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Aglet has built a healthy community of 3.5 million active users for its “sneakerverse,” a metaverse-like online world for “sneakerheads.” This makes it one of the most popular blockchain games of all time.

Aglet is a sneaker world that is the brainchild of the startup Onlife and its CEO Ryan Mullins. And it started out with a foundation in the Web2 world and it has expanded into Web3 by selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) which use the blockchain to authenticate unique digital items. In this case, Aglet is getting people excited about virtual sneakers, in part because it is so hard to get cool sneakers in real life.

Aglet is one more example of the coming metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

“When we announced our NFTs, it just exploded,” Mullins said. “We were the No. 1 app in Japan for two weeks. We had 3% of the Ukraine population playing Aglet. And so it’s pretty wild. And then South Korea kind of popped off. So we’re now at 3.5 million monthly active players. It’s been a pretty incredible two months.”

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Ryan Mullins is CEO of Onlife, maker of Aglet.

Onlife’s Aglet game lets people buy virtual sneakers or gets them to go walking in order to earn points to earn the virtual sneakers. It’s aimed at “sneakerheads,” or sneaker fans who often have trouble getting fashionable shoes at “sneaker drop” events. Akin to Pokemon Go, Aglet combines virtual worlds and physical reality, as well as both virtual and real goods. Rather than walking around to catch Pokemon, you walk around to get a chance to own some rare virtual sneakers.

“We’ve seen a good counter narrative to the doom and gloom,” said Mullins. “I honestly think, I think a lot of a lot of the growth probably came off the back of our ‘move to earn’ and our ‘walk to earn’ categories. That started to explode a little bit.”

While there is a lot of doomsday talk around the crash of the cryptocurrency market, Mullins said that Aglet its thriving. Aglet started as a game, building a community up over two years, which gave the team the chance to observe consumer behavior, and arbitrage behavior, then introduce the NFT platform, and introduce a token based on the actual economy and behavior they had actually seen.

“We always had NFTs as something we wanted to do, but we’ve wanted to be very patient with it,” Mullins said.

The company will do its own token toward the end of the year.

“What we first wanted to do was build out an actual experience that’s fun and retains players,” he said. “And based on the data and the learnings from that, then we would be able to introduce some kind of an NFT that has like utility within an experience. It’s interesting how it’s evolved.”

A lot of the NFT frauds and Ponzi scams that gave the sector a bad name made Onlife take a very different direction.

Many other NFT companies are releasing products with utility that ultimately amount to nothing at all.

“We though about the product market fit,” Mullins said. “That was the magical property every investor wanted to know. Do you have product market fit? And then a lot of those in the Web3 space, I never hear this concept anymore. Nobody talks about product market fit.”

Aglet’s iOS app.

But the hybrid approach of combining Web2 and Web3, as well as combining virtual and physical reality, has served the company well. Aglet used NFTs to create one-of-a-kind virtual sneaker collectibles. Now Agelet is a kind of case study on how to use NFTs to boost an existing business.

“We’re excited about the growth that we hit,” said Mullins.

Before the NFT launch, the company had around 700,000 monthly active users.

Most of the active users before the NFT launch were not crypto natives or even crypto curious. they were more skeptical, so the company had to make it easy to get a first NFT to bring them along for the ride. The company worked with Immutable X on its NFTs. That helped because they could then do purchases in fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar or just a credit card. That way, the purchases weren’t limited by the number of crypto wallets.

While Aglet launched a while ago, Onlife waited until May 5 to release its NFTs. Since that launch, player sessions increased by 200% per user, treasure stash and map engagement increased 250% per user, and player to player referral increased by 80 times.

The company has done a dozen drops of NFTs, with price ranges from $50 to $250. Most of them sell out immediately. Part of the art is making sure that there are enough items to maximize sales but not so many that they don’t sell out, Mullins said. A secondary market has become active, and app sessions times have increased.

“We want to keep the sweet spot. We don’t want this to be a pure lame money grab. We want it to be accessible. We want people to play it, not just to get an NFT but just because the game is fun and NFTs might be part of the experience as a collectible,” Mullins said. “We want to keep it that way. I think that’s the problem a lot of these other games have. You’re playing it just because you want to make money.”

In-app purchases have also increased by 80 times since Aglet launched its NFT drops. Aglet hit No. 1 as a mobile app in places such as Japan and Ukraine, with players citing both mental and physical benefits of walking as part of the gameplay.

Aglet recently unveiled the exclusive Aglet One sneakers to its ever-growing community of fans. Players who purchase the physical (IRL) shoes can look forward to receiving a specially minted NFT to mark the release.

“Based on our NFT announcement last week, we’ve seen tremendous growth in new players in Asia and Europe. Aglet originally started as Sneakercrypt, but elected to focus less on crypto assets and more on building an experience that would retain and keep players,” said Mullins. “It’s more important that the experience and game are fun and people want to keep playing. Once you’ve got a solid community you can integrate NFTs based on those learnings. Now we have a global audience, we are starting to be able to deliver on the promise of building a playable map of reality which integrates Web3 to create our unique take on the future of commerce, culture and collection.”

Mullins cofounded Onlife with Owen Batt, chief technology officer in 2019. Aglet raised $4.5 million in December 2020. And while it didn’t disclose the size of its most recent round, the company said it has raised $24 million to date. The company’s ultimate mission is to power a more creative and playful world by harmonizing online and physical lives.

This creates a metaverse experience that augments the average user’s daily life through the concept of play on a map of the world. Aglet allows users to explore, collect, and create, while also empowering them to build, trade, and grow together.One of the key discoveries the team made was the enthusiasm that people have for some kind of fitness activity that is woven into the game, Mullins said.

Onlife designed its own shoe, the Aglet One.

“This is a free to play game where you don’t have to buy NFTs if you don’t want to,” Mullins said. “I think we were a little bit more affordable, and more accessible to a lot of people who maybe didn’t have as much money to spend. It’s hard to know how much more we could have made like if crypto winter didn’t happen. But it does seem like a lot of the players that came in were coming in because our rivals were too expensive to play.”

Mullins understands people will laugh about the sneakerverse and that everybody is calling their new app a metaverse. But he noted how much miscommunication happened in the dotcom craze of the 1990s before the shakeout happened from the overhype and eventually real companies grew huge. He said there is overhype, but the metaverse will be bigger in the next five years as a result of all of the efforts.

He also doesn’t think the game industry’s virtual worlds should have a monopoly on the definition of the metaverse, as it represents “a much bigger opportunity than everyone is saying and it isn’t just limited to virtual worlds.”

Sneakerheads rarely land their desired products in real life, owing to malicious shopping bots that scalpers use and the overall increased global demand for what ultimately is a limited product. Aglet has created a gamified alternative that offers these passionate consumers a chance to earn in-game currency, compete against other players around the world, and collect virtual sneakers in a game environment. Like with Pokémon Go, you walk around with the app running while you have your shoes on. And it records how much you’ve traveled in your shoes.

You can walk around in your virtual sneakers, but they can wear out. So you’re going to need buy more with your virtual cash. Your sneakers can get dirty, so you have to go to a geo-fenced station in the real world to clean or repair them. You can also find treasure stashes where you might get lucky and find a limited-edition sneaker. You can also get goods from other brands like Adidas or Gucci.

Aglet is trying to create products at the intersection of gaming, fashion, software, and media. In doing so, the company wants to change how people interact with brands in both the virtual and physical worlds.

The company made a physical sneaker that sold out in a matter of seconds, and that built up demand for the digital sneaker in the game.

The recently launched special collection with actual NFTs as rewards returned Aglet to its roots. Three years ago the company, then just an idea and some early prototypes, was called “Sneakercrypt” and sought to put virtual sneakers on the blockchain. However, Aglet elected to focus less on NFTs and more on an experience in which NFTs, digital assets, and new commerce and creation experiences can achieve utility. In a statement, Mullins said it’s very cool to see the NFT space explode, and he is thrilled to be an active participant in something quite new and still in its infancy.

Aglet lets you find virtual sneakers at locations you can walk to.
Aglet lets you find virtual sneakers at locations you can walk to.

Players will compete to find virtual sneakers placed at geo-fenced real-world locations using the in-game Aglet map as well as in the Aglet shop using in-game currency earned solely through walking.

They will have to explore their outside world and use Aglet’s in-app metaverse to complete a special collection of three in-game sneakers. The first 50 players to complete this set will receive a serialized, minted NFT for each of the three sneakers they collected. The NFT will be delivered to the crypto wallet of their choice. The first player to complete the collection will also get an additional one-of-one sneaker NFT.

Aglet has gone with a “proof of hustle” model, where people can earn assets through physical activity.

New partnerships are coming for the NFTs. The company has added avatars for people to express themselves, and Onlife is getting ready to launch virtual apparel as well.

“It’s making us think of the capabilities and features around spatial commerce,” or the metaverse, he said. “We make sure that it connects to the core behaviors that have already emerged in the game.”

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