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Jadu is announcing that it will launch thousands of avatars built on non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as it prepares for the augmented reality metaverse.
At the end of August, the Los Angeles company plans to sell 11,111 avatars, or AVAs, that can be uniquely owned thanks to authentication via the blockchain, said Asad J. Malik, CEO of Jadu, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The NFT sale is part of a larger ambition to create a real-world AR gaming experience and ecosystem with a continuous narrative that keeps players coming back to a place that blends animations and physical reality in a kind of mixed reality storytelling.
Jadu has raised a lot of money to date — $45 million to date, including a $36 million round led by Bain Capital Crypto — and it has also sold a variety of AR items in the past such as virtual hoverboards and jetbacks. The new avatars will be able to use those items to maneuver through the gaming world.
The 3D playable avatars are called Jadu AVAs, and they will be the center of the gameplay. In the story, the avatars are robots that have crash-landed on Earth through a mysterious portal from another world. Each AVA belongs to one of 5 types Blink, Rukus, Disc, Yve & Aura.
In the minting of the NFTs, partners will provide collections. Those partners include FLUFs, Meebits, VOIDs, Chibi Apes, CyberKongz and CryptoWalkers. Such partners have helped the company gather momentum for its AR items in the past.
In the past, the company partnered with Elton John to auction a one-of-a-kind Rocket Man Jadu Hoverboard NFT for 75 ETH (Ethereum’s cryptocurrency), the largest NFT hoverboard sale yet, with all proceeds donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF). It also partnered with seven-time Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton; Grimes; Snoop Dogg; visual artist, Mimi Onuoha and NFT curator, Trippy on its NFT hoverboards.
Malik said the company will use the proceeds of the NFT sale later this month to create the AVA Community Treasury, which will use the funds on behalf of the community.
The avatars are designed to work with augmented reality, as they were built for AR. The game will have various chapters in a story. Avatars will be able to perform parkour maneuvers. And so little by little the company will launch its ecosystem.
“The community element is really key,” Malik said. “It’s like treating our members and our players as citizens.”
About $5 million may come in from the NFT avatar sale, and the company will use that to set up a community treasury, where the community will be able to talk about how to spend the resources. Rather than focus on a game with millions of people, the company is focused now on getting 10,000 or 20,000 hardcore players at the outset.
Malik immigrated to the U.S. at age 18 for college, and he debuted an AR project at the Tribeca Film Festival and founded Jadu about seven years ago. Malik’s mission is to reverse the trend of digital experiences dismantling our connection to the physical world.
The company has a full team of people in Pakistan (they’re paid in U.S. dollars and so are faring well despite instability in that country) working on blockchain tech. Jadu has also hired some people who have been laid off at other tech companies in the current downturn. The company has about 50 people.
“We’re attracting people who want to build proper AR gameplay,” Malik said. “The core type of AR we’re doing is focused on gameplay. AR has always been a first-person medium where you play with things. What we’re doing is making it into a third-person game. So instead of you being the player, you have an avatar and see that avatar in your room and you control it with an onscreen joystick.”
He added, “And avatar goes and does all interactions on your behalf. The avatar can ride a hoverboard and ride a jet pack and do a wall flip. A lot of the forms of AR we are building are focused on the avatar going through different interactions. And our first step on this is really launching a bunch of gameplay ourselves so we’re currently building season one of our world.”
Early on, Malik did work on AR experiences for film festivals and some of its work is being taught in AR and hologram courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. It released a project for Magic Leap in 2019 and built holograms for musicians.
“We were playing with AR storytelling,” said Malik.
And now it is building an AR gaming platform. Over the past 2.5 years, the team founded Jadu with the intent of bringing a richer form of AR tech and narrative storytelling to gaming on mobile.
“Over the last year, we pivoted to Web 3,” he said. “We released our own collection of jetpacks in AR and then we released these hoverboards that worked in AR. Nothing ever made sense. When we started to see NFTshappen, we thought this was a new way of capturing value.”
As NFTs started to take off last year, the company began to focus on AR gaming in the Web3 space. Players will be able to play in AR as their own 3D avatars. Jadu raised about $5 million through NFT sales and it also saw about $30 million in secondary trading for its jump bikes and hoverboards.
“We’ve been working on this over the last six months or so,” Malik said. “We have a lot of resources behind this.”
Prepared for tough times
I asked if the company had run into resistance to its NFT sales. Malik said he agreed with the criticisms of NFT companies that haven’t behaved well, launching poor quality items or engaging in scammy behavior.
“I completely agree with the gamer community’s critique of NFTs,” he said. “We are not a traditional gaming company. We are fundamentally an AR company and our mission is always to bring new forms of AR to the people in ways that are very experiential and immersive. We are about building forms of AR that haven’t existed before.”
As for the crypto winter, Malik said the company has runway for the next three years or so. That gives the company comfort in knowing it has time to develop its products right and wait for players to embrace the AR multiplayer market.
For the most part, the target audience for the company is people who are already part of the crypto and NFT ecosystem. They’re familiar with crypto wallets and are early adopters of technology.
“We are going to hit an inflection point where this is going to feel really good, it’s going to feel ready for a larger mainstream audience. And we will transition over to them at that time,” Malik said.
In the next 30 days, the company will roll out tools that players can use to make proposals for others to vote upon and such. And once the NFT avatars are released, the company will launch new chapters of its stories for players.
Malik said he hopes the movement to create interoperable NFTs and an open metaverse will progress, and so the company’s own avatars might be usable across more platforms and applications. But that may be more distant in the future for now.
“In theory, that’s what we are aiming for as well,” he said. “At the same time, I want to say that it does not have a huge priority. It is something we are ideologically aligned with. But if another virtual world has 600 users, we’re not going to spend our time building assets for that world right now.”
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