Digital identity in the future looks very different to how we understand it right now. And that change will be driven not by privacy regulations, or the death of the cookie, but by the rise of the Internet of Things (IOT).
The idea of one or two personal devices giving us access to individual consumers will disappear, to be replaced with a range of potential devices – from mobile to voice-activated speakers to connected TV to fridges.
Across those devices a range of different digital identities will exist – some individual (like now), some family/household, some work/B2B, and some more generic.
It’s a paradigm shift – and it’s why the idea the cookie is crumbling as the web shuts down consumer tracking, isn’t actually that big a deal. The medium-to-long term view of how we deliver and measure marketing in an increasingly automated and digital world looks very different, whatever happens to cookie based targeting right now.
Binge-watching of online video is on the rise amongst Singaporeans, who spend on average two hours, 35 minutes watching videos in each sitting according to the State of Online Video 2019 report.
In addition to time spent, Singaporeans are also consuming more online video services. The report revealed that a majority 64 per cent of Singaporeans subscribe to at least one streaming service, and nearly three in four Singaporeans (72 per cent) now use dedicated streaming devices such as Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV.
Globally, people who watch online video spend an average of six hours, 48 minutes per week watching various types of content. Average viewing time is has grown 59 percent since 2016.
Figure 1: How many total hours of video content do you watch online each week (by year)?
Viewers in the US watch the most online video each week at an average of eight hours, 33 minutes, followed closely by viewers in India. Singapore sees the third highest volume of online video viewing.
Figure 2: How many total hours of video content do you watch online each week (by country)?
Latency, or delays in streaming, remains a critical point of frustration for viewers. The report found that more than half of Singaporeans are more likely to watch live sports online if the stream was not delayed from the broadcast. This is because traditional streams are generally delayed by 30 seconds or more from the broadcast feed, and with the rise in social media usage, every second of delay can potentially ruin the game when online viewers learn about big plays from social media before seeing the action online.
Digitalization of Asia’s commerce brings choice to consumers and opportunity to businesses. It also provides the region’s societies with a path to greater economic growth and prosperity. Better government and business support of the digital economy is needed though, to fully reap these benefits. Greater public and private sector collaborations are also key to unlocking digitalization’s full potential.
While it can appear that the surge of digitalization in Asia – driven by better digital infrastructure, deepening internet and mobile penetration, and rapidly increasing discretionary incomes – is already successfully driving market growth and development, there is tremendous untapped potential ahead. According to Bain & Company, the digital economy contributes just 7 per cent of GDP in ASEAN and 16 per cent in China (as compared to 35 per cent in the US) and stronger digital foundations could contribute an additional $1 trillion to the GDP of ASEAN alone.
To open new markets, the millions who are still excluded from digital marketplaces – particularly the elderly and the poor – must be addressed. Factors such as lack of access to the internet and training and education have left millions unable to participate in this digital market revolution.
Further, according to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by Mastercard, the digital age divide and the digital income divide have meant that the societal gains from today’s digitalization have already been unequal. In each of the region’s economies, a greater share of those under the age of 35 has used the internet to make an online purchase or bill payment than those over 55. There’s a similarly wide gulf between the rich and poor.
Differences in regulations and the level of digital infrastructure across the region compound the issue and hinder Asia’s ability to fully reap the benefits of the digital economy.
To successfully include all of Asia’s populations in the digital marketplace, it is imperative that people have the ability to acquire the necessary technological and financial skills, and governments ramp up investment and infrastructure.
However, this can’t be left to the region’s governments alone. For one, many governments don’t have the financial resources to allocate adequately to digitalization. Two, several simply don’t have the bandwidth to look beyond other more basic problems.
This provides an opportunity for the private sector to step up and fill the void. Whether through partnering with regulators and policymakers to shape the regulatory agenda around what is still a relatively nascent industry, investing in people and businesses so they can leverage digitalisation, or helping bring digital infrastructure and services to those left behind, the private sector must play a more active role.
At Mastercard, we are partnering with fintechs as they take digitalization to the remotest parts of Asia’s economy, resulting in both digital and financial inclusion. Through our global accelerator programme Start Path Global, we support start-ups by providing mentoring, giving them access to our global ecosystem and helping them break into new markets with the help of our relationships and customer base.
We’ve also recognized the need for greater public-private collaboration. For example, in September last year, Mastercard’s Track, a global trade platform, was integrated with Singapore’s Networked Trade Platform in an initiative led by Singapore Customs and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore. This digital trade platform facilitates secure and efficient electronic transactions and payment reconciliation between buyers and suppliers, greatly streamlining and simplifying B2B transactions to facilitate more inter-regional trade.
While there is no one template for these partnerships, a number of similar ways can be found for companies to work closely with policymakers in offering digital solutions and enhancing digital skills. Governments, for their part, can also further support Asia’s digitalization by harmonizing regional regulations with the aim of supporting the creation of seamless, interoperable platforms with uniform governance across countries.
Ultimately, only a rising tide of collective regional effort that includes a combination of greater cross-border collaboration and increased financial and digital inclusion will unlock the full potential of Asia’s digitalization. It will also help create a digital economy that benefits all.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in digital technology across APAC over the past 10 years?
There is greater customer demand for first-rate user experiences compared to a decade ago. Brands have to evolve their strategies to keep up with the customer, providing seamless interactions and a consistent experience across a wide range of platforms. This is resulting in marketers shifting their focus from the transaction to the experience, where the customer and their lifetime engagement with the brand are at the centre of every marketing strategy.
From a technological viewpoint, this customer-centric focus requires marketers to bring together the vast number of digital solutions used to optimize the customer journey over the last few years into a more manageable stack. It is also leading to an increased focus on granular first-party data to help understand the customer and their needs through detailed profiles. Where brands may once have acted on instinct, or what they felt was right, they now use data to ensure they are making the best decisions.
How has regulation such as GDPR impacted businesses in APAC and their ability to manage and use consumer data?
GDPR covers any organization that handles the data of EU citizens — and in today’s global economy, this means it impacts most companies; including those in APAC. Yet attitudes towards the regulation remain mixed. On the one hand, there is an appreciation that complying with the new rules brings many advantages: by giving individuals power over data and more visibility into usage, the GDPR can reduce privacy concerns, increase trust, and build lasting customer relationships. But on the other, following legislation that goes beyond regional law is difficult. Ahead of enforcement, more than half of firms in Singapore weren’t ready and one month later, only a quarter of Japanese companies had met fundamental rules.
Businesses must keep working towards compliance and recognize that the GDPR doesn’t necessarily require a total internal overhaul – a common misconception. Companies will often find they can make existing systems adherent by connecting them, instead of replacing them.
What can businesses do to better leverage the explosion of customer data we’ve seen as a result of the digital age?
In short, it means putting the data created by greater connectivity into action. As adoption of smartphones, tablets and wearable technology has grown — with 8.6 billion devices set to be in use across Asia by 2020 — the quantity of data produced by consumers has exploded. So, brands now have a larger pool of transactional, demographic, and behavioural information to draw upon than ever. But before they can harness this data as a basis for tailoring customer experiences, companies need to translate it into cohesive and usable insight. And this is no simple task; in fact, 34% of marketers state that the difficulty of unifying data sources is the greatest barrier to better understanding customer journeys.
The evolution from brands talking about DMPs to CDPs as their primary consumer data tool has been very apparent over the past few years in marketing. What’s the difference between these platforms from your perspective?
The answer to this lies in the history of both tools. DMPs were originally designed to gather information about online activity, categorize it and build audience segments, which then fed into other systems such as DSPs. As the complexity of consumer journeys increased, DMPs tried to meet the need for a persistent view of individuals. But because they were only able to store third-party cookies, it was difficult to effectively resolve the many identifiers created by different channels and devices. And this is where CDPs come in. CDPs can collate, synchronize, and activate data from varied sources: generating one centralized store of insight marketers can use to understand and trace individuals across touchpoints. This results in the capability to take consistent and relevant action in real time across an organization’s entire tech stack from a universal data foundation.
This isn’t, however, to say CDPs supersede DMPs; the two can be effective when used in partnership. For example, a CDP can give marketers a ‘single source of truth’ and a complete picture of customer journeys. This insight can then be shared with DMPs to produce better audience segments that ultimately boost ad targeting precision and results.
What can brands do to get closer to the holy grail of a true 360-degree view of their customers in real time?
If brands want to obtain a real-time 360-degree customer view, they must ensure data is well orchestrated. And this means following several core stages that aim to continuously harmonize data. To start, customer interaction data must be collected from every possible source — such as apps, sites, and stores — combined into a single layer, standardized, and cleansed. Simultaneously, this information should also be stitched and enriched; with smart tools used to assess incoming data and transform it into individual profiles that are linked with data from particular devices, once owners are identified.
Because all of this is done in real time, the end product is a complete up-to-date customer profile. Exactly the insight marketers need to understand customers and deliver engaging experiences across channels. Though it’s worth noting that to accommodate ever-evolving individual preferences and habits, they must also check that their orchestration platform integrates with other systems and constantly ingests new data.
How are AI and machine learning changing the way brands engage with their customers?
AI and subsets such as machine learning are already beginning to broaden the horizons of customer interaction by adding new channels to the mix. The best-known examples of this are chatbots — used to provide instant 24/7 services by major brands from Starbucks to MasterCard — and the growing presence of digital tools in physical stores. As recently seenwith the Guess and AlibabaFashionAIstore, which trialled blending real shopping and a range of intelligent tech; facial recognition, smart touchscreen mirrors, RFID-tagged items.
But it’s also important to highlight the applications that are making a sizeable difference to customer experience behind the scenes. Machine learning, in particular, is fuelling advances in data processing; giving brands the means to collect and analyze customer information at scale, and extract valuable insight. This in turn, means data can be quickly harnessed toimprove interactions by enhancing contextual relevance and personal resonance. So long as marketers are taking adequate measures to keep quality and accuracy high, including avoiding bias among the human teams driving AI and data fragmentation.
What are the biggest challenges you see with brands getting to grips with big data in APAC?
One of the most significant challenges is providing communications that keep pace with omnichannel activity. According to a Google study, the majority of APAC consumers prefer to research online and buy in store; with 70% doing so while browsing real shelves. But activity varies by market; Australia and Japan, for example, have large numbers of digital shoppers – especially Japan, where e-commerce revenue is currently more than $80 million.
So, there is no room for archetypes; marketers need all-inclusive insight into the behaviour of specific target audiences. Only by identifying which devices, shopping environments, and ad types work best for individuals can they provide personalized experiences that flow as part of a seamless cross-channel conversation. And that necessitates agile integrated tech, which can be problematic in certain markets that have historically relied on legacy systems. Despite its forward-looking approach to mobile, Japan still tends to use CRM databases that don’t necessarily have the capacity to work with other systems and therefore can’t share data easily.
Finally, how can brands intelligently pull all their data together to build a better, more personalised and more holistic customer experience for 2019 and beyond?
The role intelligent data plays in customer experience will continue to grow as more brands recognize the value of building communications around individuals. Forrester research has shown brands focused on customer experience achieve an annual growth rate of 23% and twice as much return on ad spend — and data is an integral element of this.
But to get every interaction right, brands mustn’t overlook the basics. Constructing a strong foundation of compliant, accurate, objective and perfectly orchestrated data is critical for communications to make a positive impact.
Digital transformation is expected to have the single biggest impact on Malaysia’s economy in the near future, contributing at least 20% to the country’s GDP by 2020. But what does this mean for Malaysia’s telecom industry – and its consumers?
Thanks to the government’s sustained investment in telecommunications infrastructure over the last 20 years, Malaysians are now more connected than ever – through social media networks, mobile and other digital services – with broadband penetration approaching 90%, according to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). The telecommunications industry has been the biggest beneficiary of this investment. Today, Axiata Group, Malaysia’s largest telecommunications company, has over 350 million subscribers across multiple Asian countries.
On the other hand, growth in connectivity has also spurred an increase in cyber attacks. While Malaysia ranks 3rd in the 2017 Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI), a Microsoftsurvey estimates that economic costs to the Malaysian economy due to cyber attacks can reach as high as US$12.2 billion.
A common target for cyber-criminals is the Domain Name System (DNS)– a first line of protection for a company’s network. Businesses that are targeted face the prospects of lost revenue as well as reputational damage due to breaches of customer trust. The consequences are perhaps most damaging for the telecom industry; EfficientIP’s 2018 DNS Threat Reportfound that the telecom industry had the most sensitive customer information stolen across all sectors from DNS attacks, with nearly a third of companies in Asia-Pacific becoming victims of data theft.
Following DNS attacks, Malaysian political party websites went down on the day of last year’s general election. In response, Malaysia’s National Cyber Security Agency (NACSA) issued an advisory to all government and private organizations that improving their network security is critically important in safeguarding the continued growth of the digital economy. At around the same time, the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation partnered with the Axiata Group to develop greater capabilities for Malaysia’s cybersecurity industry.
While EfficientIP’s reportfound that the rate of DNS attacks is steadily on the rise, the news isn’t all bleak – many telecom companies already monitor and analyze DNS traffic in real time to detect data exfiltration attempts. Businesses can further improve their cybersecurity capabilities by adopting simple measures such as optimizing IT infrastructures with high-performance DNS servers and decentralizing the DNS architecture. These measures build resiliency to withstand attacks and more often than not, also improve the user experience.
At this critical juncture point in Malaysia’s development, the telecom industry has a critical role to play in ensuring the continuity and success of the nation’s digital transformation. The challenges being faced are high and the stakes are even higher – but such challenges can be overcome and safeguarded with a holistic approach to cybersecurity, starting with DNS.
The start of 2019 sees digital facing a bright future. Not only are consumers optimistic about smart technology — with 73% in China anticipating a positive impact — but the advertising industry is also flourishing. Digital spend in Asia Pacific hit $70 billion in 2018, and by 2022 that figure will reach $110 billion: over half of the total ad market.
So, what does this mean for 2019?
According to industry leaders, the popularity of automation will see programmatic become the norm, while mobile retains its advertising crown and TV becomes increasingly entwined with digital. At the same time, marketers will also start to realise that effectively mastering artificial intelligence (AI) takes more than simply tech know-how.
Let’s explore the key trends:
Rashmi Paul, Commercial Director, Asia Pacific at FreeWheel
“While the adoption of automation has been slower in South East Asia than in other regions, advertisers – in their quest for qualified and measurable audiences – are making it the driver of change in 2019 and beyond. We’ll see less media buying through a site-list or a programme-list only, but a deeper commitment to automated content, not just in standard display and video advertising, but in other areas such as outdoor media.
“With people in the region owning two to three mobiles each on average, the mobile app market will continue to grow in 2019, thanks in part to the popularity of gaming and social media. But we will also see an increase in the OTT market, which hasn’t taken off in APAC up until now – both in app, and through the TV. This will be helped by improving internet strength, making it easier to watch content on the move.”
“One of the best things about pioneers is that they blaze a trail for others to follow. China, for example, has so far led the mobile market: aggressively investing in m-commerce apps and testing new features. It is also thebiggest driver of global digital advertising spend in Asia Pacific. But due to the groundwork put in by China, there is now a booming mobile economy and programmatic advertising scene for its neighbours to leverage.
“In 2019, we can expect an influx of new players in automated mobile advertising and app development. And these market entrants will have many advantages. In addition to gaining insight from this mobile advertising evolution – such as the formats that drive high engagement, like interactive ads, and those that inspire use of blockers, like interstitials, they will have an understanding of what works well in their region. This might include offering lower app prices in particular areas and the option to pay via carrier billing. The time is coming for new innovators who have watched mobile advances from the sidelines to put their knowledge into action.”
Satoru Yamauchi, Director of Partner Services, OpenX
“Video already dominates Japan’s digital advertising landscape, with spend set to top $200 million this year. Moving into the new year, video will command even more advertising dollars especially on mobile, where consumers are increasingly spending more of their time. The number of smartphone video viewers will grow to nearly 40 million in 2019 and advertisers looking to reach these audiences will need to build campaigns with a mobile specific user experience in mind. Formats that interrupt user activity or delay content access are likely to irritate consumers and fuel negative brand associations. This is especially true in the mobile context, where large ads block content on small screens, slow down load times and eat into data allowances. To ensure a positive user experience, advertisers should harness engaging ads that give consumers a choice about how much they wish to interact with brands, such as opt-in video, which provides a genuine value exchange between advertisers and consumers.”
“With a growing emphasis on connected devices, and the subsequent explosion of data, in 2019, there will be even more demand on companies to manage an increasing amount of insights. While in 2018, businesses were keen to harness artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, they didn’t necessarily fully understand it enough to utilise it to its full potential. In 2019 we will see a greater focus on the quality of datasets behind the algorithms – which fuel tools such as these – and businesses will look to build a strong data foundation before jumping on the latest tech bandwagon. We think a mantra of ‘go boldly, tread lightly’ will be particularly relevant to many companies. They will need to put in place the tools to effectively collate, manage, and enrich data insights – and be able to connect disparate data silos, such as ecommerce, call centre, and legacy back-end systems to create a 360-degree view of each customer.
“In addition to this, we will see changes to roles within the workforce to better understand technologies such as AI and to cope with the increased focus on data as the basis for business decisions. Already, the World Economic Forum suggests the leading job roles over the next five years will include data analysts and scientists and there will be a focus on training new talent. There is evidence of this taking force with Asia’s investment in education and the digital economy, which will ensure employees are better equipped to manage emerging technologies like AI.”
With industry innovators poised to drive market diversity, efficiency, and expansion across Asia Pacific, the outlook for 2019 looks promising. Existing forces such as mobile and video will gain greater strength, and emerging developments in connected TV will bridge the gap between online and offline. As long as quality remains the foundation of progress — covering user experience and data — digital advertising will continue to offer equal value for all.
56% of Singaporean businesses believe their IT environments are more or significantly more complex than two years ago.
95% of employees are using non-business approved applications to get work done.
42% of Singaporean businesses report using over 100 cloud and on-premise business applications.
93% of Singaporean businesses believe that their organization is missing out on the full benefits of analytics due to the complex and disperse nature of their data and applications.
86% of Singaporean businesses are already adopting cloud technology, higher than the regional average
85% of Singaporean businesses are concerned that they would not be able to respond to a data breach required by law (such as GDPR). Of those concerned, the top reasons include:
48% due to data located in different systems and applications
37% due to time concerns
34% due to a drain on resources
Overlapping systems, applications, and new and old infrastructure cost time, money, and affects innovation. The rise in complexity felt by Singapore’s organizations is holding back digital transformation efforts and restricting cloud adoption.
Full studies below.
The State of IT Complexity in Asia-Pacific and Japan [PDF]
This past summer, Japan made a legislative manoeuvre that went surprisingly under the radar, particularly given a bright spotlight on the country’s innovations ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The country legalized casino gaming, with the first resorts expected in the mid-‘20s and a whole new genre of entertainment suddenly open for business.
Those who keep close tabs on Japanese politics likely weren’t surprised by the move, as it had actually been approved by the body known as the House of Councillors some months previously. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had also voiced support for the process of legalizing casino gaming both as a means of improving tourism beyond the Tokyo area (which does just fine on its own) and with the aim of stimulating the national economy. Anyone familiar with casino resort tourism around the world undoubtedly recognizes that this is a legitimate goal. Existing casino resort hubs around East and Southeast Asia already do quite well on this front, with Macau reporting 21.9 billion patacas in revenue in the month of September alone (roughly $2.7 billion, for reference). And that’s in a year of recovery following a slight downturn in Macau casino business.
What will be interesting to see is whether or not Japan’s new foray into casino entertainment extends to the digital realm. We don’t know yet exactly how all-encompassing the gambling legislation will be, but it appears that online casino growth will be encouraged, or at least welcomed. And here, we’d be talking about a far bigger business than many people who don’t engage directly with it may imagine. Most are aware that there are massive poker tournaments online, and that slot machines can be played in arcade form. However, there are also other table games in digital form, such as roulette, blackjack, and baccarat, that have become very popular at gaming sites. There are brand new sites emerging for bingo as well, not to mention betting platforms that are closely tied to online casinos. The point is, we’re not merely talking about a few poker sites, but rather a whole industry of real money gaming.
This is an industry that ropes in billions and billions of dollars on an annual basis, and whether Japan simply welcomes existing gaming platforms or spawns the design of new ones, it will seemingly be a new contributor in this market. It’s a massive boost in digital entertainment, and possibly a massive business opportunity as well.
Below we’ve collected a series of takeaway resources covering the key digital trends in Vietnam.
Mobile Ecosystem Report Vietnam 2017/18
Vietnam mobile ecosystem and digital sizing report from Group M and the MMA.
Digital in Vietnam 2018
Key data covering the Vietnam digital landscape.
Digital Marketing Agency & Marketer Landscape in Vietnam
Vietnam digital marketing overview from an advertiser and agency perspective.
Vietnam Digital Landscape 2017
Detailed overview of digital stats and consumer internet data in the Vietnam market.
Vietnam Digital Trends 2017
Trends to watch out for across the Vietnamese consumer internet.
Vietnam ICO & Blockchain Market
Overview of the emerging blockchain and ICO scene in Vietnam.
Vietnam Today – The Digital Economy
In depth report looking at the future digital transformation of Vietnam.
PWC Vietnam Spotlight
Deep dive into Vietnam as an investment opportunity and information technology driven market.
Vietnam Esports Market Report 2018
Insight into the growth of Esports in Vietnam..
In terms of other resources, check out Vietcetera for wider coverage of Vietnam, Tech In Asia for tech news, or Geektime and ICTNews for tech news… if you speak Vietnamese. Finally, you can find out all the practical information you need to know about the start-up scene in Vietnam at this Google Doc.
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.
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.
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.