Ethereum, Cats and Infinite Extensibility on the Blockchain

Last December, a new game became an overnight mega-trend in the blockchain world. CryptoKitties allowed users to buy, own, and trade unique collectible cartoon cats on the blockchain. Around the time of launch, CryptoKitties was so successful that it slowed the Ethereum network.

This is a big deal, as the Ethereum blockchain is, without a doubt, the most active smart contract platform in existence. Of the top 100 tokens by market cap, 94% are built on top of Ethereum. Of the top 800 tokens, 87% are built on Ethereum. Most of these tokens are ERC20 tokens, which made possible the majority of the $5.5 billion raised through ICOs in 2017 and the $6.5 billion raised in token sales during just the first quarter of this year.

The driving principle behind the creation of CryptoKitties was to demonstrate the potential of Ethereum and the blockchain ecosystem for trading and securing digital assets. In the white paper, the founders discuss the narrow focus of most blockchain projects on payments. Ultimately, they hoped CryptoKitties would help people expand their vision of what a blockchain could do.

A few weeks back Digital in Asia met with Benny Giang, the founder of CryptoKitties, to talk Ethereum, cats and art on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: So Benny, where did the inspiration for CryptoKitties come from? How did it start?

Benny: We love cats, and we know it’s a fact that the internet and cats is just married, right? Basically any new internet technology always starts with cats.

We also thought that blockchain seemed pretty interesting, but we wanted to make it more accessible. We saw so many ICOs happening, and we loved the variety. Some were solving really big interesting problems, like world hunger level. But there were some that were just … I don’t even know what they were doing. It’s just getting DJ Khaled to hype up their ICOs! It felt like what was missing was the education and accessibility piece. So we had the idea of putting cats on the blockchain to drive our education and accessibility agenda.

This turned our attention to a couple of existing crypto collectibles like CryptoPunks and Spells of Genesis. These were the first to use the ERC20 token standard from Ethereum, and then create a collectible on the blockchain. But the limitation with the existing collectibles was that they were only an image. We wanted to take it to the next level. So we started exploring the game play, and we arrived on this interesting idea of allowing people to breed their kitties on the blockchain.

We then spent a month on genetic simulations, trying to figure out how deep we could go and how we could evolve the idea. We established a 256 bit genome. That results in about 4 billion variations of kitties. In terms of human genetics, that’s nothing, it’s very controllable. But in game play, 4 billion potential kitties is quite a lot of variations. It was more of an experiment, playing around, and that was the initial genesis of CryptoKitties.

Digital in Asia: Where did you get started with blockchain? Because it seems as if you were already very familiar with the technology. CryptoKitties was more about doing something in blockchain, as opposed to doing CryptoKitties.

Benny: It started in the spring of 2017. I began reading more, specifically on Ethereum. Most of our team, except a couple of members, were already involved in blockchain, the Bitcoin side. They mined Bitcoin, they bought them, they sold them from way back.

From a more typical internet technology perspective, a lot of the product teams and my background was around building B2B Enterprise SaaS Software. I was interested in the concept of the world computer, and creating a decentralised app store to build real utility. That’s really fascinating, and the whole decentralised aspect really caught my attention.

But I love the quote: “Any disruptive technology starts off as a toy”. And in there I saw the opportunity to bring the educational piece forward, in a way that people could learn, but also have fun.

Digital in Asia: Crypto can be complicated. How long did you think it would take people to get their heads around digital wallets, Gas price and all the other complexities of blockchain, and Ethereum specifically.

Benny: In the first week about 80,000 people signed up. These are new users we had never interacted with, and probably don’t even know what a digital wallet is. So that was already a huge factor. 80,000 new people were so attracted to this game that they were willing to jump through all these hoops.

My biggest goals always involve optimizing the experience for the end user. That’s all I care about, that’s all our team cares about. But in blockchain, and Cryptokitties, we’re still pretty far away from having it where you click on the button and everything just works.

Are people scared of Gas and all these things? I would say they are. Sometimes Gas price goes up and they don’t understand why, but that’s kind of our role, and part of why we created the game. Right now we’re building a whole new onboarding process that will help educate: “Hey this is what Gas is, this is why we need it, this is why it keeps fluctuating.” So people will understand.

Digital in Asia: Why did you decide to build on the Ethereum blockchain? There are alternative blockchains out there like Neo, and as we’ve seen with Gas price increases, and congestion, it’s not always an easy environment.

Benny: It was a timing thing and also more of a mission alignment thing. We met some of the Ethereum team last year and saw that these people really do have the builder mentality, they’re very product focused and development focused. Looking at other blockchains there is potential scalability, but in terms of full production readiness, with thousands of dApps already built on top of it, and battle tested, I would say there is only one at this point.

There are some blockchains being talked about in terms of being Ethereum killers, and that may be true, but let’s see when they get full production ready. Practically, if we were to consider these other chains then we wouldn’t have launched CryptoKitties when we did, as we would’ve waited six more months. It was more of we need to do it now, and we need to ship the product because the timing was right, it was when ICOs were popping like crazy. But as you know we didn’t do an ICO. We actually did the reverse ICO where we built the product, and we sold people kitties!

Digital in Asia: Where is CryptoKitties going? What are your future plans?

Benny: We’re going to work towards deepening the user experience. That means more game play features and expanding to new ways of thinking about the platform. It’s very interesting the three areas we play in. One is crypto, the other one is gaming and the final area is art. We were invited to the Rare Art Festival New York, and we asked a bunch of people to basically talk about this new contemporary art form which is digital collectibles. And some people laughed, definitely.

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What’s interesting to me is these Kitties will live for thousands of years. What we have done is basically made history. No matter if we are alive, or the company is alive, these kitties will live. We have this concept of infinite extensibility which is related to the kitties as art form.

Digital in Asia: This is an interesting area. What do you mean by infinite extensibility?

Benny: You buy a painting, let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s pretty old. You just keep it, and you just look at it, right? And as it ages with time, it just deteriorates. But with the digital collectibles as an art form, as time passes, more functionalities can be added. Right now all you can do is buy and sell and breed. But what if you could walk it, what if this kitty could be a real kitty in your mind. So it’s like an art piece that you can continually interact with as time progresses.

Digital in Asia: It’s apparent you’re not actually a blockchain business, you’re a gaming or collectibles business. Blockchain is just the technology you’re building your business on, in the same way that the internet is the technology that Uber or Amazon build their business on. But we don’t – for the most part – talk about that any more. Every business built on the blockchain right now is called a blockchain business, and this is just about the early stage nature of the space really. What other projects do you feel are good enough to transcend blockchain, and become real businesses?

Benny: The whole blockchain gaming and collectibles category is going to be huge this year. In regards to ICOs, there are a few products I find interesting. They’re more related to AI blockchain, and the convergence of the two. But I don’t actively get involved with many ICOs because the space is almost too hot right now. I would rather hang around the people who are developers or product people, who focus on the end view. There is so much work to do on protocols, all these different things. If we want more businesses to transcend blockchain, we need better and more secure blockchain platforms.

Digital in Asia: Okay. On that, are there any ways in which Ethereum limits you?

Benny: Limitations? We really support the Ethereum ecosystem. We have a team of six that are focused on long term scaling of Ethereum, talking to other chains, working with side chains, trying to find the right solutions. Introducing Casper, or at least the MVP of Casper, will be a big milestone for Ethereum this year. If they pull it off without doing a super hard fork, and the community comes to a consensus, they’re going to be way ahead of other people. Because again, they really have the masses, they just need to move the masses to the next level.

Digital in Asia: Do you think there is a danger that they won’t successfully deliver, or build consensus around, sharding or proof-of-stake? We don’t want Ethereum Classic 2.

Benny: No, No, No. Nobody wants that. Ethereum is below 600 dollars right now, which is low compared to a few months back. When CryptoKitties started it was at 400 dollars. So it’s back to a level of normality for us. It’s good for everybody to calm down, and come together around common goals, because we need to think long term. We all know the market was bound for a correction, and while that’s sad because I own Ethereum, it’s good as it lowers costs to build and operate on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: What plans do you have around mobile? Any sort of AR functionality? People think it would be cool to see your kitties.

Benny: We have launched a mobile version of CryptoKitties in Asia. There are Chinese focused collectibles, and we’re looking at Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. China feels a bit difficult to get into, but we’ll see.

Considering new features like AR as a blockchain gaming company who really believes in the philosophy of decentralisation is tricky. If you walk your cat, should that be on a blockchain? When you have a kitty for a thousand years, we think that entire history – including any AR excursions – should be logged. But that’s not easy, and we can’t handle all of the transactions yet. But we are brainstorming a bunch of these new gaming features because that will help keep the experience interesting.

Digital in Asia: Thanks for your time Benny. This has been an interesting conversation. Any final words of advice?

Benny: Blockchain is only just getting started. Thanks again.

Asia’s Top 1000 Brands – Movers and Shakers

Campaign Asia has just released it’s annual Top 1000 brands survey, covering the biggest brands with Asian consumers, the brands that have risen and fallen furthest in the top 100 in the last year, plus the top 10 smartphone and social-media brands in Asia. It’s a great overview of the digital marketing landscape in APAC.

Biggest Movers in the Top 100

Biggest mover in the top 100 was Uniqlo, with other fashion retail brands, including Lazada, H&M and Zara, also having strong years.

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Top Social Media Brands

Congratulations to Facebook, still the clear leader in social media, and subsidiary brand Instagram also having a strong year, moving into the top 100.

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Top Smartphone Brands

Apple is Asia’s top smartphone brand, with Samsung in second spot. There were strong years for Huawei and Oppo, with big launches and large marketing budgets driving growth in brand perception.

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Asia’s top 5 car, airline, luxury, cosmetic, online retail, banking, beer, soft drinks, fast food and ice cream brands can be found in the slideshow below, and more info at Campaign Asia.

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SEA Digital Ad Spend to grow 13% in 2018

Digital ad spend in South East Asia is set to grow 13% in 2018, accounting for 21% of total regional media budget. That’s up from just 13% of regional ad budgets in 2015.

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Growth will then slow to 5% YOY by 2020 as the market matures and digital hits a 25% share of total ad budgets in South East Asia.

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Grab the spend data for yourself on the Digital in Asia public Google Sheets below:

Data to Drive the Next Era for Media Businesses

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Paula Minardi, Head of Content Strategy, Ooyala

A recent State of the Media Industry 2018 report from Ooyala confirmed data as one of the key driver for businesses and media organisations in the year ahead, with data-driven video top-of-mind for many marketers.

From consumer engagement and privacy to technological advances, content strategies and monetisation, data in its various forms is everywhere and companies are challenged with harnessing and analysing it smartly for greater returns.

Here are some of the top trends driving media companies:

  1. Mobile and Social – What Consumers Want

Audiences today expect video to be on mobile. According to Ooyala’s Q4 2017 video index, mobile’s share of video plays in Asia-Pacific surpassed 60% and the medium had the most share of plays amongst other devices in the region.

It is thus unsurprising that companies have evolved their digital strategies according to consumers’ media consumption habits. In the UK, The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab has experimented with elements like offline mobile news content for commuters to improve mobile news delivery.

Social media video continues to grow, driving media companies to lean more on social to promote and enhance their content, and grow their audiences. Content, strategic partnerships, innovation and branding are key to their growth in the future.

  1. Data and AI for Greater Efficiency

For greater content production and publishing efficiencies, media organisations are looking at deep data, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The BBC, for example, has turned to technology to help personalise content across India.

The focus on more granular applications of asset metadata has also led companies to AI capabilities. Modern data-driven media platforms connect and streamline content supply chains to help media companies search their content archives for video, audio or text files with facial recognition, language translation, visual text identification, and more.

  1. Immersion with AR and VR

With mobile devices getting more ubiquitous and advancements in 5G connectivity, we’re looking towards a future of more immersive video content, thanks to continuous progress developing virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and augmented reality (AR) technology.

A study confirmed that VR increases viewer engagement with journalism, particularly with larger-scale experiences. And VR360 ads were found to perform better than traditional ads, with advanced platforms supporting VR360 playback for VOD and live.

Interest for AR is rising within the wider industry. Consider The New York Times’ integration of AR into its stories, including features published during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Data at the centre

As media companies strive to be innovative in monetising content and diversifying revenue streams, it is data that will increase their chances for success and lead them into the next era of media.

The Inside Line: The Death of Agencies

What with the yo-yoing of WPP, profit warnings, and Sir Martin Sorrell’s career, all in the shadow of the rise of the management consultants, you may be just as captivated by the current mayhem in the advertising agency and marketing industry as we are.

But we’re not sure that agencies are as dead as some people think they are…

We’ve tried to get a handle on it all from a ‘big picture’ perspective in this short episode of The Inside Line with Nick Fawbert from Mutiny Consulting.

Is it really an instalment of The Walking Dead? What do you reckon?

2018 is “The Year of App” for World Cup marketing

From 14 June to 15 July, almost half of the world’s population will divert its attention to the 32 hopefuls fighting it out for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

In the periphery, marketers will engage in a battle of their own, with brands scrambling to ride the hype and global reach of the tournament to push effective campaigns.

While the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was marked by social media, the upcoming tournament in Russia is set to be the World Cup of Mobile. Internet penetration has grown from 42% to 55% since the last tournament, and mobile now makes up 73% of total internet consumption.

Tentpole sporting events are particularly suited to mobile app targeting, as sports fans are typically never far from their mobile devices, and a large portion of content related to the tournament will be consumed on a mobile device.

Live streaming has grown massively over recent years, to the extent that the 2018 Winter Olympics was live streamed by twice the people compared to 2014. In addition, 30% of fans stream sporting events on their mobile devices because it allows them to watch games and events “on their own terms”. Second screening in live sports is also huge – 80% of viewers use their mobile devices to search for player stats and to replay videos of key plays.

Beyond live streaming, several other mobile app categories see uplifts during major sporting events:

A new App Annie reports covers everything brands and agencies need to know about mobile marketing during World Cup 2018.

The App Marketer’s Guide to the World Cup [White Paper]

Sales increase for 51% of online retailers in SEA and Taiwan over past year

Fashion is the biggest ecommerce category, while payment methods and delivery issues are the biggest concerns for online retailers and marketers in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, according to a new report from Econsultancy and Shopee exploring challenges and opportunities in ecommerce across the region.

The results revealed that 51% of online retailers and 41% of marketers saw their online sales rise, but for 28% of online retailers and 29% of marketers, online sales remained the same relative to the past year.

Fashion and accessories was the most popular category on online marketplaces, with 23% of online retailers and 16% of marketers active in it. Health and beauty was the second most popular category, with 17% of online retailers and 15% of marketers offering choices in it.

The survey also revealed that marketers in Vietnam (11%) were the most active in the computers, camera and mobile phones category, edging out Singapore (10%) and Taiwan (10%).

While around a third of online retailers (32%) and marketers (33%) indicated that they did not sell internationally and had no plans to, the ecommerce market in the region is poised to grow with 54% of online retailers and 39% of marketers planning to offer their wares and services to other countries.

Full report available for download here.

Lack of data in creativity leading cause of wasted digital ad spend

Data is a hot topic right now, with the upcoming impact of GDPR top of mind for marketers in the region right now, but according to the latest white paper from IAB Singapore, poor data application in the creative process is leading to a significant wastage in digital ad spend.

As the region’s digital ad spend grows, consumer data has become a massive by-product for brands, but lack of training in digital and data related skills is a key barrier to campaign success.

Research by Adobe Digital Insights reveals that gaps exist in the applications of data-led creativity in digital campaigns for Asia Pacific. 65% of 18 to 34-year-olds prefer ads based on their interests, with a third of the same demographic believing advertisers can do better in personalisation.

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Much of this can be attributed to brands appointing multiple agencies that end up working in silos focusing on distinct and individual KPIs. The lack of digital collaboration ultimately results in wasted advertising dollars.

“The challenge in tailoring digital campaigns lies in recognising where data originates and how they influence creative briefs to develop highly relevant and engaging content. Especially in Southeast Asia, where programmatic is only beginning to take off, brands must be quick to pick up on key learnings, ensuring advertising budget drives toward achieving business bottom lines,” said Miranda Dimopoulos, CEO & Ambassador to SEA, IAB Singapore.

To encourage a data-driven approach, it is imperative on brands to leverage a Creative Communications Process framework across the entire campaign development process.

“As data-driven marketing becomes the new normal, it is important to advocate data-inspired creativity among marketers, agencies and brand owners. Using the Creative Communications Process framework, digital campaigns can be readily optimised with insights from the data signals around us, to develop engaging and impactful creative platforms and campaign ideas,” said Deepika Nikhilender, Senior Vice President, Xaxis Asia Pacific.

Creativity Inspired by Data accounts for current industry needs, with contribution by senior representatives from BBH, Twitter, Digimind, Xaxis, Wavemaker and Unruly.

To get a copy of the Creativity Inspired by Data white paper, click here.

Mobile to account for 62% of India digital ad spend by 2021

AppsFlyer has just released it’s “State of App Marketing in India” report, offering insights into India’s mobile marketing landscape, the latest trends and how to navigate India’s mobile ecosystem.

India is the world’s fastest growing mobile market, faster than even China, with the country now accounting for 10 percent of global smartphone shipments, according to IDC. Indian consumers have a relatively high in-app buying rate compared to the global average, especially in shopping apps.

India’s mobile ad spend is predicted to have double-digit growth over the next few years, meaning mobile will account for just under 62% of digital ad spending’s $2.80 billion in 2021.

India’s App Economy [Infographic]

AppsFlyer India App Economy Infographic
The report looked at three broad categories of shopping, travel and entertainment apps, and also revealed other key findings:

  • India ranks sixth globally in terms of number of minutes spent on apps per day.
  • There was a 200% increase in the average number of installs per app when comparing January 2017 to January 2018
  • India suffers from a high uninstall rate due to limited storage space in the Android dominated market. Close to one third (32 percent) of installed apps are deleted within 30 days. Retention is also a challenge with only about 5% of users active 30 days after installing an app.
  • India is increasingly attractive to non-Indian apps, especially Chinese ones. More Chinese apps are now in the top 200 compared to Indian apps. The share of non-Indian apps in the categories of shopping and travel grew by 84 percent and 45 percent respectively. In contrast, the share of Indian-based apps has risen year on year in the entertainment category.

The State of App Marketing in India report analyzed data from different time frames throughout 2017, with a sample of 1 billion plus app installs, 4 billion app opens, and $400 million generated from in-app revenue.

The full report can be accessed here.

 

Myanmar Digital Trends 2018

Myanmar is going through a digital transformation. AdsMy, a local marketing tech platform, have produced a trends deck covering digital marketing and consumer behaviour for Myanmar in 2018. Programmatic, mobile, video, native and digital advertising are all highlighted as growth areas.

Myanmar is extremely hot with VC investment right now, built on the amazing speed of consumer growth in mobile and app usage.

Digital, Tech, Marketing & Start-Ups in Asia

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