I've recently been having conversations with gamers regarding Memento Mori, which led me to realize just how wildly negative the perception of NFTs from the gaming community is. Although I found it confusing at first, it makes a lot of sense considering that At the height of the NFT summer, the vast majority of conversations around nfts looked like this:
**Crypto Bro:** "There's only 10,000 of these <Adjective> <Animal> <GroupType>, But this one is special because it has a <1% chance attribute> so, therefore, it's worth minting and spending 100$ in gas fees in case you get one, and it's worth more money!"
Although this may be true in a vacuum, the fact that everyone copied the same process created an overtly saturated market. Every time a new "Golden" <Animal> is created, it dilutes the scarcity of every other randomly "Golden" <Animal> in the market. This golden ticket casino creates a vicious circle where people are incentivized to take a random chance and flip into profits as soon as possible, which makes a gas war to mint hundreds of nfts for a guaranteed return.
The image below is the resulting effect. I generated that using the data from a block during the minting of doodles on EthBlockArt. It was a savage free-for-all to get in front of the line for a jpeg. The formula was overused, and whenever the market collapsed, those who came late were left holding the bag and a sour taste for NFTs.
Like every other emerging technology before it, NFTs are going through its growing pains phase. During this spurt, we realized the power they possess in creating new brands and stories that are collectively generated and owned. With the current growth of the BAYC community and others like it, there are several survivors of this first phase who have and will continue to create value for the onchain ecosystem.
However, to restore the negative perception of Digital Collectibles, we must rationalize their uses and implement them as a tool to achieve an effect instead of being the entire purpose of what is being made. We cannot expect to have another gas war zoo and call that progress. I would like to attempt to explain what I think is wrong with the current NFT collection dynamic and how to fix it to create the Metaverse.
# Nerdy bits: Understanding the Blockend
Before delving into the negatives, I think it's essential to understand how the inclusion of NFTs and Blockchain, in general, changes software architecture. Whenever I think about traditional webpages I conceptualize them as consisting of three main components:
- **The Frontend:** The code that interacts with the user
- **The Backend:** The code that orchestrates between the frontend and other services.
- **The Database:** Stores data from the Backend
When I include blockchain in a design, I do not think of it as a part of any of the previously mentioned components. I view it as its own new thing: the **Blockend.**
The **Blockend** is the code that allows the user to interact with the blockchain. The blockend code is generally run as part of the frontend instead of standalone code. However, the backend can also benefit from this new data source and read/write to the blockend if there is a need for it. Although most applications (dApps) in crypto currently use the blockend to replace the backend entirely, I think the future of software design will have the backend and blockend evolve to fulfill different roles. On the one hand, off-chain databases provide speed, privacy, and scalability, while blockchain data is permissionless, permanent, and composable.
As the landscape evolves and more chains start offering different services and features, in my opinion, the backend of an application will aggregate data from multiple blockchains and oracles into a specific state that the user experiences seamlessly. Much like npm made modules permissionless and composable, allowing anyone to use them for their application, nfts enable people to create composable experiences by utilizing the NFTs as a shared game state. By creating linked items by pushing and pulling through the blockend we can express complex chains of value and represent things such as unique digital experiences and port them throughout the metaverse and beyond siloed lakes.
# The Devil is in the Metadata: Credible vs Fabricated scarcity.
If we look at value as a function of supply (scarcity) and demand it becomes clear that the focus on scarcity comes from the fact that demand cannot be explicitly programmed. That leaves scarcity as the only hard lever one can modify to determine the value of an item. However, if scarcity is fabricated through arbitrary means (Like shuffling a set of weighted attributes) then the value of the rare elements is diluted as new collections create the same effect even if they belong to different collections the rare examples become part of a meta-collection of "Golden" <Animal>.
To create long-term value, I believe an NFT should capture credibly scarce attributes instead of arbitrary traits. onChain generative art stands as an excellent example of what Credible scarcity means. By expressing an algorithm within parametric constraints, one can obtain truly fantastic results that are provably rare beyond a pre-defined random chance.
Beyond Generative art, the quest to find Credible scarcity leads us to connect web3 and web2 by using already existing data sources such as games, geolocation, and sensors to inform onchain results. These independent data sources exist in spades and are readily queryable. By creating pipelines that allow the extraction of data from these silos in a manner that maintains the chain of provenance and ownership, we can enable users to utilize their data points to create and interact with experiences that develop customized states for each individual based on their web2 and web3 footprint.
## Putting it into Practice: Memento Mori
These thoughts have been collected alongside the development of the Memento Mori onChain project. In it, we utilize the unique data created by each WoW hardcore character's journey through Azeroth. We obtain the dead players and, alongside the owner's wallet address, will create a Merkle Tree, which acts as a shared proof of adventure. Every user can mint an NFT of their dead character, which contains the equipment it was wearing when they met their untimely demise.
Much of the inspiration for implementing this build comes from Loot, which underscored what a blockend can be used for when creating a shared point of truth. We aim to bring this concept forward by taking the randomness out of the equation and replacing it with the proof of an adventure.