The launch of the world’s first decentralised, community owned gaming platform, called Loot on August 27 has the potential to upend how we do business. We need to pay attention.
Even as the business-school and consultancy industrial complex has consistently churned out ever more jargon over the last few decades, the way companies have been organised have remained remarkably consistent since the 18th century: top-down structures with limited liability, run as mini-dictatorships within a set of rules.
Along the way, everyone from anarchists to communists have tried to upend these structures in the name of liberty or equity, and in general met with the same dismal fates. It has simply proven too difficult to replicate the wonderful set of incentives that have hitherto so successfully driven prosperity.
Technology is changing all that – and yes, so is blockchain. While we all know that the entry of crypto bros generally prompts as much of a rush for the bar at most parties as would the entry of any especially zealous door-to-door salesman, in this case – they are on to something.
Through the remarkable technical wizardry of blockchain, that allows transactions to be recorded, sliced and diced and tracked without the intervention of any centralised authority, opportunities are being created to assign incentives and ownership to things in a way would not have been possible before.
Take Loot for example. The way it works is that you can spend money to create a list of items that you own. A literal list by the way, just consisting of a picture of text! You can own and trade these items for real money. The magic of blockchain, which allows these lists to be recorded as “non-fungible token” means that your ownership is recorded in a way that cannot be disputed.
The premise behind Loot is that it is meant to be the precursor to a video game. Think about how a video game is traditionally created. The first step is that high powered executives gather in a room with creative writers and throw out ideas. You can think of this earliest iteration of Loot as that process – except the ideas can come from anyone on the internet with a bit of cash – and they can be bought and sold. The whole process, from financing to creation, is decentralised and open.
And whilst it may sound absurd to shell out cash to produce the equivalent of a fantasy shopping list – the magic is what happens after – and what is already happening.
People are beginning to fill in the blanks. Artists are jumping in to create artwork based on the lists, writers are beginning to sketch out stories. The idea is that eventually people with harder skills will build out graphics. Others will do the back-end technical work required for game engines. The result, creator Dom Hofmann hopes, will be a full-scale video game created from scratch from the ground up – without any centralised authority involved.
It is early days yet, and the platform is relatively clunky, and the incentives remain untested. But this type of experiment, if successful, could potentially allow incentives (in the form of money) to be attached to almost any action- thus extending the rules of economics and enabling for the first time real innovation in the structures of how we do business, or self-organise in almost any manner.
This opens real possibilities of new forms of political or civil organisation- all driven from the ground up and protecting individual liberties. These ideas here are in many ways age-old, but what has changed is the technology allowing us to test them and apply them, potentially heralding a new wave of decentralised, autonomous organisations (what are being called DAOs).
For those of us in the Global South, these innovations may seem niche or fanciful compared to our pressing problems of slowing economic growth and increasing natural disasters. But make no mistake – how we adopt new forms of self-organisation will be critical to overcoming fundamental problems like the lack of productivity, and the lack of competitive, marketable exports, not to mention how we preserve our individual rights as governments and big business alike increasingly flex their muscles in response to the increasing prevalence of technology.
For all the talk of equity in international conferences, the reality is that less powerful economies will continue to get the short end of the stick unless we change our approach. The developing world that can gain the most from early adoption of these structures and technologies. It’s time we adopt these innovations and take our share of the loot.
Kiran Mathur Mohammed is an economist and co-founder of medl, an IDB Lab and Microsoft-backed social impact health tech company. For feedback or to send comments email email@example.com .