In the following series, BTCManager will be walking through, in detail, seven questions posed by the co-creator of Ethereum Vitalik Buterin. These seven questions are some of the most relevant features of this booming ecosystem. From latency, as in this week’s installment, to governance and everything in between. The series was inspired by a discussion between Buterin and a WeChat group called “Mars Finance Global Family.”
To get started, have a look at the first installment related to Bitmain’s move to centralization and the threat of 51 percent attacks.
Almost everything mechanical relies upon a precise sequence of actions in a precise amount of time to correctly function. For example, Wintergatan relies upon a precise mechanical sequence of action to create an amazing artistic display of music. If one element slips out of sync, everything becomes out of balance.
In the world of computing, this lack of harmony has a term: “Lag.” In a forum post on a popular freemium PC game Fortnite, Jacob Armitage posts his concerns about the causes of lag on January 8, 2018:
“Yeah, as you said it is Meltdown and Spectre. It is a big issue that is going to have a big effect on cloud services and servers. It is good that Epic are talking openly about, but it is definitely affecting many, many other games and services.”
Much like artists that perfect their musical instruments, professional gamers strive to perfect their craft by optimizing their gaming rigs. They will gladly spend hours and thousands of dollars shaving off every millisecond so that they can gain the advantage over their competitors. However, unlike the aforementioned Wintergatan, gamers must contend with portions of their “instrument” that could be located outside of their control in a data center thousands of miles away.
In an environment such as this, Vitalik Buterin asks, how can a distributed app function properly with ten seconds or more of lag?
All distributed ledgers require a committed transaction before it’s verified. Until then, these transactions are stored in a kind of semi-permanent memory area. This area is subject to modification, and so it is unverified. A game developer that sells microtransactions would want to wait until verification is received before releasing any digital goods. It is difficult to imagine asking a gamer with an itchy trigger finger wanting to buy an upgraded weapon to wait as Ethereum processes at a rate of 15 transactions per second.
Even outside of financial transactions, there are many other uses for blockchain technology ranging from natural resources, identity verification, and AR/VR. Each device that communicates a transaction will need to have that transaction committed before it can post the confirmation to the end-user.
Given that there are billions of devices in the world, ultimately, this means that there will be tens of millions of committed transactions per second needed to handle the myriad of requests from all of these devices. How then can a system be built to handle such a need?
Big Fabulous Plasma
There are a few approaches to solving this global challenge, of which Buterin has proposed a Plasma Standard to be built on top of Ethereum. This system would spread the transactional load across many distributed databases thereby enabling a high transactional load and response time while still enforcing security against fraud. It would further give the capabilities for gaming companies to host their own “private plasma shard.” Combined with the Sharding Standard, Buterin opines on the upper limits of the system in an OmiseGO AMA:
“If you add 100x from Sharding and 100x from Plasma, these two together basically give you a 10,000x scalability gain.”
This means that Ethereum with Plasma is still at least a year or more away. Furthermore, the standards for how these systems will work could change over the next year, and there are other technologies currently in development. Although many gaming companies perform multi-year development cycles, it is hard to build on something that doesn’t yet exist.
Are there any other solutions that a game developer could use right now?
Available now is the EOS blockchain with less than a half-second latency time. Developed by Block.One, EOS hopes to emerge as a next generation distributed application platform. The system promises to provide access to computing resources such as RAM, CPU, network, and file storage facilities on an entirely “on-demand” basis.
Applications built within this environment could thus theoretically scale infinitely all with minimal lag. Given its’ recent launch on June 1, 2018, EOS is still in the early stages of utilization, however. But as with many early-stage projects in the space, it’s good advice not to hold your breath.
Still, some trade-offs were made by the EOS team to accommodate the speed of the blockchain. As written by Samupaha, a commenter on Reddit:
“EOS limits contracts by having only a small period of time devoted to them. If running a contract takes more time than that, block producers won’t accept it to a block.”
Also, application developers would have to be aware of the EOS stakeholder provision of the blockchain as written by pesa_Africa on Reddit:
“If the network is congested, applications will be allocated capacity through the number of EOS tokens they hold. So someone congesting the network will have to acquire more EOS to get through.”
Use all the Blockchains
Another approach would be to standardize how developers can store and access transactions in the blockchain. IEEE Blockchain is now organized to create standards in this evolving space. The organization recognizes that the innovation is an emerging, but not yet fully formed technology, supported by best practices. From their value statement, the IEEE Blockchain group states:
“The Blockchain Technical Community is highly fragmented and badly needs what the IEEE can deliver; a stabilizing think space of seasoned professionals specifically trained and positioned to make a difference.”
The IEEE Blockchain working group is currently free to join and is holding a series of conferences around the world. They are working to attract industry peers to collaborate and set the standards by which all blockchain projects will operate. Much in the same way that any WiFi device can connect to any WiFi network, it is possible with a standard that it will be easier to access any blockchain system and to expect a given performance level. However, given the pace of prior standardizations, it can take years before a fully formed standard is made. Still, a standard is essential.
Maria Palombini, a director with the IEEE Standards Association, has been pushing for blockchain adoption by the pharmaceutical industry. In an interview with The Block, she discusses the reasons why a standard is important:
“The goal of the standard is to drive industry-wide adoption. The barriers [can] be mitigated by a standard.”
What Lies ahead
As the blockchain technologies mature, more and more developers will turn to this technology as a solution for vexing challenges.
With global standards, it would be possible to have a universal gaming currency across platforms of games and gaming devices. It could even be possible for a gamer to live on the currency earned in game.
Applications such as Cryptokitties and Space Invaders may prove to be the herald of the new crypto age.