Composable Games Pt. 5: Inheriting the Protocol

December 31st, 2021

This is the fifth in a series of casual writings on web3 game design. In a former life, I was an academic in the field of game studies, today I help accelerate web3 companies. For shorter-form content, you can follow me on Twitter @DangerWillRobin 🧵.

Custodians of Governance

As of today, we are between rounds v0.6.4 and v0.6.5, and the Dark Forest team working very closely with its three established guilds: MarrowDAO; dfdao; and ordenGG. Their goal is to have each take the reins of a community round and run Dark Forest in their own way. The protocol is decentralizing itself somewhat radically as the core team teaches us how to maintain them game ourselves going forward. MarrowDAO has already completed its round with a focus on collecting specially named planets and incorporating sponsorships into the game. Dfdao is next, launching its community round Tomorrow. I expect ordenGG will follow shortly after.

Although we haven’t launched the round, the preparations have been remarkable. For one, we started by incorporating Snapshot into Dark Forest for the first time. For those who aren’t aware, Snapshot is a voting tool, where different addresses can cast ballots if they meet some threshold according to some on-chain data. Usually, this is the balance of some governance token, which one day (if not already) threatens to capture value from the protocol. In the case of Dark Forest, no token exists. Instead, we used the previous round’s score.

I think this is really cool because players are now “playing-to-govern”TM. It’s hard for me the write this blog post because the possibility space has been literally exploding in my mind. I want to tell you about how this can apply to all forms of games from Chess to Basketball. I want to tell you how the incentives are so well aligned because the best players are usually the most knowledgable about the game (as opposed to the most impacted or richest). I want to talk about how this is Sybil resistant governance because of how score is exponential in Dark Forest. But most of all, I want to tell you what the community voted on.

We asked our Discord server to propose rule changes for our allocated round. In total, 16 proposal were created. These proposals were casually vetted by the community’s reactions, with dfdao’s core team pushing the top three to Snapshot.

The proposal page for dfdao's community round.
The proposal page for dfdao's community round.

Now, because Dark Forest has exponential scoring, it would have been unfair to the majority of players to count each point as one vote (ordenGG would have had 777,777,777 votes while the median score was 270,000). However, it would have also been unfair to treat all players equally, especially because many did not play much at all. Here is where we used quadratic voting. Everyone got log2(Score) votes. That means if you scored 270,000 points in the previous round, you got 18 votes on the rules for the next. If you scored 777,777,777 points, you only got 9 additional votes for a total of 29 votes.

By the end of voting, my own proposal “Death of the Universe,” won by a narrow margin over “Fight of the Giants”. The gist of the proposal was to take further inspiration from Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest (the novel). Without spoiling it too much, we learn that planets are destroyable, something that is not currently possible in the canonical implementation of Dark Forest (the game). I recommended that an attack twice as strong as the maximum defence of a planet should simply delete that planet from the map, rather than take it over. And, to insure a continuously brutal battle, recommended a shrinking universe.

I think of all the things I accomplished in 2021, none seem so poetic as this. I’ll remind the reader that this insatiable quest to get exposure to Dark Forest, first by trying to get a job in the core team, then by starting a DAO of strangers to collect jpegs, has now become all too real. Although it is not a “canonical round” hosted by the core team, I got to re-write the rules to Dark Forest and now get to see how these really bold (and possible horrendous) decisions play out. My hat is off Gubsheep and Ivan, as they have stayed true to custodying their protocol, while also progressively decentralizing it those who would cherish it.

In a pretty robust write-up of how play-2-earn economies can bootstrap web3 communal development, Peter Pan describes the phenomenon of what I went through. I am paraphrasing, but essentially he motions towards game protocols rewarding players with ownership of the protocol because it is a strong path towards decentralization to a robust set of governors. Peter does not seem to have Dark Forest as a ready example, for he is focused and rightfully worried about a less composable set of games. What Peter is also missing, is that the simple threat of a token is enough to bootstrap the project. I would also like to clarify here that the majority of Dark Forest players and builders are probably not that motivated by rewards from play. The game offers a lot of intrinsic value both by existing at the bleeding-edge of technological achievement and by having great vibes.

If you are keen to play in dfdao’s community round tomorrow, feel free to DM me on Twitter.

Additional Notes on Vibes:

Dark Forest’s great vibes come from many different tasteful decisions made by its leadership.

  1. It is entirely funded through donations that are both private and through Gitcoin.
  2. It is entirely open-source.
  3. It is really into decentralization. For instance, it selected xDAI (now Gnosis Chain) because it felt like it was the most decentralized scaling solution available at the time, given its tie to Ethereum. (Please note that Polygon was not truly tied to Ethereum, just well-bridged). This kind of decentralization maximalism virtuously signals to crypto OGs that this project is legitimate.
  4. The game has an enormous amount of friction, which would normally be bad, but it forces strangers to work with each other.
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