by Nichanan Kesonpat & Justin McAfee
The relationship between creators and their end audiences has mostly been a one way street. Creators produce work in isolation within walled gardens, and end consumers are presented with the final product — whether that be music, articles, podcast episodes, or art — with limited means to participate in the creative process.
Over the past 4 years, the emergence of web3 has enabled broader participation in creative works, blurring the lines between creators and their communities. From the blockchain itself serving as a canvas for an entirely new art form (on-chain data as inputs to dynamic art), to governance infrastructure that allows communities to voice what content should be funded, web3 is making the creator process increasingly multiplayer.
By having a larger group involved in the creative process end-to-end, we are able to:
- Give creators a new playing field where they can define a set of values, source ideas from within the community, and produce art that doesn’t compromise to third-party interests
- Provide creators a tighter feedback loop from their communities for to-be-released work, de-risking distribution and crowd affinity
- Allow creators to replace platforms with communities as a resource, support system, and creative guidance
- Introduces a “world to discover” around a project through dynamic reveals, and art that evolves with the community of collectors as they grow
- Use the blockchain itself as a new medium for individuals to express themselves, producing a novel type of cultural artifact that was produced via on-chain interactions
While many forms of media today involve multiple parties (for example, the cast and crew of a movie, artist and production team for a music album), the prevailing paradigm for releasing works limits who can participate by means of geography, and economic or social access.
The multiplayer creativity stack introduces permissionless and composable infrastructure that removes these superficial barriers, enabling communities to discover and onboard the individuals that share their purpose, produce creative works that stay true to their values, and sustain itself without subverting to the success metrics of third parties.
In this article we will:
- Provide a framework for the creative process, and give examples of how web3 projects are enabling co-creation at each stage of the process
- Explore how the web3 creativity stack has gone from singleplayer to multiplayer
- Categorize ways in which multiplayer creativity infrastructure is emerging in web3
What is Multiplayer Creation?
Multiplayer creation is the end-to-end process of Formation, Coordination, Production, Value Distribution, and Post-Release evolution of creative work — in which multiple parties are involved in one or more of the stages.
The “multiplayerness” is the way and degree to which individual inputs into the product is influenced by multiple sources that may or may not have existing relationships. The end product is format-agnostic, and can be static or dynamic (continuously evolving deterministically through transfer chains or with collectors directly affecting the work).
How do creators find collaborators?
In the past, collaborators were often found in existing inner circles or limited to the same geographic location as the creator. Today, web3 is enabling co-creators to discover each other based on shared values, interests, and purpose, despite never having met IRL.
Metalabel has begun to conceptualize what this formation could look like. Their second release, “Elements of a Metalabel”, gets creators thinking about their core purpose and participation principles.
How do creators make decisions about how resources are allocated, or what ideas should be funded?
Traditionally, decisions are made by middlemen whose interests lie outside of what a creator’s audience might actually want. Now, creators can make decisions and govern the future direction of a project together.
Although Rehash podcast is recorded and produced by one host, it goes through a bottoms-up decision making process for which guests should appear in the next season.
How are creative inputs being curated into the final creative output?
While some traditional forms of media require multiple parties to produce (e.g. record labels, musicians, songwriters, etc for music), production was limited to a centralized cohort. Web3 opens up participation in the production process by allowing various perspectives and individual contributions to be integrated into a final product.
Straylight is a collaborative on-chain Etch-a-Sketch in which players mint Turmite NFTs which come with a move ability. Turmites can dig in ~60k patterns via moves. Straylight Worlds contain 4 Turmites, where up to 4 players are creating different patterns on the World by moving them.
4) Value Distribution
How are attributions tracked, and how is value distributed to creators who have contributed to the final output, either passively or actively?
Historically, this is a nebulous and abstract process, but now we are seeing a shift toward equitable ownership and distribution of value based on transparent metrics.
If/how the final output can evolve over time as the community grows or an asset changes hands.
Most compositions are static and unchanging after they are released by a creator. The possibility of dynamic compositions is uniquely unlocked by web3 given consumers can now engage with or influence the product through trackable state changes in real time.
Using these framework, we can start to bucket existing web3 projects that enable multiplayerness at each stage of creation.
Flavors of Multiplayer Creation
Multiplayer creation occurs when an individual or group provides input into either the parameters or the complete composition of a final product. We can categorize it by asking 2 questions:
Who is providing the creative inputs and who is putting them together?
- Singleplayer. Individuals upload work to a media registry, and another party composes these primitives together to form an end product. For example, beatmakers and instrumentalists uploading to the Arpeggi sound library, and another artist putting these primitives together to form a song.
- Curated group. Musicians coming together to release a record as a headless band e.g. Songcamp’s CHAOS.
- Uncurated group. Anyone can be brought into influence the art through transfer chains or other on-chain interaction with the NFT e.g. Entropes.
What does the creative input look like?
- Parameter input. Collectors influence the final display of a generative artwork by factors like mint time, their wallet address, or transfer activity e.g. OG Crystals
- Product input. Artists contribute a building block that can readily be composed with others into the complete product. For example, a fashion designer provides the textures “Garments” for end-consumer to assemble into a minted wearable according to their preferences using Fabricant.
Putting these together, Arpeggi and Fabricant could be categorized as “Singleplayer, product input”. Songcamp’s CHAOS album falls under “Curated group, product input”. OG Crystals and Entropes would be “Uncurated group, parameter input”.
We invite readers to go through the exercise with their favorite NFT projects and comment on the nuances they find here. As the infrastructure to form creator groups, coordinate, and co-produce matures, we can expect the engagement with these works not only to become richer, but to come from individuals who truly share the interests and values of those they are creating with.
How is multiplayer infrastructure emerging?
Early NFT marketplaces demonstrated the power of blockchains as a means for immediate, direct value exchange for creative works. Though first-generation NFTs were created and curated in singleplayer mode (released by individual creators and curated by centralized marketplaces), it didn’t take long for the ecosystem to experiment with multiplayerness thanks to the composable nature of NFTs.
Applications becoming infrastructure
From its launch in 2018 to DeFi Summer in 2020, Uniswap was primarily used as a decentralized exchange application. But because its smart contracts are on a public blockchain for anyone to build on top of, Uniswap is now a critical infrastructure for more complex DeFi use cases like yield farming and automated liquidity management.
This pattern follows the app-infrastructure cycle we have seen in previous waves of innovation, where a proliferation of apps is soon followed by a wave of infrastructure that enhances those apps and unlocks more complex use cases in alternating, responsive cycles.
For on-chain creative works, we have seen the proliferation of NFT minting platforms for creators to self-publish everything from art to writing and music, and marketplaces where they can earn a living from a worldwide audience.
- PartyBid launched as an application for collective NFT purchases funded by a group. This has been extended into Party Protocol for group formation and governance infrastructure. Party Protocol has already been used to build an on-chain Tic-Tac-Toe game, where players crowdfund the purchase of X or O NFTs and decide on each move.
- Zora launched as an NFT minting platform and marketplace. It now offers an extensive toolsuite for the creation, indexing, rendering and management of NFTs.
- Sound, a music NFT platform and marketplace is protocolizing into Sound Protocol, a permissionless smart contract framework for musicians and creators with customizable metadata, edition, and payments modules.
Simultaneous to the proliferation of NFT financialization infrastructure that gives holders multiple avenues to find liquidity for their collection, increased protocolization of creativity tools lay the foundation for how NFTs can be utilized and evolved at the social layer.
An extended use case for DAO tools
DAO tools and experiments in decentralized governance have provided fertile ground for various stages of multiplayer creativity.
- Group Formation. Formation of DAOs, communities, and groups has been expedited by new tools like Metalabel* and PartyBid. These protocols seek to make formation as seamless as possible by connecting individuals from around the world based on interests or ideas and allowing them to create lightweight structures for self-organization.
- Governance. Bottom-up proposal management tools like JokeDAO* and Prop House, and voting infrastructure like Snapshot* can be adopted during the coordination phase of multiplayer creation.
- Treasury Management & Compensation. Co-creators of a released work can manage their earned revenue and distribute earnings through tools such as Safe* (multisig wallet), Superfluid (token streaming), and 0xSplits (programmable token distribution logic).
- Access Control. Token-gating has become ubiquitous in web3 communities thanks to products like Collab.Land, Highlight* and Guild. Programmable access control protocols like Lit*, and “bridges” to physical products like IYK*, Kong* will expand ways for who can interact (and influence) creative works post-release.
- Identity & Reputation. The web3 identity stack extends beyond DAOs, but credentialing protocols often turn to on-chain communities as issuers of the building blocks that give individuals sovereignty over their contributions, skills, and reputation data. This paves the way for creators to attest their qualifications during the formation phase of multiplayer creativity, enabling fluid participation in multiple co-creation projects.
On-chain registries are the building blocks of decentralized attribution. Registry data can be referenced by any platform or service and used for any authentication, authorization, and value distribution logic.
- Manifold’s Royalty Registry provides a way for any marketplace to look up royalties for any given token contract.
- Arpeggi’s Audio Relationship Protocol (ARP) is a decentralized sound library with full audio and authorship information which provides attribution data for collaborators of a song.
- Kong’s Ethereum Reality Service is a on-chain registry for physical cryptoassets, attesting to the chip manufacturers and creators of chipped physical products. Holders can authenticate and resolve what smart contract claims and functions are available to given chips.
Pure experiments in on-chain co-creation
- Entropes & Spells. Entropes are ever-evolving NFTs whose art gains visual complexity as the token gets transferred to new wallets. The artwork at any given point in time is a snapshot of the transfer chain of owners before it. Spells adds another layer of interactivity, as Spells NFTs holders can cast spells on Entropes to add a special, temporary effect.
- OG.Art. OG Art is a dynamic art platform in which the initial minter “seeds” the art via their wallet address and history. During the “Growth Period”, new structures and patterns get added onto the art as the token gets transferred. Each OG.Art collection has a community of collectors and a DAO that plays a role in evolving the project and shaping its future through direct voting decisions.
Similar to how the CryptoKitties popularity accelerated the development and adoption of ERC721, these experiments could birth new token standards and protocols for multiplayer creations. Spells is the first implementation of EIP5050, a proposal for an interactive NFTs standard and messaging protocol defining how an action is initiated and transmitted between tokens and (optional) shared state environments.
Standardization and protocolization of the multiplayer creativity stack will help abstract away the complexities of building tools from scratch, improve the discoverability of new types of creative work, and pave the way for more complex experiments to take place on top.
These tools open the floor for entirely new categories of creators. Individuals that might not even consider themselves a creator today can already influence cultural output in web3: by minting generative art on ArtBlocks, by proposing Rehash podcast episodes, by moving their Turmites on Straylight Worlds.
The primary enabler of multiplayer creation is the underlying primitives. Primitives can be understood as basic components which are assembled, modified, or otherwise utilized by one party to impact the final creative output of all parties. Primitives can vary, but some notable examples include musical stems, artistic blueprints, composable layers, and entropy.
Some markets are by design more viable for multiplayer creativity than others. The adoption of multiplayer creation methods in the music industry versus the traditional art industry is particularly notable, so we use these two markets to showcase a variety of factors below:
Oral storytelling, folk music, fanfiction, and early role playing games have long utilized the combined creative input of the collective to produce cultural artifacts surrounding a set of values or an idea. The resulting body of work has encapsulated the cultural zeitgeist throughout history more than what any one individual could have achieved on their own.
Tools for multiplayer creation have the power to turn passive consumers into creators by turning arbitrary on-chain interactions into a form of self-expression. These tools also bring artists closer to their audience than ever before by way of tighter pre-production feedback loops and post-release interactions. Blockchains and platform-agnostic standards adds provenance and composability to creative works, enabling communities to sample, remix, and make their mark on culture in ways that were not possible before.
After analyzing the evolution of creator-focused products and services in web3: NFT publishing platforms, infrastructure, developer tools, and curation economies, we are excited to see that the space is innovating towards a multiplayer paradigm that we believe will usher in a new era of participatory media where content is valued for the cumulative involvement of multiple parties instead of a single individual.