Building blockchain collectibles with Dapper Labs founder Roham Gharegozlou
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Building blockchain collectibles with Dapper Labs founder Roham Gharegozlou

This is the final edition of our conversations with founders and technologists at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. To hear them all, look up What’s NEXT on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify, or via RSS on your podcast app of choice.

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After the success of CryptoKitties, a wildly popular collectible market for digital cats, the startup behind it is looking for new ways to apply the same technology to live entertainment, gaming, music, and sports.

Just as cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin have transformed the financial world, CryptoKitties maker Dapper Labs wants to change the face of popular entertainment and culture with the creation of blockchain-based digital assets.

“If we were able to make a $30 million economy based on digital cats, we think we can create a much larger economy for things that people care about today,” says Roham Gharegozlou, the company’s founder and CEO.

To discuss the company’s approach to blockchain, decentralization, and its newly introduced platform Flow, we spoke with Roham at the recent Web Summit conference in Lisbon. On this week’s What’s NEXT Podcast, Roham describes his vision for the future of digital entertainment where, unlike today, users and creators have total control over the digital assets they own and share.

Making blockchain fun
Blockchain technology has historically been out of reach for everyday consumers — too technical and unwieldy for all but the most tech-savvy to use. But Dapper Labs wants to make it mainstream and fun.

“It was the first time someone had said: ‘Let’s take crypto technology, the same thing that created cryptocurrencies, and make something other than a currency with it,” Roham says. “We want to create new kinds of applications, new kinds of experiences, that couldn’t have existed before.”

The company’s initial attempt at making blockchain accessible was CryptoKitties, which allows users to collect, breed, and trade one-of-a-kind digital cats. The collectibles quickly went viral, attracting millions of users.

While Dapper Labs has primarily dabbled in fun and games, the company is serious about re-shaping the future of the web. “Of course, at the beginning, these products will start out looking like toys,” says Roham. “But the result will a much more colorful world than the one dominated by few huge, oligarchical internet companies.”

The core idea at the heart of Dapper Labs — and central to blockchain itself — is the concept of “non-fungible assets.” Each asset on the blockchain, be it a digital kitty or a piece of actual currency, is not only unique but completely irreproducible.

Once a user owns an asset on the blockchain, it can never be copied or taken away, unless they decide to trade or sell it. What’s more, these assets are decentralized, which means that they exist outside of any single platform, or under any single organization’s control. Only users can control their blockchain assets.

Dapper Laps wants to use blockchain to create digital tokens in gaming as a unique way for fans to, for example, show appreciation. It also could be used by sports franchises to sell one-of-a-kind, collectible memorabilia for fans to trade, or by entertainment companies to create innovative games where users are rewarded with individualized prizes.

“Digital assets on the blockchain, crypto-collectables, are a way for anyone — whether it’s a brand, or whether it’s an artist in their mom’s basement — to be able to create something and sell it directly to their fans,” says Roham. “In a way, that thing lives outside of any digital platform.”

Developing an open blockchain platform
Dapper Labs is expanding its portfolio of games, and developing an open source solution for users, too. It will soon release TopShot, a first-of-its-kind blockchain game sponsored by the NBA.

What’s more, the company is actively working to empower developers to create their own games. Flow, the company’s developer-friendly blockchain platform, will be the first to give enterprises and amateur developers alike the tools to create crypto-gaming applications.

“Every other blockchain today will not work for application developers,” says Roham. “So, our main focus is to build as simple a platform as possible. Everything in Flow’s design is made to make life easier for the developers, and help them build the kinds of applications that people want to use.”

Flow is expected to be released later this year. In the meantime, Dapper Labs is working with major brands, like Ubisoft, Warner Music Group, and the NBA to help hone the platform for widespread and commercial use.

Looking ahead, Roham envisions a world where consumers and creators have total control over the digital assets they make and pay for — regardless of the platform they’re using.

“Crypto allows products to use open platforms, which means developers can build tools that allow users to switch between online platforms,” Roham says. “Once you, as a customer, have an asset on the blockchain, nobody can take it away from you.”

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