As non-fungible token (NFT) giant OpenSea struggles through the fallout from an insider front-running controversy, a new challenge may be looming on the horizon: an open-source competitor designed to serve as the groundwork for a vampire attack.
After weeks of teasing the release on Twitter, Andre Cronje has launched Artion, an NFT marketplace on the Fantom blockchain.
— Andre Cronje (@AndreCronjeTech) September 16, 2021
Artion sports a remarkably similar front end to OpenSea, the indisputable NFT market leader that processed $3.5 billion in volume in August and which reportedly commands over 95% of all NFT sales.
Unlike OpenSea, Artion’s code is entirely open source, and the platform does not charge a fee for minting or purchasing NFTs. OpenSea charges a flat 2.5% fee on all purchases and is native to Ethereum, whose network has been suffering from high fees as of late. Approving a contract interaction routinely runs as high as $15 in network fees.
In an interview with CoinDesk, Cronje revealed that Artion is preparing for a robust cross-chain market with a NFT token bridge, and that the platform will launch “on a new chain every week,” with Ethereum, Arbitrum, Avalanche and Polygon as early targets.
Additionally, Cronje said he “encourages” forks of his new project – spin-offs that will simultaneously leech volume from both Artion and OpenSea.
At first blush, Artion appears to be a clear-cut vampire attack on OpenSea.
Vampire attacks are a common phenomena in decentralized finance (DeFi) in which a competitor to an incumbent protocol – often a fork of the “victim’s” code – offers superior incentives designed to prompt a liquidity migration.
Perhaps the most famous example is Sushi, whose vampire attack in September 2020 led to the decentralized exchange briefly overtaking rival Uniswap in the closely watched total value locked (TVL) metric.
While mostly mercenary, vampire attacks are occasionally justified as being ideological in nature. During the attack, Sushi proponents argued that a disproportionate percentage of Uniswap’s UNI tokens went to early venture capital investors, while Sushi distributed tokens more broadly to users – a system that better captures the open, permissionless nature of crypto, adherents claim.
Community members have long been pondering if OpenSea could be a target for an attack with similar guiding principles. OpenSea has no token, and has been continually raising hundreds of millions of dollars in private equity rounds throughout the last year.
In July, OpenSea raised $100 million at a $1.5 billion valuation.
Despite being a target, however, Cronje said that a direct vampire attack is “not my play” when it comes to Artion.
“We are open-sourcing it completely and encouraging teams to fork it,” he told CoinDesk on Telegram. “Fee system is built in, so anyone can switch it on and pay out fees to token holders.”
Cronje wrote that Artion will not charge for minting, listing and selling NFTs for the “lifecycle” of the project, but that “we encourage forks to take it and add a token” and that the code is designed to make adding fees and tokens simple.
In addition to potentially lucrative platform usage fees, forks of Artion could also hypothetically provide token incentives for users who bridge NFTs from one chain to another.
In effect, Artion is a marketplace that is actively inviting a vampire attack on itself – and, by proxy, an attack on OpenSea.
When asked why he and the rest of the seven-person Artion team would spend months building a project that could have the potential to be highly profitable, but for which they will receive no clear compensation, Cronje said the ripple effects are what motivate him.
“I like building open protocols and then seeing wtf people can do with it,” he wrote.
Cronje went on:
“I like starting fires.”
Ripe for attack
The attack-by-proxy comes at a difficult time for OpenSea.
On Sept. 14, a viral Twitter thread uncovered on-chain evidence that the then-OpenSea Head of Product, Nate Chastain, was purchasing work from artists prior to their being featured on the marketplace’s homepage.
Community-sourced efforts found the executive, who has since updated his Twitter bio to indicate he has resigned, made as much as $65,000 flipping these works.
Cronje told CoinDesk that a key difference between the platforms is that Artion invites third-party development and forks.
“Artion smart contracts are built to allow third-party [user interfaces] and on-chain only contracts,” he said, describing the platform as “developer-first.”
Artion will come with a lightly modified version of GPL-3 licensing, a popular open-source standard, which calls on forks to first launch on Fantom before other chains but is otherwise highly permissible.
While the tools to launch an attack are now freely available, in Cronje’s view it will take upwards of a month before viable forks appear.
“Even for a skilled team it should take about 5 days to get used to the code base, and then another 5-10 for setup and deployment. So lead time till a good fork is probably 3-4 weeks,” he wrote.
While explaining the animus behind the product launch, Cronje provided the following GIF.
UPDATE (Sept. 24, 19:40 UTC): Adds clarifying language to sentence about fees in fourth paragraph and embeds GIF.