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Who *really* is a Web3 expert?
I haven’t written much about my gaming background. However, after spending time with more Web3 founders, I’m seeing a lot of the similarities with the rise of free-to-play gaming and play-to-earn gaming. This brief article was first written and published for Future, an online publication of A16Z, on technology’s impact on expertise. Some editing for clarity and context.
Being an expert is knowing a lot about very little. If you aren’t expert enough consider narrowing your focus. The narrowing produces the same effects as exclusivity. Exclusivity sets you apart, and you become an expert. However, becoming an expert can quickly lead you to missing the next big thing. You become knowing everything to knowing nothing. And when everything is new, it level sets who really are the experts. Technology causes shifts in experts when new platforms are accessible (e.g. internet, mobile, Web3). This is not different than with Web3 and the gaming space.
As game makers, our content once lived inside a platform. If you didn’t own the platform, the platform owned you. Then, in the aughts, the shift to the cloud — coupled with the growth of the free-to-play business model — ushered in a wave of new game developers, some of whom built titanic companies and games: Zynga with Farmville, Riot with League of Legends, and Kabam with Marvel Contest of Champions. That shift moved our industry from a craft practiced by a small body of people to one rich with new talent — new experts — coming from web-based and service backgrounds. Because those fields were new to everyone, expertise could be acquired by those daring to go to the edge.
The shift to cloud and free-to-play moved the games industry from a craft practiced by a small body of people to one rich with new talent coming from web-based and service backgrounds.
But such changes are not without their challenges. As makers of free-to-play games, the entire economy was both centralized and owned by us. Once land ownership was redistributed and privatized, the GDP began to grow, so we developers began building for the two percent of the population that spent money in our games. We toed the line between making a fun game for everyone and designing pay-to-win strategies that, in effect, created premium experiences for only a small sliver of players.
But then blockchain technology, by solving the basic problem of provenance (a record of ownership) for digital items, meant the economy could now live outside of the game creators’ control. However, since blockchain had no liquidity, it still forced all the ownership and its consequences back to the game developer (without any of the ownership benefits).
Fast forward to this past year. Decentralized finance has provided liquidity — and a renaissance of sorts — to the entire crypto industry.
Liquidity is powerful.
Having property rights (tokens/currency), proving those property rights (blockchain), and re-selling those rights (liquidity) were the missing pieces to create entirely new gaming economies, as well as new gameplay strategies (like play-to-earn). And if privatization of land proved anything, it was that GDP can grow when ownership is given to the community.
By changing the economics of expertise in gaming, virtual game worlds today can impact the real world, for the first time. With trends such as play-to-earn games, the rise of livestreaming, and the growing contingent of esports pros, players — not just game publishers! — can now create value for the entire community and get paid. Expertise has evolved dramatically. It now comes from the edge — from bold creators and players.