Despite what we saw in Ready Player One and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta announcement, exploring the ever-expanding metaverse might not require you to shell out thousands for a virtual reality (VR) headset and high-powered PC. All the tech you need could be right in your pocket. That’s right, the future of the metaverse — and possibly Web3 as a whole — may lie in smartphone-powered augmented reality (AR) experiences.
And what AR smartphone experience has been more impactful than Pokémon GO? The game, developed by Niantic, became a viral sensation after its 2016 launch, having been downloaded more than 500 million times worldwide by the end of the year. Now, Niantic hopes to apply its experience to the Web3 space with the help of Chikai Ohazama, the company’s new Director of Web3.
We caught up with him to discuss his journey into NFTs and the role they may play at Niantic.
Falling into the rabbit hole
Like most prominent figures in the NFT space, Ohazama began his journey as a collector. In an email exchange with nft now, he shared, “I bought one NFT and then another and another, and before I knew it, I had gone deep down the rabbit hole.”
The art initially attracted him to the space, but what really “blew him away,” he says, was the community. “I had never come across a community like this before,” he explained. “It was so warm and welcoming.”
As he became more engrained in the space, Ohazama found himself in need of a way to organize his growing collection. “Most sites at the time had tools to help you organize what you already owned, but they did not help you organize what you wanted to buy,” he said. His numerous tabs and bookmarks were becoming a mess.
As one of the co-creators of Keyhole — a geospatial data visualization firm that was later bought out by Google and would become Google Earth — Ohazama had some impressive product-building experience under his belt. He used his skills to create superniftyfan, a sort of “Pinterest for NFTs,” he explained. As he learned more about NFTs, he kept building. Eventually, he’d create a social network and merch store, and collaborate with artists like George Williams and Tania Rivilis.
Most recently though, Ohazama launched MONOLITH Gallery, an open curation platform that reimagines the gallery space, pushing people to think beyond typical white walls.
“As the NFT space grows we will need ways to help collectors to find the art they want to buy,” he says. “I think curators, human curators, are a key part of that future. I personally would rather have human curators telling me what art to buy and not algorithms.”
Bridging the gaps
So, what does the future hold for Niantic hold now that Ohazama is heading their Web3 division?
There isn’t a set roadmap just yet, but Ohazama made it clear that NFTs will feature prominently. “Just think about what could happen with AR, mapping, and NFTs. There is so much potential to push not only the NFT community forward but the gaming community and many other communities into the brand new world of Web3,” he said.
Ultimately, Ohazama stated that he sees the future as a place where virtual and physical worlds are increasingly intertwined and that he thinks Niantic will be at the forefront of this future. “I think there is a big opportunity to connect the digital world with the physical world, as we look into the future. And just like work didn’t go from remote back to full in-person, […] it went to a hybrid model, I think this bridge between digital to physical will also be a hybrid model. This is where Niantic has an incredible opportunity,” he said.
Although established brands like Instagram and eBay have started dipping their toes into the NFT world, Niantic’s entrance into the space carries a different weight to it. Considering their past projects, there’s a good chance that whatever it is Ohazama and the rest of the team end up doing will end up changing the game for years to come.