February 25, 2023
Issue No. 43
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- Blockchain & Defi: Synthetix Deploys V3; Coinbase Announces its L2 “Base”
- Gaming: Diablo IV’s Open Beta Launching in March; EA Founder Hawkins Making NFT Games
- Web3 & Metaverse: Colombia Held Court Hearing in the Metaverse; Ubisoft's Rabbids NFTs on The Sandbox
- NFTs: Spotify Token-Gated Playlists; Winning Dookey Dash Key Gets $1 Million Bid
- Legal Landscape: Emojis Count as Financial Advice; FATF Roadmap for Crypto Standards
Blockchain & DeFi Developments
DeFi Liquidity Protocol Synthetix Deploys Version 3
Synthetix is a decentralized protocol that enables the creation of synthetic assets on the Ethereum blockchain. It is an on-chain liquidity protocol that enables the issuance of synthetic assets on Ethereum. Synthetix's main goal is to allow users to gain exposure to a wide range of assets without actually holding them.
Synthetix v3 is a significant protocol update, offering a wide range of new features and improvements. The update offers more efficient architecture, faster and more complex applications, and a liquid market for any financial derivative. The update also simplifies staking and differentiated debt pools, allowing network stakers to supply collateral and receive fees from specific asset pools.
The Spartan Council governs the Synthetix protocol and votes on overall improvement proposals and parameter changes. The protocol holds over $450 million in locked tokens over the Ethereum and Optimism blockchains as of @February 23, 2023.
Arbitrum Surpasses Ethereum in Daily Transactions
On February 21st, Arbitrum surpassed Ethereum in daily transactions, increasing its dominance as the leading roll-ups L2. The number of daily transactions on Arbitrum jumped from 159,919 on Jan. 1 to over 1,103,398 at the time of press, representing a roughly 590% increase in less than two months. In comparison, the number of daily transactions on Ethereum only increased by 46% in the same period. Moreover, the number of unique addresses on Arbitrum's network has reached an all-time high of about 2.95 million addresses, and Arbitrum's total value locked jumped 81% since Jan. 1 to roughly $1.85 billion.
Despite Arbitrum's boost in transactions and addresses, it is still lagging behind Ethereum in terms of network fees. At press time, Ethereum's one-day fees stand at $6.7 million, while Arbitrum's one-day fees sit at roughly $154,000, which is less than 2.3% of Ethereum's network fees for the day.
The increased activity on Arbitrum may stem from users hoping and speculating about a potential Arbitrum airdrop, despite the lack of plans and announcements from Arbitrum developers about a potential token drop, according to Walter Teng, vice president of digital asset strategy at Fundstrat Global Advisors.
Arbitrum's move ahead of Ethereum follows GMX, a decentralized perpetual exchange native to Arbitrum, overtaking Ethereum in daily fees last week. The growing layer 2 ecosystem’s seen many financial applications emerge, like Camelot, Vela Exchange, and Radiant Capital, which have all seen their users and transactions increase by over 100% in the past 24 hours, according to Nansen data.
The layer 2 scaling system Arbitrum has been gaining significant traction in the blockchain industry, with its increasing number of daily transactions, unique addresses, and total value locked. While it still lags behind Ethereum in terms of network fees, the growth and development of the layer 2 ecosystems could lead to a more competitive market in the future.
Coinbase Announces its own Ethereum L2 “Base”
Coinbase recently announced the launch of Base, an Ethereum Layer 2 (L2) network that will act as both a home for Coinbase's on-chain products and an open ecosystem where anyone can build. The goal is to onboard 1 billion users into the crypto-economy. Base is built to be one of the best places for developers to build on-chain, with seamless Coinbase product integrations, easy fiat onramps, and powerful acquisition tools.
Base is secured by Ethereum and leverages the underlying security of Ethereum, along with Coinbase's best practices, to enable confident on-ramping into Base from Coinbase, Ethereum L1, and other interoperable chains. The chain is also committed to pushing forward the developer platform, offering full EVM equivalence at a fraction of the cost, gasless transactions for dapps, easy developer APIs for account abstraction, and easy-to-use bridges for securely building multichain applications.
The aim is for a decentralized, permissionless, and open chain for anyone with the vision of creating a standard, modular, rollup-agnostic Superchain powered by Optimism. Coinbase has joined Optimism as a Core Dev on the open-source OP Stack and is working to create a thriving community of other developers.
Games & Blockchain Gaming
Diablo IV’s Open Beta Launching in March
Blizzard has announced that the open beta for Diablo IV will begin on March 24th and run until March 26th. Players who pre-order the game will get early access to the beta from March 17th to 19th. During the beta, players will be able to explore the early game of Diablo IV, including the prologue and all of Act 1, which takes place in the Fractured Peaks. Players will be able to complete quests and slay demons, but they will only be able to reach up to level 25.
Blizzard also revealed Diablo IV's opening cinematic, which showcases the game's first zone and character customization options. According to IGN, Diablo IV will feature multiple cinematics that will insert players' custom-designed characters into various scenes. The game will be available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Players should be aware that they may encounter performance issues while playing the open beta, as is typical for any beta release. Blizzard plans to use feedback from the beta to make final tweaks before the game's official release on June 6th. The release date for Diablo IV was originally announced at BlizzConline in February 2021, after years of anticipation following the release of Diablo III in 2012.
PlayStation February 2023 State of Play Roundup
Sony's first State of Play of 2023 included a variety of games, including Resident Evil 4, a new puzzle game from the makers of Tetris Effect, Destiny 2: Lightfall, Goodbye Volcano High, Baldur’s Gate 3, Tchia, Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections, and Street Fighter 6. The expected launch dates for these games are as follows: Resident Evil 4 (TBD), Tetris Effect game (TBD), Destiny 2: Lightfall (February 28th), Goodbye Volcano High (June 15th), Baldur’s Gate 3 (August 31st), Tchia (March 21st), Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections (2023), and Street Fighter 6 (June 2nd).
Overall, Sony's State of Play showcased a diverse range of games, offering something for everyone. From narrative adventures to fighting games, players have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year.
Blockchain Game Predictions for 2023
Check out the Deconstructor of Fun article, written by Ahmetcan Demirel, in which they state their predictions for Blockchain games in 2023.
Their predictions are as follows:
- Blockchain games are expected to focus more on player onboarding, with local optima emerging for game development.
- Free mints will become more common, and older games may adopt the strategy.
- Blockchain games will shift their focus from crypto metrics to gameplay metrics.
- The use of fiat currency is also predicted to increase.
Some of these predictions are not very far off from what Ather Labs is working towards with Sipher Odyssey. However, it’s great to see the entire industry might be moving toward these priorities as it will ultimately benefit the blockchain space and onboard more users. Click the link below for the full article.
Electronic Arts Founder Trip Hawkins Making NFT Games
Trip Hawkins, founder and former CEO of Electronic Arts, has joined Games for a Living, a startup that is developing NFT-based games, as co-founder and chief strategy officer. The new company plans to use blockchain to create a new gaming paradigm, and Games for a Living’s first game, Elemental Raiders, is available now on Steam, although an NFT "battle pass" will be released in March. Games for a Living will eventually establish its own private blockchain for games, with a foundation to oversee the network and set the rules for other developers who can deploy their own NFT-driven games on the network.
Hawkins said he is confident that blockchain combined with the company's vision can create a new gaming paradigm for the benefit of all, one that enhances game performance and value for players, while keeping things fun. The company's whitepaper explains that it will use its own private blockchain for games rather than an open, permissionless network like Ethereum or Solana.
While the company's representatives have said that at some stage in the future, it will bridge everything to their chain, private blockchains are seen by many as antithetical to the Web3 ethos. Networks created by a centralized company can be progressively decentralized over time and turned over to the community, but the publisher's whitepaper doesn't explicitly state those intentions.
Games for a Living was co-founded by Manel Sort, formerly the first vice president at King, and Hawkins, and the two game industry veterans previously worked together at Hawkins' former mobile gaming startup Digital Chocolate. The company has already launched promotional Ethereum NFTs tied to the game and will release an NFT battle pass in March along with its own GFAL token.
The publisher's representative has said that most in-game NFTs will be minted on BNB Chain, but some NFTs will be minted on Ethereum and later convert into an NFT on BNB Chain through the company's user portal. The company has also teased a second game called Diamond Dreams, which will be an NFT-fueled matching puzzle game. An official Elemental Raiders tournament will be held in early March with NFT and token rewards, but not in the Steam version of the game.
Web3 & Metaverse
Colombia Just Held a Court Hearing in the Metaverse
Colombia has become one of the first countries in the world to hold a court hearing in virtual reality. The hearing was held using Horizon Workrooms, a virtual workspace developed by Meta, and was live-streamed on YouTube. The participants, including lawyers and judges, appeared in the meeting as computer-generated avatars. The hearing was a success, according to the participants, with one magistrate noting that the use of information technology in judicial proceedings facilitates and expedites the process of executing justice.
While the virtual hearing was deemed a success by participants, not all viewers were convinced. Some felt that seeing cartoon-like figures took away from the seriousness of the case. Nevertheless, the use of virtual reality for court proceedings is not entirely new. Local media reports have noted that a Chinese court held a virtual meeting using Meta's technology in September 2021.
Virtual court hearings, and virtual meetings in general, became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as people switched to remote working and video conferencing. Zoom became a household name, and its market cap skyrocketed as people worldwide used the platform to meet. However, using virtual reality for a court hearing is a step further from the video conferencing technology that many people have become accustomed to.
Despite the potential for virtual reality technology to revolutionize the way court hearings are conducted, there are some potential drawbacks. For example, the use of avatars in a virtual courtroom may not be appropriate for all cases, as it may detract from the seriousness of certain proceedings. Additionally, there may be concerns about the security and privacy of virtual court hearings, as sensitive information could be vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Overall, while virtual reality technology may have some benefits for the legal industry, its use for court hearings will likely need to be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. In the meantime, the success of Colombia's virtual court hearing could pave the way for more innovative uses of technology in the legal industry.
Ubisoft's Rabbids to Get NFTs on The Sandbox
Ubisoft has released a new set of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the form of Rabbids avatars for the Ethereum-based metaverse game, The Sandbox. Ubisoft is releasing 2,066 of the Rabbids avatars via Polygon, an Ethereum scaling network, with each NFT selling for 100 SAND, worth around $78. The avatars are billed as a “key to future utility” in The Sandbox, including access to potential future drops. Ubisoft is the first major video game publisher to release in-game NFT items with Ghost Recon Breakpoint in December 2021.
Ubisoft initially announced plans to bring its popular Rabbids characters, which spun out of the classic Rayman game franchise, to The Sandbox one year ago. The Rabbids will feature various designs that will be unveiled to buyers on Friday. The Sandbox previously added Rabbids characters to its museum-like NFT Institute experience last September and released Rabbids-themed NFT items and accessories.
On February 28, The Sandbox will launch a Rabbids game world in the current open alpha test, which houses a limited number of playable experiences. This is the first time that players can purchase Rabbids avatars for use in the game, however. Ubisoft made a Minecraft-inspired NFT game prototype called HashCraft in 2018, but the project was ultimately shelved.
While Ubisoft's NFT debut with Ghost Recon Breakpoint was met with a mixed reception, the firm has continued to make moves in the Web3 world. Ubisoft is not alone in exploring the intersection between gaming and NFTs. Companies including Atari, Decentraland, and Gala Games are all experimenting with the technology. The release of Ubisoft's Rabbids NFT avatars is just the latest example of how major gaming companies are trying to take advantage of the growth of the NFT market.
Spotify Token-Gated Playlists
Spotify has launched a new token-gated playlist pilot, allowing members of certain NFT communities to connect their crypto wallets and access exclusive Spotify playlists. Among the participating NFT projects are Overlord and Kingship, with the former's genesis Creepz NFT holders receiving access to the new feature. The playlist includes over 100 tracks and is built around Overlord's internal narrative of invasion. For now, the new token-gated service is only available on Android and in select countries. The feature is part of Spotify's ongoing Web3 experiment and is seen as a way to drive user behavior and KPIs.
Spotify began testing Web3 integrations last year, with the company confirming that some musicians were testing a feature to promote NFTs on their artist profiles. The company had previously posted job listings referencing Web3 earlier in 2022. With the new token-gated service, the music streaming platform is looking to benefit from the increased user behavior, with members of the Overlord community already upgrading their Spotify subscriptions to enjoy uninterrupted access to the invasion playlist.
The Overlord co-founder also mentioned the potential for additional perks with this token gate, such as album releases or behind-the-scenes exclusive interviews with certain musicians, which could further adjust user behavior. Spotify's latest move is part of a larger push towards Web3, which is seen as a major potential driver for the music industry. By incorporating NFTs and other crypto features, Spotify hopes to appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy audience and stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving industry.
Winning Yuga Labs Dookey Dash Key Fetches $1 Million Bid
A group of NFT enthusiasts has placed a bid of $1.1 million on the winning key to Yuga Labs' endless runner game, Dookey Dash. The winning key is owned by Kyle "Mongraal" Jackson, an 18-year-old Fortnite streamer, who has listed his key for 2,222 ETH (approximately $3.5 million). The collective behind the winning key bid is UpDAO, which is connected to Pixel Vault's Inhabitants Universe, an upcoming Web3 game with NFT characters. UpDAO has placed a bid on Jackson's key of 690 WETH, which can be converted to ETH or another equivalent asset. If UpDAO's bid is successful, it will represent roughly 5% of its assets as the DAO currently has around $24.4 million in its community treasury.
Mongraal has not yet responded to the bid. UpDAO's bid has attracted some criticism, with some arguing that it's a waste of funds for a DAO to spend 1 million USD on an NFT. However, PixelVault's Head of Communications David "economist" Litsky has said that the community has plans for the Dookey Dash key if UpDAO successfully acquires it. PixelVault is incubating a decentralized gaming protocol that anyone can build on, and community members are speculating that the key could be used as a tournament prize for games built on the protocol, thus helping to spread more awareness.
Yuga Labs has not yet announced what Sewer Pass rewards will grant holders, but some community members are speculating that each key unlocks an in-game mech or wearable robotic suit in Yuga's upcoming Otherside metaverse game.
Starbucks NFTs Already Selling for Thousands
Starbucks has launched a closed beta program for its NFT-driven rewards program called Starbucks Odyssey, which is built on the Ethereum scaling network, Polygon. The platform has only released four NFT drops since its beta launch in December and has seen a total of 360 sales with over $143,000 in total volume traded. However, a relatively low number of sales is expected as the platform is in closed beta, and only a limited number of users have been allowed from the waitlist.
Despite the low number of sales, the high floor price of some Starbucks NFTs is surprising. The current floor price of the "Holiday Cheer Edition 1 Stamp" Polygon NFT is just over $2,000 on Nifty Gateway, with some people selling it for as much as $1,900. The high floor price of this NFT is noteworthy as it alone makes up 80% of all of Starbucks' total NFT volume traded on the marketplace.
Only 5,000 editions of the "Holiday Cheer Edition 1 Stamp" were released, and it was given away free to Starbucks Odyssey members who completed enough challenges to meet the requirement and also bought a gift card as a holiday gift. Some users are buying multiples of the same NFT, presumably because they believe they can make a profit by flipping them.
Starbucks' three other NFT drops are less in demand and, therefore, have lower floor prices, ranging from $69 to $285 at present. Starbucks Odyssey users can earn points by completing tasks such as online trivia challenges and redeeming them for NFT stamps. Buying drinks at Starbucks can also grant users points that can lead to unlocking NFTs.
Starbucks has promised IRL benefits to Starbucks NFT holders, including access to private events and international trips. However, none of these benefits have been actualized yet. The historical element of Starbucks' first-ever NFT, released on December 16, may also be a part of the appeal. Others appear to be speculating on the NFT's potential for future increased value and are flipping them for a higher price.
Blur to Airdrop 300M in Extra Tokens to Loyal NFT Traders
Blur, an NFT marketplace, has announced that it will distribute approximately $300 million worth of additional tokens to its loyal users as part of its "Season 2" gamification program. This announcement comes after Blur overtook OpenSea, a popular Ethereum NFT trading platform, in trading volume.
Blur released its native token, BLUR, last week, marking the end of "Season 1." During this phase, Blur rewarded traders who migrated from a competing NFT marketplace, listed NFTs on its platform immediately after its launch in October, or used Blur to bid on NFTs.
In the upcoming "Season 2," users will receive tokens through a more structured loyalty program. Traders will be assigned a loyalty score based on their interactions with and commitment to the trading platform. Users who use only Blur to buy and sell NFTs will receive a 100% loyalty score.
The number of BLUR tokens a user will receive in the later airdrop will be determined by their loyalty score and the number of NFTs they have listed. The company also stated that minor actions like quote-tweeting its Twitter announcement about Season 2 could potentially boost a user's loyalty score.
It is unclear how Blur will link user activity on separate platforms like Twitter with its own metrics. The company has not yet provided clarification on this matter.
The NFT market has seen tremendous growth in recent months, with trading volumes increasing significantly. Airdrops are a common practice in the crypto industry, as they are a way for companies to reward their users and incentivize them to use their platform. Blur's decision to airdrop $300 million worth of BLUR tokens to its loyal users demonstrates its commitment to expanding its user base and solidifying its position as a leading NFT marketplace.
While the NFT market has seen explosive growth, some experts have raised concerns about its sustainability. The high transaction fees associated with buying and selling NFTs, as well as the environmental impact of blockchain technology, are among the issues that have been raised. However, many remain optimistic about the potential of NFTs and their ability to revolutionize the art and collectibles industry.
Uniswap Traders Can Now Buy NFTs With UNI, SHIB, or Any Ethereum Token
Uniswap's NFT marketplace has launched a new feature that allows users to use any token on the Ethereum blockchain to purchase NFTs. The new Universal Router contract finds the most cost-efficient route to complete the swap from any Ethereum-based token into the required token for the NFT sales and then pushes that crypto to OpenSea's Seaport protocol to finalize the transaction. This new tool is meant for existing Uniswap traders who swap high volumes of tokens already on the platform. It could also help users juggle liquidity to lock in sales they want faster without having to manually swap the tokens first themselves.
In addition to simplifying the purchasing process, Uniswap plans to support combined sums of multiple different cryptocurrencies for a single NFT sale soon. This means that if an NFT costs 1 ETH, a trader could buy it with a combination of USDC and Tether, DAI and SHIB, or Uniswap’s native token UNI and Chainlink, for instance. One fewer transaction before making an NFT purchase also means one fewer taxable event for those concerned about the tax implications of NFT trading.
Since launching its NFT marketplace feature in November 2021, Uniswap has seen less than 10,000 total transactions and roughly $7.6 million in total volume traded, with about 16,600 total sellers and 5,400 total buyers. In comparison, Uniswap's broader DeFi platform has nearly 4.8 million total users, according to a Dune Analytics dashboard. While Uniswap's latest advancements on its NFT platform may improve its user experience, it remains unclear whether it will be enough to drive traffic away from rivals like the Paradigm-backed Blur, which offers token incentives and airdrops for high-volume traders.
The new feature of Uniswap's NFT marketplace has the potential to simplify the NFT purchasing process, especially for existing Uniswap traders who frequently swap high volumes of tokens. It also has tax implications, as one less transaction means one less taxable event. The ability to support combined sums of multiple different cryptocurrencies for a single NFT sale will further enhance the user experience on the platform. However, despite Uniswap's advancements on its NFT platform, it is unclear whether it will be enough to drive traffic away from rival marketplaces like Blur, which offers token incentives and airdrops for high-volume traders.
National Policies & Legal Updates
Emojis Count as Financial Advice and Have Legal Consequences, Judge Rules
A US District Court judge in New York has ruled that certain emojis indicating financial returns, such as the rocket ship, stock chart, and money bags, could mean a “financial return on investment.” The ruling came as part of a court filing in which the judge denied Dapper Labs’ motion to dismiss a complaint alleging that its NBA Top Shot Moments violated security laws. Some tweets from the NBA Top Shot Twitter account were cited as containing emojis indicating financial returns, despite not including the word “profit.”
Former US Securities and Exchange Commission branch chief Lisa Braganca has warned users of the potential legal consequences of using emojis that suggest future gains. Oscar Franklin Tan, the chief legal officer of NFT platform Enjin, has commented that the decision should not lead to a rule that emojis make NFTs securities, explaining that “shitposts and emojis are part of free speech too.” Tan added that sneaker resellers could use the same emojis to create a “fear of missing out” pitch.
Various members of the crypto community have reacted to the ruling, with one Twitter user lamenting it as “tragic” and another suggesting that freedom of speech no longer extends to emojis. On Feb. 23, lawyers reacted to the decision, with US attorney Jake Chervinsky stating that it would be “absurd” for a US court to consider assets on private blockchains as securities. Chervinsky argued that this could lead to every major video game developer, ticketing platform, and travel rewards program becoming an SEC-regulated company.
FATF Agrees on Roadmap for Implementation of Crypto Standards
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has announced that it has reached a consensus on an action plan to encourage the implementation of global standards on cryptocurrencies. The FATF, which is made up of delegates from over 200 jurisdictions, aims to strengthen the implementation of FATF Standards on virtual assets and virtual asset service providers. In 2024, the task force will report on how FATF members have progressed in implementing crypto standards, including regulation and supervision of virtual asset service providers (VASPs).
According to the report, the lack of regulation of virtual assets in many countries creates opportunities for criminals and terrorists to exploit. The FATF strengthened its Recommendation 15 in October 2018 to address virtual assets and virtual asset service providers. However, since then, many countries have failed to implement these revised requirements, including the “travel rule” that mandates the obtaining, holding, and transmitting of originator and beneficiary information related to virtual asset transactions.
Part of the FATF’s Travel Rule includes recommendations for financial institutions, VASPs, and regulated entities in member jurisdictions to obtain information on the originators and beneficiaries of specific digital currency transactions. As of April 2022, the financial watchdog reported that many countries were not in compliance with its Combating the Financing of Terrorism and Anti-Money Laundering standards.
The FATF's focus on cryptocurrency regulation is driven by the belief that the lack of effective regulation of virtual assets creates a major risk to global security. Terrorists and other criminal groups have been known to use cryptocurrencies to move funds across borders and fund illicit activities. The FATF hopes that by implementing its standards and improving regulation of VASPs, countries will be better equipped to combat these risks.
The FATF's action plan comes at a time when many countries are grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrencies. Some countries have implemented strict regulations, while others have taken a more relaxed approach. However, the lack of consistency in regulation has created confusion and made it difficult for businesses to operate in the crypto space. By setting global standards, the FATF hopes to create a more consistent and predictable regulatory environment for the cryptocurrency industry.
Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather File Motion to Dismiss Crypto Promotion Lawsuit
Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and other celebrities are seeking a dismissal of a second amended complaint filed by EthereumMax investors in December 2022. The class-action lawsuit accuses the EthereumMax team of working with celebrities to sell EMAX tokens to investors in a "pump-and-dump" scheme. However, the defendants argue that the renewed allegations push the "same basic theory" forward that the court had previously dismissed. They also argue that the tokens do not have any value apart from what the market is willing to pay for them.
The defendant's motion to dismiss also suggests that the investors' new theory is that they held onto EMAX due to misrepresentations from the celebrities. However, the motion to dismiss argues that the investors "suffered no injury from merely holding onto the tokens." The motion further states that the addition of new claims, defendants, and over 100 pages of largely irrelevant allegations does not cure the defects in the prior complaint, which the court dismissed in full.
In October 2022, Kim Kardashian reached a $1.26 million settlement with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after failing to disclose that she received a $250,000 payment to promote the crypto project. The SEC had accused Kardashian of violating federal securities laws by promoting EthereumMax on social media without disclosing that she had been paid to do so.
The SEC has recently issued a warning to celebrities who promote crypto, reminding them that the law requires them to disclose how much they are getting paid and from whom when promoting investment in securities. The SEC's warning comes amid a surge in crypto promotions by celebrities and influencers on social media, which has raised concerns about potential risks to investors.
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