The Asian, Cyberpunk Metaverse and Why I’m Minting to Hold This One.

There are some alleyways in the Wan Chai district on Hong Kong island where I’ve strolled, late on a drizzly night, the neon reflecting like glow sticks off wet pavement, watching pedestrians shuffle along with their hoodie-covered head hung low… wan lighting leaking from small windows in small apartments in the ancient, derelict buildings, pressed hard against one another, their facades peeling and crumbling… where a stooped old lady and her even-frailer husband stir a cauldron of some steaming Chinese soup in the tiniest of walk-up eateries… and it all feels so dystopian that you can believe this is where Ridley Scott found his visual inspiration for the original Blade Runner.

It’s also where Yaku Corp. has decided to base its dystopian, Asian metaverse.

Yaku, if you’re not familiar with this NFT project, is a gaming metaverse set in the year 2166 with something of a cyberpunk/Japanese Yakuza theme: gambling, motorcycles, guns — all set against the real-life street map of Hong Kong.

Yaku mints the first of three collections on 7 February at 6 pm UTC, or 1 pm U.S. East Coast, for the whitelist. The public will mint on 7 February at 7 pm UTC, or 2 pm. U.S. East Coast.

This first collection is 7,000 motorcycles — or what a real-world motorcycle wishes it could be. This is it:

The bikes will mint for 0.5 SOL for both whitelist and public.

They’re relatively inexpensive because they’re almost freebies tied to the other collections that are necessary to build out your slice of the Yakuverse: a Capsule (think: Blade Runner-esque apartment, with garage for your bike) and an Avatar.

The Capsule will mint on 21 February for 2.5 SOL for whitelist, and 3 SOL for the public.

Roughly two to three weeks later (not yet set in stone), the Avatars will mint at an undetermined price. (They were originally set at 1.3 SOL for whitelist, and 1.5 SOL for the public, but craziness in the overall crypto market has the mint price in a holding pattern.)

With all three in your wallet, you’re ready to enter the Yakuverse.

Why So High On the Yakuverse, Jeff-san?

Yaku is going to be a full-on “meta” metaverse. By which I mean this isn’t just a metaverse in name. It’s not a single-room NFT that calls itself a metaverse just to play off the hype. Like Downtown Portals or Heaven Land (minting on 3 Feb.) It’s going to be an expansive, explorable, three-dimensional city with shit to do — from gaming to gambling to shopping to other activities.

Maybe that’s racing your bike against others and wagering on the outcome to earn some real cash (or lose some real cash, as the case may be).

Maybe it’s hanging out in the gaming district and wandering into one of two casinos run individually by Parlay and High Roller Hippo Clique (already a done deal), and having a go at some games of chance, again wagering and earning/losing real cash.

Maybe it’s heading into the shopping district and buying branded gear, as NFTs, for your avatar or bike, or to decorate your Capsule.

Maybe it’s hanging out in your Capsule and watching YakuTV, which will allow you to live-stream events or gamble, among other possibilities.

Or maybe — and this I think is gonna be freakin’ cool — it’s wandering into a digital Ramen Shop and ordering real food for real delivery through a partnered food-delivery app built right into the Yakuverse. I mean, you can literally stay in the metaverse all day and order take-out without having to disengage (well, maybe, to answer the door).

That is going to resonate with gamers and, I’ll bet, begins showing up in a lot more metaverses to come.

Who’s Behind the Yakuverse?

Let me stop here and take a step back for a moment, and talk about the team. They’re not yet fully doxxed, though they will be.

I can tell you this: The founders are two French brothers who spent time living in Kyoto, Japan, for years and fashioned a love affair with Japanese culture (and, frankly, having traveled through Japan a number of times for previous jobs, that love affair is not hard to imagine).

Brother One comes out of the financial sector, where he was working with large banks on corporate buyouts. He left and started his own business, and ended up building for that business a supply-chain protocol on the Ethereum network. In his spare time, he monkeyed around with 3D modeling with Unreal Engine and Unity Engine, the two premier 3D gaming/animation software suites.

Brother Two comes with a background in space engineering — as in “To infinity and beyond!” So, he not only makes sure the Yaku motorbikes look like bikes, only way cooler, he makes sure they actually function like motorbikes. Again, that authenticity is going to play well with gamers.

The gaming dev, meanwhile, has built a number of games from scratch over the last decade, and has worked with some of the largest gaming studios in the industry (can’t name them because that would cause some potential blowback).

But you get the point — the team is legit.

And, as I said, they’re going to fully dox themselves, as soon as a personal issue dealing with an address is cleared up.

Jump Back Ahead

Yaku is designing their metaverse in Unreal Engine 5. If you’ve read any of my previous metaverse dispatches, you’ll know I am a fan of UE5’s rendering technology because the graphics are beyond stunning in their lifelike appearance. I could bore you with details of the Nanite and Lumen technology running the show inside UE5, but I won’t torture you with that. Just go watch the UE5/Matrix trailer on YouTube, and pay attention to how real the scenery appears, and how authentically the light shifts. Gives me high hopes for what the Yakuverse will ultimately look like.

The full gaming experience won’t release until later this year, likely in the third quarter. But the team is already working on partnerships.

Here are a few that have been announced or are in the works:

  • High Roller Hippo Clique and Parlay: Casinos (as noted above).
  • Anybodies and Space Runners: Fashion for avatars.
  • The Fellowship (mints 1 Feb for whitelist; 2 Feb for public): Gated access to Yaku University, which will be an actual location on the Yakuverse map. It will offer online/e-learning opportunities for people who want to learn to code in Rust, Python, etc., or other subjects.
  • Magic Eden: In talks for API integration into YakuTV for direct access to the marketplace from your capsule.
  • Grape Protocol: In talks for API integration into YakuTV for access to the Yaku DAO management dashboard and events calendar.

As always, this is the part where I like to go Big Brain and expand the thinking to what might be. This is not based on anything the team told me, but rather on what I see happening, or what I know is happening because of my contacts with various projects around the cryptosphere.

Given that avatars are involved in the Yakuverse, I can imagine lines of digital clothing will be forthcoming from brands we all know. Lots of uber-hip, irreverent, streetwear clothing brands are going to see benefit in appealing to the gamers inside the Yakuverse. Supreme. Off-White. Balenciaga. Vans. Nike. All of those are clearly Yakuverse material.

And given that motorbikes are the primary mode of transit, I can see big names in the motorcycle world want to sell branded accessories for bikes, or maybe even partner with Yaku for a series of one-off bikes. Harley, BMW, Ducati, Suzuki, etc … any of those would easily fit into the Yakuverse, and they could offer special bikes, special hardware, special clothing — all structured as limited-edition NFTs that would clearly find a huge audience among those brands’ real-world fans, and which would very likely retain value, probably even rise in value on the secondary market.

Consider Adidas’ “Into the Metaverse” collection that minted for 0.2 ETH in December and now sells for 5x that price. Without question, other global brands see that because of the media attention Adidas has attracted. And right now you can bet they’re all looking for just the right metaverse entry point that makes the most sense for that brand.

Yaku is going to make a lot of sense for motorbikes, biker apparel, streetwear, fashion accessories, certain types of furniture, maybe even gun manufacturers (though maybe there are some legal/moral issues to navigate there first).

One idea that is floating around inside Yaku itself is opening the Yakuverse to other 3D-compatible collections. So, hypothetically, Jungle Cats DAO might vote to buy land in the Yakuverse for a Jungle Cats DAO Tower. That tower would come with capsules so that ownership of a capsule and a Jungle Cat would mean the owner could traverse the Yakuvere as a Jungle Cat rather than a Yaku avatar.

In time, the Yakuverse, similar to Hong Kong itself, could become a melting pot of Solana culture. We could see a huge swath of the Solana NFT ecosystem interacting in Yakuvere: Jungle Cats, Aurory, Degen Apes, Trash Pandas, Solarians, and others.

I am not saying all that Big Brain matter will happen immediately, or even this year… or even at all. Maybe some of it will happen sooner rather than later— who knows?

But I am saying we have to follow the thread for each particular metaverse to see where it leads and to understand what is possible. Because in the rapidly emerging world of rapidly emerging metaverses, corporate boardrooms are increasingly eager to play this virtual-reality game. They know this is where their customers are going to hang out, and they want to arrive soon so that they’re ready to welcome the masses when they start showing up — precisely why Nike and Adidas are now part of the Roblox and Sandbox metaverses, respectively, and why 2022 promises to give us many more companies taking the metaverse plunge.

Whatever ultimately takes shape, Yaku is quite clearly one of the truly unique, themed metaverses to pop up on the Solana network, and one that, to my way of thinking, will attract well-known brands that want in on this.

Looking forward, there’s opportunity for expansion to extend the game and the marketing/partnership tie-ins.

Yaku’s roadmap includes land sales (and I am a big fan of owning land in various metaverses), as well as a $YAKU token that will be used in the Yakuverse for gambling, purchases, etc. A racing game with a gambling component is on the way as well, likely this fall.

Hong Kong is a waterfront city, which means the Yakuverse is a waterfront metaverse, as you can see in this rough-in…

The rough-in for the Yakuverse.

Lots of opportunity there to expand gameplay into the harbor with Jetskis or Transformer-style bikes that morph into Jetskis (Sea Doo, Yamaha, Kawasaki — you paying attention?). And knowing what I know of Hong Kong, based on numerous trips there, I can see the Yakuverse extending into the forested mountains that butt up against the city.

There’s opportunity, as well, for other Solana projects to bring mini-games into the Yakuverse. Maybe Bounty Hunter Space Guild brings a land-based version of its game to the Yakuverse. Maybe Aurory brings a version of its play-to-earn game to Yaku’s cyberpunk streets and those forested mountains. I mean, some of the Aurorians already sport the perfect look.

Maybe Yaku has opportunities to port its bikes and avatars into a different metaverse — Downtown Portals, maybe? — for a street-racing tournament.

It’s the metaverse, after all. Relative to where we’re going, we barely have our toes in the shallow end of a kiddie pool at this point.

The Yaku TL;DR

Yaku is in the early stages of rolling out its metaverse — the Yakuverse.

The three primary pieces that you need to fully participate in the Yakuverse — bike, capsule, avatar — are launching over the next several weeks, starting with 7,000 bikes in a 7 February NFT mint.

I am not talking about Yaku in financial terms as I do with most projects because this one, for me, is more about the aesthetics of the metaverse the team is creating, and the partnerships it’s building. I want to be part of this one to see how all of that shapes up. Because if we start seeing real-world companies joining a very cool Yakuverse, then the math dynamics of Yaku NFTs radically change.

That said, I imagine that on secondary markets the Yaku bikes will sell for more than their 0.5 SOL mint price.

Part of that is based on the fact that Yaku has 14.1k Discord members and closing in on 10k Twitter followers. How many of those might be bots — who knows? But it says there’s clearly an appetite for what Yaku is up to. And, frankly, I think Yaku is simply under-exposed relative to a lot of overhyped projects; it doesn’t really go around promoting itself but, rather, is busy building out the Yakuverse and the NFTs were all gonna use.

At the moment, whitelist members (called Senpai) can mint two bikes, though that might shrink to one. The public can mint multiples.

The whitelist currently has more than 1,600 members (disclosure: I am one) and I am not sure where the cutoff is or when it might occur. So, if Yaku is the kind of metaverse you want to be a part of, you gotta start off by grabbing yourself a bike.

Disclosure: Same ol’, same ol’. Not financial advice. Just me pontificating on what might become of what might just be a very cool, dystopian metaverse based on a city I love — Hong Kong. Please, do your own research.

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Jeff Opdyke

Jeff Opdyke

Former Wall Street Journal writer now living in Prague, covering crypto, economics, and investing. Editor of Global Intelligence Letter and Frontier Fortunes.