The Crypto Gaming Governance Thesis

Published in
5 min readAug 27, 2021


why we’re building dfdao

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In June of 2021 I started playing Dark Forest. I was instantly hooked on the blend of strategy, automation, and diplomacy necessary to win the galactic space war. The game is built on a blockchain, so it was a fantastic avenue for me to learn more about a technology I had barely skimmed in my Computer Science classes.

I joined an organization of avid players seeking to score higher as a group, and we decided to call ourselves dfdao. At the time, it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to blockchain-based organizations called DAOs, which stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.

When dfdao formed, we were neither decentralized (we shared in-game private keys), autonomous (we made decisions together), nor organized (we built game-playing infrastructure on the fly). However, after a wild second place finish in v0.6 round 2 of Dark Forest in which we recruited players to join our team, we realized that a more legitimate, permissionless DAO infrastructure was necessary.

Becoming a more formal DAO required us to ask more serious questions. For instance, how can we score higher in Dark Forest in a permissionless way? How should we value and reward each person’s contribution? How should we make collective decisions?

I realized that these questions are applicable far beyond the realm of Dark Forest. I majored in Civic Studies as well as CS, so I have always been interested in how institutions make decisions and the way political values are baked into an institution’s structure. I’m cautiously optimistic about the potential of DAOs to foster structures that encourage cooperation and allow workers to have more control over the fruits of their labor.

But what do cooperative DAOs have to do with blockchain games?

gaming DAOs are the laboratory of DeGov

In The Strongest Crypto Gaming Thesis, Dark Forest founder gubsheep says:

Games are a technically demanding yet relatively low-stakes environment to explore scalability and usability problems early in a technology platform’s lifecycle: security and compliance concerns in games are less critical compared to more “serious” commercial or financial applications, often allowing for faster iteration loops.

If we apply this same logic to DAOs, a distinction between DeFi (decentralized finance) and gaming DAOs emerges.

Put simply, a DeFi DAO is analogous to shareholders in a company. Shareholders own some or all of a company, and they profit when the company makes money. In DeFi, the shareholders — or token holders — are (sometimes) more distributed than traditional financial investors, but they still have the narrow objective of profit = success. A mistake in DeFi is also incredibly costly, with hundreds of millions of dollars at play.

It’s likely that DeFi DAOs have been early crypto-successes precisely because of the relative simplicity of aligning token holders in pursuit of profit. However, if the affordances of blockchain (public, secure, decentralized) are to be realized in ways that benefit people outside of finance, we must explore what governance looks like in a more complex environment.

With that in mind, I posit that a gaming DAO is more analogous to a government. Governments have a muddier and more complex set of objectives: ensuring social well-being, facilitating distribution of resources, managing disagreements, and building budgets that meet these objectives.

Games like Dark Forest are fascinating because their objective extends far beyond profit. What it takes to win has changed with each round of the game, and players have found enjoyable methods of playing that aren’t directly related to scoring the highest (artifact collection, buying hats, etc…). Furthermore, old-fashioned diplomacy has already proved to be as effective a tool as any permissionless system. Dark Forest is a perfect place to explore a variety of DeGov mechanisms that rely on a mixture of blockchain protocols and human trust.

Vitalik Buterin has also discussed the need for governance that goes beyond coin-based voting, specifically in pursuit of “funding public goods” and “protocol maintenance and upgrades.” Buterin recognizes that the main tool of a DeFi DAO — majority voting on every proposal — is not enough to handle the complexity and nuance of decisions that existing non-DAOs make daily (representative democracy, anyone?).

Once again, from The Strongest Crypto Gaming Thesis:

If we accept that games are a leading indicator of new technologies, and that the most interesting applications of new technologies will lean into truly new affordances rather than incremental improvements, then it follows that the bleeding edge of crypto application design in the next few years will be found in crypto-native games.

If gubsheep is right that games are a place for “faster iteration loops” and that crypto games are at the “bleeding edge of crypto application design,” it follows that experiments with crypto-gaming governance will also be rapidly iterable and at the bleeding edge of decentralized governance (DeGov) design.

This idea strongly aligns with Buterin’s sentiment that “DeGov is necessary” and “DeGov is dangerous.” We can iterate the necessary mechanisms while operating in the lower-stakes environment of games, thus dodging some of the dangers associated with experimental decision-making protocols.

dfdao experiments

As a leader of dfdao, I fully recognize the opportunity that we have for DeGov exploration. Our goal is to strive for victory in Dark Forest while using a variety of cooperative mechanisms. We hope that some of these mechanisms will be applicable to other blockchain games and eventually other DAO structures at large.

Here is a brief summary of our governance experiments thus far:

Impersonate smart contract: For Eth Summer, I modified the Dark Forest contracts and client to allow other players to play for the dao.

The Remembered: A group of players who gifted us their empires at the end of v0.6 round 2. We retroactively gifted them a snazzy NFT.

The Intergalactic YOLO: A group of players who coordinated a legendary space attack to disrupt @orden_gg in v0.6 round 3. Stay tuned for NFTs…

Map sharing: An app for sharing a common map amongst dao members.

Artifact Market: A p2p marketplace for players to buy and sell artifacts. dfdao supported the development and user testing of this plug-in. This is our first experiment in some form of dao revenue.

Multi-sig wallet: A place to store our reward planets. A majority vote is required to sell the reward.


If you share my Crypto Gaming Governance Thesis, DM me or dfdao on Twitter.

I’m looking forward to more DeGov experiments and until then, I’ll see you in Dark Forest.