What are Immutable Miniverses for NFTs and Why Do We Need Them?

Hitch Interactive
6 min readOct 31, 2023

What’s going on with NFTs? Sales have jumped to $129 million in November, while the biggest NFT platform, OpenSea, just laid off half its staff amid an investor devaluation. Meanwhile, the SEC is punishing companies that promise profit, but not fully clarifying its stance on the space.

You probably recall the frenzy of 2021. NFTs went mainstream that year with Beeple’s release of Everydays: the First 5000 Days. Their value soared. Wild speculation ensued. Teenagers were churning out NFTs. A year later, the mainstream investment community called the techies’ bluff — after rampant quality issues, deceptive behavior from some advocates, and, most importantly, a failure to make the case for the tangible monetary value of a demonstrably unique alphanumeric string on a blockchain that points to something — usually digital art — that is reproducible, pixel-for-pixel. The latter marks a fundamental distinction between digital art and physical art.

At the same time, a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT will still set you back at least $50K. Contradictions abound.

But this isn’t surprising. It happens with big, new, persistent technologies. Things get messy at the start and improve over time. From an innovation standpoint, NFT technology is maturing. Remember, NFTs are digital tokens created (or “minted”) on smart-contract compatible blockchains, like Ethereum, that have non-fungible — unique and non-interchangeable — properties. The particular technological element that’s non-fungible (string or art) remains a bone of contention for skeptics. Currently the majority of NFTs that are on the open market for sale are in the form of some artwork stored in digital image or video formats.

What makes NFTs more than pixels is tying them inextricably to utility — real-world utility and virtual-world utility. Tying them to substance beyond the cartoon figure or other digital art is a key part of how they must mature and are maturing as a technology. With this fundamental principle in mind at Hitch Interactive, we’ve created a new format for storing additional information inside the NFT artwork to bring more utility to Web3 and to bridge Web3 with social media and business use cases and users.

On the current Hitch Interactive platform, we have built a robust ecosystem for education and gamification, and we’ve sponsored the highest level of AI competitions. These are shared on our Hitch Learn, Hitch Play, and Hitch Compete sites. In the past two years, we have been keeping an eye on the growth of blockchain and Web3 markets. We understand some people are very passionate about this sector. But perhaps 98% of the population are still not sure in what ways blockchain and Web3 can make a difference to their daily lives.

Several OG NFT projects (i.e., respectable early projects) were built on a belief that the Web3 experience should be completely detached from established Web1 and Web2 use cases. Or, to put it another way, a good NFT project could be launched purely based on its presence on Web3, and adding gamification or social functions would be merely an afterthought, also known as IOU.

That approach may not be open and appealing enough for the technology to mature and gain traction more broadly. We created the Immutable Miniverse Format (IMF) to call for a rethinking of user engagement and put potential users squarely at the center of any Web3 products. In the industrial design world, user-centric design is a well known principle. The IMF was created to laser-focus on potential use cases for the 98% of the population who don’t understand or have misunderstood Web3.

This transformation of an emerging industry from a technology-centric market to a user-centric market has occurred many times in history. For example, the mobile phone industry in the early days was focused on technology upgrades from 2G to 3G and 4G, etc., which was a technology play. But the breakthrough — when the industry found its 98% user population — was the invention of the Apple iPhone and its AppStore ecosystem, where users could customize different apps on their smartphones to surf the Internet and help with their daily lives.

Another example of tech-centric to user-centric transformation happened in the AR/VR space. For the past 60+ years, AR/VR innovation has been a technology play where different 3D input/output methods have been invented to allow humans to perceive virtual reality. However, if a user’s entire experience is virtual, it won’t create a strong connection to the rest of the world and life. So a typical user would try VR for 20 minutes, and then leave it without coming back for more. Recently, we have seen more R&D focus on digital-twin technologies, where virtual objects have a twin connection to physical objects. That could mean the ability to explore the whole city of San Francisco or London; it could be useful in selling a sports car; or it could offer a real living room to play in.

The IMF is a new approach to give NFTs an immutable utility at the time of creation. Following the standard, creators can permanently embed programmable code inside animated GIF files, and hence create an immutable miniverse governed solely by its embedded code. The miniverse does not depend on any other NFTs or IOU promise from a third party, including its original creator.

In fact, if we think from a user’s point of view, it is hard to imagine people visiting a real establishment location without knowing “what is in store” for them. It is also hard to imagine installing a smartphone app, only to find out that its utility is to be determined.

Another creative innovation enabled by the IMF is its capacity to bridge the immutable utility of NFTs to usage outside the Web3 cocoon. Although decentralized blockchains such as Ethereum and decentralized storage such as Arweave or IPFS do offer straightforward storage space to store information, those require users to establish access points to retrieve such information. Currently, the majority of Web1 and Web2 applications still lack access to blockchain and decentralized storage networks.

The method proposed by the IMF standard is to directly encode the additional information as part of the artwork. In this way, as long as the artwork stored as animated GIF files can be fairly distributed through traditional platforms, the underlying information or code can be immutably retrieved and/or executed without the need to create Web3 access points.

Some may say the IMF is similar to the QR code standard. This is a good observation in some ways, but the key differences are two-fold:

  • First, a QR code encodes information in a centralized way, which usually points to a web address. If that web service ever goes offline, the QR code will become invalid.
  • Second, the QR code encodes information in public, meaning, everyone can capture an image of the QR code and then decode the information.

The IMF addresses these shortcomings by employing native, decentralized blockchain technologies.

  • After the minting of an IMF NFT on a public blockchain, accessing the NFT is fully decentralized: the persistence of the embedded information does not rely on a centralized entity.
  • The embedding of the information can be open or encrypted. If a private message is embedded, for example, using asymmetric encryption, then everyone may hold a public key to encrypt, but only the owner of its private key pair may eventually decode the message.

To open up the full potential of the IMF, Hitch Interactive will launch a Hitch Mint service for the public, where everyone may be able to create their immutable IMF messages, games, code, or even music on decentralized blockchains.

In the meantime, the encrypted Yummy Hamo NFT messages can be decoded through a demonstration on: https://hitch1999.com/.

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Hitch Interactive
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