Critics have long discredited non-fungible tokens as overpriced JPEGs sold by people looking to make a quick buck. NFT believers want to prove them wrong and show that these certificates of digital art stored on the blockchain, a distributed, immutable database, have real use cases.
Their efforts often include integrating NFTs into applications that are already widely adopted. For example, Twitter now lets users authenticate their NFT profiles for a fee so others know they’re actually spending a fortune on their Bored Apes instead of right-clicking on a JPEG.
How about making someone’s NFT avatars talk? Kakao Investment, a subsidiary of South Korean messaging giant Kakao, recently poured $2 million into GoodGang Labs, which allows users to interact through animated avatars and soon NFTs, like this one:
South Korean companies always seem to have a knack for how the new generation likes to interact in the virtual world. Naver, another internet conglomerate from the country and owner of the popular messenger Line, introduced the metaverse platform Zepeto in 2018. The app has since attracted tens of millions of young people around the world to design virtual experiences and trade digital items.
In fact, Naver and Naver Z, the subsidiary of the former that runs Zepeto, have both invested in Singapore-based GoodGang in previously undisclosed financings.
The support from two of Asia’s largest social networking companies shows that GoodGang may be doing something useful. Video calling via avatars with motion tracking is not a particularly new idea. A San Francisco startup called Hologram Labs raised money last year from investors including Mike Shinoda to build a plugin for Zoom and Google Meet so users can appear as their NFT alter egos.
But GoodGang’s strategy is slightly different. The startup takes a two-pronged approach. First, it runs its own communication platform called Kiki Town, where users can interact as avatars, which may be intellectual property of other platforms, such as Line Next and Zepeto.
Kiki Town animates the avatars by letting the AI model infer data coming through the users’ webcams and microphones. It only transmits motion and voice – rather than video data – an approach, according to GoodGang’s co-founder Dookyung Ahn, “preserves valuable network resources, but also improves privacy by reducing the exposure of personal visual information.”
This method allows Kiki Town to use up to 1,000 times less data, especially when it comes to high-resolution 4K videos, Ahn told MinRegion.
The startup also powers other communication platforms with these features via a SaaS API. This offering could appeal to social apps that want to attract Gen-Z users but don’t necessarily have the willingness or ability to build a new team dedicated to avatar animation.
GoodGang will soon allow users to interact via NFTs on a new platform called GoodHouse, which supports 2D and 3D assets from multiple blockchains.
The startup was founded by veterans of Facebook, Line, and augmented reality startup Seerslab. Existing investors include Kimgisa Lab and Planetarium.