NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have been making headlines for the wrong reasons recently, with prices crashing and a backlash from many people, including video gamers.
However, NFTs aren’t just certificates for overpriced digital art, as some would have you believe. And they could have a big part to play in the future of online poker.
A5 Labs has positioned NFT avatars at the center of a wide-reaching white paper on game integrity and sustainability – “Advanced Technologies for Secure, Fair and Fun Online Poker”.
It puts forward several novel and intriguing ideas for a holistic use of technology that makes poker more fun for recreational players, more sustainable for poker pros, and safer for everyone, regardless of their skill level.
Cross-site NFT avatars could help revolutionize the online space. The idea is to create transparent, anonymous, and secure IDs and add them to the blockchain where they would be publicly observable, utterly transparent, and yet completely anonymous. As a result, they would allow poker sites to communicate information about players in a way that still protects their privacy.
Why cross-site NFT avatars?
The paper is cautious about the application of the blockchain to many other areas of life, but A5 does feel the poker industry is well poised to make use of the blockchain’s unique strengths.
“This is not an effort to preach Web3 because it is largely impractical for many industries to move away from the centralized power of Big Tech,” the paper says. “There will be strong resistance from all but a few of the large major players. However, we believe and argue that iGaming, and especially the online poker industry, is a special case where the adoption of certain Web3 technologies is easier and will have large practical benefits to urgent problems.”
Cross-site NFTs in the online poker world could come with real utility.
If you’re used to the current perception of NFTs, you may be wondering how this could possibly work. But that reflects the rather narrow way in which NFTs have been popularized.
However, an NFT is an enormously flexible tool. It is an object on the blockchain that is identifiably unique (this is the non-fungible part) and stands for something that is clearly specified (this is the token part).
In the art world, this usually takes the form of a token representing ownership and containing the code for a specific file. But since it is just an entry on a ledger, it could just as easily work as a digital passport, smart contract, or bearer bond.
NFT avatars for a more secure game
An A5 NFT avatar would act as a kind of membership card to the online poker world. The NFT would be encoded with things like the user’s skill rating, risk bucket, VIP status, playing style, and a confirmation that A5 has confirmed the user’s details. It would also carry a bad actor’s rap sheet, what they did and how long since they last did it. (For more on this, see our previous article on the Future of Player Profiling.)
A ban on one site would then effectively blacklist that avatar across the poker-verse, making games safer for all of us.
But the full spectrum of user ratings would also come into play. If a player has a high-risk rating on their NFT, a site would then know to devote more resources to checking their play. Weak players could be matched with competition at a suitable level. Since the NFT can be coded with details of a player’s style of play, you can even flag accounts for ghosting (where players allow someone else to use their login details) if the style of play suddenly changes.
For good actors, the main benefits are knowing that your opponents are all wearing similar histories on their NFTs, and a great deal of convenience when signing up to a new site.
As the paper puts it, the NFT avatars would also mean “good actors can build an industry-wide reputation around their anonymous identity that – just like a healthy credit score – enables them to enjoy benefits similar to the current operator-specific loyalty points. Knowing their reputation, operators will be able to solve their ‘cold start’ problem and customize their offerings to gain the most value from new customers.”
But what about adoption? The crypto world has a very steep learning curve, and the need for an NFT avatar might scare a lot of players. However, since the NFTs wouldn’t be transferable, they could all be held centrally by a third party. And the process of signing up and using your NFT avatar could be massively simplified. It could certainly be less complicated than your standard online banking setup.
Players would use NFT avatars in much the same way that most people use their Google or Facebook accounts to quickly set up logins on third-party sites. Sites would still have their own KYC and due diligence requirements. But now those same sites would also have a way of transmitting data that is user specific without violating the anonymity of that player.
“You have this anonymous ID,” Thanh Tran, co-CEO of A5 Labs, explains. “With this ID you can log in to multiple systems, a universal sign-on, a little like Facebook. With this, you can build a reputation across multiple sites. The reputation information is written in this ledger [the NFT]. Sites must do their own KYC, but identifying information is never available on the blockchain.”
Reviewing the A5 Labs white paper for Cardplayer Lifestyle, cyber security expert Eddie Harari noted the value of these NFT avatars. “An excellent usage (finally, may I say) for NFT technology is suggested that will basically ensure player identity is kept anonymously but still identified by the different online game operators and is also non-fungible,” he wrote. “This will allow different operators to establish trust with the user based on his previous activity and behavior… I think this is a brilliant use of NFT technology.”
With sites like GGPoker starting to share information about bans with their partners, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how player information can be shared securely between operators to make the future of online poker safer and more fun for everyone.
Join the debate. The A5 Labs White Paper, Advanced Technologies for Secure, Fair, and Fun Online Poker, sets out a holistic vision for a safer future for online poker. You can get more info about its long-term mission to make poker secure and sustainable at A5labs.co.