks does not come out of their strict intermediation activity, but from their “technical” role in money creation. Technology alone cannot avoid crises, but when used to make narrow banking possible it can stop a crisis from spreading systemically. No need to bail banks out if we have reduced the link between financial markets and our deposits of money.

If a form of digital money based on cryptography and managed on a distributed network was available for financial players, it could be the layer upon which further reduction of systemic risk in financial markets becomes possible.

Today, systemic risk in markets like derivatives or securities is often associated to the technological centralization that built up over the past decades. As we recalled above, recourse to centralized infrastructures increased after the crisis, in order to manage collectively the guarantees provided by individual banks, in order to provide more transparency to financial markets, and to help standardization and coordinated risk management.

At the end of 2008 regulators thought that such goals could only be obtained via centralization, even if this could make financial markets less resilient to systemic risk.

After the crypto decade, regulators know there are alternatives. Decentralized networks also allow for transparency, standardization and collective management of resources provided by the network nodes, through appropriate use of smart contracts. They can allow for forms of risk management and risk reduction that are unthinkable in the traditional world.

They may not have yet the required features in terms of scalability or privacy, but their technological evolution has come a long way since the original mutation.

So, the coming years may be the years of awareness.

No, early cryptos and tokens are not a fast and easy solution for the future of finance. No, a light splash of blockchain tech over old business models is not a solution either.

Some hard work is ahead if we want to use the lessons learnt over the past decade, and see these two world, the world of finance and the crypto world, to eventually converge into a new, safer financial system.

This post credited to coindesk Image source: Unsplash