November 12, 2022
Issue No. 12
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- Blockchain & Defi: Google Cloud Just Became a Solana Validator; Mastercard Welcomes 7 Blockchain Startups to Fintech Innovation Program…
- NFTs: NFT Memberships in Gyms; Yuga Labs: Metaverse NFT Open Standards
- Web3 & Metaverse: LG Heading into Web3; Elrond Blockchain Rebrands to Focus on Metaverse
- Gaming: NCSoft Plots Web3 Games on Sui; FIFA Announces NFT Games
- Legal Landscape: Feds Update Tornado Cash Sanctions; Crypto Platform LBRY Loses SEC Case
Blockchain & DeFi Developments
Google Cloud Just Became a Solana Validator
Google's cloud computing division Google Cloud announced on Saturday that it’s now running a validator on the Solana blockchain, and will soon add features aimed at welcoming Solana developers and node runners.
In a Twitter thread, Google Cloud revealed that as well as running a Solana validator “to participate in and validate the network,” it is planning to bring its Blockchain Node Engine to the Solana chain in 2023. The Blockchain Node Engine is a “fully-managed node hosting service” run by the provider, which already supports the Ethereum blockchain.
“We want to make it one-click to run a Solana node in a cost-effective way,” said Google Web3 product manager Nalin Mittal at Solana’s Breakpoint conference in Lisbon.
Mastercard Welcomes 7 Crypto, Blockchain Startups to Fintech Innovation Program
Credit card giant Mastercard today announces that it’s welcoming seven new startups into its global startup engagement program, Mastercard Start Path.
Since its inception in 2014, Mastercard Start Path has fielded applications from over 1,500 startups every year and the program has helped more than 350 businesses attract well over $3.5 billion in funding.
Successful applicants are welcomed into Mastercard’s fintech network, where they’re given “growth-essential opportunities” to collaborate, receive mentoring and tap Mastercard’s existing connections and clientele in order to accelerate blockchain, Web3, and fintech innovation.
This year’s cohort welcomes seven companies from five different countries into the fold. From the United States, there’s Web3 payments company Loot Bolt, a crypto privacy and compliance firm called Quadrata, and Uptop, which uses blockchain tech to help brands personalize their consumer experience.
The rest of this year’s intake comes from Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Colombia, and Dubai.
By bringing together various firms from different fields within crypto, Mastercard’s Start Path aims to catalyze innovation in the space and accelerate the hybridization of Web3 and emerging fintech systems with traditional finance.
Crypto Wireless Carrier Helium Mobile Will Power Solana’s Saga Smartphone
Decentralized, crypto-fueled wireless network Helium recently voted to move from its own platform to Solana, a leading layer-1 blockchain network. Now that alliance is set to get even stronger, with Helium and Solana bringing their respective mobile initiatives together.
At Solana’s Breakpoint conference in Lisbon today, Helium and Solana Labs announced a partnership to bring the upcoming Helium Mobile service—a smartphone carrier powered in part by T-Mobile—to Solana’s crypto-centric Saga smartphone. Both are due to launch in early 2023.
The Android-powered Saga phone will come with a free 30-day trial for Helium Mobile in the United States, offering unlimited voice and text use during that span. The Saga phone will not be exclusive to Helium Mobile, however: a Helium representative clarified to Decrypt that Solana Labs’ smartphone can be used with other carriers instead.
Boris Renski, GM of wireless at Nova Labs—the startup that represents the founders of and core contributors to the Helium network—told Decrypt that the partnership is a “natural fit.”
"Not only will this partnership ultimately drive usage to the Helium Network,” he said, “but Saga customers who sign up for Helium Mobile will be able to have a seamless and integrated user experience and could earn crypto rewards for using their cell service.”
NFT Memberships in Gyms
Mainstream sectors have just begun to understand the potential of using NFTs as membership models or loyalty programs. Global Fit Club - a blockchain-based fitness platform will soon be offering NFT memberships to allow users access to a full suite of fitness services. Global Fit Club is partnering with well-known fitness centers like Anytime Fitness and F45 Training, to ensure that members gain access to more benefits when they hold an NFT membership.
“This isn’t just a gym membership. NFT holders will get discounts on fitness-related services such as supplements, personal training, and equipment, as Global Fit Club has a number of partners lined up to provide this,”
Deni Zulic, CEO and founder of Global Fit Club
Zulic believes that NFT memberships could solve issues such as gym membership price fluctuations and even allow members to sell their NFT membership at the floor price, rather than cancel the membership. Additionally, Zulic mentioned that while some gyms have loyalty programs that allow members to earn rewards for working out, an NFT membership can ensure that crypto payments are sent directly to a user’s wallet when movement is tracked!
Although NFT-based gym memberships appear to have potential, it remains to be seen whether they have mainstream appeal.
Adam Bomb Squad Cancels OpenSea NFT Drop Over Royalties Dispute: 'Artists Are Always in Control’
Some of the NFT world’s most prominent creators are speaking out in defense of royalties this week after OpenSea said it is considering changes to its enforcement—including potentially making them optional for traders. Now one brand has taken things a step further by canceling an Ethereum NFT drop planned on the platform this week.
Bobby “Bobby Hundreds” Kim tweeted on Tuesday night that his streetwear brand The Hundreds will not launch its Badam Bomb Squad on OpenSea this week as originally planned, due to the company’s unclear communication around its creator royalties stance.
“We were waiting to see if OpenSea would take a stand to preserve creator royalties for existing collections, especially after they’d heard from the artists, founders, and NFT community,” the brand’s tweeted statement reads. “Unfortunately, that announcement has not arrived in time.”
Many NFT creators set a secondary sale royalty on their work—typically a 5% to 10% fee paid by the reseller. OpenSea and other prominent marketplaces previously honored the royalty setting specified by creators, however, upstart rivals have recently clawed away market share by rejecting royalties, prompting more established platforms to also make changes.
The Hundreds planned to launch the new NFT collection on Thursday through OpenSea, but will instead mint the project through its own website “in the coming weeks.” The brand wrote that the move was made “in solidarity with the individuals who built this culture and provide a reason for marketplaces like OpenSea to exist in the first place.”
Bobby Hundreds has been one of the most outspoken Web3 creators to push back on OpenSea since the marketplace announced its changing stance on creator royalties on Saturday. The Hundreds’ move to cancel its planned drop is a more pointed rebuttal of what many creators see as OpenSea’s rejection of Web3 norms regarding ongoing participation in secondary markets.
BAYC Owner Yuga Labs: Metaverse NFT Open Standards Coming “Very Soon”
One of the unique selling points of the Web3 metaverse has always been the idea of interoperability; that users can port their NFTs between metaverse platforms. But to date, interoperability between metaverse platforms has been very limited.
That could be set to change, with Bored Ape Yacht Club founder Greg Solano, aka Garga, telling Decrypt, “We’re going to be publishing our object standards as they become available; some are coming very soon, and others will be coming over the course of the next year.” Those object standards will, Solano said, be “open standards that anyone can adopt, and can build on top of.”
The idea is that a designer can create a 3D character model for BAYC’s Otherside metaverse and, “just as easily take it to another metaverse.” And vice versa (or metaverse-a).
Bored Ape Yacht Club owner Yuga Labs, the company behind the Otherside metaverse, wants to build a “truly interoperable” metaverse; one that “is going to allow for you to be able to play as whatever character it is that you are,” Yuga Labs CEO Nicole Muniz told Decrypt. “Maybe you're an ape. Maybe you’re not; maybe you’re not a Yuga property, and that’s okay.”
The goal is ultimately to create an open world in which, “everyone is able to have a shared fun experience,” she added.
Web3 & Metaverse
LG Heading into Web3
LG Electronics has announced it wants to hire two new Chief Technical Officers (CTOs) to lead its Web3 and blockchain technology operations – just months after registering a trademark for a crypto wallet.
In September, LG began running Beta tests for developers on its new crypto wallet app – Wallypto. The firm has also launched a Hedera Hashgraph blockchain-powered NFT trading platform. A number of LG affiliates are also backers of the chat app giant Kakao’s Klaytn blockchain network.
LG Electronics earlier this year launched a Kakao-backed gallery app that allows owners of the firm’s smart TVs to display NFT digital artworks on their sets.
How UMG Is Building Out Its Bored Ape Metaverse Band, Kingship
When Universal Music Group’s 10:22PM label revealed its virtual band Kingship last November, the premise felt truly novel: a group made up of Bored Ape Yacht Club and Mutant Ape NFT characters, born from decentralized IP and built for the metaverse. A Gorillaz for the Web3 era.
The very next day, legendary music producer Timbaland revealed his own plans for Bored Ape-based groups. Eminem and Snoop Dogg have since used their Apes in a music video and MTV performance. Many other Ape NFT owners have tapped their IP rights. Along the way, there’s been NFT backlash, Bored Ape backlash, and metaverse backlash to top it all off.
But one year later, despite the changing tides of Web3, 10:22PM is still building out Kingship.
More and more of the vision has been shared in recent months: the launch of NFT key cards as access passes to the group’s content, a brand deal that put Apes on M&M’s candies, and the first taste of music from Grammy-winning hitmakers Hit-Boy and James Fauntleroy.
Today, Kingship debuts Kurt the Roadie, the first character in its world that isn’t an Ape. The flamingo ally is inspired by an Ape, though: the band’s original Mutant Ape NFT artwork from Ape IP creator Yuga Labs has a pink flamingo wrapped around its neck. (Kingship's band member Ape NFTs are owned by noted creator/collector, Jimmy "j1mmy" McNelis.)
The Ethereum NFT profile picture (PFP) is being airdropped free to all holders of Kingship’s key cards today, with each of the 5,200 images of Kurt featuring a generative blend of hand-drawn traits. The artwork will be revealed on November 14. Some traits were designed in collaboration with Fauntleroy, a noted producer, and songwriter who has worked with Beyoncé and Bruno Mars.
“You're starting to see the entire creative team start to immerse themselves for the entire world coming together,” 10:22PM founder Celine Joshua told Decrypt.
Kurt the Roadie isn’t simply a bonus NFT for supporters, however. He’ll also play a functional role in the custom metaverse platform that 10:22PM is building for the game, serving the purpose of flying users’ characters to an island setting—as the artwork above suggests.
Blockchain Startup Elrond Rebrands to Focus on Metaverse
Blockchain startup Elrond has rebranded itself MultiversX to reflect its pivot to metaverse exploration.
Elrond will aim to build on its prior work as a layer 1 blockchain with a focus on scalability to advance Web3 technology in the form of metaverse-related products.
The metaverse is a conceptual world where the internet theoretically becomes an immersive virtual environment that can be used for work, play, socializing, and events. The term “metaverse“ was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.“
With the rebrand, Elrond would appear to be following the lead of social media giant Facebook, which last year renamed itself “Meta” to reflect its metaverse-related aspirations.
Games & Blockchain Gaming
God of War Ragnarök’s Side Content Better than Witcher 3?!
Witcher 3 received high praise for having some of the best side quest content the RPG genre had to offer. The side content added value by providing players the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the Witcher world, the characters, and the enemies. Some quests were so engaging and emotional that players might have spent more time doing side quests than playing the main story missions! God of War Ragnarök has also received a ton of praise for its optional side content! The Washington Post’s Gene Park tweeted last week that the game’s optional missions surpassed those of The Witcher 3 for him, which is quite a significant statement.
“The team doesn’t treat it as just side content, everything is crafted to enhance the world and player experience,”
said Exploration-level Lead Luis Sanchez, who also said that the team “poured everything” into every aspect of God of War Ragnarök.
NCSoft Plots Web3 Games on Sui After $15M Mysten Labs Investment
Notable South Korean developer and publisher NCSoft is turning more of its attention to Web3 gaming. Today, the firm revealed that it contributed to the recent $300 million Series B funding round for Mysten Labs, the creator of the nascent Sui blockchain, and said that the companies will collaborate on future projects.
In addition to backing Mysten financially, NCSoft also plans to work with the firm on potential Web3-powered games. In a release, the companies said that they would "explore future collaborations to create digital entertainment experiences that are more engaging and player-centric, leveraging Sui.”
Last November, NCSoft announced that it was exploring the release of NFT-driven games in 2022, as well as exploring the creation of its own crypto token. The firm also said that it was testing how to create massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) using the Web3 gaming play-to-earn business model.
"Blockchain technology has the potential to create novel and innovative player experiences," said Dr. Songyee Yoon, president, and chief strategy officer of NCSoft, in a statement.
"We are excited to partner with Mysten,"
"who shares our vision for the technology as a platform for a truly distributed player-centric economy, passion for community building, and trustworthy technology which is crucial for those who desire to build a platform of the desired scale and reach."
TikTok “Quietly Expanding” into Gaming
Jonathan Lai, General Partner at a16z has shared an interesting Twitter thread related to TikTok’s quiet expansion into gaming and included some stats from their first global games event “TikTok Made Me Play It” that occurred last week.
Amongst the series of tweets, Jon also shared that there are rumors that TikTok is launching a new tab or In-App store dedicated to games. You can find out more about the rumors here.
FIFA Announces Portfolio of NFT Games!
Ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA has announced a portfolio of web3 games to entertain football fans.
One of the licensed projects is a game called Upland, a blockchain-based metaverse for buying and selling virtual properties. Upland has now introduced FIFA World Cup digital assets and collectibles. Upland’s offering of digital collectibles appears to compete with FIFA+ Collect on the official website, developed in conjunction with official blockchain partner Algorand.
While both Upland and the FIFA+ Collect offerings involve non-fungible tokens, FIFA has avoided using the NFT terminology, partly because crypto is considered niche and because some perceive NFTs as scams.
“As we continue to build our gaming strategy long into the future, it’s certain that web 3.0 will have an important role to play, and this marks the start of our journey”
said Romy Gai, Chief Business Officer of FIFA.
My Pet Hooligan Partners with DigiDaigaku
CEO of My Pet Hooligan, Gabriel Leydon, shared the teaser trailer on his personal Twitter account. Check out the video below 👇
Immutable Unveils Tool to Enforce NFT Royalties on Ethereum
Immutable is rolling out a product on Ethereum that it says will help enforce the payment of creator royalties.
It will work as a community-governed whitelist and blacklist for smart contracts that honor royalty fees, according to a release. NFT creators will be able to use these lists to control the smart contracts which can transfer or receive NFTs from their collection, ensuring that users will only be able to trade through royalty-respecting contracts.
The solution is already in use on ImmutableX, the company’s Ethereum-scaling Layer 2 NFT platform. The lists will be controlled by IMX token holders.
Immutable co-founder Robbie Ferguson has come out in support of NFT royalties even as major marketplaces began to make them optional. Buyers can now opt out of paying royalties on NFTs on almost all major marketplaces, the largest exception being market leader OpenSea. In October, Ferguson said that NFT royalties on Immutable are guaranteed and that this was enforced at a protocol-wide level on any marketplace.
"Our vision is an ecosystem where creators have a choice over their royalty model and level of enforceability, and users can vote with their feet when it comes to the projects they feel strike the best balance. Soft-enforced royalties only serve to punish users who are trying to support projects and massively reduce the confidence creators and game studios can have in their revenue streams,” Alex Connolly, co-founder, and CTO of Immutable, said in today's release.
While creators will have to decide how strictly they want to enforce royalty payments, Immutable's new tool takes the burden of enforcement from marketplaces — something the likes of Magic Eden have been pushing for. Previously proposed systems, such as Magic Eden’s own MetaShield product, have been able to identify NFTs that have bypassed royalty payment, but it’s been left up to a third party to take action.
OpenSea Pledges to Enforce NFT Royalties After Creator Backlash
OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace by trading volume, announced today that it will continue to enforce creator royalties on NFTs following significant pushback from the community.
“We will continue to enforce creator fees on all existing collections,” the firm wrote in a tweet thread. “We’re awed by the passion we’ve seen from creators and collectors alike this week. We were looking for your feedback, and we heard it, loud and clear.”
Sorare Partners with 18 National Teams, Launches a New Game
Sorare is partnering with 18 national soccer teams ahead of launching a brand new, free-to-play game with social elements. Sorare: Global Cup ‘22 will let players put together an eight-player squad of their favorite players from these 18 teams, including the U.S Men’s National Team, for free. Players can use their personalized teams to play and compete for real rewards as the tournament progresses.
Joining the U.S. Men’s National Team in the partnership are teams from Argentina, Belgium, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Germany, Ghana, Netherlands, Qatar, Morocco, Serbia, Spain, Poland, Tunisia, Canada PA, and Wales.
Sorare: Global Cup ‘22 will let players set up private, friends-only tournaments for bragging rights. They can also play in Sorare’s global, public event against other gamers from around the world. Players can win prizes after each actual matchday, including new cards for their fantasy teams, and exclusive event collectibles.
The best of the best can win merchandise, VIP match tickets, and more.
“The Sorare: Global Cup ‘22 mirrors one of the biggest moments in sports; the most iconic, celebrated, and watched international sports tournament on the planet which has played host to some of football’s most legendary matches, players, and champions, not least England ‘66 and France ‘98 and ‘18,” said Sorare boss Nicolas Julia, in a statement to GamesBeat. “At Sorare we are building the next sports entertainment giant, by giving fans new ways to enjoy the sports they love and connect with their favorite stars. Launching Sorare: Global Cup ‘22 is a big step in that mission. Our new game is a chance for all football fans to put their football knowledge to the test — and the winners will enjoy some truly once-in-a-lifetime prizes.”
National Policies & Legal Updates
Feds Update Tornado Cash Sanctions, Cite North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program
The U.S. Treasury Department today updated its sanctions on Ethereum coin mixer Tornado Cash, citing its role in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The Feds in August banned U.S. citizens from using the mixer, claiming that criminals—including North Korean hackers—were using it to launder dirty funds.
Though in a Tuesday announcement, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) redesignated Tornado Cash, citing “its role in enabling malicious cyber activities, which ultimately support the DPRK’s [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program.”
“The redesignation takes into account additional information and also includes an additional basis for the designation of Tornado Cash regarding its support for DPRK activities,” the announcement read.
The update also clarifies who the “Tornado Cash Person” is in the redesignation—something that the crypto advocacy group Coin Center had sought in a lawsuit filed against the Treasury Department last month.
Previously, the crypto community was up in arms about the authorities targeting developers behind the code. But now, the OFAC says it has “not designated Tornado Cash’s individual founders, developers, members of the DAO, or users, or other persons involved in supporting Tornado Cash at this time.”
The DPRK’s WMD program is back in the spotlight after it started testing its missiles—including firing one over Japan last month. The pariah state has been sanctioned by a number of different countries for decades.
Crypto Platform LBRY Loses SEC Case
LBRY, a decentralized crypto platform focused on content sharing and publishing, shared a series of Tweets on Monday, announcing their defeat against the SEC.
“The language used here sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent that makes every cryptocurrency in the US a security, including Ethereum.”, the company tweeted.
After further investigation of the judgment ruling, it is evident that the case revolved around LBRY’s token, Library Credits (LBC). The SEC determined that the LBC tokens are securities and that the company failed to register for compliance with the US securities laws.
How did the SEC reach this conclusion?
Per the SEC, LBRY promoted their LBC token in a manner that failed the Howey test. “The Howey Test refers to the U.S. Supreme Court case for determining whether a transaction qualifies as an "investment contract," and therefore would be considered a security and subject to disclosure and registration requirements under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.” (source)
Under the Howey Test, an investment contract (security) exists if all the following criteria are met:
1 - There is an investment of money,
2 - the investment is in a common enterprise, and
3 - the investor expects to gain profits from the investment, because of efforts from the promoter or a third party
Howey Test requirements number 1 and number 2 are usually met on crypto tokens. However, most tokens fall in a gray area as it relates to number 3. The SEC’s case was primarily around the latter. According to the SEC, they “identified multiple statements by LBRY” that led their (LBC token) investors to believe that they could expect profits from buying or holding, due to LBRY’s efforts. Some of the statements identified by the SEC include “plainly stating that over the long term, the interests of LBRY and the holders of LBC are aligned”; an email message from Josh Finer, COO of LBRY, to a potential investor, explaining that the opportunity is obvious” and that the investor should “buy a bunch of credits” and store them for 1 to 3 years to hope for price appreciation; LBRY’s community manager commenting on Reddit that the value of the token will appreciate if LBRY delivers on their promises; amongst others.
In summary, most of the statements made by LBRY or their employees had two things in common: 1) that the LBC value will increase as the use of the platform/protocol increases, and 2) that LBRY's efforts are aligned, meaning that LBRY also benefits from LBC tokens going up in value due to the percentage of tokens allocated to the team.
LBRY’s defense was based around 1) the fact that the statements identified by the SEC amounted to a very small percentage compared to the number of content they share on their official communication channels, 2) that most of the time, LBRY shared disclaimers specifying that the LBC tokens were not an investment, 3) that the LBC token is primarily utility-driven and some users purchased the token solely for use, and 4) that LBRY did not hold an Initial Coin Offering (ICO).
However, the SEC provided the following respective responses: 1) the number of statements identified by the SEC did not matter as the damage was still there, 2) disclaimers do not "undo the objective economic realities of a transaction", 3) consumptive or speculative tokens (including utility tokens) can still be sold as investments and they do not have anything to do with the Howey Test, and 4) there is no language in the Howey Test that suggests that only ICOs are subject to the securities registration requirement.
The comment made by LBRY about the SEC’s language setting a dangerous precedent for most cryptos in the US could be debatable. On the one hand, you could argue that many crypto tokens inherently meet the Howey Test’s third criterion given that there is usually some allocation to the respective teams & that the teams’ efforts could lead to the appreciation of their respective tokens. However, the counter-argument is in this particular case, the SEC’s judgment was primarily based on explicit statements made by the LBRY team. Had LBRY not shared those statements with the public, the investors may not have had that expectation of profits.
There is clearly a problem when teams explicitly share statements that directly influence a potential investor’s investment decision. Hopefully, this helps provide some clarity to many crypto projects, especially NFT projects that promise some form of profit for potential investors.
Subscribe to our newsletter today and be the first to receive Sipher news, AtherXplorer weekly issues, and new AtherXperiment posts. Sign up now and get ahead of the game!