Power

Here’s why SoftBank just invested in the metaverse

SoftBank's Opportunity Fund just invested in a metaverse startup called DNABLOCK. The investment marks SoftBank's official entrance into the metaverse.

DNABLOCK founders and investors avatars

SoftBank's Opportunity Fund led an investment in metaverse startup DNABLOCK.

Image: DNABLOCK

SoftBank has officially entered the metaverse with its latest investment. DNABLOCK, a 3D creation platform for virtual avatars, virtual worlds and other digital content, just announced a $1.2 million seed round from SoftBank's Opportunity Fund, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Linkin Park member Mike Shinoda and Spacecadet Ventures.

SoftBank's $100 million Opportunity Fund launched last June in a nod to the fact that Black, Latinx and Native American founders are woefully underfunded in the tech ecosystem. This marks the megafund's first investment in the metaverse.

But if you're unclear on what the metaverse is, you're not alone. Protocol's resident gaming and metaverse guru, reporter Nick Statt, gave me a helpful definition: "a next-generation version of the internet that's supposed to combine AR, VR, social networking, media, commerce, gaming and the web all into one big, pervasive network layer."

That layer lives on top of the internet and virtual worlds, like Fortnite and Roblox, are just one part of it, DNABLOCK co-founder and CEO Anthony Kelani told Protocol.

"But there's much more beyond just virtual worlds and I think it's going to transform a lot of different industries," he said.

DNABLOCK, however, is focused on the virtual world aspect of the metaverse. And in the near future, Kelani envisions that everyone will have an avatar to represent themselves in the metaverse.

That's why DNABLOCK is seeking to make it easier for people to design high-quality, custom avatars. The company also wants to help creators build virtual worlds with immersive experiences. Ease of creation is part of DNABLOCK's value proposition, Kelani said, and why he describes his company as "Pixar for the people."

DNABLOCK's main creation tool enables people to design photorealistic 3D avatars that they can control in a virtual environment. If folks want to create an avatar that is a replica of themselves, for example, they can just upload a selfie and get an avatar within 40 seconds.

The platform also lets creators generate additional cinematic content, including virtual worlds or even short films.

A still from a music video created using DNABLOCK.Image: DNABLOCK

For the past year, DNABLOCK has been in product development mode and has worked with a number of creators and companies to show the power of the platform, Kelani said. Soon, the plan is to fully open up the platform to independent creators and enable them to sell their creations through a digital marketplace. That marketplace will include 3D props, accessories and motion-capture data from professional dancers and performers, as well as other digital goods. Creators will also be able to publish their avatars and other creations to the metaverse.

"So overall, we allow people to build, perform and publish to the metaverse," he said.

SoftBank sees DNABLOCK as a potential leader in the creator economy because of its emphasis on making 3D creation more accessible at a time when there is high demand for customizable, user-generated content.

"With companies like DNABLOCK meeting that demand, anyone, at any skill level, will be able to easily participate in the Metaverse," SoftBank Opportunity Fund managing partner Shu Nyatta wrote in an email to Protocol. "It has the potential to be as disruptive as the Internet was – but beyond creating new spaces for us to connect with each other, it is also creating new streams of revenue. Already NFTs have taken off in the Metaverse, but we know it's going to get a lot bigger than that."

Kelani has been working on DNABLOCK since about 2017, long before the concept of the metaverse made its way into the mainstream. But Kelani said the increased visibility, in part thanks to Facebook, has been good for his business.

"It's been very helpful because I remember last year when I was talking to investors, I was talking about the metaverse and characters and stuff and no one knew what I was talking about," he said. "And then, now, 12 months later, everyone knows."

But in order for the metaverse to succeed, it needs more than just big tech companies and gaming companies involved, Kelani said. It needs creators.

"You can't have a Facebook or a game studio running the metaverse," he said. "It's not scalable. In order to achieve scale in the metaverse, you've got to have a community of independent creators."

And the only way to do that, he said, is by making it easy for anyone with a creative idea to contribute to the metaverse. That also means making it easier for people of color to participate in the metaverse and feel included.

"The metaverse needs to represent everyone," he said. "This needs to represent the world. And with avatars, specifically, you should be able to generate an avatar that looks like you or like someone of color. And what I've found is a lot of the avatar creators today just kind of skimp on that."

Entertainment

Beat Saber, Bored Apes and more: What to do this weekend

Don't know what to do this weekend? We've got you covered.

Images: Ross Belot/Flickr; IGBD; BAYC

This week we’re listening to “Harvest Moon” on repeat; burning some calories playing Beat Saber; and learning all about the artist behind the goofy ape pics that everyone (including Gwyneth Paltrow?) is talking about.

Neil Young: Off Spotify? No problem.

Neil Young removed his music from Spotify this week, but countless recordings are still available on YouTube, including this 1971 video of him performing “Heart of Gold” in front of a live studio audience, complete with some charming impromptu banter. And while you’re there, scroll down and read a few of the top-rated comments. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

'Archive 81': Not based on a book, but on a podcast!

Netflix’s latest hit show is a supernatural mystery horror mini-series, and I have to admit that I was on the fence about it many times, in part because the plot just often didn’t add up. But then the main character, Dan the film buff and archivist, would put on his gloves, get in the zone, and meticulously restore a severely damaged, decades old video tape, and proceed to look for some meaning beyond the images. That ritual, and the sentiment that we produce, consume and collect media for something more than meets the eye, ultimately saved the show, despite some shortcomings.

'Secrets of Sulphur Springs': Season 2 is out now

If you’re looking for a mystery that's a little more family-friendly, give this show about a haunted hotel, time travel, and kids growing up in a world that their parents don’t fully understand a try. Season 2 dropped on Disney+ this month, and it not only includes a lot more time travel mysteries, but even uses the show’s time machine to tackle subjects as serious as reparations.

The artist behind those Bored Apes

Remember how NFTs are supposed to generate royalties with every resale, and thus support artists better than any of their existing revenue streams? Seneca, the artist who was instrumental in creating those iconic apes for the Bored Ape Yacht Club, wasn’t able to share details about her compensation in this Rolling Stone profile, but it sure sounds like she is not getting her fair share.

Beat Saber: Update incoming

Years later, Beat Saber remains my favorite VR game, which is why I was very excited to see a teaser video for cascading blocks, which could be arriving any day now. Time to bust out the Quest for some practice time this weekend!

Correction: Story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gwyneth Paltrow's name. This story was updated Jan. 28, 2022.


Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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