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This gaming startup tries to show ‘AI + crypto’ is not a fad

This gaming startup tries to show 'AI + crypto' is not a fad

This gaming startup tries to show ‘AI + crypto’ is not a fad

Before the world became fixated on artificial intelligence, thanks to generative AI’s advances, cryptocurrency was the darling of many investors. So when some venture capital firms started swiftly switching their focus between AI and crypto, the industry’s onlookers scorned their opportunism. Meanwhile, a wave of entrepreneurs emerged as fervent advocates for the convergence of AI and crypto. Vitalik Buterin, the core founder of the Ethereum blockchain network, posted an article last month musing on the four possible applications of “AI + crypto,” sparking enthusiasm among his Twitter followers. The use cases have yet to be proven at scale.

A startup based out of Singapore is trying to show that the combination of AI and crypto isn’t just a fad. Ultiverse, which purports to be an “AI-powered” platform for crypto game production and publishing, has secured support from some reputable investors. It recently raised $4 million in a strategic funding round led by IDG Capital, a venture capital firm known for its investment in Chinese tech titans Tencent, Baidu and Xiaomi, as well as crypto upstarts Coinbase and Circle, among others.

Other investors that participated in the round include Animoca Brands, Polygon Ventures, MorningStar Ventures, Taiko, ZetaChain, Manta Network, DWF Venture and Jacob KO. The fresh investment boosted Ultiverse’s valuation to $150 million.

Exactly how is Ultiverse using AI in its crypto-verse? In an interview with TechCrunch, the company’s co-founder Jimmy Liu, who previously ran his family’s private equity firm, suggested that AI can be used to “accelerate production and user adoption.”

Rather than building AI models from scratch, Ultiverse is using existing large language models, such as GPT-4, Llama and Stable Diffusion, to train its in-game non-player characters so each player will have a different experience depending on their interaction with the NPCs. Players can also create their own AI agents to act on their behalf.

“This sort of production process in the past may take days or even weeks. We needed more than one person committed to doing that. But now, with AI integration, we have reduced the time and cost to produce the same amount of content as before,” said Liu.

Adapting AI in the game design process may not be the startup’s ultimate competitive advantage. After all, other studios can handily make use of LLMs the same way it does. There are ample examples of how gaming firms have been embracing generative AI in making art assets, building level segments and even devising game models for other developers.

Then there’s the perennial debate surrounding crypto games, which revolves around the question of whether they truly generate tangible value for the industry by enabling user ownership and liquidity of assets, or if they primarily exist to profit from players like a jackpot. Overall, the industry’s reputation has been marred by “play-to-earn” titles like Axie Infinity that have been compared to pyramid schemes.

So far, Ultiverse has published three games, including a mobile cricket game with 200,000 unique active wallet addresses, most of which are from India and Pakistan where the sport is immensely popular. The startup has 7.3 million registered users across all its games as of December, with monthly active users averaging 830,000.

Using an increasingly common crypto wallet feature called “account abstraction,” which removes much of the technical intricacies of self-custodial wallets, the cricket game managed to attract mostly non-crypto users who didn’t previously own a wallet, according to Liu.

“It’s pretty much seamless until they need to withdraw the reward after a certain time when they notice that, okay, this isn’t just a game,” said the founder. “That approach helps us grow and convert those, what we call web2 gamers who never experimented with web3 at all before, to be part of our ecosystem.”

“Ultiverse stands as an AI-powered, one-stop solution for web3 gaming production and publishing, poised to revolutionize the industry,” said an IDG Capital spokesperson in a rosy statement. The firm has also invested in other major crypto projects including Ripple, ImToken and KuCoin. “This investment signifies our belief in their potential to not only lead but also transform the way games are developed and experienced globally.”

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