Online is becoming well-designed anarchy

Several years ago I spoke about virtual currencies and the way they allow anyone to make their own money. The current rash of initial coin offerings (ICOs) has been one of the main results. At the time, though, I thought that real power would go to clearinghouses, institutions that would transfer value among the many different forms of money. Those institutions have yet to emerge (December 2017), but perhaps the prediction is not completely wrong.

It’s also worth stressing that these monetary innovations emerged first in multiplayer games. Multiplayer games are still a primary source of social and institutional innovation. The latest trend has been to use code to either limit harmful interactions, or to design the game so that harmful interactions are the point. Battleground formats (where every player is simple trying to kill everyone else) seem to be more popular than collaborative social environments.

Instead of solving the social deviance problems raised by collaborative multiplayer, the companies instead have focused on designing more entertaining forms of anarchy. If this trend too moves to the real world, it means that eventually Twitter and Facebook – companies trying to actively manage social deviance on their platforms – will fade away in favor of anarchic platforms that do a better job of making the anarchy entertaining. One can imagine a Twitter-like service that surfaces the most trollish comments and then rewards and publicizes them.

I’m not saying any of this is good. It just points out the fact that governance – which is what these developers are doing, running their own countries – is really hard. Right now the devs are getting burned out with the difficulties of managing societies, and are retreating from the field.