Becky’s Affiliated: Why Blockchain start-ups are invited to MIT “Playful Tech” accelerator

TAGs: beckys affiliated, Blockchain, Editorial

One of my main takeaways from G2E Vegas 2017 was the growing influence and cross-over of the video game industry with the gambling industry, especially with a movement towards “gamification” of gambling games.

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After spending some time with MIT Grad Riz Virk, Executive Director of Play Labs and successful entrepreneur, investor, author, film director, video gaming enthusiast and the list goes on, I realized the influence of video games goes way, way beyond the gambling industry alone.

“If you look at the history of technology, most of what we use today had its origin somewhere in video games.  If you look at artificial intelligence, the first AI was a chess playing computer built by professor Claud Shannon at MIT back in the ‘50s. If you look at most user-interface, a lot of that stuff came from games first, including 3D modelling, etc”, Virk shared.

The video games industry was also a pioneer in virtual currency, a concept contributing to the creation of Blockchain technology and the currencies it powers today such as Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Legacy Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum and so on.

“Before there was Bitcoin, the biggest virtual currency was World of Warcraft Gold and Ultima Online Gold and some of those players who were working in the virtual currency space moved into the Bitcoin space”, Virk pointed out.

“For example, Mt. Gox- not many people know this- but the biggest Bitcoin exchange for many years was Mt. Gox which stands for “Magic The Gathering Online Exchange”, it was an exchange set up for video game goods and exchanging of those online”, he added.

After absorbing Virk’s thought-provoking words, I immediately thought of Jez San, the inventor of the first 3D graphics chip for Nintendo, recipient of the first OBE in the video game industry, founder of online poker site PKR and founder of the recently-launched FunFair, an innovative online gambling platform built on the Ethereum Blockchain.  San came from the video game world and went on to launch a disruptive 3D online poker product and Blockchain casino technology…Virk’s point exactly.

Now in its second year, Virk’s MIT-based “Play Labs”, an accelerator program for start-ups in the “Playful Technology” space, will take place this summer in the Boston area, over the course of two months.

“Playful tech is a term we define very broadly.  I came up with it along with the MIT Game Lab which is one of the few places at MIT where they teach video game classes.  Now it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just games, that technology could be used for health care, it could be used for finance, it could be used for eSports and competitive gaming”, Virk explained.

Last summer’s batch of start-ups had a particular focus on virtual reality, augmented reality as well as artificial intelligence (AI), according to Virk.  For the 2018 instalment of Play Labs, Virk and his associates made the decision to encourage Blockchain and Bitcoin-focused start-ups to apply for the opportunity, considering all the attention around crypto and ICOs as of late.

“I’m an investor in a couple of companies that recently did token offerings and they were able to raise more money than they were able to raise from VCs and so it’s a pretty big disruption coming around”, Virk shared.

“But this idea of peer-to-peer sharing of information and virtual digital assets is something that has been part of video games for a while and so we decided to include that as a type of ‘Playful Technology’ and include start-ups that are working with Blockchain and with digital currency and perhaps creating their own coins”, he added.

While this particular accelerator program is based in the Boston area, Virk himself is based in Silicon Valley and first-hand experienced the “dot com” bubble followed by its burst, a moment in history some say could repeat itself within the current Blockchain and crypto-currency ecosystem.

Virk has followed the crypto world since 2013, a time period during which Bitcoin’s value fluctuated dramatically several times, a type of phase Virk predicts we’ll likely be seeing more of.  He also predicts there will be consolidation in the market, seeing as there are literally hundreds of coins in existence today with many more on the way.

“Certainly there are almost too many coins that are being created today, but that’s OK.  Innovation in any industry requires lots of people with different ideas.  You go back to the auto industry and in the 1920’s you had Buick, Oldsmobile, Dodge.  All these were separate companies and then they eventually got consolidated into big three automakers and I don’t think that Bitcoin or crypto will consolidate into only three, but there will be consolidation”, Virk shared.

“So I think as we look at these different companies that are using Blockchain or creating coins, the ones that have a real purpose to tokenize and to have a decentralized ledger system, those are the ones that will succeed, whereas some of the ones that are just hype may or may not make it in the long term.  And that’s OK- that’s what innovation is all about”, he said.

For innovative entrepreneurs utilizing Playful Technology, visit the Play Labs site for more information on the accelerator program.  Applications will be accepted until March 15th and those who are accepted will enjoy an initial investment of $20,000 in either cash or Bitcoin in return for common stock, two months of mentoring by MIT staff, successful entrepreneurs and exposure to the public.


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