NFTs on NEAR: A Deep Dive into Paras
Paras, an NFT marketplace for digital art cards, is one of the most active communities within the NEAR ecosystem. What began as a decentralized social media platform is now a vibrant mecca for crypto art. Everything from one-off artworks to themed series can be found on Paras.
Late last year, the Jakarta-headquartered team released a new product, Paras Comic. As the first home for digital comics on NEAR, writers and illustrators can upload their digital comics as collectible NFTs. Now, comics and crypto art fans alike can interact, engage, and support creators by buying NFTs, and even tipping the artists.
The Paras team isn’t stopping with NFT artworks and comics. As co-founder Rahmat “Riqi” Albariqi tells NEAR Foundation, Paras plans to release a few other features in the coming months. It’s all part of the plan to be a broad cultural hub for NFTs.
Paras: an origin story
It was 2017, and Riqi was in his final year at university. Like many early crypto adopters, he was initially attracted to the trading. But, as a developer, Riqi also began familiarizing himself with blockchain’s more technical aspects. He was interested in building decentralized apps, but didn’t feel the time was right to build a dapp.
Fast forward to 2020. The crypto space was moving beyond trading. New protocols were emerging, and developers were building atop them. So, after leaving his job and taking a two-month break, Riqi dove head first into Web3 app development with his partner, Afiq Shofy.
After successfully building some functional decentralized apps on Blockstacks, Riqi and Shofy launched Paras in March 2020. Initially, the two envisioned Paras as a “persona website generator” — a single page where users could present their avatar, resume, CV, and so on.
“Then Afiq and I thought, why don’t we just do something bigger?,” Riqi recalls. “Why don’t we just make a decentralized social media platform because, you know, we already have the profiles, the avatars. We just need to build the post and comment [feature].”
Taking Paras to NEAR
At about this time, Riqi and Shofy were looking for a more scalable blockchain. Ultimately, they landed on NEAR Protocol.
“At the end of the day, we just use NEAR because it’s way better than all the other blockchains out there,” says Riqi. “It’s scalable, easy to use. The tooling and everything else is great.”
This social media iteration of Paras launched on NEAR’s testnet in Q3 of 2020. But, as Riqi notes, within a few months it had failed. There weren’t many users, and the ones who diduse Paras were part of an easily observable niche: novice digital artists.
So, it was back to the drawing board for Riqi and Shofy.
For months, the two considered turning Paras into a social media platform for digital artists. Something like Deviant Art, but on the blockchain. However, after researching NFTs on Ethereum, Riqi quickly realized there was steady NFT sales growth from August through October of 2020.
“NFTs were getting hot and we thought, why not build an NFT marketplace instead of a social media platform,” says Riqi. “And when we interviewed users, they said they wanted to make more money from their art. So, NFTs solve the problem, right?”
Riqi and Shofy quickly reworked Paras into an NFT marketplace. “We rewrote everything,” says Riqi. In December, the two re-launched Paras as an NFT marketplace on NEAR.
By early 2021, Paras had onboarded over 70 artists and 80 active collectors, who were generating revenue by selling and trading digital art cards. The number of artists and collectors using Paras has grown exponentially in the last year, thanks to the low-cost of minting artworks on NEAR. Paras now boasts 90K registered users, 20K of which are regular users. Together, 12K artists and 50K collectors have generated approximately $18 million in artwork sales.
This low barrier to entry has helped make Paras one of the the most popular NFT marketplaces and decentralized apps on the NEAR ecosystem.
Paras and NFT curation
Some NFT marketplaces suffer, both visually and content-wise, from their decentralized nature. The sheer number and variety of NFT artworks, while inspiring, can quickly become confusing from a user experience perspective.
Not so with Paras. Riqi, Shofy, and the rest of the team have given Paras a simple UX design, making it easy for users to find what they’re looking for.
On the Paras homepage, users can peruse Featured Collections, which spotlight some of the platform’s most notable NFT artworks. There are also categories for the Top Collections of the last seven days, as well as works generating the Highest Sales. And if one is curious who the Top Buyers and Sellers are on Paras, those curatorial categories exist too.
The “Publication” feature allows creators to enhance their visuals through a storytelling format. Within the Publication vertical, Paras empowers community curation via storytelling, but also offers a weekly Editorial, through which the team profiles the latest NFT creators and art.
These curatorial efforts also extend to social media. The Paras Twitter account, in particular, showcases artworks popping up on their ecosystem.
“If you look at our social media, we always promote indie artists or smaller creators,” Riqi explains. “We just retweet the artists’ post and give it some context and whatnot.”
“That’s really how we think about supporting smaller artists: just giving them more exposure,” he adds. “If we can nurture them, if we can connect them with the right person, if we can promote them, some can actually become big artists. And that’s how we think about it.”
In December 2021, a year after launching on NEAR, the Paras team released its most recent feature — Paras Comic. A standalone app of sorts, Paras Comic is a way for creators, readers, and collectors to engage with comics without a centralized intermediary.
On this new comics publishing platform, users can support creators by collecting NFT comics. Paras Comic already has titles like action fantasy manga ATMA, and the trippy fantasy comic Bob Boom!!. And, if collectors like what they see and read, they can even tip the artists.
Gary Edmund, a comics artist who has worked with Marvel and indie publishers, says publishing Bob Boom on Paras has been an absolute adventure. As he sees it, Paras and comics artists are doing something that’s never been done before.
“I’ve worked for major (Marvel/Dynamite) comic book companies and indie companies for years: I was institutionalized to the boundaries of producing a comic in print form,” Edmund says. “Most digital comics are still done in that “printable format” form. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that I don’t have to do that within the NFT Universe, and I could just go fucking crazy, I did.”
Edmund says the Bob Boom! Plot is bonkers, even though it’s packaged as a “bounty hunter” comic. People might expect a Star Wars-esque story, but Edmund promises something different. A comic that obliterates the genre. He believes entertaining the Paras audience in this way is his job, in part, to counter the oversaturation of superhero movies, science fiction movies, and comics.
“People think they have seen it all, but with Bob Boom! I’m able to shatter that with multiple art styles and insane plot twists,” he says. “Maybe some people think Bob Boom! goes too far at some points. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Once word gets out outside of the Paras community it’s going to blow up even bigger,” he adds. “Right now it’s the Paras community’s advantage to be able to invest in this comic when so many comic readers haven’t even dipped their toes into the NFT marketplace. Once your average ordinary everyday collector and your high end, high dollar, have to have the first of everything collectors are on Paras they are going to want these pioneering comics.”
Paras token staking, gaming, and other new features
Earlier this year, Paras launched NFT staking for the $PARAS token. Created as a utility token back in September 2021, $PARAS’s use cases include an exclusive pass to future deals and events, as well as for DAO governance. $PARAS staking will also be the foundation of governance, which is set to launch in the next couple of weeks.
There will be other ways to earn on the Paras platform. With ExVerse, Paras is beginning to explore play-to-earn (P2E) gaming. A free P2E MMO Battle Royale game, ExVerse is bridging the gap between the mainstream gaming industry and Web3. Think of it as a decentralized Fortnite. Or, as the ExVerse team calls it, “the first ever battle metaverse”, where players can sell NFT skins, boxes, and more.
“[The creators of ExVerse] already have the playable game even before they sell it, so that’s something really unique in the NFT space,” says Riqi. “They have a really great team, great developers, and that’s why we partnered with them.”
“The big vision of Paras is to expand the endgame of NFTs — that’s really our big tagline,” says Riqi. “When we started with NFTs we thought, okay, some NFT art and games, and that’s it. But, now we believe that there is a lot more that can be built on top of the NFT ecosystem.”
NFTs as pop culture
Riqi believes mainstream crypto adoption starts with Paras Comic. Using it as a gateway, Paras plans to leverage comics culture and fandom to onboard more and more users, paving the way for future NFT offerings.
“We are currently working with a lot of different studios, from comic series, obviously, to Game Studios and IP [intellectual property] studios,” Riqi says. “You can’t really add more features to the Paras NFT marketplace, so in the next three to six months we’re going to launch several smaller projects.”
Paras will either develop these projects in-house or support entrepreneur teams with their financial or technical expertise. Riqi says the team is currently looking at digital books and fashion as just a few near future NFT offerings on Paras.
“If you take a look at comic markets, the fashion industry, the gaming industry, all of them are related to this pop culture kind of stuff, right?” Riqi says. “So, that’s where Paras is heading.”
“We want to be known as a place for pop culture-related NFTs.”