Asad J. Malik is an AR artist who spent a lot time making work for the HoloLens on the film festival circuit, and then started a AR Hologram company named Jadu creating volumetric captures of celebrities and musicians using the high-end Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio at Metastage. He was losing some of his enthusiasm after doing 30-40 hologram projects and navigating egos the bureaucratic dynamics of working with musicians, and then he started experimenting with cryptocurrencies and NFTs. He was also searching for alternative business models beyond advertising or high-end, holograms as a service, and had aspirations for creating a world-scale, AR game and product that allowed him to experiment more with tapping into the affordances of AR beyond passively watching volumetric performances from famous people.
On September 16th, Jadu released 1,111 jetpack NFT wearables that earned them over $400,000 in initial sales and over $450,000 in secondary market commissions over the first couple of months with their 5% commission rate. On December 12th, Jadu released 6,666 NFT Hoverboards earning over $4.3 million dollars. These NFT wearables will be used within the context of their AR application that will allow users to connect one of the supported 3D NFT avatar collections, and then puppeteer these avatars from a third-person POV in an AR app as they fly around on their jetpacks and hoverboards. They’re aiming to create an entire “Mirrorverse” game and platform with a scavenger hunt of geocached NFTs that are easier to find and discover if you already own a jetpack or hoverboard.
Jadu was able to leverage the success of their jetpacks to raise a seed round of venture capital being announced today [Update: here’s Jadu’s announcement of a $7M seed round] to more fully make the pivot into exploring the “web3” potentials of shared ownership and decentralized finance that go beyond the existing web 2.0 business models. I share some of Malik’s optimism in the long-term potential of web3 to create new models of economic exchange while also simultaneously agreeing with some critics of the web3 branding as well as some of the larger ecological concerns around Proof of Work. Ada Rose Cannon is the co-chair of the W3C Immersive Web Groups, and I agree with aspects of her incisive criticism about the web3 branding when she says, “I get so pissed off every time I see Web 3.0, NFT assholes have co-opted the branding of the Web to imply so many untrue things about their cryptoshit tech and set themselves up as the successor to the Web platform all in a single move.”
Malik concurs that there are plenty of fair criticisms in this sentiment as the web3 term is often completely disconnected from the infrastructure aspirations of the W3C and the current open web. There’s still lots of gaps for how web3 would replace the existing web2 world wide web, which results in many hyperbolic statements that are still largely aspirational. Jadu’s application won’t be using any WebXR technologies, and will be focused on creating their Mirrorverse within the context of a 2D native phone application starting on iOS. So I am unclear as to what exactly web3 means just as the larger crypto and XR community has been overusing the buzz word of the “metaverse” to describe a wide range of 3D virtual world projects to 2D *.jpg NFT collections. Malik feels that web3 still describes the aspirations and intentions for what Jadu is aiming to create with their Mirrorverse in terms of creating an ecosystem of shared ownership where there’s 95% of the value being exchanged and owned by the community maintains while Jadu takes a 5% cut. This is a vast shift from the existing value exchange on the existing web that’s fueled by a lot of surveillance capitalism and advertising.
I’m sympathetic to the need and desire to experiment with new models that move beyond surveillance capitalism, and as Joseph Poon told me at the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 that it is hard to learn about new models of value exchange when looking at playing poker games with fake money. Because it’s difficult to simulate how the incentive structures will pragmatically play out in reality, then crypto projects have to “do it live” in order to really find out how people exchange value with each other. Is this is what is happening with NFTs? Or are they all just scams or multi-level marketing, pyramid schemes?
I suspect that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle where there are plenty of grifters and scams that you need to look out for, but there’s also plenty of earnest artists and companies experimenting with new models of decentralized economic exchange in the spirit of moving towards more equitable models platform cooperativism and decentralized autonomous organizations. Will Proof of Stake approaches address some of the the ecological concerns? Or is this the type of centralization scope creep of decentralized finance that Malik says that Bitcoin maximalists have been warning about?
If Jadu moves towards creating a DAO, then it won’t be making decisions about the lore, mythology, and underlying game mechanics of their Mirrorverse. Some of their challenges will be to find out to balance the new user experience of folks who don’t own one of their NFT wearables that start at a floor of 3.7 Ethereum (~$13645.74) for one of the 1,111 Jetpacks or a floor of 0.45 Etherum ($1659.62) for one of the 6,666 Hoverboards. They want to create a dynamic where one of the owners of their NFTs will gain some advantages within their game world and platform, but not to the degree that will alienate new users who don’t own any jetpacks or hoverboards.
Malik acknowledges the dynamics of compounding gains for crypto early adopters, and strives to find ways to create a compelling experience for users beyond their core early adopters and whales who are buying and selling their NFTs to create a recurring revenue stream that allows them to build out their independently driven AR platform. In order to compete with the AR platforms of Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok, then it may turn out that jetpack and hoverboard NFTs will end up bootstrapping more grassroots innovation, shared ownership, and the gamification of AR by Jadu. Or we may be in a giant NFT bubble that bursts at any moment. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see where Jadu takes the future of their Mirrorverse and what type of interoperability they implement for how other avatars could use their object-oriented wearables across other cryptocurrency-based metaverse platforms like Decentraland, Somnium Space, Cryptovoxels, or The Sandbox.
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