Recap: Itheum X Sony X Astar Network Web3 Incubation Program

Itheum
11 min readAug 15, 2023

As previously announced publicly, Itheum was selected to be part of the recently concluded Sony X Astar Network Web3 Incubation program. The introductory details of our participation were detailed in our blog post here. With the program recently completed, we wanted to do a blog post that will serve as a recap on the highlights and outcomes of the program and detail the next steps.

Incubation Program Highlights

Astar Network is Japan’s most popular blockchain and has recently grown in popularity with its strong partnerships in the local Japanese enterprise market. Astar has partnered with major brands in the exploration stage of using web3 technology to boost their operations or grow their business verticals. Amongst these brands, the major ones are Toyota, NTT Digital (part of Japan’s largest telecommunications group), JR Kyushu Railway Company (part of Japan’s largest rail network), and their most notable partnership was, of course, Sony Network Communications.

Itheum is part of the Sony and Astar Network Incubation Program
Astar Network teams up with Sony for a Web3 Incubation Program

As part of its partnership with Sony Network Communications, Astar Network launched a 3-month incubation program for web3 projects from around the globe. This incubation program was conducted with the Sony Web3 team to collaboratively explore how the projects that are part of the incubator can help Sony explore web3 more actively.

Incubation Program Format

From over 200 projects that applied, Astar and Sony selected only 18 projects to participate. Read more about the announcement and project list here, and Itheum was proud to be one of these projects.

The incubation was set for three months, where Itheum was set to work alongside other incubation projects and partners to explore web3 use cases for Sony that would be built on the Astar. The following partners provided advice and sessions during the program.

Impressive Partners and Mentors for the Astar X Sony Incubation Program

Astar Network is a Layer 1 blockchain that runs as a Parachain on the Polkadot Layer 0 blockchain. Astar’s unique features include an EVM and WASM (Web Assembly) compatible runtime allowing EVM projects and WASM DApps to be deployed side by side on the Astar Network blockchain.

The expectation of the incubation program was for projects to coordinate with Astar Network and Sony and build and deploy a technology that runs on either Astar’s EVM or WASM (Web Assembly) engine and then “pitch” this on a live Demo Day at Sony’s Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

Itheum’s technology on Astar Network — Exploration and Outcome

With Itheum’s technology built on the MultiversX Blockchain and assembled as WASM Smart Contracts, we were keen to explore if we could componentize our WASM modules to run on Astar’s runtime. This exploration was exciting to us. This would allow us to move Itheum’s technology to multiple blockchains and runtimes and help us achieve our goal of becoming “OmniChain.”

Itheum aims to be “OmniChain”

Exploring WASM:

Astar’s WASM runtime is enabled via support for the Rust-based INK! Programming language, which also means that the INK! Based WASM modules would be compatible with Polkadot’s Substrate ecosystem of dApps and projects. This would mean that if we could modularize and get Itheum’s WASM Smart Contracts working on Astar, we would technically be able to break into Polkadot’s multiple Parachain-based project ecosystems that supported INK! And WASM. This, for Itheum, would mean that we could genuinely break into Polkadot’s extensive ecosystem of projects and have our first success in OmniChain Design.

Exploring Polkadot Native Token Standards:

We also explored the potential of bridging our MultiversX-based ITHEUM utility token to Astar via native Polkadot token standards, allowing a “Polkadot ecosystem supported ITHEUM token” which would be truly interoperable within the Polkadot exists (which includes Astar). One token standard that was most exciting to explore was the XC-20 token standard from Pokdadot-based Moonbeam.

After a month of exploration on the above portability of our WASM Smart Contracts, we, unfortunately, found it not technically feasible to migrate our MultiversX WASM modules in a way that would also be compatible with Astar’s INK! Based WASM runtime. This was mainly due to the significant difference in the underlying blockchain architecture of both the MultiversX and Polkadot blockchains.

Our exploration into Polkadot’s native token standards was also not very promising as we could not find enough technical material that made us comfortable to pick a native standard that would be interoperable with Polkadot projects and also that would have compatibility within Astar’s ecosystem of projects. We also discovered that standard ERC20-based tokens were the most supported within Astar Network’s ecosystem, so we picked ERC20 as our potential bridged ITHEUM token standard on Astar.

Settling on EVM:

As a result, we had to look at a new way to integrate Itheum’s technology within Astar. Astar also supports an EVM runtime, so we explored this deployment path of Itheum’s tech into Astar. We would later find out that EVM was indeed the most popular choice for projects building on Astar, and our intention to build Itheum on Astar as EVM technology would enable us to have a lot of interoperability with other Astar projects and also other EVM-compatible projects on the Polkadot ecosystem. (Re)exploring EVM technology was also exciting to us, and Itheum also began its web3 journey in 2021 as proof of concepts built on EVM that ran on Polygon.

With a decision to use EVM to deploy Itheum tech onto Astar, we were ready to build a “product” that would utilize Itheum, Astar, and Sony and then present this product live on “Demo Day”!

Product Idea — PlayStation Gamer Passport:

Itheum’s key modules deployed on the MultiversX Blockchain include the Data DEX, Data NFT Technology, and Data NFT Marketplace technology, which work together to enable people around the world to:

  1. Claim ownership of some of their web2 personal data.
  2. “Bridge this data into web3” by minting Data NFTs that act as a “web3 license” for consented use of the user’s data.
  3. Allow users to trade their “Data NFT” licenses in the open Data NFT Marketplace. This is synonymous with a user trading their data as NFTs with full consent.

We then ambitiously set off to build a fully functioning version of the above feature set on Astar and have it working end-to-end in time for Demo Day. We also decided to integrate directly with the Sony Playstation Network (PSN), allowing Playstation gamers to “claim ownership of their Playstation gaming data” and then mint and trade their data as Data NFTs.

This innovative use case allows Sony’s huge gaming community to potentially enter the web3 world of data ownership and own and trade their gaming data. We called this product the PlayStation Gamer Passport, which we aimed to build and demo on Demo Day.

With the build of the Astar-compatible PlayStation Gamer Passport underway, we wrote our EVM Smart Contracts and ported our open-source MultiversX Data DEX to support an EVM run time. We made solid and steady progress with our build. With the core EVM protocol infrastructure ready to be tested, we began exploring the integration of the Data DEX with Sony Playstation Network’s API and then allowing for the minting of a gamer’s data into Data NFTs and then enabling the trade of these Data NFTs in the marketplace.

We then had a few more challenges we had to overcome:

  1. Sony Playstation did not have any Official Public Developer APIs: We, unfortunately, found that there were no official PlayStation network APIs that were public, and we could not get access to private APIs directly from Sony due to time constraints. We found a way around this by finding an open-source community-built API and repurposing this for our use case. We then notified the Sony team that we intend to use this open-source community API until we get official access to Sony Playstation APIs, and they did not express any disagreement on this strategy.
  2. Lack of APIs and Indexing Infrastructure for Astar’s Shibuya Testnet: We deployed our end-to-end technology stack to Astar’s Shibuya Testnet and wanted to begin product testing; we then discovered that Astar’s Shibuya Testnet has minimal data indexing support. Data indexing infrastructure is required to seamlessly build wallets and on-chain lookups for dApps. To overcome this challenge, we worked out how to use what was available in the current state and then tried to negotiate for new APIs and tools to resolve the gaps. As such, we used the following infrastructure tools in our solution and created some middleware to coordinate and polyfill the gaps:
  • Covalent NFT APIs: Our partners at Covalent had some endpoints that supported Astar, and we used these to build our Data NFT wallet.
  • Bluz NFT Marketplace API: We worked with the Astar-based Bluz NFT marketplace and got partner access to their Shibuya Network API.

(We’d like to thank Covalent and Bluz for supporting us)

Overcoming all our technical challenges, we completed the end-to-end PlayStation Gamer Passport and got it working on Astar’s Shibuya Testnet.

Do you want to try it yourself?

We published a step-by-step guide that walks you through how to try the PlayStation Gamer Passport product running on Astar. This runs on Astar’s Shibuya Testnet, so you can claim free gas tokens and don’t need a live Sony Playstation Network account to proceed.

Head over to our guide and try it out today!

Demo Day at Sony Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan

With our product built and ready for use, it was time to visit Tokyo, Japan, to pitch our product at Sony Headquarters in front of Sony’s web3 team, Astar’s core team, and many other incubation partners and web3 enthusiasts.

Our pitch included a slide deck of “why brands enter web3” and a hypothesis on how by providing Sony’s 100 million plus gamers access to data ownership, Sony could boost brand loyalty and community engagement. You can view the pitch demo in this exclusive YouTube video.

Closing: Learning & Next Steps

Overall, our 3-month Sony and Astar incubation was very successful. We had many challenges in technology implementation, but this sped up our learning trajectory for how we can do OmniChain development for our Itheum protocol.

Our key learnings can be summarised as follows:

  1. Japan (and Asia) is a “sleeping beast” when it comes to web3 adoption. Japan has a culture of technology and “collectibles,” and yet, the adoption of web3 technologies like NFTs is still very early. We are keen to grow Itheum’s footprint in this region and are working on plans to make this a reality.
  2. Itheum’s mission to “empower individuals to own and trade their data” is something that connects with everyone regardless of background or culture. However, we observe that there is still a regional preference for layer 1 blockchains. For example, MultiversX has strong demand in the European region, and blockchains like Astar are highly popular in the Japanese and Asian regions. This points us again to the need for an “OmniChain” design.
  3. We are more convinced than ever that Itheum’s technology should have an OmniChain design. This differs from the traditional MultiChain design, where you replicate the entire technology in various blockchains. As Itheum already has a mature implementation of our technology on the MultiversX blockchain, we have begun building some specialized technology that can run on any EVM-supported blockchain. Together, the MultiversX protocol and EVM-based protocol features should work seamlessly to enable the use-case of global data ownership.
  4. We need ways to abstract away all underlying “web3” technology and make “blockchain invisible.” All people, regardless of where they are from or their technology skills, need to be given the opportunity to take ownership of their data and trade it, and to reach all these people, we need to remove all the complexity around specific blockchain tools like wallets. Ideally, people should log in with just their email, and the underlying OmniChain blockchain technology that powers Itheum will be all “invisible.”

As the following steps, we will continue to explore interest and demand for our PlayStation Gamer Passport product running on Astar. If the demand and interest are high, we will invest the time and resources we need to get our platform audited for Astar use and then deploy it to mainnet. We are also working with our legal counsel to ensure that the trading of Sony Playstation gaming data is indeed permitted by companies like Sony — as the concept of users owning and trading their data has never existed before. This, in itself, will be an exciting exploration into legal regulation and will put itheum a step closer to being data regulation compliant and the industry leader in this space.

In summary, we are thankful to both Astar and Sony for the opportunity to participate in this indicator and look forward to continuing a promising partnership together.

About Itheum

Itheum empowers data ownership in the Web3 and Metaverse ecosystems and creates new market value for your data. It enables this by providing “decentralized data brokerage” technology. It’s a suite of tools that facilitate high-value data to be bridged from web2 to web3 and then traded peer-to-peer. It allows for “viral adoption” via our creative “Data NFTs” (provide “inner value” to NFTs and enable royalties / limited supply), “NFMe ID” technology (a living Metaverse avatar representation of you — wrapped as an NFT and backed by personal data) and innovative Data Coalition DAOs (governance entities that bulk trade your data with your consent). It also aims to be fully privacy-preserving, regulation-friendly, and multi-chain, making it the most comprehensive core blockchain data and identity infrastructure available in the market with use cases in both the enterprise and consumer space.

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Itheum

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