ERC-1155: An NFT Standard for Online Games and Gamified Apps
In my previous column about NFTs (non-fungible tokens), I discussed the current leading standard for this technology: ERC-721. That’s the one most digital collectibles use — everything from CryptoKitties to the Bored Ape Yacht Club. But I also mentioned an emerging standard, ERC-1155, which has become the go-to standard for NFTs within blockchain games. To find out more, I reached out to one of the creators of ERC-1155, Witek Radomski, the co-founder and CTO of a blockchain game development platform called Enjin.
While ERC-721 is a standard for “non-fungible” tokens (meaning each token is unique), ERC-1155 is “fungibility-agnostic” (meaning it covers both fungible and non-fungible tokens). This flexibility makes it suitable for games — an in-game coin, for instance, would likely be fungible, while a plot of virtual land would be non-fungible.
Technically ERC-1155 won’t necessarily be used to create an “NFT,” because it won’t always be non-fungible. But rather than get bogged down in semantics, suffice to say that both ERC-1155 and ERC-721 are driving token economics in Web3.
Enjin’s Evolution from Minecraft to Blockchain
Radomski’s company, Enjin, has been in operation since 2009 — long before Web3 came onto the scene. So I began by asking what Enjin’s goal was in 2009 and why did it eventually pivot into crypto?
He replied that it started as “a platform for gamers to create community websites for their clans, guilds, and Minecraft servers — without having to hire a developer.” One of the paid features of Enjin in 2009 was an “integrated Paypal Donations Module,” so even then it was flirting with payments. When blockchain came along some years later, Enjin realized it could enable all kinds of transactions via cryptocurrency tokens.
“We saw the opportunity to give game developers new tools to gamify and add real economies to their games using blockchain,” said Radomski. “We started working on this before ‘NFTs’ were a concept (we referred to these tokens as ‘custom coins’ at the time).”
“[ERC-1155 is] really like a vending machine for NFTs and fungible tokens, with advanced usability features and functionality like batch transfers to enable efficient, large-scale blockchain games and apps.”
Witek Radomski, co-creator of ERC-1155
ERC-721 was released in early 2018, and the first draft of ERC-1155 followed soon after in June 2018. It was officially accepted by the Ethereum community in June 2019. I asked Radomski what was the initial motivation for creating ERC-1155?
“Given our experience in gaming, we wanted to create a token standard around real games and their item economies, which include both fungible and non-fungible items,” he said.
Neither of the existing Ethereum token standards, ERC-20 (the original standard) or ERC-721, was suitable for this use case.
“Neither of these standards would enable you to create a game with hundreds of thousands of different assets with varying supplies and different parameters for each asset type,” explained Radomski. “ERC-1155 was designed to serve those use cases. It’s really like a vending machine for NFTs and fungible tokens, with advanced usability features and functionality like batch transfers to enable efficient, large-scale blockchain games and apps.”
ERC-1155 has since been adopted by all of the major NFT marketplaces, says Radomski, including OpenSea and Rarible. Enjin has also partnered with Microsoft on several NFT projects — most prominently Azure Heroes, Microsoft’s “blockchain-based digital badge rewards program.”
Example: Adidas ERC-1155 Tokens
I searched for another example of ERC-1155 in the wild, and soon found an Adidas project that covers all the hot new tech buzzwords: Into the Metaverse NFTs.
It’s a rather complicated promotion by Adidas, since there are four different phases — with ERC-1155 being used for phases 1, 2 and 3, and ERC-721 for phase 4. Depending on which version of the NFT you buy, it entitles you to a range of physical and digital merchandise. At the time of writing, phase 1 had about an hour to run and it could be bought for 1.179 ETH (US$3,277.87).
A thread on what the ‘Phases’ mean when it comes to @adidasoriginals Into The Metaverse NFT.
— benmayorwhite.eth ᵍᵐ (@benmayorwhite) December 20, 2021
What’s interesting from a technical perspective is that there is just one token, but nearly 22,000 owners (as I write this). So ERC-1155 was clearly chosen because this phase 1 token is fungible — which probably means the owners of the token will all receive exactly the same physical and/or digital rewards. Presumably, phase 4 will be a non-fungible token, since EWRC-721 is being used for that. But Adidas has not yet revealed what phase 4 will entail.
The Adidas NFT promotion appears to be using ERC-1155 because of the fungible nature of the rewards in phases 1-3 (and perhaps also because ERC-1155 allows for lesser gas fees for users).
As for Enjin, it has grander plans for ERC-1155 — although, like Adidas, they involve the metaverse too.
“We believe strongly in the Metaverse, and NFTs are crucial to our digital identities in this evolving space where the physical and virtual merge,” Radomski said. He briefly described a 2018 concept product of Enjin’s, which he said was “a gaming multiverse where developers shared a collection of items that players could take across games and platforms.”
As the Metaverse develops, he continued, and “traditional adopters and larger brands with IP enter the space, standards for interoperability and protecting peoples’ and brands’ rights will be needed.” He thinks ERC-1155 is ideally suited for this.
“This is a real opportunity to use contemporary technology to invent new types of gameplay and gamified business strategies.”
Radomski also believes there is more to blockchain tokens than speculation and rights management, which I had noted were the key use cases for ERC-721.
“There’s a massive, untapped well of new gameplay concepts and opportunities to gamify businesses via NFTs, on top of this technology being core to digital identity,” he said.
Why Should Web 2.0 Developers Care?
I finished by asking Radomski what advice he’d give to skeptical Web 2.0 developers, many of whom are looking at the current state of NFTs (cartoon avatars, the rampant speculation, etc.) and wondering why they should care about Web3 and its emerging standards?
“This is a real opportunity to use contemporary technology to invent new types of gameplay and gamified business strategies,” he replied. “Think about what your users, who are digital natives, want: they want to be part of a digital network, rather than being part of a siloed, walled garden. By tapping into Web3, you’re tapping into a massively growing network of marketplaces, wallets, explorers, games, and blockchains. Web3 not only gives you new tools to draw from, but also provides opportunities to grow and attract new users in one of the most powerful networks in the world.”
Whatever you think of Web3 right now, it’s encouraging to see new standards like ERC-1155 emerge. Similar to RSS3 and Ceramic’s decentralized data network, both of which I’ve profiled this year, we don’t yet know if ERC-1155 is a technology that will stick. But if your business is online gaming, or you want to add gamification to your app, then it seems worth your while to at least experiment with ERC-1155.