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Zilliqa’s Sandra Helou: “Blockchain Has Fused the Internet With a New Dimension of Engagement”

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With roots steeped in academia, Zilliqa was born in the halls of National University of Singapore, where a group of academics came together to identify and implement effective solutions to scalability without compromising on security or decentralisation. They succeeded, and in 2019, became the first protocol built on the technique of “sharding” – something that had been studied before but never been applied onto a network.

The Zilliqa ecosystem has since expanded to enable DeFi apps and NFT marketplaces.

Our journalist spoke to Sandra Helou, head of NFT & Metaverse at Zilliqa, ahead of the launch of Metapolis, a metaverse platform built on the Zilliqa blockchain. It is reportedly the first layer-1 protocol to launch a Metaverse of this scale, and will feature multiple engagement layers such as NFTs, e-commerce, play-to-earn, digital mannequins, and advertising billboards.

How do you think the cryptocurrency market will shape up especially with the advent of the metaverse and Web 3.0?

Just like the internet and social media unleashed a social, cultural and technological disruption upon the world, blockchain too is seismically shifting how businesses and consumers will interact with each other. It has fused the internet with a new dimension of engagement.

The crypto market, as we all know, is characterised by decentralisation. While it is providing more financial autonomy and peer-to-peer commerce options to so many, it remains on the fringes of mainstream finance for many seasoned and amateur investors who are skeptical and risk averse – and refrain from interacting with DeFi tools and products. Luckily, the crypto market is going through another shift, one that will make it more inclusive for all.

The Web 3.0, AR and VR-fuelled metaverse, powered by blockchain offers a new marketplace to creators, brands, entrepreneurs, gamers, fashionistas –  you name it! This new frontier for social engagement and commerce will take what social media has done for community and tribe building and elevate it – with avatars, P2E and play-to-watch models, tokenised rewards, digital asset investment options and more.  From financial deals to fan culture, press conferences to concerts –  activity in the metaverse will be all-encompassing, a place where the real and digital worlds merge seamlessly.

Consequently, we can expect to see valuations of tokens and blockchain platforms building these environments dramatically change based on variables like metaverse partnerships, its functionalities and its utility for every layman user and brand. We’re at the early stages of this process, but it will completely revolutionise the Web 3.0 experience! Crypto users should as always, exercise due diligence, do their own research and not fall prey to hype culture or scams.

Will NFTs be the key tool for value creation in the metaverse?

Non-fungible token (NFT) platforms are already dime a dozen but currently, a large percentage of them lack utility –  bought under hype and “FOMO”, subsequently placed into a “digital wallet”, and forgotten until you try to clean it out one day. But what has been kickstarted as a cultural movement by celebrities and large-scale headlined sales can indeed be wielded to sustainably create value. If we go beyond the Beeples of the world, and transform NFTs from speculative to utility-driven assets, there is much value to be unlocked.

When used as an asset, identifier or medium of exchange in the metaverse, NFTs will be at the heart and soul of this new “creator economy”. The gaming industry, designers, real estate brokers, emerging artists, futurists, fashion houses, creators, influencers – even global retail brands are vying for a prime piece of real estate in this world. Once they have a strong footing there, NFTs can become a method of payment, a means for customer loyalty rewards, a mechanism to prove provenance for an item, a tool to protect intellectual property – and so much more!

What are Zilliqa’s plans for the NFT space?

At Zilliqa, we recognise that with the right tokenomics frameworks and a pulse on the latest developments, NFTs can create tremendous value. Which is why we’re working hard to make minting and trading them an energy-efficient activity. Zilliqa recently released the ZRC-6, a token standard  The ZRC-6 is a major upgrade from what was previously used (ZRC-1) and includes several novel features that will be key for creators and builders. This standard also includes some enhanced functionalities for NFTs powered by Zilliqa. In addition to being energy-friendly, ZRC-6 will pave the way for Zilliqa as a leading NFT issuance platform.

Key features of ZRC-6 include:

Royalties — Marketplaces can now integrate royalty features with ZRC-6 tokens, as the token allows for an optional interface that captures royalty details, enabling creators to be paid royalties on sales.

Batch operations for minting, burning, and token transfers.

This token standard comes at the perfect time as Zilliqa gears up for the launch of the NFT Marketplace and Metapolis – our highly immersive and gamified XR metaverse platform.

What opportunities do you see for the crypto space in the APAC region?

There is endless potential for the crypto space in the APAC region – whether we consider NFTs and the Metaverse, gaming and play-to-earn, or peer-to-peer commerce.

What we’ve learnt in the pandemic is that people have started creating opportunities for themselves rather than being tied to the wage-based economy. One example is gaming, which has taken over countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines (only accelerated by the rollout of 5G). People in Philippines and Vietnam are actually tapping into blockchain-powered games like Axie Infinity (owned by Sky Mavis of Vietnam) as their main source of income. Similarly, South Korea’s Generation MZ is also jumping on the metaverse bandwagon to test their luck at inventive business models within the highly lucrative virtual real estate.

To date, many countries within APAC continue to record the largest proportion of unbanked and underbanked populations. These markets severely need DeFi tools and products the most as they do not have access to basic financial products and services. However, we’re far from achieving that level of inclusion to those who aren’t crypto natives. A lot of work remains to be done to make this process secure and seamless, which also means, there is immense opportunity for us to use crypto to better both our real economies and our metaverses to make them inclusive, accessible, lucrative and fair.