July 1, 2023
Issue No. 61
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Microsoft’s New AI-powered Shopping Tools for Bing and Edge
- Blockchain: HSBC Launch BTC & ETH ETF Trading in Hong Kong
- Gaming: Unity AI-Powered Tools for Game Developers
- Web3 & Metaverse: Sony and Startale Labs’ Web3 Partnership
- NFTs: Azuki Elementals $38M Sale, Followed by Post-Reveal Uproar
- Legal Landscape: Tether Signs Agreement With Country Of Georgia To Develop Bitcoin And Peer-To-Peer Infrastructure
AWS launches AppFabric, Aiming to Ease SaaS Application Connectivity
AWS has introduced AWS AppFabric, a no-code service that connects multiple SaaS applications. IT teams can integrate third-party apps within minutes of the AWS console. AppFabric eliminates customized integrations and provides visibility into app performance.
AppFabric connects with 12 productivity apps and 17 SaaS apps through APIs. Customers can reduce costs and improve security by gaining visibility into app data. AppFabric "abstracts away this connectivity layer" and makes apps work together without integration work, said AWS.
AWS aims to help customers leverage its 100,000 partners through AppFabric. A generative AI feature powered by Amazon Bedrock is planned to launch this year. It will automate tasks and generate insights across apps.
AppFabric eliminates the complexity of building and maintaining integrations and provides better visibility. Admins can set common policies, standardize alerts and manage user access across apps. Customers can select applications in the AWS console and establish connections. AppFabric standardizes security and operational data for each app.
AppFabric aggregates and normalizes security data using the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework. IT and security teams can analyze data quickly and set common policies across SaaS applications.
Microsoft Brings New AI-powered Shopping Tools to Bing and Edge
Microsoft announced new AI shopping tools for Bing search and the Bing Chatbot in the Edge browser. While previous shopping features were not popular, these new tools look useful.
Bing will now generate buying guides when users search for queries like "college supplies". It will aggregate products in each category, list their specs to compare items, and tell users where to buy them with Microsoft earning affiliate fees. Generating these guides could impact existing sites that focus on this content.
The new buying guides are available in the U.S. and are rolling out worldwide in Edge. Microsoft is also launching AI-generated review summaries worldwide. Users ask Bing Chat in Edge to summarize what people are saying about a product and it generates a quick overview.
Microsoft also introduced Price Match, a tool to help users request a price match from retailers after prices drop. "We've partnered with top U.S. retailers with existing price match policies and will be adding more over time," Microsoft says, though it did not specify which retailers.
Humane Reveals Additional Details of the AI Pin, First Clothing-based Wearable AI Device
Humane, which was founded by ex-Apple engineers, revealed more details of its first product, the Humane Ai Pin. The startup has kept its work under wraps since 2018, hiring ex-Apple engineers behind features like the iPhone touchscreen keyboard.
The Humane Ai Pin is a wearable with a projected display and AI features. It can perform many smartphone tasks with fewer gestures/commands when tapped. Using computer vision and a camera, it can recognize objects. With a projector and depth sensor, it can project an interface onto surfaces.
The Ai Pin "unlocks a new era of personal mobile computing which is seamless, screenless, and sensing," Humane said. Qualcomm will provide a Snapdragon chip to power the Ai Pin. Ziad Asghar of Qualcomm said the device "takes excellent advantage of on-device AI and uses real-time contextual information."
Humane is partnering with SK Networks for distribution, Microsoft for cloud processing, and OpenAI to integrate its AI. LG, Volvo, and others are collaborating on R&D projects using Humane's tech.
San Francisco-based Humane has raised $230 million from investors including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, LG, Microsoft, Volvo, Tiger Global, Qualcomm Ventures, and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
In Other AI News…
- OpenAI’s ChatGPT app can now search the web — but only via Bing
- AI Foundation launches AI.XYZ to give people their own AI assistants
- DragCAN has officially launched; “drag” images to match your creative vision
- Slang taps AI to answer phone calls for brick-and-mortar businesses
- Sourcegraph unveils Cody 5.1, a free code AI tool that can write entire files and tests
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
HSBC Becomes First Bank to Launch Bitcoin and Ethereum ETF Trading in Hong Kong
In a major development, HSBC bank has started allowing customers to buy and sell exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on Bitcoin and Ethereum. This makes HSBC the first bank in Hong Kong to offer cryptocurrency ETF trading.
HSBC's decision comes in response to applications from crypto asset management companies asking to offer Bitcoin and Ethereum ETFs. The bank recognized the growing demand from customers who want exposure to cryptocurrencies, so it decided to facilitate crypto ETF trading.
Allowing crypto ETF trading is expected to expand access to cryptocurrencies for Hong Kong citizens through the regulated ETF framework. Investors will now be able to trade crypto ETFs like the CSOP Bitcoin Futures ETF and the Samsung Bitcoin Futures Active ETF.
HSBC customers can now trade the available Bitcoin and Ethereum ETFs to diversify their investment portfolios and explore potential benefits of digital assets within the regulated banking system.
Coinbase's Ethereum Layer-2 Network Base Preps for Mainnet Launch
As Coinbase's Ethereum layer-2 network Base nears its mainnet launch, Coinbase says it has thoroughly tested Base's security through multiple audits. Over 100 people recently reviewed Base's code as part of an audit contest run by Code4rena. While $100,000 in rewards were offered, no one appears to have found any major issues.
Coinbase said engagement in the audit contest was high and it is still reviewing submissions to address minor issues found. Base uses Optimism's technology to scale Ethereum transactions.
Base has also undergone security audits from Spearbit and Sherlock, in addition to audits by Coinbase's own Protocol Security team. More security measures are being developed for Base, like a tool to scan smart contacts for flaws and a monitoring tool called Pessimism.
When Base was announced in February, Coinbase said the network will host its future on-chain products and hopes that Base will become popular with developers. Coinbase is looking to diversify its revenue beyond trading fees through subscriptions and services that integrate with Base.
deBridge Integrates Solana to Offer Solana-EVM Interoperability
DeBridge has launched generic messaging interoperability between Solana and EVM chains after over a year of development. It allows smart contracts to send messages and instructions between the two blockchain networks.
DeBridge's solution not only enables interoperability between Solana and EVM chains but also helps with liquidity issues by integrating Solana into DLN, DeBridge's high-performance trading infrastructure. This allows the trading of assets between the two blockchain networks with low slippage and no transfer limits.
Together, DeBridge's messaging and DLN API offer developers the ability to create applications that seamlessly interact between Solana and EVM chains. This enables complex use cases like a liquidity protocol on Solana launching a futures market on Arbitrum.
DeBridge's solution gives teams tools to access the Solana ecosystem without extensive development. Smart contracts on EVM chains can now prepare messages to be executed by Solana smart contracts using DeBridge's libraries.
In Other Blockchain & DeFi News…
Gaming Updates and Insights
Unity Introduces Muse and Sentis, AI-Powered Tools for Game Developers
Unity, the world's leading real-time 3D development platform, is unlocking the power of artificial intelligence for game creators with two new tools: Unity Muse and Unity Sentis.
Unity Muse is an AI-assisted content creation platform that uses natural input like text and sketches to help developers quickly generate draft 3D assets, textures, and animations. The initial release focuses on Muse Chat, leveraging AI search to provide accurate answers and code samples from Unity's documentation. Over time, Muse will offer more features to simplify content creation in the Unity Editor.
Unity Sentis bridges neural networks with the Unity Runtime, enabling game developers to embed AI models directly into their Unity games and applications. This allows for features and capabilities that weren't possible before, as the AI models can run natively on devices where Unity runs. Sentis has the potential to transform in-game experiences and gameplay functionality.
Both Muse and Sentis are currently in closed beta to gather feedback from developers that will shape the future of the tools. As Unity explains, "Your feedback is vital for this work and will be actively solicited, considered, and integrated throughout the process."
In addition, the Unity Asset Store now features AI Verified Solutions from providers like Convai, Inworld AI, Layer AI, and others. These professional-grade AI packages aim to accelerate creativity and productivity for Unity developers.
With Muse, Sentis, and AI-Verified Solutions, Unity is arming game creators with the AI-powered tools they need to innovate, make better use of their time, and push the boundaries of interactive experiences.
SuperDuper partners with Immutable on Web3 RTS Overlord
SuperDuper has partnered with Immutable to develop a web3 real-time strategy game based on its Overlord intellectual property.
SuperDuper previously launched the NFT collection Cold Blooded Creepz in January 2022 which has generated over $220 million in trading volume. The studio plans to use Immutable's blockchain platform for its debut web3 game using the same Overlord IP across a clothing line and animation.
Overlord is a multimedia web3 gaming and entertainment brand created by SuperDuper with the goal of bringing the next 100 million users to Web3.
SuperDuper is working with game studios to build blockchain games using the Overlord IP. By using Immutable, SuperDuper will allow players to trade digital assets with fast and free transactions.
"We are thrilled to announce Overlord’s strategic partnership with Immutable X," said Dom Smith, cofounder of SuperDuper. "This collaboration supercharges our web3 gaming experiences by providing true digital ownership through NFTs."
The first playable alpha of Overlord's real-time strategy game is scheduled to launch in Q3 2023.
Sony's Game Budgets and Exclusivity's Impact
In court hearings regarding the FTC's challenge to Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard, documents from Sony and Microsoft with poorly redacted figures were revealed. The leaked information provided insights into the companies' businesses.
The documents confirmed that Sony's major first-party games like Horizon: Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 2 had development budgets exceeding $200 million each.
While Sony's approach of spending large budgets without aggressive monetization is rare, it aligns with its role as a platform holder. This allows Sony to spend large sums while maintaining a traditional pay-to-play model.
Exclusivity is a topic in the FTC case. Sony secures exclusive games for PlayStation like Final Fantasy XVI, and the incentives for third-party publishers are clear. Becoming a PlayStation exclusive provides economic advantages like reduced platform fees and shared marketing costs, outweighing any development subsidies.
Exclusivity can be seen as anti-consumer but currently maximizes sales revenue without reliance on post-launch monetization. The appeal of exclusivity for third-party publishers depends on balancing potential sales losses against increased revenue per unit sold.
As development budgets continue to rise, exclusivity remains a powerful economic tool for select games. Publishers must evaluate the number of potential sales lost versus increased revenue from remaining sales, considering the installed bases and demographics of various consoles.
Cheating Threats and Reporting Issues in XDefiant Beta
The beta version of Ubisoft's upcoming free-to-play shooter game XDefiant has already been negatively impacted by the presence of cheaters exploiting the multiplayer modes. A video shows a hacker effortlessly eliminating opponents using cheats, highlighting the need for an effective anti-cheat solution in the 6v6 arcade FPS game.
Since XDefiant is a PvP-focused game, it is not surprising that some players are seeking hacks and cheats to gain an unfair advantage. A video revealed a cheat that enables players to see outlines of opponents and shoot through walls. While this early discovery gives developers a chance to respond quickly before launch, it also raises concerns about Ubisoft's anti-cheat measures.
The presence of cheats not only compromises the game's integrity but also undermines players' trust and investment. Currently, XDefiant lacks a reporting system for players to report suspicious gameplay or cheaters. The lack of a kill cam further exacerbates the problem as players are uncertain about the legitimacy of their eliminations. This lack of feedback and reporting mechanisms creates a frustrating environment for players encountering cheaters and hampers the overall experience.
Yuga Labs Launches HV-MTL Forge: A Creative NFT Crafting Game
HV-MTL Forge, a creative and competitive crafting game for HV-MTL non-fungible token (NFT) holders, is launching its meta layer. Developed by Yuga Labs in partnership with MakeMaples, HV-MTL Forge is part of the Yacht Club universe and offers players the opportunity to customize their forges and compete for social glory.
In HV-MTL Forge, players are tasked with building and maintaining their forges while ensuring their HV characters remain happy and productive. Once players have created their forges and associated items, they can submit them for polling. If the community appreciates their creations, players can climb the social leaderboards and earn energy for in-game tasks.
Building a forge is the main objective in the metagame of HV-MTL Forge. Players can generate tiles and objects, customize their forge, and level it up. The higher the level of the forge, the more energy it can generate, allowing for the creation of more elaborate designs.
The social experience is a significant aspect of HV-MTL Forge, akin to a popularity contest in which players can compete. Players can cycle through RNG-based forges created by others and vote on their favorites. They have the ability to create their own forges, upvote or downvote other forges, search for specific types of forges, and view statistics related to the number of blocks and creations.
HV-MTL Forge is a token-gated experience exclusive to HV-MTL NFT holders. Non-holders can access a limited edition of the game but won't be able to enjoy all of its elements or use their creations in future activations.
Yuga Labs plans to release four or five games this year, with HV-MTL Forge anticipated to have a high participation rate among its NFT holders. The game's development, from its core concept to completion, was accomplished within a few months, demonstrating the team's efficiency and foresight.
‘Gollum’ Game Sinks to Infamy, Regarded as a Laughable Flop
Daedalic Entertainment's recent game The Lord of Rings: Gollum has received widespread criticism and is considered one of the worst games of the year by many players.
Players have criticized various flaws in the game like technical issues, lackluster gameplay, subpar graphics, and an overall lack of polish. The game's deficiencies have made it an object of ridicule and left players astonished and in disbelief.
The negative reception has had major consequences for Daedalic Entertainment. The studio has had to restructure operations and shift away from internal game development to focus more on publishing, sales, and marketing. This shows the need for the studio to reassess its strategies and rebuild its reputation in the industry after the critical failure of Gollum.
While Daedalic remains committed to improving Gollum through patches and updates, it's uncertain if these efforts will be able to salvage the game's reputation and satisfy players. The studio faces an uphill battle to restore trust and recover from the failure of its latest release.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3 & Metaverse News
Sony and Startale Labs Partner Up to Build Global Web3 Infrastructure
Sony Network Communications is partnering with Startale Labs to establish the infrastructure needed to support global Web3 adoption. Sony Network Communications' knowledge and experience in IT solutions will aid in this effort.
Startale Labs is a tech company focused on developing Web3 infrastructure to facilitate enterprise adoption and broader use of Web3.
The CEO of Startale Labs said they are honored to partner with Sony Group, which has great potential in the Web3 space. They look forward to collaborating on infrastructure and use cases.
The president of Sony Network Communications said they are excited to strengthen their partnership with Startale Labs, a company with advanced Web3 technologies. The capital partnership will merge Startale Labs' Web3 knowledge with Sony Network Communications' experience to facilitate global Web3 adoption and create new use cases.
Meta Launches VR Subscription Service Meta Quest+
Meta is launching Meta Quest+, a subscription service for owners of Meta Quest headsets. The service will allow users to access games across the Quest 2, Quest Pro, and upcoming Quest 3 headsets.
Meta Quest+ costs $8 per month or $60 per year. Like other subscription services, subscribers will receive a couple of free games to add to their library each month.
Meta says the service combines affordability and convenience by offering a curated selection of games.
While subscription services have been successful for PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass, there are concerns around Meta Quest+.
A UK regulator found that Game Pass hurts a game's sales for a year or more after it's added to the service, though Quest+ offers titles for only a month. There are also concerns about Meta raising the $8 price in the future, as Microsoft recently increased Game Pass prices.
Currently, the two free games each month are the only selling point for Quest+. For the service to compete with Game Pass and PS+, Meta will need to offer more value.
NEAR and Alibaba Cloud Team Up to Grow the Open Web
NEAR Foundation has announced a major partnership with Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba Group's technology and cloud computing division.
As part of the partnership, NEAR Foundation will collaborate with Alibaba Cloud to provide remote procedure call services and multi-chain data indexing for developers in the NEAR ecosystem. The companies will also work together on tools to help developers build decentralized apps more easily.
The CEO of NEAR Foundation said the partnership proves NEAR's technology can help remove restrictions for Web3 development and onboard Web2 users. They look forward to supporting Alibaba Cloud as it expands its Web3 offerings.
Alibaba Cloud infrastructure will power the NEAR Blockchain Operating System (BOS), a layer for discovering web experiences. BOS features like FastAuth will allow app developers to onboard users with just an email.
The head of international Web3 solutions at Alibaba Cloud said the partnership is important for supporting Web3 developers and validators in Asia. Alibaba Cloud's infrastructure in Asia will benefit the Web3 community-building applications for consumers.
NEAR Foundation and Alibaba Cloud will expand the partnership through collaborations at global Web3 events.
Inside the NFT Space
Azuki Elementals NFT Sells Out for $38 Million in Just 15 Minutes, Followed by a Post-Reveal Uproar
Chiru Labs' Azuki Elementals NFT drop was one of the hottest of recent times, selling 10,000 NFTs for $38 million in around 15 minutes. Though Elementals sold for 2 ETH ($3,800) at launch, with 10,000 also airdropped to Azuki holders, prices quickly fell after Chiru Labs revealed the similar anime-inspired Azuki Elemental art, which is broadly similar to the original Azuki collection.
Many holders and other NFT collectors have complained about the art, with some Elementals appearing nearly identical to Azukis except for small details. People have also called out odd imperfections like a wand with no handle.
While the drop was initially a success in terms of sellouts and funds raised, negative reactions to the artwork threaten to diminish the longer-term value of the Azuki Elementals NFTs. Prices on OpenSea fell as low as 1.6 ETH ($3,025), below the mint price of 2 ETH, shortly after the reveal.
DeGods Teases Roadmap via Cryptic ‘De[Labs]’ Website with Early Facebook Vibes
DeLabs, the company behind NFT projects DeGods and y00ts, has launched a cryptic website ahead of new content and feature releases in July.
Founder Rohun "Frank" Vora called the site "performance art" instead of a traditional roadmap. The launch has community members searching for clues about upcoming features and opportunities for NFT holders.
Hints suggest the introduction of female DeGod avatars in Season III, changes to the DUST token model, and a novel IP licensing approach that allows NFT holders to become official brand licensees.
In a Twitter Spaces Q&A, Frank spoke of his affinity for nostalgic branding, citing the early Facebook days when social media was about connecting with your network. He launched the teaser site in a similar style.
Lacoste Reveals Gamified, Tokenized Ecosystem for NFT Holders
French clothing brand Lacoste is expanding its Web3 program with the launch of a gamified, token-gated ecosystem to incentivize user participation and build community.
Last year, Lacoste released 11,212 crocodile-themed profile picture NFTs under its UNDW3 initiative. NFT holders gained access to limited-edition merchandise and events.
The new UNDW3 portal allows NFT holders to participate in brand activities like creative contests, video game quests, and discussions. Users earn points that increase their NFT's rarity, which Lacoste says increases value.
Lacoste's deputy CEO said blockchain accelerates an inclusive and experiential digital realm, inviting customers into the creative process by rewarding creators.
UNDW3 "missions" will unfold on Discord and Lacoste's website in monthly themed chapters over seasons. The top 200 most engaged users will receive rewards at the end of a season.
Contrasting with other luxury brands, Lacoste aims to bring thousands into its ecosystem through gamified experiences targeting mass appeal.
In Other NFT News…
- Dior Is Latest Luxury Brand to Embrace Tokenized Fashion—But Won't Say 'NFT’
- Sodexo Drops NFTs With a Twist: They’re for Employees, Not the Public
- Sotheby's to Launch On-Chain Generative Art Program Powered by Art Blocks Engine
- Steam Bans CS:GO Accounts With $2 Million Worth of Skins—Do NFTs Fix This?
- Trump NFTs Are Back—This Time, It's $50 Melania July 4 Collectibles
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Tether Signs Agreement With Country Of Georgia To Develop Bitcoin And Peer-To-Peer Infrastructure
Tether has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Georgia to position the country as a hub for peer-to-peer technology.
Paolo Ardoino, Tether's CTO, said the company aims to empower cities and facilitate Bitcoin adoption and peer-to-peer solutions.
The partnership will focus on creating an environment for decentralized solutions and tech startups.
Deputy Minister Irakli Nadareishvili highlighted Tether's plans to establish a fund for local startups to support blockchain technologies and attract tech companies to Georgia.
According to the press release, Tether and Georgia will also explore developing an independent communication and financial system.
To strengthen the distributed tech ecosystem, Tether and Georgia will work with local universities to develop educational programs and initiatives to equip students with skills for success in the Bitcoin industry.
Overall, the partnership seeks to foster innovation, promote Georgia as a leader in Bitcoin and peer-to-peer technologies, and attract companies and professionals to the country. Georgia aims to ignite economic growth in the space.
Coinbase Seeks Dismissal of SEC Suit, Claims Extraordinary Abuse of Process
In its ongoing legal battle with the SEC, Coinbase has filed a motion to dismiss the SEC's complaint.
In a legal document filed with a U.S. court, Coinbase raised concerns about the SEC overreaching its legal authority. The motion argues that even if the SEC's allegations are true, it does not have a valid legal claim.
The SEC lawsuit alleges that Coinbase facilitated unregulated trading of 12 digital tokens deemed securities. Coinbase contests this claim, arguing the SEC is applying securities laws in ways that deviate from existing frameworks.
The SEC defines securities as investment contracts, interpreted by the Supreme Court as transactions where individuals expect profits primarily from the efforts of others. The SEC named 12 tokens as securities, including Solana, Cardano, Polygon, The Sandbox, Flow, Internet Computer, Near, and Dash.
Coinbase's lawyers further argued that in 2021 the SEC declared Coinbase's registration statement effective, approving its shares being sold to investors ahead of its IPO. The approval followed months of review and discussions with Coinbase, allowing it to trade over 240 tokens, including six of the 12 now in dispute.
In his tweet, Coinbase's chief legal officer said the SEC's claims "go far beyond existing law" and should be dismissed. The motion to dismiss underscores Coinbase's aim to challenge the SEC lawsuit. The filing argues that even if the SEC's allegations are true, it lacks legal grounds.
European VCs and Tech Firms Sign Open Letter Warning Against Over-regulation of AI in Draft EU Laws
Major tech companies and investors in Europe have signed an open letter to the EU Commission warning that strict AI regulation could threaten Europe's ability to compete in AI and innovation.
Signatories include Siemens, Airbus, Blablacar, Criteo, venture capital firms, and startups. The letter says the draft AI Act proposals could jeopardize Europe's competitiveness and technological sovereignty without effectively tackling challenges.
The EU has spent two years drafting the AI Act proposals, but critics say it could make the EU the toughest jurisdiction in which to operate AI platforms.
The letter argues that regulating foundational AI models "regardless of use cases" could force companies to leave the EU to take advantage of new AI innovations, creating a "productivity gap" with the U.S.
Signatories call for a regulatory body of industry experts who can monitor how laws are applied and adapt to new technology.
MEP Dragoș Tudorague, involved in drafting the laws, criticized the letter, saying larger companies were lobbying on behalf of a few.
A spokesperson for the letter said innovative European companies are at risk and many European tech talents are leaving for U.S. companies to develop European technology.
The letter calls for the EU to take a "risk-based" approach rather than "rigid compliance," working with industry in an agile process that adapts to technological changes. It also prioritizes creating a transatlantic framework with the U.S. to establish a level playing field.
The signatories appeal to EU decision-makers to revise the AI Act for proportionate, forward-looking legislation that supports European competitiveness while protecting society. They argue Europe's future depends on becoming part of the AI technological avant-garde.
FTX Reportedly Seeking to Relaunch
The embattled cryptocurrency exchange FTX is reportedly planning to relaunch.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the new management at FTX has begun listening to proposals to restart the exchange.
FTX's collapse represented one of the largest financial crimes in history, with customers seeing their funds misused. However, amid its bankruptcy proceedings, it is now opting to restart operations.
There are a few scandals in crypto that match the magnitude of FTX. Once seen as a pillar of strength, the exchange was exposed as a massive fraud scheme.
According to the report, FTX CEO John J. Ray III confirmed the exchange is considering a reboot.
The team is discussing potential investment and restructuring options, including a potential joint venture. FTX would likely require a rebrand to be included in any relaunch.
FTX has been embroiled in complex bankruptcy proceedings. It would need to answer regulatory compliance questions and distance itself from the harm caused under Sam Bankman-Fried's leadership to have any chance of success with a relaunch.
While a change in leadership could help, FTX would still have difficulties escaping the shadow of its former CEO.
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