April 22, 2023
Issue No. 51
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI & Blockchain: Microsoft’s AI Chip; Buildbox’s Generative AI for Games
- Gaming: Stella Fantasy Global Launch; SEGA Acquires Angry Birds-Maker Rovio; Square Enix Partners with Elixir Games on Web3 Gaming Platform
- Web3 & Metaverse: PUBG Creator to Launch Metaverse; Bluesky Launches Android App
- NFTs: Nike’s “.Swoosh” NFT Digital Sneaker; The Smurfs Enter Web3
- Legal Landscape: AI Developers Respond in Court to Copyright Claims; SEC’s Hester Peirce Says Gensler’s Plan to Target DeFi Undermines First Amendment
AI, Blockchain, and DeFi Developments
Microsoft Developing AI Chip to Power ChatGPT
Microsoft has been working on a new artificial intelligence (AI) chip, code-named Athena, since 2019, according to a report from The Information. It is expected that the chip will be widely available for use within the company itself and OpenAI as early as next year. The chip is designed to handle large language model (LLM) training, which is essential because the scale of advanced generative AI models is growing faster than the computing capabilities needed to train them. Microsoft seeks to accelerate its generative AI strategy while cutting costs, and a custom AI accelerator strategy could deliver disruptive economies of scale beyond what is possible using traditional commoditized technology approaches.
The need for acceleration also applies to AI chips that support machine learning inference — that is, when a model is boiled down to a set of weights that then use live data to produce actionable results. Compute infrastructure is used for inference every time ChatGPT generates responses to natural language inputs, for example. Nvidia produces very powerful, general-purpose AI chips and offers its parallel computing platform CUDA (and its derivatives) as a way to do ML training specifically. But inference generally requires less performance, and hyper scalers see a way to also impact the inference needs of their customers with customized silicon.
While Microsoft's Athena is not expected to be much of a threat to Nvidia's place in AI/ML, where it has dominated since it helped power the deep learning "revolution" of a decade ago, Microsoft and other hyper scalers are pursuing their own optimized versions of AI chips for their own architectures and optimized algorithms (not CUDA-specific). It is about cloud operating costs, but also about providing lower-cost options for diverse customers who may not need or want the high-cost Nvidia option.
Buildbox Is Bringing Generative AI to User-Generated Games
Buildbox has updated its no-code game engine with generative AI technology called Buildbox AI to simplify and accelerate the game creation process. The addition of generative AI to its software will enable creators to effortlessly create high-quality and unique in-game assets, redefining what is possible in game development. With Buildbox AI, creators simply type in whatever is on their mind, and the AI creates virtually unlimited options of unique characters, game objects, and environments crafted to fit their specific game’s vision, saving time and effort and allowing creators to focus on shipping their game.
Buildbox AI is a powerful but simple “one-click-to-create” feature that creates game assets that are unique, personalized, dropped directly inside your game, and ready to go. The assets can also be used in any other game engine such as Unity and Unreal. Buildbox is the first multiplatform game engine to enable the creator community to contribute to AI training, fueling continual learning and new game ideas.
Jonathan Zweig, CEO of Buildbox owner AppOnBoard, said that AI is really just the next iteration of no code and that the biggest leap is that there are so many APIs and tools out there that you can blend together in your own proprietary way, resulting in good outcomes for the creators. This is the first addition to the industry's evolution, and the goal is to build ChatGBT for games.
Buildbox has already enabled creators to have big success on the Apple App Store, and Google Play Store, with all-time hits such as Color Switch, with over 100 million downloads. The company is taking a significant leap forward in simplifying game development with the addition of generative AI to its software. This ground-breaking innovation will enable anyone to create high-quality and unique in-game assets for their video games, redefining what is possible in game development.
TransUnion Bringing Credit Data to Public Blockchains
TransUnion has partnered with Spring Labs and Quadrata to provide off-chain credit scoring to DeFi and Web3 applications for the first time. The service will deliver off-chain credit data to DApps using Spring Labs technology and Quadrata, a digital passport network spun out from Spring Labs. The patented process developed by Spring Labs will enable the delivery of credit-scoring data while maintaining the privacy of the consumer's identity on the blockchain. The credit score will be delivered from TransUnion facilitated by Spring Labs technology directly to the consumer, with excerpt information subsequently shared by the user with the DApp.
The partnership allows DeFi lenders to have access to credit scoring data when making lending decisions with confidence, ultimately minimizing their risk and providing borrowers more opportunities for better terms. This new product featuring TransUnion's identity and credit data at its core is a big step toward achieving a balance between the information that lenders need to assess risk and the privacy and anonymity expected by users of the technology.
This partnership comes at a time when lenders are seeking to establish a more inclusive lending environment, often involving the creation of pathways to consumer lending for many to whom none were previously available or accessible. The combination of credit score data provided by TransUnion, which can offer credit scoring for nearly the entire US adult population, along with Quadrata's digital passport, will provide lending opportunities to a new group of consumers.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Stella Fantasy Web3 RPG Global Launch
Ring Games has announced the official global launch of its web3 RPG 'Stella Fantasy'. Ahead of its grand launch on April 13th, NFT holders were given early access to the game on April 7th, while users who registered for the pre-registration event were able to play the game from April 3rd. The game has received high praise for its stunning visuals and gameplay and is expected to appeal to the traditional Web2 market, as well as Web3 gamers.
To celebrate the global launch, various events including the 'Global Creator Campaign,' are being held until May, with SFTY airdrops available through cross-promotions with partners, gaming platforms, and communities.
Stella Fantasy aims to build a healthy web3 ecosystem by breaking away from the limitations of early P2E games and offering an extraordinary game experience. The PC launcher is now available for download on the game's website.
In addition to the game launch, it was also announced that SFTY is currently scheduled to be listed on another global cryptocurrency exchange, MEXC, starting on April 17th. And even more CEX listing is expected onwards.
Jooho YUN, CEO of Ring Games, expressed gratitude to say, "Thanks for all those who have supported the project so far, and pledged to continue providing high-quality updates to ensure a top-tier web3 gaming experience".
SEGA to Acquire Angry Birds-Maker Rovio for $775M
Japanese gaming company, Sega, has agreed to purchase Finnish mobile game developer, Rovio, for a reported €706 million ($775 million) in an all-cash deal. Rovio is best known for its hit game, Angry Birds, which has since expanded into a multi-media franchise. Sega plans to use Rovio's expertise in mobile "live service" gaming to accelerate the development of its own games and to generate synergies between the two companies. Meanwhile, Sega's cross-platform expertise will enable Rovio to expand beyond mobile gaming to consoles and web browsers.
Square Enix Partners with Elixir Games on Web3 Gaming Platform
Elixir Games and Square Enix have teamed up to increase the adoption and visibility of Web3 gaming. While it is unclear how the two companies will collaborate, both are committed to promoting the adoption and visibility of Web3 gaming among gamers. Elixir Games CEO Carlos Roldan said that this partnership brings them closer to Web3 gaming mass adoption, and they anticipate seeing more industry leaders enter the space with impactful projects in 2023. Square Enix's business development director, Hideaki Uehara, also commented on the partnership, stating that it represents yet another step for Square Enix to explore the promise of Web3-decentralized gaming.
Ember Sword Completed its Alpha Playtest
Bright Star Studios, the developer of the upcoming blockchain-based MMORPG game Ember Sword, has announced that the game is officially in alpha. The team has been working hard to develop features, improve backend technology, and create amazing experiences for their community.
The developers held a public playtest for the Ember Sword community this week, on April 18th and April 19th, 2023. The playtest sessions were open to anyone who registered with an Ember Sword account, and they operated on a first-come, first-serve basis.
During the playtest, players were able to experience five main quests that took them through a range of gameplay mechanics. The quests involved PvE combat, resource collection, and crafting, and culminated in the player arriving at the capital where they met Rashi, the Solarwood town crier. In addition to the five main questlines, players could also explore the vast open world of Ember Sword which was filled with hidden treasures, secret locations, and challenging enemies to defeat.
Once the playtest was completed, players were encouraged to participate in a feedback survey, which would help the developers improve the game. As an added perk, a small group of people who participated in the feedback was randomly selected to win an official Ember Sword merch pack.
For those who missed out, there is another playtest scheduled for August this year.
Web3 & Metaverse News
PUBG Creator to Launch NFT Metaverse Game This Year
Krafton, the South Korean video game company behind PUBG, is developing a Web3 metaverse game platform, Migaloo, which is set to launch this year. The company has partnered with augmented reality firm Naver Z and created a joint venture company in North America, with Krafton owning an 85% stake and Naver Z holding the remaining 15%. Krafton has invested $36.8 million in Migaloo's development. The platform would offer a "create-to-earn" system, in which users can create, buy, and sell in-game assets as NFTs. While little is known about the project, it aims to resemble something like Roblox, but with NFTs.
Krafton’s Migaloo is part of a growing trend of Asian firms developing Web3 game offerings. Final Fantasy creator Square Enix has announced its own Web3 game in Japan, while Nexon is developing MapleStory Universe in Web3. Singapore-based Razer has launched a Web3 incubator, as well, while South Korean firm WeMade plans to release some of its biggest titles abroad with Web3 integrations.
Naver Z is a tech firm with over $172 million in funding and over 49 million monthly active users across three of its products, while Krafton's PUBG has 289 million monthly active players. However, Migaloo is not Krafton's only Web3 initiative. In March 2022, Krafton announced it had partnered with Solana Labs to develop games on the Solana network.
Western firms are also developing games and experiences that leverage blockchain. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the metaverse will be the "next generation of the internet," and the company has made a number of investments in the space, including acquiring VR firm Oculus in 2014. Epic Games, the studio behind Fortnite, is also exploring the metaverse, and has announced plans to acquire Harmonix Music Systems, the developer of popular music games Rock Band and Dance Central.
Bluesky, Jack Dorsey's Decentralized Twitter Rival, Launches An Android App
Bluesky, the decentralized social media platform backed by Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, has launched an Android app. The platform is also available on desktops in a testing environment, and an iOS app was released in March. The app is currently restricted to users who have joined through a waitlist or have been invited by existing users. The platform currently has around 25,000 users, including some prominent crypto figures such as NFT collector Cozomo de' Medici. Bluesky's AT Protocol takes a "blockchain optional and blockchain agnostic" approach, according to Jay Graber, the former developer for privacy coin project Zcash who currently heads up Bluesky.
Bluesky was announced by Dorsey in 2019 as a working group within Twitter to research and create a decentralized social media protocol. After Dorsey's departure from Twitter, Bluesky launched the AT Protocol in October 2022, and the Bluesky group confirmed that it is independent of Twitter and has been a public benefit limited liability company since February 2023.
Bluesky employs a federated model, in which users can move their profiles between different social media platforms that use the AT Protocol. This model allows users to control the algorithms that determine what content is served to them, according to the Bluesky team. The team also stated that they are working on synthesizing the best of what they have seen in decentralized web protocols and blockchain networks into something new.
LandVault Teams Up with Super League for Metaverse Gaming
LandVault, a Dubai-based metaverse construction company, has entered into an exclusive partnership with Super League Gaming to create metaverse gaming platforms in the Middle East. The partnership will serve the needs of businesses throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The companies will work together to bring consumer brands, international sports franchises, entertainment conglomerates, and government agencies to the metaverse. Their combined expertise in Web2 and Web3 provides third parties throughout the region with a solution for the creation, distribution, marketing, and monetization of metaverse initiatives.
Super League has appointed LandVault as the official builder for Web3 platforms in the GCC region, with the primary focus on the United Arab Emirates. LandVault's local presence will allow Super League's partners to work closely with the development team directly, bringing metaverse worlds to life. LandVault's experience includes over 200 metaverse projects for the world's largest brands, such as Mastercard, L'Oreal, and Standard Chartered. The company expanded to Dubai earlier in 2023 and is heavily investing in the GCC region, already building digital twins for real estate companies, among other projects.
LandVault is building infrastructure to power its ambitious projects, such as an AI-enabled creation tool, Matera, a protocol to host and tokenize content seamlessly, and insights and monetization tools. Through the partnership, Super League now serves as LandVault's paid marketing partner in the GCC region, leveraging the company's proven ability to acquire targeted audiences, build engaged communities, and support ROI-driven objectives connected to metaverse initiatives.
Inside the NFT Space
Starbucks Odyssey Brews Smoother Second Serving of NFTs With 'First Store' Collection
Starbucks Odyssey launched its second NFT drop, "The Starbucks First Store Collection", with 5,000 Stamps priced at $99. The program limited the initial sale to Odyssey members who had earned at least two unique Journeys Stamps and had them in their wallets at the time of the pre-sale. In addition, they restricted the sale to one per customer, down from the two per customer maximum of the original sale. While the token-gated pre-sale was a good start to stemming the problems of the first drop, there were still members confused about eligibility.
After the three-hour pre-sale concluded, the rest of the Odyssey members were able to snag one of the roughly 2,800 stamps remaining. The general sale that followed also seemed to go smoother, with NFTs still available for purchase as of publication time. Those who bought a "First Store" Stamp would see the art revealed on April 20. According to Starbucks, the art would focus on "commemorating 1912 Pike Place," the location of the first Starbucks store in Seattle.
Nike Unveils First “.Swoosh” NFT Digital Sneaker Drop
Nike is launching its first NFT drop on its .Swoosh platform. The collection, Our Force 1 (OF1), consists of Polygon virtual sneaker NFTs designed to pay tribute to the iconic Nike Air Force 1 sneaker from 41 years ago. The collection will have two types of virtual sneakers available: Classic Remix sneaker boxes and New Wave boxes. The Classic Remix boxes contain virtual kicks riffing on Air Force 1 shoe released between 1982 and 2006, while New Wave boxes feature pairs designed in 2007 and later. All virtual sneaker boxes will cost $19.82 USD, a nod to the year of the Air Force 1’s debut.
Nike will not accept payments for NFTs in cryptocurrency. There does not appear to be a set limit on the number of Our Force 1 NFTs that will be available to mint. Nike will begin airdropping virtual AF1 posters—the key needed to unlock an OF1 box NFT—to be randomly selected .Swoosh members. Those members will be able to begin minting OF1 boxes on May 8. Two days later, on May 10, the entire .Swoosh community will be able to purchase OF1 boxes.
Nike designers have worked with .Swoosh community members bring fan-co-created designs to life on the blockchain. These fan-co-created designs will also be randomly scattered among both types of boxes. The OF1 boxes will unlock additional utilities and benefits for holders, including access to exclusive physical products and experiences.
Smurf Happens: Beloved Blue Characters Enter Web3
The Smurf Society released a new collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) featuring the popular animated franchise, the Smurfs. The Smurfs are known for their spirit of community and collaboration, making them an ideal partner in onboarding Web2 fans to Web3 through an inclusive, welcoming community. The Smurf Society opened a bucket auction for 3,000 NFTs based on the Smurfs characters on April 18.
The collection consists of 12,500 3D-rendered Smurf profile pictures (PFPs) with 250 different Smurf characters and 50 unique variants of each one with over 350 different traits. The Smurfs have a broad Web2 reach with “94% recognition globally.” They are known not only in Belgium where the comics began but also broadly across Europe, the U.S., and China.
Early adopters of the Smurfs Society, who have been testing the gamified Smurfy world, built on Polygon, have been rewarded with Crystals which can be traded on secondary markets like OpenSea and will provide access to a discounted allow-list sale following the public bucket auction. Part of the gaming experience highlighted education as part of the quests. This allowed players to understand what they needed to mint and how it worked with blockchain technology.
The Smurf Society Legendary Collection brings Web3 characters to the village like VR Smurf and Crypto Smurf. Future drops will be even more inclusive in character design. The Smurf Society has enlisted notable 3D artists to bring the Smurf PFPs to life. Smurf Society co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Arthur Salkin noted that Smurfs are accessible and people can identify themselves with them.
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Crypto-Industry Leaders and Policymakers React to Passage of MiCA in EU
On April 20, the European Parliament passed the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) bill. The framework aims to create a consistent regulatory framework for crypto assets among the European Union member states. Despite this, the bill still needs approval from the European Council before final passage. EU lawmakers still need to conduct legal and linguistic checks for MiCA as well as publish the bill in the EU journal. The policy could go into effect as early as 2024, depending on the European Council vote.
Many crypto industry leaders and policymakers largely lauded the bill’s approval. Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, suggested he would begin implementing changes to the exchange in the next 12 to 18 months in order to be in compliance with the potential new framework. Others targeted the United States for seemingly falling behind in digital asset regulation — a move that could drive companies to the EU with the implementation of MiCA.
“Overall we think this is a pragmatic solution to the challenges we collectively face,” said CZ. “There are now clear rules of the game for crypto exchanges to operate in the EU.”
Prior to the European Parliament vote, EU Commissioner for Financial Stability Mairead McGuinness told lawmakers they were “ahead of many other jurisdictions” in regard to crypto regulation. More than 500 members of parliament ended up voting in favor of MiCA.
If passed, the MiCA policy would apply to all crypto assets, including stablecoins and security tokens. The bill would also give the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) direct supervisory powers over crypto asset service providers. Additionally, the bill would institute a “passporting” regime for crypto firms, allowing them to operate in multiple EU member states after registering with one national regulator. The hope is that this will reduce the administrative burden of complying with different regulatory regimes in each member state.
With the passage of MiCA, the EU is signaling its intention to regulate the crypto industry in a manner similar to that of traditional financial services. The framework is designed to provide a level of certainty for crypto companies operating within the EU, while also protecting consumers. However, some industry observers have expressed concern that the framework may be overly restrictive and could stifle innovation.
SEC’s Hester Peirce Says Gensler’s Plan to Target DeFi Undermines First Amendment
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would revisit plans to change the definition of what is considered an exchange, which would include DeFi or decentralized finance protocols like decentralized exchanges. The announcement said that the body was revisiting a rule first proposed last year but would contain language to target the digital asset world, too. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler made it clear that he’s getting tough on crypto and that he is not leaving out the industry’s most complex space: DeFi. “Make no mistake: many crypto trading platforms already come under the current definition of an exchange and thus have an existing duty to comply with the securities laws,” Gensler said in the Friday release.
However, the idea wasn’t received well by all regulators. SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce criticized the Commission's plan as overly broad and said its "ambiguity undermines fundamental First Amendment protections." Peirce further elaborated, "Because the release makes everybody involved in the relevant blockchain ecosystem part of a 'group,' it creates significant ambiguity around what speech requires government pre-approval, which will unavoidably chill constitutionally-protected speech. "
DeFi is the space in crypto that aims to make taking out a loan or earning interest on savings quicker, accessible to all, and automated via decentralized apps. These tools make it possible to trade or borrow crypto assets without third-party intermediaries, and often without revealing personally identifiable information. Decentralized exchanges (DEXs) like Uniswap, which allow anyone to swap crypto coins and tokens without ever revealing any information like a name or address, are perhaps the most popular decentralized apps.
The DeFi world has been in the crosshairs of regulators and lawmakers for some time now. Last year, the Treasury Department sanctioned the “coin mixer” app Tornado Cash, which helps obscure otherwise transparent transactions, because North Korean hackers were allegedly using it to launder funds. DeFi is a fast-moving and incredibly complex industry praised for the degree of decentralization it gives users but criticized for its lack of security. Its experimental platforms are prone to hacks.
Gensler has repeatedly said that the vast majority of digital assets fall under the securities definition, and the SEC has targeted some of the most recognizable American crypto brands this year, such as exchanges Coinbase and Kraken. Its crackdown intensified following the quick and unexpected bankruptcy of digital asset behemoth FTX in November. The SEC’s plan to regulate the DeFi space is indicative of the regulatory pressure the industry is facing worldwide.
AI Developers Respond in Court to Artist Copyright Claims
On April 18, Stability AI and DeviantArt filed a response to a proposed class-action lawsuit brought against them by artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz, who accused the companies of extensive copyright infringement. The artists claimed that their works were used without permission to train the AI systems and that the resulting AI-generated images, created in their styles, were also infringing. The companies have filed motions seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit. They argue that the AI-generated images were dissimilar to the artists’ work and that the lawsuit lacked specific information about the allegedly misused photos.
In their filing, Stability AI argued that the artists “fail to identify a single allegedly infringing output image, let alone one that is substantially similar to any of their copyrighted works." Midjourney, an AI company that generates images from natural language descriptions, said that the lawsuit also does not “identify a single work by any plaintiff” that it “supposedly used as training data.” DeviantArt supported the same arguments as Stability AI and claimed that it was not responsible for any alleged wrongdoing by the AI companies.
The artists filed a lawsuit against Stability AI and DeviantArt in January, claiming that their rights had been violated. The lawsuit raised questions about how copyright law will apply to content created or used by AI. Recent innovations in AI are raising new questions about principles such as authorship, infringement, and fair use. Generative AI computer programs are able to generate new images, texts, and other content or outputs in response to a user’s textual prompts or inputs. These generative AI programs are trained to generate such works partly by exposing them to large quantities of existing works such as writings, photos, paintings, and other artworks.
There is a possibility of AI programs infringing copyright by generating outputs that resemble existing works. In accordance with United States case law, copyright holders can establish that the outputs produced by an AI program infringe upon their copyright if the program had access to their works and the resulting outputs are deemed “substantially similar.” This presents a challenge for AI developers, who may not have the ability to review every input or output generated by their systems.
The outcome of the lawsuit could have significant implications for the development of AI and its use in creative industries. It is likely that more lawsuits will be filed against AI developers and users as AI-generated content becomes more prevalent. As a result, there will be a growing need to establish new legal frameworks and guidelines to ensure that AI-generated content is created and used in a way that respects the rights of content owners and creators.
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