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#77 - Making its way through the cracks

Image description: A green plant grows through cracks in concrete. Photo by Artem Shuba on Unsplash.

(Photo by Artem Shuba on Unsplash.)

I hope everyone enjoyed looking at cat pics last week.

While the trial of That Guy™ maintains its grip on crypto news, some other stories are starting to slip through the cracks. Here are a few short segments to tide you over.

The next chapter in the quest

The Quest 3, the upcoming headset from Facebook and Horizon Worlds parent company Meta, will be a big step up from its predecessor. It sports faster hardware and a move into mixed reality (as opposed to just virtual reality), all at a fraction of the price of Apple’s Vision Pro. But are you ready to drop $500 to preorder the device without first trying it out?

I can’t get you a test-drive but David Pierce, Editor-at-Large at The Verge, has the next best thing: he got his hands on a Quest 3 and wrote up a thorough review. He covers everything from fit, to weight, to battery life, to audio. And he does this in comparison to the Quest 2, in case you already have that device and you’re on the fence about an upgrade.

Beyond the technical specs, Pierce hits on the big issue: what is there to actually do with this thing?

So here’s the real question, I think. Is the Meta Quest 3 a very good VR headset? Or is it, as Meta would have you believe, the first in a new line of a new kind of device?

I’ve used the Quest 3 enough to convince me that mixed reality could be awesome. It probably will be, eventually, once these devices are lighter and more socially acceptable and there’s a whole lot more MR content available for them. But that’s probably a ways off. For now, the Quest 3 is just a very good VR headset.

This goes back to something I said a while back: most people don’t care about the underlying technology. They want a device because it enables them to do something exciting, fun, or useful.

I expect the Quest 3 – just like the Vision Pro – will see an early sales bump due to preorders and the standard It’s A New Shiny Thing excitement. But the true test will be the app ecosystems that develop around these goggles and how well they align with what consumers like to do.

Crypto gaming reflects

In-game currency has been standard fare for more than twenty years now. Slay some dragons, earn pixelated gold coins, trade those for a new sword or shield. Crypto gaming adds the twist of enabling players to convert in-game tokens to outside-of-the-game, exchange-for-everyday-goods-and-services fiat currency.

The plus side? Play-to-earn games have been a lifeline for people living in unstable economies. The minus sides? Play-to-earn kind of fizzled in the wake of Crypto Winter; the field has attracted its share of scams and speculation; and the ongoing trial of That Guy is giving crypto unwanted spotlight.

Crypto gaming is taking a moment to reflect.

Some companies are staying the course, but leaning hard into the “web3” term in lieu of “crypto.” (Sound familiar? We saw this a few months ago, when Starbucks sidestepped “NFT” to call its new loyalty tokens “Journey Stamps.”) According to WSJ reporter Jon Sendreu, others are being more creative:

[Game studio Hundreds & Thousands] favors “a Trojan-horse approach” in which owning crypto assets is an inconspicuous feature within games that are actually fun to play. Other developers agree, hoping that AAA studios will return to the sector as the new possibilities enabled by Web3 slowly gain acceptance.

They are on to something: The boom in microtransactions in mainstream titles such as Epic Games’ Fortnite shows that owning a Darth Vader suit or flashy virtual gun has real utility for players. What remains unproven is whether crypto can enable such gains without creating yet more Ponzi schemes.

Focusing on, y’know, making games fun? Imagine that.

New infrastructure meets old infrastructure

Infrastructure is a fun business model:

  1. You find some Hot New Thing that’s growing in popularity.
  2. You make it easier for people to use and build on.
  3. Profit.

If you don’t believe that last step, just ask the major cloud providers how they’ve fared powering wave after wave of e-commerce, mobile apps, data analysis, and AI. Better yet, ask their customers, who will complain about their monthly bills while continuing to use the service because, hey, it still beats managing all of that tech in-house.

The infrastructure play works because every cloud computing provider has learned that people do not want to deal with the behind-the-scenes plumbing; they want to get straight to the Hot New Thing. And that leaves plenty of room for companies to offer the web3 equivalent of picks and shovels.

Immutable is one such example. Back in February I mentioned that they’re a combination web3 gaming studio and gaming platform. More recently, Immutable has inked a deal with OG cloud provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) wherein the two will bring each other customers: AWS will send game studios to Immutable, and Immutable will help these studios run on the AWS infrastructure.

The benefit to the game studios? By going through Immutable, they’ll have access to special assistance from AWS. There’s also the potential for $100k in AWS credits through the AWS Activate program. That should quell complaints about that monthly bill. At least for a while.

A different Worldcoin voice

For a short while there, eyeball-scanning web3 startup Worldcoin had a recurring spot in Block & Mortar. (See newsletters #68, #69, #70, and #71. Had I known at the time that would happen, I would have given the segment a name.) Those newsletters covered everything from the public’s concerns about biometric data collection, to regulators asking Worldcoin to halt operations, to CEO Alex Blania dropping in on podcasts to explain that Everything Is Fine, Just Fine™.

Now Tiago Sada, head of product for Worldcoin’s parent company Tools for Humanity, is taking his turn on the interview circuit. He sat down with Coindesk’s Margaux Nijkerk to discuss his role in the company, how he was initially a crypto skeptic, and how he approaches some of the criticism Worldcoin has faced in the last few months.

I’d encourage you to read the interview. No spoilers, but I found it interesting to compare Sada’s approach to Blania’s.

This strikes a discord

You may recognize the name Discord from your (or your kids’) video gaming adventures. It’s also popular with the web3 set, and is pretty much mandatory for anyone running a DAO or releasing an NFT collection.

Hence why, in the latest round of “you have to meet people where they are,” luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton finds itself joining Discord.

A Vogue Business piece notes that Discord can be a culture shock for the more polished, buttoned-up brands. It reminds me of the early days of social media, when companies stumbled through their share of "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?" moments before finally hiring someone from the younger set to manage the Twitter account.

The linked article also notes that Louis Vuitton is fairly late in joining Discord. I wonder: did they choose to play watch-and-learn as other fashion brands took to the platform? Maybe they have bigger plans and this timing was deliberate? It may be a while before we know for sure.

The wrap-up

This was an issue of Block & Mortar.

Who’s behind Block & Mortar? I'm Q McCallum. I've spent the past two decades in the emerging-tech space. And I'm very interested in web3 use cases.

Credit where it's due. Big thanks to Shane Glynn for reviewing early drafts. Any mistakes that remain are mine.

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