Building nested, conditional and multi-resourced NFTs - an interview with RMRK founder, Bruno Skvorc
NFTs are increasing in complexity as they’re being used for different use cases. For example- In a metaverse that means every item (e.g. clothes, accessories, land, badges, etc.) can potentially be represented by a NFT. There’s an increasing need for digital objects to have more complex relationships beyond the wallet holding them. Bruno Skvorc created RMRK (pronouced “remark”) to solve exactly that problem. RMRK is a NFT protocol that enables complex relationships between NFTs. As a NFT 1.0 veteran Bruno has a unique perspective on the challenges and evolution of the space.
The following has been edited for clarity and length.
What are you building with RMRK, and how did you get started?
I started with Ethereum in 2015, building ICOs and auditing contracts. Over time, I developed an education portal that became very successful, and I got hired as a technical writer for Status. I was there until I got hired by the Web3 Foundation, and it was there, in 2020, that I decided to build something new, out of pure frustration with the state of NFTs.
I was a very active part of the first NFT bubble, in the CryptoKitties phase. It was insane when one of my cats sold for more than my parents’ house was worth. I think nobody was very sorry when the first NFT bubble imploded, because there was no real value there. In 2020, when the NFT craze was ramping up again, I realized that NFTs weren’t going much further than the cats — they were still just static links to images.
With RMRK, we’ve developed a system that allows NFTs to be the owners of other NFTs, and that allows NFTs to be multiple things at the same time. We basically have these Legos that you can put together to create advanced NFT systems, without having to custom code for them. The major advantage here is that if a marketplace, wallet, or portfolio UI supports these elementary Legos that we’ve built, it automatically supports any permutation of those Legos.
You can imagine a video game where an avatar is a NFT, and that avatar has a jacket that is a NFT, and that jacket has a patch on it that’s a NFT, and that avatar can be placed on a piece of virtual land that’s a NFT. They can contain each other, implying cheat protection, and it has true digital scarcity that many NFTs advertise but don’t actually have.
Another use case is an empty music sheet with slots for drums, vocals, and synths. You can mint vocals for that song, and then someone else can mint the drums, the synth, and so on. Once the song is composed and the owner of the empty music sheet NFT finalizes it, you have a collaborative composition with distributed royalties for everyone that participated in its creation. Then this song can be made compatible with a piece of metaverse land, so that when your avatar enters it, you hear the song as a background track.
This makes me think of the digital identity space, because ultimately what you’re describing is nested ownership. Are there other use cases that you see coming down the line?
Identity is actually a good use case. You can have an avatar that can not only have different accessories and swag that you can trade with other people, but it can have non-transferable NFTs, like the soulbound tokens by Vitalik Buterin. You earn reputation as these soulbound NFTs are added to your avatar. A protocol can then read the status of your avatar and grant certain benefits based on it. You could get rewards based on how many times you voted in on-chain governance, or a DeFi ecosystem could use it to give you an under-collateralized loan, because your reputation is now the collateral. The more you participate in Web3, the more valuable your reputation. We have five different projects in production now using this reputational avatar system in various different ways.
Based on your experience in the first NFT boom, what’s your take on the current wave? What are people getting wrong?
Current metaverses are just multiplayer games running on centralized servers. As the bear market puts pressure on players and developers, as games come after each other with vampire attacks and token drops for deserters, these servers will become too expensive to maintain and they will shut down. Experience is saved on the server, not on your account or NFT, and when that server goes down, your experience does as well.
We need a big bloodbath of current metaverse projects before people will come back to the idea of decentralization. This is why we teamed up with Phala Network to build a SDK for decentralized metaverse experiences for any existing blockchain. With something like RMRK as your NFT infrastructure, you can imagine an avatar that has a NFT brain, which can develop as you gain more experience. Even if the metaverse shuts down, or if you get sick of the game, you can take your experience with you. When you enter another game, you can continue your character’s progression.
As most of the current metaverses start shutting down, you will see people become incredibly disillusioned and leave the space. This will be the Great Departure, as gamers realize they’ve been sold a lie. They’ve been sold a server that uses a NFT to log them in.
Why do you think this landscape of multiplayer games running on centralized servers happened?
It’s purely because Facebook started the hype wave. It’s economically rational to sell when there’s hype for the metaverse — I understand the need to pad your war chest before the bear market. It’s the same as in 2017, when every ICO had AI, IoT, and token white paper. It’s selling thin air to people who just don’t know better.
It’s nothing to be surprised about. Next year, we’re going to be having the same conversation about music NFTs. The year after that, we’ll be talking about DAOs again. It’s just the way it is, until things stabilize and get mainstream adoption.
What are some NFT trends that you do think will be around for quite some time?
RMRK is an unavoidable technology. We’re the first to start it, but we might not be the first to ship it completely. I think anybody building the infrastructure we’ve specced out is guaranteed success, because the NFT 2.0 ecosystem is one of cross-collection compatibility, across multiple metaverses.
There are also certain micro aspects of NFTs that have a good future. Notably, renting of NFTs, and NFTs as DAOs, which you can collectively govern. You can imagine a Twitch streamer tokenizing their avatar so that the community can vote on its moves.
I think the biggest barrier will be oraclizing real world data into NFTs. RMRK can have a mortgage of a house that itself contains photos of the previous construction project, which can contain the previous ownership papers. You have everything in one NFT that’s completely immutable and indestructible and can be verified by anybody at any time. But turning that into something that governments and public sectors trust is going to be the next challenging thing. Anybody working on that, connecting the legal world with the NFT world, will have a hell of a time but also much success if they pull it off.
Hi, I’m Andrew Chang - I created the Web3 Roundup to share what I’m learning in this space. I’ve spent my career at the forefront of the technology industry in areas such as crypto/blockchain (Former COO @ Paxos, co-founding partner of Liberty City Ventures), video and adtech. I learn by meeting with founders, investors and other thought leaders and approach Web3 with the same enthusiasm – and skepticism – I had about crypto/blockchain technologies 10 years ago.