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How the actor model could enable better blockchain gaming apps

How the actor model could enable better blockchain gaming apps


Decentralized applications (DApps), including apps for gaming, have gained traction for their transparency, security and user asset ownership. However, delivering high-quality AAA gaming experiences through DApps presents challenges.

Existing 2D gaming DApps operate on blockchain networks using smart contracts for asset management. While they’re favored for their simple mechanics and resource efficiency, their limitations become evident as the complexity of the gaming experience increases.

Scalability is a primary hurdle for traditional blockchains like Ethereum, impacting real-time interactive gaming due to constraints surrounding transaction throughput and latency.

Performance is also an issue. AAA games require high-performance computing and superior graphics rendering. Yet, existing DApps struggle to meet these demands, resulting in subpar visual experiences.

Moreover, developing AAA gaming DApps is costly due to resource-intensive tasks and blockchain execution fees. Balancing immersive experiences with user-friendly expenses complicates the use of traditional DApp frameworks for AAA games.

What is the actor model?

The “actor model” is a communication model that enables parallel computing and asynchronous messaging within a blockchain protocol, making it possible for developers to build complex DApps with less difficulty.

The actor model is used within the Gear Protocol, and development was led by Nikolay Volf, founder of the Gear Protocol and Vara and one of the key developers of Polkadot and the Substrate framework.

Within the model are actors — programs or users that send messages to other programs in the protocol. Each actor has a mailbox and a private state that cannot be changed directly by another actor, rather they can only change states by receiving a message from another actor.

Messages between actors are taken from the mailboxes and processed in cycles. Once an actor has received and processed a message, they can either send a message to another actor, create an actor or change its state.

How is this beneficial for DApp development?

Asynchronous message handling in blockchain programming offers several significant benefits that contribute to the overall efficiency, scalability and reliability of DApps.

Firstly, asynchronous message handling allows for non-blocking processing of transactions and smart contracts.

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Unlike synchronous processing, where each transaction must be executed sequentially, asynchronous messaging enables concurrent execution of multiple tasks.

This parallel processing capability enhances the performance of the blockchain network, as it can handle a larger number of transactions and computations simultaneously, resulting in reduced transaction processing times and improved overall throughput.

Jack Platts, co-founder of Hypersphere — a crypto venture capital fund that has invested in gaming projects — told Cointelegraph, “In traditional synchronous systems, multiple tasks often have to wait for each other, leading to a slowdown when processing a high volume of transactions.”

Platts continued, “In the context of blockchain networks, this parallel processing capability becomes vital for maintaining high transaction throughput. As more transactions are initiated by users, the system can handle them concurrently, ensuring faster confirmation times and overall improved network performance. This is particularly crucial for blockchain gaming, where real-time interactions and quick processing are essential for providing a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience.”

Some blockchain games, such as Ember Sword, have already integrated parallel processing into their development processes. Mark Laursen, co-founder and CEO of game development company Bright Star Studios, told Cointelegraph, “In the development of Ember Sword, we employ parallel processing utilizing our ECS [entity component system] solution. Typically, there would be a necessity to manually integrate multithreading and make intricate decisions on a system-by-system basis.”

Laursen continued, “However, in our scenario, the requirements for reads, writes and ordering dependencies are specified, allowing our engine to discern the most efficient method to schedule and parallelize those systems.”

Let’s say a player of a blockchain game wants to transfer an in-game item in the form of a nonfungible token, like moving a legendary sword from their chest (wallet for long-term storage) to their inventory (wallet used for gaming).

The transfer process can happen instantly with low or near-zero fees, the same way a player can simply click and drag a sword from their inventory and move it to a merchant or chest in a traditional game.

Additionally, with asynchronous messaging, blockchain developers can design DApps that are more resilient to fluctuations in network conditions and temporary failures.

Pavel Salas, chief growth officer at Gear Foundation — the organization behind the Gear Protocol — told Cointelegraph, “The actor model actually boosts the dependability of applications that run on blockchain,” adding:

“Since actors process messages independently, failure or issues with one actor do not affect others, preventing cascading failures and improving the overall robustness of the system. And suppose there are disruptions or network trouble, the actor model allows the system to recover quickly and continue functioning seamlessly.”

This can be beneficial for blockchain gaming DApps if there is a network outage, allowing the game to continue running despite any issues on its blockchain.

Moreover, asynchronous message handling enhances the scalability of blockchain networks. Traditional synchronous approaches may lead to bottlenecks and performance degradation as the number of users and transactions increases.

In contrast, asynchronous messaging allows for the distribution of tasks across multiple nodes, enabling the system to scale more efficiently and handle higher transaction volumes without sacrificing performance.

Salas said, “As the user base and activity within the DApp grow, the system can easily manage increased message traffic without causing bottlenecks or slowdowns. Even if a single application grows, it will still manage messages sequentially.”

This scalability is crucial as blockchain networks aim to support a growing user base and accommodate diverse use cases.

Salas continued to explain how the process works: “Through the actor model, individual actor-programs act as shards, ensuring that the system can be shared by design as the number of programs grows. […] Vara processes all transactions without sharding across bunches of nodes; each node handles everything. However, within Vara, each program operates independently, containing its own state, processing and sending messages according to its specific logic.”

“In blockchain gaming, where real-time interactions and quick processing are crucial, the actor model’s sharding capability ensures fast processing of game-related actions and events, supporting a seamless gameplay experience.”

“As the number of actor-programs increases, the system shards and distributes the workload, effectively accommodating the growing user base and maintaining a responsive and efficient network.”

Another benefit of asynchronous message handling is its support for event-driven architectures in DApps. Instead of continuously polling for updates, DApps can subscribe to specific events or messages, allowing them to respond promptly and efficiently to changes on the blockchain.

This event-driven model reduces unnecessary computational overhead and conserves network resources, leading to more efficient and responsive applications.

Moreover, implementing actor messaging capabilities can significantly enhance the overall user experience by mitigating extended waiting periods for transaction validation. Adopting asynchronous processing allows the actor to receive a message acknowledgment of their transaction along with a pending transaction ID.

Subsequently, any computational tasks or external data dependencies can be managed by the same or alternate actor in a subsequent block, ensuring efficient processing without compromising the responsiveness of the blockchain network.

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This real-time feedback is especially crucial for applications requiring quick confirmations.

As the blockchain ecosystem continues to grow and diversify, leveraging asynchronous message handling becomes essential for creating powerful, AAA-style gaming DApps that can cater to the demands of an expanding user base and meet various use cases across industries.

By adopting this methodology, developers have the opportunity to expand the limits of decentralized gaming and potentially realize the complete capabilities of blockchain technology within the gaming sector.