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Barcelona, Spain-based Freeverse said it is creating “living assets” based on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which so far use the blockchain to authenticate unique digital items. The company is targeting game developers and brands, such as those interested in creating virtual avatars and digital versions of their products.
Earlybird Venture Capital and Target Global led the funding for Freeverse. Freeverse.io’s tech allows NFTs to be monetized and evolve based on how they are used. That’s not very intuitive, as NFTs are based on the transparent and secure digital ledger of the blockchain, and so they’re supposed to be immutable.
In that sense, they’re ideal for digital collectibles, which is the reason that NFT sales hit anywhere from $15 billion (Nonfungible.com) to $25 billion (DappRadar) in 2021. That market happened because of blockchain-certified digital ownership that NFTs made possible.
Freeverse.io will use the investment to fund a strong go-to-market push, as well as to continue the development of the product and core technology.
“Living assets represent the way forward for digital ownership in the metaverse and beyond”, said Freeverse.io CEO Alun Evans, in a statement. “The fact that Living Assets are valued more by how they are used, as opposed to simple speculation, means that they enable a fairer and more sustainable business model for both companies and consumers. As such, we expect our approach to become a core component within the emerging web 3 sector.”
Freeverse.io said its core product is a platform that allows companies (such as brands, game developers, or other content creators) to add a crucial new layer to their products: the ability of NFTs to change and evolve based on how they are used by their owners. As a result, how the NFT is used has a greater effect on its value than merely its rarity or scarcity.
One of the main criticisms of the digital collectibles boom is that the market value relies purely on speculation – with consumers buying “rare” digital assets with the sole intention of selling them while hoping for a profit. Freeverse’s product and technology offers a way out of this situation, by allowing NFT properties to change and evolve.
The company said that, with Freeverse.io, the metaverse will be populated with assets that capture the value provided by their owners’ effort and talent using them, instead of just scarcity and speculation.
How it works
Freeverse.io said it has developed a “fraud-proof Layer-2-based technology,” capable of being deployed on the main blockchain networks (for instance Ethereum, Polkadot, TRON). The company has made it easy to implement by third parties in their applications, and permit trading in fiat (such as U.S. dollars) too, without having to resort to a cryptocurrency exchange.
The company said that evolving assets requires a new, transparent, agreement between creators and users: the creator continues to give full ownership of the asset to the user, who can trade it freely as with any static NFT. However, the ability to evolve the asset’s state (like turning an ax into a “legendary” ax) is retained by the asset creator and can be activated by multiple triggers: its use in a game, the outcome of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs, which can govern NFT projects) or other smart contracts, or even in response to real-world events.
In each case, with living assets, the company said it addresses a key issue of standard NFTs: the state of every asset at every point of time is certifiable on-chain, not via external links to private servers that can arbitrarily corrupt this agreement.
For example, a buyer can acquire a weapon within World of Warcraft if, and only if, it has properties certified by Blizzard (the creator). Freeverse will follow up with more implementational details in the future.
“We are eager to help the industry explore the creative possibilities that are unleashed with Living Assets. We strongly believe that the current NFT boom is but the tip of a huge iceberg,” the company said.
With Freeverse.io’s web application programing interface (API), creators (ex: game developers) can create endless quantities of NFTs and change the assets’ properties at any time, plugging into any blockchain to provide on-chain certification of the changes, said Evans in an email to GamesBeat.
The creator continues to give full ownership of the asset to the player, who can trade it freely (as with any static NFT). However, the ability to evolve the NFT (change its properties) is retained by the creator, giving them the ability to set the rules for how the NFT will evolve. The rules can focus on use in a game, how it ages, the outcome of smart contracts, and in response to real-world events, Evans said.
This evolution (from static NFTs to evolving NFTs) is key to turning the passive experience of simply “owning a digital collectible” into active engagement. It can lead to greater user retention, as users are encouraged to return to the original creator of their digital assets to play, interact with, share, and trade them to increase their value. Users could then even collect recurring revenue each time an item changes, improves, or is sold over its lifetime, Evans said.
With living assets, the owners’ actions matter, as they return to the creating application to engage with the NFT, to follow the real-life person or object it represents, and to play with it. Users do this because they know that their engagement directly affects their assets’ characteristics (and, by natural extension, value). NFTs become active and engaging, instead of passive and immutable.
Items could evolve based on embedded game mechanics, or how they age; or it could be a creator-authored evolution, or based on a real-life feed. You can think of virtual designer clothing or pets that you have to wash or groom every day so that it retains quality and value (kind of like Tamagotchi pets) or a famous musician’s virtual guitar evolving based on which concerts and events it was brought to; or an asset that increases level when reaching a number of retweets.
The company said that it has environmental policies in place that mean these living assets don’t use a lot of computing power and so they don’t harm the environment.
A new set of tools
The living assets will enable a new set of tools for evolving NFTs based on user actions, real-world events, measurable data, and unlimited assets. It is up to the creator of the NFTs to choose the right combination that best suits their purposes.
As always, designing the right economic forces requires a mixture of art and science, the company said. Employing the user actions tool permits users to transform their effort and skill into market value.
The company said you can imagine a multiplayer, sports-manager simulation game, where every player on every team is a living asset, and can be traded them freely on an open marketplace. By competing with other users, and training their players, gamers can “level up” their living assets, making them more effective in the game, and thus much more valued by other gamers.
The market mimics real life: it has net buyers, net sellers, and everything in between; all the asset properties are transparent and certifiable on the blockchain. The same concepts could extend to role-playing game mechanics, management games, or even newer-style merge or crafting games.
Another example comes from Tamagotchi pets. This showed us the value of owning and interacting with a virtual item — and created a retention mechanic that worked extremely well, the company said.
Automated data tracking adds even further potential to the idea through a measurement tool. You can imagine a living asset that changes based on any external data that can be measured or automatically tracked. A living asset could be automatically linked to a certain hashtag on Twitter. The number of tweets featuring the hashtag could automatically change the asset’s appearance, its ability to access a feature in a virtual world, or its “power” in a game.
A living asset associated with a real-world character could be linked to (and change based on) the number of shares of an Instagram story featuring that character it is associated with. And the company said a living asset could be linked to the amount of traffic to a specific website, area within a virtual world, or even the number of Google searches for a specific phrase.
Freeverse said one of the ways that Duke Nukem 3D revolutionized shoot-em-up games in the mid-90s, was with destructible assets. Gamers suddenly entered an era where they started taking for granted that every single game object should be interactive.
The company said a similar change in mindset is possible with living assets, thanks to the Layer-2 tech behind them, which permits the registration and evolution of massive amounts of assets at virtually no cost.
NFTs are currently associated with “expensive,” with large sums being paid for “selected” NFTs making the headlines, the company said.
You can consider a situation where every asset in a game can be assigned to users for free. Such assets start at zero market value, but with careful use of the user actions tool (described above) users who spend time and effort in the game will improve their living assets, so that the market value is fully determined by actions, sending user-retention upward.
As a result, the company said we end up with NFTs with market values ranging from zero to whatever the game popularity allows, and core values associated with “retention, effort, skill and fairness.”
And the company said that the older building blocks of NFT 1.0 still apply — if every bullet in the game is an NFT, what would be the price for the winning bullet in a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship?
At the core of Freeverse’s idea is the evolution enabled by Living Assets is key to turning the passive experience of simply “owning a digital collectible” into active engagement. And this, in turn, leads to greater user retention, as living asset owners are encouraged to return to the original creator of their digital assets; to play, interact with, get informed about, share, and trade them.
Freeverse.io uses a novel Layer-2 technology that can be plugged into almost any blockchain, the company said. Currently, Freeverse is live on Polygon but it will be deployed simultaneously on other chains in the near future.
The company as 16 employees. Over time, the company believes that its tech can power metaverse economies.
“While 2021 may have been ‘the year of the NFT’, NFTs that can be changed by their owners, such as Freeverse’s Living Assets provide a more sustainable business model for the sector, as their market value is not decided by artificial concepts of scarcity,” said Christian Nagel, partner at Earlybird, in a statement.
Alongside Earlybird and Target, existing investors Adara Ventures and 4Founders Capital, as well as global digital media giant, OneFootball, are joining the round. Notable angels include international football star Mario Götze, Travelperk CEO Avi Meir, OneFootball CEO Lucas von Cranach, and Maex Ament, cofounder of Taulia and Centrifuge.
“The infrastructure the Freeverse team has built addresses the limitations that NFTs have today, including the ability for brands to protect their brand equity. They’ve come up with a contrarian approach to other purely decentralized plays – but one that we believe is necessary for mass adoption of NFTs”, said Lina Chong, investment director at Target Global, in a statement.
Freeverse’s founding team has tech and startup veterans including Toni Mateos, co-creator of the technology behind Dolby Atmos (via Immosound, the startup acquired by the audio giant in 2012). Joining him in the founding team are Evans, Alessandro Siniscalchi and Ferran Estalella.
Our interview with Evans
I asked Evans if having a mutable NFT is a good idea, as it means the original creator could just invalidate what was supposed to be an immutable NFT.
“It’s a great question,” he said. “In that sense, it comes down to an issue of all of the evolutions of the NFT with the stamp of the creator on them. They are cryptographically signed by the creator. So that evolution should be specified in the terms and conditions set by the creator.”
He said the company encourages clients to make those terms and conditions explicitly clear when the original NFT is first sold.
“It’s a balance that has to be struck in the games industry, as game developers are very used to having the ability to edit their games and tweak them as the gameplay and community evolves,” Evans said. “Retaining the power that they have at the moment to tweak and modify their game is something that makes sense for the games industry.”
That, I said, means that players still have to trust the developer to evolve the NFT in the right way. Evans agreed. But he noted the developer can’t change the ownership of the token, as it is still an non-fungible token that can only be traded with the permission of the owner. He said that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Evans said the company will expand to new blockchains soon. He said the tools provided by the company enable the company to build a marketplace for NFTs into the game, or to use a white label marketplace created by Freeverse.io.
Evans said there are a couple of clients signed up, some that will be announced in the coming weeks. He said brands are taking a big interest in the technology in the “passion economy.”
“Yes, you now have the power to evolve the properties of the NFT based on what the game does with them, but you will have the responsibility to make sure that you’re not abusing that power,” Evans said. “It does mean that you can fix bugs and tweak gameplay parameters, but you can’t abuse the trust of the game.”
As for energy usage, Evans said it is not a problem as it is running on a Layer 2 platform, which allows for more transactions per second and less energy usage in verification.
He noted that when the company started in 2019, the team wanted to figure out how to give more utility to NFTs. And so they began building a platform and then turned it into a product.
“I think it does address a lot of problems of the NFT,” Evans said. “We believe very strongly that digital ownership will be a great player in our future lives in the future and in the metaverse, whatever that is.”
I noted that demand for NFTs seems to be weakening. But Evans said he still believes the concept of digital ownership is powerful and that is a cat that is out of the bag. He thinks that’s going to gain momentum over time and that living assets will help that momentum grow.
“In games, we are very used to the idea of upgrading a game’s contents. In a typical role playing game, you’re very used to adding points to something or upgrading the horsepower of your car or getting plus one strength on your sword,” he said.
I noted that the critics of NFTs will have fewer objects to this kind of mutable NFT.
“I sympathize with their objections. But at the same time, I don’t want to take away from some of the great NFT applications that have been built,” Evans said. “Freeverse.io is trying to bring the worlds together and make a sustainable and long-term solution that makes sense for gamers and game developers.”
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