June 10, 2023
Issue No. 58
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Meta's AI Plans; Adobe Unveils Enterprise AI Model Platform
- Blockchain: Atomic Wallet Exploit Leads to $35M in Losses; Circle Hires Former CFTC Exec
- Gaming: Apple Releasing Toolkit for Port Games to macOS; Ava Labs Launches Arcad3
- Web3 & Metaverse: Apple Unveils the Vision Pro; Lamina1 Recruits Tech Giants for Metaverse
- NFTs: “GutterMelo” Sneakers Revealed; Louis Vuitton to Sell $41,000 NFTs
- Legal Landscape: SEC Sues Binance & Coinbase; Senate’s Letter to Meta Threatens Open-Source AI
Meta Showcased AI Plans for their Products
Meta recently showcased a wide range of AI technologies in development for both consumers and internal use at an all-hands meeting.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced AI chatbots for Messenger and WhatsApp, AI stickers, and photo editing tools for Instagram Stories. There are also internal AI products like a productivity assistant and an interface to interact with Meta's LLaMA language model.
Meta plans AI agents for Messenger and WhatsApp with unique personas to help users. This joins a crowded AI chatbot market that has seen surging demand and investment. They are also experimenting with AI that let users modify photos for Instagram Stories via text prompts, similar to popular AI photo editors and avatar apps.
For consumers, free AI tools from Meta could undercut subscription-based competitors.
On the internal company side, Meta has an "agents playground" to test LLaMA, MetaGen APIs for AI models, and Metamate, an AI productivity assistant.
Meta will launch initial consumer tools this year. Combining AI with its massive user base and ad business could give Meta an edge, though safety and accuracy concerns remain.
Adobe Unveils Platform for its Firefly Generative AI Model Designed for Businesses
Adobe has launched Firefly for Enterprise, a new platform for its Firefly generative AI model designed to help organizations generate more content.
The Firefly for Enterprise platform will allow any employee to instantly generate images or copy text descriptions for use in marketing, presentations, and more.
Employees will access Firefly through the Firefly app, Creative Cloud or Adobe Express. Businesses can also integrate Firefly and train the AI model with their own branded assets.
Adobe did not reveal pricing details but said enterprise licenses will be available for a flat fee based on organization size and needs. There is no confirmed release date yet.
Firefly is meant to be commercially viable by training it on copyright-free content. This distinguishes it from other generative AI models that could cause legal issues. It has also proven popular with 200 million images generated since March 2023 and 150 million images created using Photoshop's Firefly feature in two weeks.
Adobe also recently launched an Enterprise tier for Adobe Express designed for collaboration within organizations.
WordPress Launches JetPackAI Assistant, a Generative AI Tool to Help Blog Content Writers
WordPress is launching a new AI plugin called Jetpack AI Assistant that can generate and edit text for free WordPress.com users and for a $10 monthly fee for other Jetpack users.
The tool is made by Automattic, which owns WordPress.com and contributes to the WordPress platform. Automattic describes the tool as a "creative writing partner" that can generate content quickly.
Demos show the tool summarizing headlines, adjusting text tones, and generating entire blog posts from prompts. It also corrects spelling and grammar and can translate between 12 languages.
While a logical launch for Automattic, the feature could have harmful effects. Copywriters are already losing work to AI content generation tools, and many worry about a flood of low-quality AI spam on the web.
This technology should be helpful for WordPress users. However, Generative AI tools are still in their infancy and, as a result, are inaccurate and often produce bland, outdated copies. In Automattic's own demo, the exchange rates it provides for a Japan trip are from August 2021, showing the limits of the underlying AI software powering the tool.
In Other AI News…
- Microsoft Unveils Azure OpenAI Service for Government & AI Customer Commitments
- Salesforce Doubles Down on Generative AI with Marketing GPT and Commerce GPT
- LinkedIn Launches Generative AI Tool to Write Ad Copy
- Teaser’s AI Dating App Turns You Into a Chatbot
- Zoom to Provide AI Summarize of Meetings You Missed
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
Atomic Wallet Exploit Leads to $35M in Losses
Over the weekend, nearly $35 million worth of various cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ether, Tether, Dogecoin, Litecoin, BNB Coin, and Polygon were stolen from Atomic Wallet, a centralized cryptocurrency wallet and storage service. Tron-based USDT seemed to be the largest amount stolen according to on-chain analytics. In 2022, security audit company Least Authority warned in a blog post that funds in Atomic Wallet may have been at risk. Atomic Wallet said in a tweet that impacted users represented less than 1% of their monthly active users with the last drained transaction occurring on Saturday. The company said it was still investigating and analyzing the attack but had not released specifics as of Monday morning.
Victims have been asked to fill out a Google Docs form that Atomic Wallet is using for its investigations. Several users reported that their crypto was stolen after a recent software update while others said they were impacted despite not updating to the latest version according to messages in Atomic Wallet's Telegram channel.
Circle Hires Former CFTC, US Treasury Executive as Chief Legal Officer
Stablecoin issuer Circle has hired Heath Tarbert as their new chief legal officer and head of corporate affairs to help fight the ongoing regulatory crackdown on crypto. Tarbert has extensive experience working in all three branches of the U.S. government and across key regulatory agencies. He most recently served as chief legal officer at Citadel Securities overseeing legal, compliance, surveillance, and regulatory affairs.
Tarbert will replace Flavia Naves, Circle's current general counsel, who reportedly plans to leave the company. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said, “The opportunity to welcome Heath’s expertise and leadership to our executive team is an extraordinary step in Circle’s growth as a global company."
Tarbert's arrival comes at a time of renewed regulatory uncertainty around crypto in the U.S. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently sued cryptocurrency exchanges Coinbase and Binance on various charges. Since the FTX collapse last November, the crypto industry has faced increased regulatory scrutiny that has hurt businesses and driven capital abroad. Hiring Tarbert with his deep regulatory experience will help Circle navigate this uncertain regulatory environment.
Aave Lending Protocol Moves Closer to Launching GHO Stablecoin on Ethereum Mainnet
Aave's proposed GHO stablecoin is moving closer to a launch on the Ethereum mainnet. The GHO token has been operating on the Ethereum Goerli testnet since February without any major issues. To prepare for the mainnet launch, Aave has proposed two key features: the V3 Ethereum Facilitator and the FlashMinter Facilitator. These facilitators would have the ability to generate and burn GHO tokens up to a certain limit, allowing depositors to borrow GHO against their collateral deposited in Aave V3.
The FlashMinter Facilitator would allow users to borrow GHO and repay it in a single transaction with an initial capacity of 2 million GHO and zero fees. Gho was first proposed as a decentralized stablecoin backed by a basket of cryptocurrencies chosen by Aave users. The GHO token is expected to generate additional revenue for Aave by sending 100% of interest payments on GHO borrows to the Aave decentralized autonomous organization.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Apple Introduces Toolkit to Port PC Games to macOS
Apple introduced a new Game Porting Toolkit to make it easier for developers to port PC games to macOS.
The toolkit eliminates months of upfront work and lets developers see how their existing Windows game could run on Mac within days. It also simplifies converting graphics code to take advantage of Apple silicon performance, reducing total development time.
Developers can run an unmodified Windows game on Mac with the emulator to understand performance potential before fully porting the game.
The emulator can run Microsoft's DirectX12 API, which enables graphics effects but hasn't been natively available for Macs.
Porting Windows games to Mac has traditionally been difficult and time-consuming. The new toolkit helps developers optimize games for macOS.
The toolkit is garnering excitement from developers who say it's like Valve's Proton tool for running Windows games on Linux. Some have already used it to run games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Hogwarts Legacy on Mac.
Along with the toolkit, Apple introduced "Game Mode" in macOS Sonoma which delivers optimized gaming performance by prioritizing games for the CPU and GPU. Game Mode also promises lower audio latency with AirPods and reduced Bluetooth input latency for game controllers.
Simplifying Web3 Game Development: Introducing FStudio by Fractal
Fractal, co-founded by Justin Kan, has unveiled FStudio to simplify Web3 game development, marketing and monetization for studios lacking blockchain expertise.
Kan believes blockchain enables player-driven economies but the industry needs to focus more on gameplay. FStudio aims to empower developers while abstracting away blockchain complexity.
FStudio addresses challenges identified through talking with game developers. It offers features to build, acquire users and monetize games.
Fractal's platform abstracts blockchain complexities while retaining benefits. It allows developers to integrate blockchain quickly using familiar tools.
Fractal tackles user acquisition, developers' biggest challenge. By focusing on quality experiences, it can attract genuine gaming enthusiasts.
Web3 games have transformed monetization, letting developers make and sell blockchain items as in-app purchases. Fractal simplifies this with APIs and tools.
Fractal aims to make blockchain effortless for developers and players so they can focus on fun. Their mission is to foster player economies without burdening users with technical details.
Mino Games Launches Alpha Trials for Dimensionals Web3 RPG
Mino Games’ Dimensionals is a web3 gaming franchise featuring the first character-driven RPG powered by AI for unique character interactions and real-time, shareable mods.
Players collect unique heroes to save the multiverse in Dimensionals, an action-packed RPG with a cartoon art style. The game is designed to be live-streamed and share mods in real time.
Starting Q3 2022, players can compete in weekly alpha trial tournaments live-streamed on Discord for limited edition collectibles.
NFT holders of Eve, Dimensionals' mascot, can play and win giveaways in the alpha trials.
Mino Games believes NFTs are more powerful as limited edition collectibles because they're programmable, tradeable, and verifiable at near-zero cost. Initial tests show better spending, distribution, and engagement.
The company has raised over $25 million to date and aims to prove the power of NFTs as limited edition collectibles within Dimensionals over the next 6 months.
In summary, Dimensionals aims to reimagine the RPG genre using AI and Web3 technologies to deliver more personalized and interactive gameplay through unique hero characters, shareable mods, and limited edition NFT collectibles that link together the broader franchise.
Subscription Growth Stalls as Premium Game Releases Thrive
Video game analyst Mat Piscatella found that spending on video game subscriptions in April 2023 only increased by 2% compared to the previous year.
He believes subscription services are struggling to attract new subscribers beyond existing console user bases.
Sony's financial report showed that PlayStation Plus subscribers remained at 47.4 million for FY2023, the same as FY2022, despite introducing different tiers. This supports Piscatella's observations.
In contrast, Microsoft has not disclosed specific numbers for Xbox Game Pass subscribers in over a year, though they have boasted significant growth.
Piscatella speculates that the success of premium game releases in 2023 contributed to the stagnant subscription growth as many titles performed well in digital purchases.
While Microsoft tries to offer first-party and third-party games on Game Pass, the quality of releases can vary, and player numbers do not indicate success as much as sales numbers.
The integration of other subscriptions within Game Pass may overwhelm consumers and make them more selective with subscriptions amid rising subscription prices across media services.
Subscription services like Game Pass and PlayStation Plus are struggling to attract new subscribers beyond existing user bases, likely due to the success of premium game releases and pressure on consumers from rising subscription costs across various services.
Ava Labs Launches Avalanche Arcad3 to Help Game Studios Enter Web3
Avalanche blockchain firm Ava Labs is launching Avalanche Arcad3, a program connecting traditional game developers with Web3 game studios and esports organizations on Avalanche.
Arcad3 aims to help "Web2" game makers explore blockchain gaming integrations by offering strategies around compliance, NFTs, in-game tokens, and esports marketing.
Web2 partners can get guidance on how to implement blockchain in their games and market the change to players who can be wary of Web3.
Game developers joining Arcad3 are not entering an exclusive commitment but rather a mentorship program to explore blockchain gaming's potential with more experienced Web3 firms.
Arcad3's Web3 participants include games like Shrapnel, DeFi Kingdoms, and Gunz as well as the Blitz platform from TSM.
This program aims to bridge the gap between traditional game developers and the Web3 gaming ecosystem by providing mentorship, guidance, and strategies for exploring blockchain integrations in a sustainable way that considers players' perspectives.
Diablo 4's Cosmetics Store: Pricing and Reception
Diablo 4's inclusion of an in-game store selling armor and mount cosmetics for $10 to $20 each, on top of the full game price, has been a controversial topic among forums and critics.
Calculations show buying all cosmetics on day one would cost over $300, more than 5 times the game's price.
Reviewers couldn't assess the store's pricing during reviews, so withholding this information until after the launch has raised suspicions. However, in-game cosmetic stores have become common in popular games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Overwatch.
Proponents argue cosmetic items don't impact gameplay and allow free enjoyment of the game while generating revenue to sustain development given rising costs and stagnant game prices. High prices create a sense of rarity and exclusivity.
Unlike paywalls restricting content or pay-to-win mechanics, cosmetic item stores prove generally effective in maintaining player satisfaction without significant harm.
While players may criticize inflated cosmetic prices, industry experts acknowledge that the model has avoided worse alternatives while financially supplementing game development in the current economic climate.
Despite criticisms, the cosmetic store model has proven a sustainable business solution that does not compromise the core gaming experience while offsetting rising development costs for Diablo 4 and similar games.
In Other Gaming News…
- Crypto Unicorns Unveils Unicorn Party Web3 Casual Mobile Games
- League of Legends Esports Players Who Walked Out Reach Agreement with Riot Games
- Netflix Announces LEGO Mobile Game and a Daily Version of Cut the Rope
- Path of Exile 2 Teases Announcement for July 28 at SGF
- Street Fighter 6 Hits Over 1 Million Players in Its Opening Weekend
Web3 & Metaverse News
Apple Unveils the Vision Pro
Apple unveiled Apple Vision Pro, a spatial computer (a fancy way of saying mixed reality headset) that blends digital and physical worlds. Vision Pro has a 3D user interface controlled by the user's eyes, hands, and voice. It allows users to interact with digital content in a way that feels physically present.
The Vision Pro has a compact design with a laminated glass lens, a custom aluminum alloy frame, and a Light Seal made of soft textiles. Flexible straps and Head Band provide cushioning and stretch. As for tech specs, the Vision Pro features a high-resolution display system with custom Apple chipsets for real-time performance. It allows for infinite screen space and multitasking. Users can access apps, memories, and entertainment. It transforms any space into a movie theater and lets users view photos and videos at a life-size scale.
FaceTime calls are spatial, with participants reflected in life-size tiles and Spatial Audio. Users wear a Persona, a digital representation that reflects movements in real time.
Overall, the Apple Vision Pro has the potential to usher in a new era of spatial computing if it can deliver on its revolutionary design and multi-sensory interface. However, with a $3,499 price tag, only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Lamina1 Recruits Tech Giants to Build Open Metaverse
Neal Stephenson's Lamina1 blockchain company is partnering with five technology companies to build blockchain infrastructure for the open metaverse. Stephenson, who coined the term 'metaverse', believes blockchain can provide economic incentives for developers to create an open metaverse rather than walled gardens.
Lamina1's partners include Qualcomm, HTC, Mira, Interverse, and Croquet. Lamina1 is integrating with Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR platform. These partnerships will improve performance, interoperability, and user experience before Lamina1's mainnet launch in the summer of 2023.
Here are some of the areas where Lamina1 will work with their partners:
- Lamina1 and Mira will develop approaches using blockchain techs like NFTs and smart contracts to bridge the virtual and real world, such as ticketing and loyalty programs.
- Lamina1 and Interverse will bring future XR and sports experiences to life through interoperable assets across the open metaverse, starting with digital avatars of 8 European football clubs.
- Croquet's multi-user platform will provide significant tech advances for Lamina1, synchronizing the environment and offering data protection. As the first open Metaverse OS, Croquet will provide Lamina1 with proprietary tech and world-building tools to build upon Lamina1's Metaverse-as-a-Service platform.
Banks Entering the Metaverse
Many financial institutions are beginning to establish a presence in the metaverse to tap into the young, tech-savvy audience. The metaverse represents an immersive virtual world fueled by blockchain that offers new social experiences using augmented and virtual reality. No single company defines the metaverse and users have a universal identity across apps.
Leading banks like JPMorgan, HSBC, Kookmin, and DBS have launched metaverse initiatives. JPMorgan has a platform called Onyx for payments. HSBC purchased land in The Sandbox to engage clients. Kookmin offers Metaverse financial services and customer support. DBS purchased land in The Sandbox to promote sustainability. In Canada, TD and RBC are conducting metaverse pilot programs to understand the technology and serve customers effectively.
Banks are also preparing financial advisors for metaverse products like ETFs and investing in digital assets. A report found that 70% of high-net-worth individuals have invested in cryptocurrencies, with those under 40 favoring it as an asset class.
The metaverse will impact financial services as advisors educate themselves on a range of cryptocurrencies to provide access to this new asset class. As advisors become more savvy about digital assets, the question isn't just what's in their wallet but how much of it is in the metaverse.
Inside the NFT Space
LaMelo Ball Partners with GutterCatGang and PUMA to Launch “GutterMelo” Sneakers
Sports apparel company Puma is releasing a limited-edition sneaker in collaboration with NBA star LaMelo Ball and the NFT project Gutter Cat Gang. The sneakers called the "GutterMelo MB.03," will initially be sold as NFT collectibles on the OpenSea marketplace for $175 on June 29. NFT holders will then be able to redeem the physical sneakers from July 18 to August 20. The total number of NFTs available has not yet been announced.
The sneaker is the third iteration of LaMelo Ball's shoe line with Puma. Ball signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Puma in 2020 reportedly worth $100 million.
The sneaker is customized with a colorful heat map effect and features the Gutter Cat Gang avatar and the names of the collaborators.
Louis Vuitton to Sell $41,000 NFTs
Louis Vuitton will soon release a limited series of NFTs priced at around $41,712 each. The "Treasure Trunks" NFT series is based on the brand's iconic luggage trunks and will consist of only a few hundred NFTs.
Each NFT will come with a matching custom Louis Vuitton trunk. The NFTs are "soulbound," meaning they cannot be traded and can only be used by the original owner to access exclusive products and experiences.
Starting June 8, only residents of select countries can register for a waitlist to buy a Treasure Trunk the following week with cryptocurrency or fiat. The Treasure Trunks collection will be the first in Louis Vuitton's series "Via" that will grant exclusive access to high-paying customers.
While Louis Vuitton has experimented with NFTs before, this new collection shows the brand pivoting to using expensive, limited NFTs to reward top-tier customers, like other luxury brands. Balmain has been developing an NFT-backed club for VIP customers since last year and Ralph Lauren has hosted exclusive Web3 events.
AliExpress Launching NFTs?
An NFT project called "the Moment3!" will launch 5,555 NFTs on June 25 in collaboration with AliExpress, Alibaba's e-commerce platform.
"The Moment3!" plans to connect NFTs with real-world benefits and exclusive rights beyond just collectible value.
On May 4, Shopping.io integrated AliExpress into its platform to allow users to pay with cryptocurrencies. AliExpress and Shopping.io did not establish an official partnership for the integration.
AliExpress is a global e-commerce platform owned by Alibaba Group. Though based in China, it does not sell to customers in mainland China.
The Chinese government banned all cryptocurrency transactions in September 2021 and has issued warnings on the risks of NFT speculation.
AliExpress initially announced the collaboration with "The Moment3!" on Twitter but later deleted the tweet. "The Moment3!" has not deleted its announcement tweet.
In Other NFT News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
SEC Sues Binance and Coinbase, Claims Multiple Cryptocurrencies are Securities
The SEC recently sued Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange, and Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange, for violating securities laws.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler said the cryptocurrency exchanges recently sued by the SEC had "fair notice" their conduct could be illegal. He said crypto companies that claim they lacked fair notice are being disingenuous.
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said the SEC did not respond to their attempts to register or get clarity on the rules. Coinbase has asked for customized crypto rules but Gensler says existing SEC rules have already been applied to crypto platforms.
Gensler reiterated that the vast majority of crypto tokens meet the definition of a security under laws and the Howey Test. SEC stated that the following cryptocurrencies were securities, within the Binance lawsuit: BNB, BUSD, SOL, ADA, MATIC, FIL, ATOM, SAND, MANA, ALGO, AXS, and COTI.
He cited an example where Binance's chief compliance officer said they were operating as an "unlicensed securities exchange" in the U.S.
Gensler added that over 100 SEC orders, actions, and court decisions have made it clear when a token is a security. Not liking the SEC's message is different from not receiving it, he said.
Senate’s Letter to Meta on LLaMA Threatens Open-Source AI
A letter from Senators Blumenthal and Hawley to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning the release of Meta's large language model LLaMA sends a threatening message to the open-source AI community, experts say.
The senators expressed concerns about LLaMA's potential for misuse and said Meta's decision to broadly distribute the model "raises important and complicated questions."
Experts worry the letter could be an attempt to "throw open-source AI under the bus" for political or competitive reasons. Open-source AI is facing increased scrutiny while being a threat to proprietary AI.
Some experts said Microsoft may be "running scared" of open-source AI as they did with Linux in the past.
However, Christopher Manning defended Meta's release of LLaMA, saying it is smaller than other models and regulating uses of technology is better than limiting its availability.
Vipul Ved Prakash called the senators' concerns misguided and said limiting access would squash innovation. He argued spamming and misuse are possible with any technology, not just large language models.
Experts questioned why Meta's model is singled out when the UAE released an even larger language model. They suggest the senators' letter amounts to a "nasty gram" intended to intimidate open-source AI providers.
While legislators have valid concerns about AI risks, experts worry the senators' letter threatens open-source AI development and sets a poor precedent for limiting access to new technologies based on vague risks of misuse. They argue the use of technology should be regulated instead.
Crypto.com to Close US Institutional Service Amid SEC's Crypto Crackdown
Cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com said it will end its institutional service for U.S. clients on June 21.
The company cited "limited demand from institutions in the U.S. in the current market landscape" for the decision. Institutional investors are large accredited customers like companies.
Affected institutional users were given advance notice to transition smoothly.
The company clarified that the decision does not impact its retail crypto app used by over 80 million users worldwide.
Crypto.com, which cut its global workforce by 20% in January, made the announcement as the U.S. becomes a difficult place for crypto companies due to increased regulatory scrutiny. The SEC recently sued major exchanges Binance and Coinbase and SEC chair Gary Gensler said cryptocurrency companies weren't welcome.
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