What is a standard and why should you care?

From everything I’ve been reading lately, there seem to be some misconception about the purpose of a standard.
What is a standard?
Most importantly, a standard does not mean “only.”  There can be multiple standards that serve the same purpose.  I’ll get to an example of that in moment.
Per SMPTE, a standard provides structure, organization, and interoperability and enables repeatable workflows for content creators and distributors, as well as the manufacturers who support them.
Note that nothing above says there must be only one.  All it means is that by publishing a standard, any entity can generate, interpret, and reproduce the subject of the standard created by any other entity.
Generally, one standard wins out in the end, sometimes quickly and sometimes over time.  The survivor may even adopt some of the features of the other, becoming better for the competition.
Perhaps the most famous example in consumer electronics was VHS vs. Betamax.  Betamax had superior picture, but Sony didn’t want to share.  VHS was licensed far and wide and quickly captured the market.  I didn’t hurt that VHS could handle a 2 hour movie and Beta was limited to one.
What many people don’t know is that the Betamax standard was widely adopted by the professional community and for decades was the standard for video masters, first with analog and later digital formats.
Another example is MPEG (.mp2, .mp3) vs. WMV.  Both are published standards for video files and any video player could play them back by implementing the standard.  Some players chose to implement one, some the other, and some both.
In the end, MPEG was far more widely adopted, but that did not change the fact that for quite some time there were two competing standards which did not cause chaos.
A final example is Blu-ray vs. HD DVD.  In this case, HD DVD barely saw the light of day and the standards were eventually merged with Blu-ray as the sole survivor.
Standards and the Metaverse
Today there are two bodies attempting to create standards for the Metaverse – Metaverse Standards Forum (MSF) and Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3).  Both boast some high profile members.  It’s likely that there will be some competing standards for a while, which does not mean there will be two walled gardens.  With a published standard, members of either body can support standards published by either one.  However, in the end it is also likely that one will outlive the other.
MSF and OMA3 might even end up focusing their respective efforts on different standards enabling faster market adoption.
We’ll see, but this is healthy process and should not be cause for dismissing the efforts of the two groups.

A Standard for NFTs as Interoperable Game Assets

As anyone who sees my posts and comments knows, I am excited about the prospect of a standard which supports game asset interoperability.
Original Concept
As I originally conceived it, a set of standard metadata could be defined which would describe the properties of the asset.  A simplistic example:
🔘Category = Weapon
🔘Type = Sword
🔘Bonus = +5
I contended that with some basic standard metadata, games could recognize any item and then allow, disallow, temporarily nerf, etc. the item as they chose.
I also argued that what was important was function, not form, which would eliminate any issues with proprietary color, texture, libraries, etc.
In addition, if a game did not want its assets to be interoperable, the standard could also include that option, so that game designers could preserve the fidelity of their in-game assets if they wanted to, even if they were NFTs, or, of course, simply not publish those assets under the standard.
However, the other day I was chatting with @Reed Berkowitz, and he had an even better idea. 
Improved Concept
What if, while keeping the Category, we did not explicitly identify the Type (sword, gun, laser pistol, etc.), but the metadata held everything that describes the item’s function (e.g., level, damage output, durability, etc.) on defined scales?
Many games have power scales (e.g., common, uncommon, rare, epic, etc.).  Each game could map the standard to its own scales and decide how to manage an imported item.
So, it might end up something like this (again, simplified for brevity):
🔘Category = Weapon
🔘Level = Epic
🔘Durability_Total = 500 (out of 1,000)
🔘Durability_Current = 80%
With this standard, a player could take a sword into a space game where it might manifest as a laser pistol or a laser sword with power similar to the fantasy game from which it originated, but on a relative scale to the new game.  Even more exciting, a player could bring a mount picked up in a fantasy game, a unicorn, into a post-apocalyptic game where it manifested as a motorcycle or a dune buggy and then a war game where it was a tank.
In other words, form would follow function depending on the game itself.
I would, though, argue it would be useful to include the original specs and game origin of the item in the metadata just for reference.

NFTs as Interoperable Game Assets

I recently read a post and some excellent accompanying Medium articles regarding the impracticality of NFTs representing interoperable game assets across apps in the GameFi space. I’m going to overly simplify, but the author was highly skeptical for three reasons:

  1. The impossibility of maintaining visual and behavioral integrity across games
  2. The challenge trusting assets from outside an individual game
  3. The damage that can be done due to disparate game economies

As he frames it, I would agree. However, I believe there is a way to address these issues.

Maintaining Visual and Behavioral Integrity

My answer to this is “don’t.”

In the below clip from 𝙎𝙥𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙧-𝙈𝙖𝙣: 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙎𝙥𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙧-𝙑𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙚, when Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man 2099, travels from his original universe to Earth-67, his visual representation conforms to the cartoon look of Earth-67. Now, I understand this is somewhat at odds with how Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir were portrayed in the movie, but bear with me.

I argue that this is a good analogy for how game asset NFTs could interoperate. A few companies could get together (similar to SMPTE in the Entertainment Industry) and create a published metadata standard to store on-chain which defines game asset NFTs’ core properties. Any game could import those NFTs only paying attention to the core metadata therefore not requiring special APIs or integrations. Any other metadata or off-chain graphics, VFX, etc., could be ignored, or not, as the game designers’ desire. The game would then conform the assets to its visual, logical, and functional rules. Therefore,

  1. In the game in which an item originated, it would still look and behave as originally intended in that game
  2. For an asset from outside the game, that game’s visual and behavioral rules would apply

A couple of caveats:

  1. This does not mean that every item within a game must conform to the standard, just the ones intended to be interoperable
  2. If a game attempts to import an item it does not support, even if that item meets the standard, that item would still be in the player’s inventory, but just not be available to be equipped/used

Not only could game assets travel from one game to another, but also independent creators could build game assets and sell them on the open market, another revenue source for the creator economy. Which brings us to:

Trusted Assets

The problem is two-fold:

  1. A game can’t just accept any outside assets
  2. Counterfeiting

Games would need to whitelist NFT smart contract addresses. So, Game B or asset creator C would submit smart contracts to be whitelisted by Game A. Perhaps not ideal, but it allows Game A to manage what assets can be brought into it and delist them if there is abuse.

In addition, each game could have its own logic and rules which define an item’s power and would apply to internally generated items as well, agreed upon standard. For example, using certain items may have a minimum level requirement, or have diminished power, or not be allowed the item at all since they are incompatible with the game (e.g., a disrupter pistol in fantasy game).  As long as the rules are the same for both internally generated and 3rd party items, players should have no problem.

Disparate Game Economies

Similar to the second problem, this has more to do with volume than a specific item. Game B may be much more liberal with gold, drop rates, etc. than Game A. This could both wreck the in-game economy as well as Game A creator’s IRL revenue.

I suggest that currency not be interoperable, at least to start. As a later feature, if so desired, an exchange rate could be created so if players wanted to import their currency, it would be exchanged much like between any two IRL currencies.

With respect to drop rates, games can not only limit items’ power, but also the number that can come from outside the game. Players could bring in a few favorite items, but not arsenals.