Forget paying a buck for a piece of gum and a pack of trading cards. In Major League Baseball's brave new future, you could be paying gobs of money for a baseball card you can't hold—it's just code backed by the blockchain to swear how rare your Aaron Judge really is. Welcome to the world of , if you are willing to shell out a few grand, anyway.
Developed by game company Lucid Sight and backed by the MLB, Crypto Baseball works like this. Digital cards go on sale in batches. If they sell out in the same hour they're launched, the price of the next batch goes up 35 percent. If not, their price slowly deflates until they're sold. Initial batches started at $20 a pop, but at the time of this writing, players like on the Red Sox and the Dodgers' are going for a price equivalent to $25,000. Overall, 15,000 total cards will be minted, 500 for every MLB team. After that, no more.
Technically, these are more than just imaginary digital collectibles. The cards will factor into a Fantasy Baseball-adjacent game, where good performance from real-life players in the real world will net you points and potentially unique collectible awards if you own those players' digital cards. Having more players will put you at a competitive advantage and make you more likely to win something unique—if you can afford the investment. That part isn't live quite yet, though.
What's interesting about Crypto Baseball isn't necessarily the sky-high prices of its cards, but the way it's working around a basic fact of the digital age: that digital goods are fundamentally non-scarce. Like a digital file of a movie, a book, or a picture, a digital baseball card can be duplicated infinitely at zero cost. Throughout the entire history of the internet, from the era of file-sharing BBS boards to Napster to Pirate Bay and beyond, businesses have been struggling to resist that gravity like their existence depends on it. Because it does!
Other digital trading card games (and yes, ) have taken to building apps that 'cards' live inside. Consider the way that Netflix gives you access to a movie inside its app—it doesn't give you a copy of the movie you can watch wherever you want. Similarly, the app gives you access to your Star Wars cards, and a way to trade them, inside its own little universe. Accordingly, the app's owners can issue (and theoretically delete!) cards at will, which makes it hard to feel like you really possess any of these digital "collectibles." And you can only trade them on the app's terms.
Crypto Baseball's blockchain approach, however, let the game's creators set actual, irrevocable hard limits. Ethereum Smart Contracts (which are to get into here) allows developer Lucid Sight to write rules about how many 'cards' are 'minted' and how they'll be identified, and then set those rules in absolute stone so that no one–not the MLB, not Lucid Sight–can change the game to crank out some extra high-demand cards. It's the digital equivalent of locking the door and throwing away the key.
It's not the first time this trick has been trotted out. The wildly popular "" blockchain collectible game came out in late 2017. But applied to create a digital version of classically collectible baseball cards, it's an especially clever way of recreating the scarcity of the real world but in digital form.
But maybe not clever enough to be worth shelling out $25,000 for.