ERC-721 or 1155 for Web3 Achievements?

The digital issuance and verification of achievements will be one of the shining jewels to come from the web3 revolution. Currently, two technical standards compete for control over this space: ERC-721 and ERC-1155. If you haven't heard of these standards or aren't familiar with their differences, check out Deric Cheng’s brief primer on the two technologies.

To understand which standard is best for web3 achievements, let's:

  1. Discuss why digital achievements matter

  2. Examine web3's potential to turbocharge existing methods of recognizing digital achievements

  3. Speculate on how the two technical standards fit into both the future and the present of web3 achievements

Achievements: What are they good for?

Digital achievements have two purposes: status and functionality. Ideally, you can show off your fancy new badge, avatar, or medal and use it to enhance your experience in the digital environment. Industries like video gaming and learning platforms have already implemented digital achievements, and more are sure to follow.

The main issue with this current system is that achievements don't carry any social or functional weight outside of their native platforms. So, for example, the badge you earned from Strava for running 100 miles in a month can't unlock any songs for you in Guitar Hero, and it won't appear in your Instagram bio. Now, enter web3…

Achievements on the blockchain are composable and interoperable. A single wallet interacts with various dApps, games, and protocols, and its assets accumulate in one place rather than being scattered across multiple accounts. Web3 allows everyone to recognize what you own and do across the entire ecosystem. Your wallet and its possessions have the potential to be a digital embodiment of your habits, interests, accomplishments, and values.

Currently, NFT technology is like bioluminescent material from a UFO crash: undoubtedly possessing immense power but lacking tangible benefits until we figure out what to do with it. Specifically, there are very few places in our digital lives where we can show off these assets, and flexing is one of the two critical purposes of digital achievements! Twitter adding support for NFTs as profile pictures is a step in the right direction, but we're far from digital assets receiving proper visibility within our online realms.

Additionally, the “NFTs as access” narrative has yet to be legitimized. Sure, there are some token-gated Discords and "metaverse" experiences. But most NFT buyers are far more interested in their NFT's floor price than the access it provides, and I can't blame them. UTA IQ found that 63% of NFT holders care about profit, whereas only 37% care about access.

Despite the youth of the ecosystem, web3 users are stoked about NFTifying their achievements, and builders have to pick between the ERC-721 and ERC-1155 standards. So let's dive into that debate…

Alien matter from Spiderman: Homecoming
Alien matter from Spiderman: Homecoming

Battle of the ERCs

The original standard is ERC-721. The OG NFT can be owned, transferred, and stores metadata. The ERC-721 standard is simple and elegant, with some room for innovation. For example, the Chain Runners NFT project stores its art on-chain using SVGs rather than hosting it externally. Meanwhile, Metagame's NFTs dynamically update based on on-chain activity.

There remains untapped power and flexibility within the 721 standard, but I expect the watershed developments in NFTs over the next ten years to be more mature use cases of NFTs rather than more advanced NFT standards. Today, there is an an abundance of sweet NFTs from artistic and technical perspectives. But nobody knows what to do with them once you have them!

Witek Radomski, the CTO of Enjin, proposed the newer ERC-1155 standard with a particular focus on gaming. ERC-1155 contracts have neat features like semi-fungibility and batched transfers. Semi-fungibility allows for fungible assets to morph into non-fungible assets. For example, imagine earning fungible tokens that you can redeem for various non-fungible prizes at different prices, like spending tickets at an arcade. Batched transfers allow you to save gas by transferring multiple assets in one transaction, a critical feature of high-throughput gaming micropayments.

Clearly, the ERC-1155 standard has some cool features, but a lack of proper applications is holding the NFT ecosystem back at this point––not a lack of technical features. ERC-721 NFTs are better supported and, in my opinion, do the job for 99% of the earned NFT use cases you'll run into in 2022. The day when the NFT ecosystem hits a technical ceiling, a more advanced standard like the 1155 might have a claim to the NFThrone.

Digital achievements are a core piece of the internet and will only gain importance as web3 matures. However, the current state of NFTs barely taps into the power of the technology. Therefore, advanced features of ERC-1155s seem unnecessary for earned NFTs right now. Instead, the ecosystem needs an explosion of concrete use cases for our extraterrestrial matter.

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