Have you ever seen random airdrops, competitions, and loot that just seem a little too suspicious? They might be, or they might not be, the problem is, we typically cannot tell. One of blockchain’s chief selling points is its transparency and trustlessness, and in recent years, we’ve seen that applied to gaming through VRFs, but I’ll let our guest explain that one.
To discuss how verifiable, on-chain randomness can do everything from killing cheating to improving procedural generation, I had a conversation with Felix Xu, co-founder of the ARPA Network and Bella Protocol, and a renowned NFT art collector featured in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Interview With Felix Xu, Co-Founder of ARPA Network, Creator of Randcast
TG: Can you give me an overview of what Randcast is?
FX: Randcast is a tool designed to empower the creation of a free, open, and creative Metaverse, aligning with the ideals of Web 3.0. It provides verifiable randomness, essential for building fair and unbiased rules in the digital universe. It is especially pivotal in shaping Autonomous Worlds, algorithmically designing digital landscapes by adding depth and authenticity to every aspect of these self-evolving universes, from determining the genesis of new terrains to establishing unique resource distributions.
Randcast facilitates the creation of maps, avatars, item properties, games with provable fairness, and unique NFTs, ultimately acting as the heartbeat that makes these digital realms feel alive, dynamic, and ever-evolving. It stands as a companion and enabler for everyone looking to contribute to a free, open, and creative metaverse.
TG: RFs haven’t seen much adoption yet in gaming. Could you explain why blockchain is so important to RNG?
FX: Blockchain technology is fundamental to random number generation (RNG) because it ensures the transparency, fairness, and security of the process. Traditional RNG methods, especially in online gaming, often lack verifiability and can be manipulated by game operators, leading to mistrust among players. With its decentralized and immutable nature, blockchain can host a Verifiable Random Function (VRF) that generates random numbers in a publicly verifiable and tamper-proof way. This ensures the fairness of games, lotteries, and other applications relying on randomness and enhances trust among participants, as the process is transparent and cannot be manipulated by any single entity.
Despite its obvious advantages, VRFs haven’t seen much adoption in gaming yet, possibly due to the nascent stage of blockchain technology, lack of awareness, or the technical complexity involved in integrating blockchain with existing gaming systems.
TG: How do RNGs bring about fairness?
FX: Random Number Generators bring about fairness by ensuring that outcomes are unpredictable and not influenced by any external factors. In the context of the Metaverse, blockchain, or any digital application, randomness is crucial for various functions such as distributing validator responsibilities, allocating unique NFTs, lottery draws, and determining game outcomes. By utilizing verifiable randomness, Randcast, for example, ensures that decisions, allocations, and game outcomes are unbiased, transparent, and not manipulated, thereby establishing a level playing field for all participants. This randomness forms the basis of all rules and is essential for making transparent and unbiased rules, creating a sense of fairness and trust among users and builders in the digital realm.
TG: The first VRF I saw implemented in games was Chainlink’s. How does Randcast differ?
FX: One of the most critical aspects that stands out is the approach to decentralization and availability. Randcast operates on a threshold network and has a fallback mechanism by all capable groups, which significantly reduces the risk of a single point of failure, a problem that Chainlink VRF has. This ensures continuous availability of the service and enhances the security by distributing the processing across multiple nodes.
Additionally, the automated features of Randcast, such as auto-computed callback gas estimation and accumulative inflight balance check, enhance usability by reducing the burden on the user to manage these aspects. This is particularly important as it makes the system more accessible to users who may not be as technically proficient. Overall, these features make Randcast a more robust, user-friendly, and decentralized solution compared to Chainlink VRF.
TG: Matchmaking in PvP games is an interesting topic and I’m assuming Randcast can be used for that. How does an RNG improve the likes of ELO rating systems?
FX: Indeed, using an RNG like Randcast can enhance ELO rating systems in PvP games by introducing an element of unpredictability and fairness to the matchmaking process. Traditional ELO systems primarily rely on players’ past performance to predict outcomes and assign ranks, which can sometimes lead to biased or unbalanced matches. Incorporating Randcast’s verifiable randomness into the matchmaking algorithm can help create more diverse and unexpected match pairings, thereby ensuring a more dynamic and engaging gaming experience. Moreover, the infusion of randomness helps ensure that the system is not easily manipulated, thus maintaining the integrity and competitiveness of the game.
TG: Could you unpack the value of RNGs in map generation? Does this augment procedural generation? What does it improve?
FX: RNGs are essential in map generation as they are the foundation of procedural generation, a method used to create data algorithmically instead of manually. By using RNGs, you can generate various map layouts, terrain types, and resource locations, making each player’s experience unique and dynamic. This augments procedural generation by adding an element of unpredictability and randomness, which enhances gameplay by creating more diverse and exciting environments. It improves the gaming experience by ensuring that maps are not static or repetitive, but instead are dynamic and ever-changing, offering new challenges and experiences each time a player engages with the game.
TG: Could you explain what is meant by Randcast being used for divination?
FX: Randcast, at its core, is a tool that provides verifiable randomness, which is essential in creating a free, open, and dynamic digital universe or metaverse. When referred to in the context of ‘divination’, it does not imply predicting the future in a mystical sense, but rather relates to its ability to generate unpredictable outcomes in various applications within the Metaverse.
For instance, it can be used to determine the genesis of new terrains, ensure randomness in procedural generation, establish unique resource distributions, set game results, power digital slots, oversee card games, and allocate unique NFTs. In essence, Randcast serves as a reliable source of randomness, injecting an element of the unforeseeable and helping shape an authentic, fair, and dynamic digital world.
TG: What is the best use-case of Randcast in gaming at present?
FX: Currently, the best use case of Randcast in gaming is ensuring fair play by generating secure and verifiable random numbers for game mechanics that rely on randomness, such as loot box drops, randomized game environments, and in-game events. Secure randomness is crucial for maintaining player trust and game integrity, as it prevents manipulation and ensures that all players have an equal chance of success. By integrating Randcast, game developers can access a reliable source of randomness that is not only tamper-proof and verifiable but also easily integrated into their development workflow, enhancing the gaming experience for both developers and players.
The subject matter can feel heavy-going — and in some ways it is — but for the consumer, that is, the player, most of a VRF’s value goes on out of sight; you don’t need to think about it. This is how much of the best technology in gaming behaves: it works behind the scenes and you needn’t worry about it.
That said, one element that is more front-facing is fairness. If you don’t think there are many instances where we could have done with a VRF, you aren’t looking hard enough. I recently gave a summary of the lawsuit and counter-suit between the co-founders of Gala Games. In one of the allegations, we saw the following:
The second point of section 41 could not be more pertinent to Randcast: “…those NFTs should have been randomly distributed to members of the Gala community” — but they were not. One difficulty with having to trust that something is random is it’s difficult to tell it isn’t. This is partially because randomness by its very nature can throw up some bizarre results that seem “unfair”, and partially because we cannot verify the randomness; enter VRFs.
Thank you to Felix for taking the time to discuss Randcast with me, particularly as gaming is just one application of a VRF.