ZombieChain Comes Alive: Can Ethereum Sidechains Save the Dapps?

That decision will cost you half a cent. Are you sure that’s the right move?

If you’re a gamer, decentralized applications (dapps) hold an enticing promise: you might finally be able to truly own virtual in-game items and accumulate them without worrying about a company changing the rules and taking them away. But as with other big blockchain ideas, that’s not quite a reality today.

One reason is the economics of how this would work are uncertain. To commit an action to the ethereum blockchain, users need to expend gas, a unit of value that’s priced in ether, the network’s cryptocurrency, and that fluctuates based on how much other people are using the network at any given time.

For Loom Network, a startup specializing in applying blockchain technology to gaming dapps, that just won’t do. Constant microtransactions harm user experience, even if network traffic isn’t pushing up gas prices at a given moment, as happened during the recent CryptoKitties boom.

Loom co-founder James Duffy told CoinDesk in a recent interview, “there’s just a mental transaction cost.”

He continued:

“Even if you’re spending a fraction of a penny every time you move your character, people still have to make decisions about whether it’s worthwhile to make a move [when] they know every single thing they’re doing is costing them.”

With that problem in mind, Duffy announced Loom’s newest offering – a ready-made “shared sidechain” that dapp developers can use in exchange for a monthly fee – this week. ZombieChain, as it’s called, is expected to launch in a month or two.

So far, not developers have signed up to build dapps on it, but the Loom team is excited about how it advances their ideas and vision.

“ZombieChain’s model more closely parallels traditional web hosting,” Duffy wrote in the announcement, “where developers pay a flat monthly fee based on the resources consumed by their application, upgrading their web server and paying more as their app grows in popularity over time.”

The idea of a shared sidechain, Duffy believes, has the potential to help gaming dapps achieve scale while making life easier for users and developers alike.

The alternatives, as the stand today, are: one, to house games on ethereum’s main chain, with its poor user experience; or two, to build a dedicated sidechain for each game.

“Not everyone wants to do that,” Duffy told CoinDesk – hence ZombieChain has come to life.

Sidestepping scalability

Broadly, sidechains have a long pedigree in cryptocurrencies, going back to Adam Back and other developers’ 2014 proposal for bitcoin “pegged sidechains.”

The idea is to complete transactions on smaller, nimbler chains that are later reconciled to the main blockchain – ethereum, in Loom’s case. Sidechain users sacrifice some of the security and decentralization of the main chain, since they depend on a smaller number of “validators” – analogous to miners – to register their transactions.

But they gain in terms of throughput, that is, the time it takes to complete transactions.

Loom Network took this idea and introduced the concept of “application-specific sidechains” or “dappchains.” Using Loom’s software development kit (SDK), developers can build a dedicated sidechain to house their dapp, with ethereum serving as a secure, decentralized base layer.

Loom has already built DelegateCall, a kind of decentralized Stack Exchange, on a dappchain. In addition, two games are under development in-house, according to Duffy: one he compares to Magic: the Gathering, the other to Pokemon. The user experience, he says, is like any mobile game: “fully immersive, graphics – you actually wouldn’t really know that it’s running on a dappchain.”

As the company’s head of business development Michael Cullinan told CoinDesk in March, the Loom developer platform aims “to make it simple to make highly-scalable apps on the blockchain.” […]

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