Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 12:00 pm Harvard Law School Campus
Founding members of the CryptoKitties team, Dieter Shirley and Alex Shih, discuss the unique governance, legal, and regulatory challenges of putting cats on the Ethereum blockchain. CryptoKitties is an early pioneer in the space, and, having navigated securities law early on in its release, will share unique insights on classifications. They also discuss some of the ethical challenges they've been facing, and best practices for approach.
Notes from the Talk
Cryptokitties, an online game centered around owning and breeding one-of-a-kind digital cats, is one of the first games to be based on blockchain technology. In a recent discussion led by moderator SJ Klein, Cryptokitties founders, Dieter Shirley and Alex Shih, discussed their business model, as well its as attendant issues of privacy and regulation.
Cryptokitties is unique because of its game design. Cryptokitties represent a form of “digital collectibles,” or “cryptocollectibles” which are distinct from cryptocurrencies. Shirley explained that, “right now, we’ve got what no one else has, which is users. Everyone else has investors or speculators.” However, this uniqueness leads to confusion with regulation.
Regulators have been unsure of how to classify digital collectibles like Cryptokitties. In early conversations with the company, regulators attempted to classify them as securities, but Shih explained, a securities model does not fit the function of Cryptokitties. Shirley further explained that most regulators are just now becoming familiar with how ICOs work, so that was the dominant narrative with which regulators were familiar when they entered into discussion with Cryptokitties. As of now, within North America, Cryptokitties are not classified as securities.
In addition to regulation, there have been questions about privacy. Both Shirley and Shih emphasized that with increasing collection of data about everything people do, society will have to rethink what privacy means. Shirley drew from venture capitalist Albert Wenger, suggesting that rather than a vague notion of privacy, what people truly want is freedom of thought and freedom from persecution, and those principles should guide further conversations about privacy protections.
Looking towards the future, Shirley is focusing on the Cryptokitties users, explaining, “we just want to make the game bigger and better.” Shih added that, “from a digital collectibles point, we’re really just scratching the surface. We’re still figuring out what that means. Our belief is gaming is a great way to build public knowledge and get consumers comfortable with this technology.”
Notes by Donica O'Malley
About Axiom Zen
Axiom Zen was named first among Canada’s Most Innovative Companies by Canadian Business. They pride themselves in diversity of talent: a team of ~80 creatives includes published authors, over a dozen former founders, diversity from 20+ national origins, and decades of collective experience at startups and Fortune 500s alike.
Axiom Zen is the team behind ZenHub, the world’s leading collaboration solution for technical teams using GitHub; and the developer of Timeline, named Apple’s Best App of the month, Editor’s Choice in 10 countries, and Best New App in 88 countries. Axiom Zen is the creator of Toby, recognized as Top Chrome Extension of the year by both Google and Product Hunt, and the parent company of Hammer & Tusk, a leader in the world of immersive experiences (AR/VR). Axiom Zen's work has been featured in TIME Magazine, The New York Times, and Fast Company.
Dieter is a partner and chief technical architect at Axiom Zen, an award-winning venture studio specialized in applying emerging technologies to unsolved business problems. Products developed by Axiom Zen have touched 200+ million consumers and are used by the world’s leading companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, and NASA, as well as by eminent academic institutions and government organizations.
Dieter is an original participant in the world of cryptocurrency, mining his first Bitcoin on his home computer in 2010. Since then he has served as a technical architect on a series of advanced blockchain projects including as co-founder of CryptoKitties, the most successful collectibles game on the blockchain. Dieter is also the founding CTO of Cornerstone, a real estate transaction platform being developed in partnership with Ross McCredie, former founder and CEO of Sotheby’s Canada, and Dave Carson, former COO at Sotheby’s Global.
Alex Shih is General Partner and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Axiom Zen, an award-winning venture studio specialized in applying emerging technologies to unsolved business problems, including the team behind CryptoKitties, the world’s most successful blockchain application.
Prior to joining Axiom, Alex executed investment strategies across the capital structure in both public and private markets in roles with KKR and Highfields Capital. Alex holds a B.S. / M.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University.