4 min read

This Developer's Life: Intrade

Sorry for having been gone so long, you'll find my excuse in this article... You'll also find a great deal about games as prediction markets and what that could mean for the future. How do we develop such a thing without it being turned to great evil?

This Developer’s Life: Intrade


Dear Reader:

Sorry for being gone so long.  I’ve been on lockdown doing “the thing with the TV cameras”.  I still can’t talk about my bizarro adventures in Hollyweird, but I promise, the second the “instant death from a spy satellite” clause in my contract (I think right after the thing airs) I’ll let you know all about it.

But a lot has happened since I left.  Atomic went under, Lionhead started cryptically telling us it’s revolutionary (again), and seniors are out fighting against health care reform…  The end times, they are upon us. 

But really, I don’t want to talk about any of that, at least not right now.  I’d much rather talk about this: 

I know that about half of our community is already using Intrade, but I see it discussed so infrequently here that I thought it was worth a week’s worth of blogging... 

For those of you who don’t know, Intrade is basically a futures market with a twist (it can also be seen as a sportsbook without the sports).  On Intrade users buy long or short contracts on actual events.  For example, you might buy a long contract on a Public Healthcare Option Passing the House by December 31st 2009 (meaning that you’re betting that the event will occur), or a short contract on District 9 Grossing $30 Million in its Opening Weeked (i.e. you’re betting that it won’t gross $30 million).  What makes this unique is the fact that these contracts, rather than being a straight bet, can be bought and sold by the users at any time, making them function like stocks.  For example: 

If I had a short contract betting against Sarah Palin getting the republican nomination in 2012, and on the day she resigned the value of the stock tumbled because people felt as though she was less likely to get the nomination I could sell my contract then and make money, even if she did eventually get the nomination. 

Ok, so now you get what it is, I guess the question becomes “why do we care?”  We care because Intrade has served as a shockingly accurate predictor of future events: two days before the capture of Saddam the Intrade contract on his capture began to spike, political analysts and even the Pentagon have used it for a predictor. 

For a long time we’ve heard about the serious and potentially experimentally valuable nature of video games, but until Intrade I hadn’t seen one that reliable demonstrated the wisdom of crowds or our ability to harness the aggregated intelligence of a large number of people.  This is fascinating to me as it is done in Intrade in a very direct, very apparent way, which is, I believe, a limiting factor.  

Through many of the standard video game tricks I think we could make this process more exciting and more palatable.  I believe we could bring in many more people and explore hypothetical, rather than simply current events with the medium.  I believe we could do so in a way that would give us enormous insight into the human psyche and allow us to better understand the actions of we take en masse.  This sort of game could be an invaluable tool in avoiding many of the blunders we make as a society (or even as humanity in general), but could (and more likely would) be used as a terrible device for better control of masses. 

Either way, I’m pretty sure it’s achievable, and that means someone’s going to do it.  Anyone have any thoughts on how to steer this sort of project away from its more insidious uses? 

Shoot me your thoughts at [email protected] or hit me up on twitter at JamesPortnow 

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