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If you’re active on Instagram, chances are that aside from all the yusheng tossing and Chinese New Year outfits that you saw, you also saw something else — virtual avatars of your friends, and QR codes inviting you to add them on Bondee.

This new app by a Singapore-based tech company, Metadream, has taken the nation by storm and over the weekend, the app became one of the top free apps in both the Apple App store and Google Play Store

It’s not that difficult to see why. The app allows you to create animated avatars and decorate your own virtual room, and adding friends lets you chat with them using an in-app function. You can also visit their rooms and leave notes on their walls.

Why has Bondee captivated so many Singaporeans?

“I’ve been enjoying using Bondee for fun because I get to see what my friends are doing. And it helps that I get to chill with my friends just like we did in university,” quipped Tan Yue Ling, a graduate from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design, and Media.

“Now that we’ve graduated and not able to meet up as often as we did before, it’s nice to still be able to connect online, albeit represented virtually through an avatar.”

bondee chat
Chatting on Bondee / Image Credit: PhilStar Life

Indeed, social functions on Bondee seem to be a huge part of the app’s appeal. Beyond just adding friends and chatting, the app allows you to join interest groups, or even send messages to meet new friends.

And it doesn’t hurt that the app allows you to add friends by sharing your avatar on social media, showing off your design choices and inviting others to onboard themselves onto the platform either. 

The graphics have also received quite a bit of praise — they’re 3D and customisable, allowing users to pick what they like and flaunt their choices. The graphics are lifelike, but not so human-like as to fall into the uncanny valley and instil a sense of creepiness.

But all these features are essentially only cosmetic and social — it might be great for an hour or two as you scour through all the different decorations and fashion styles, but this in itself is nothing new. 

When I first heard of Bondee, the first thing that came to mind was the question: ‘Isn’t this just like Animal Crossing?’ 

In Animal Crossing, players can do much of the same things as they can in Bondee, except on a larger scale. 

Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing / Image Credit: IGN

“Personally, I feel that Animal Crossing really is a better game overall. There’s more features, like time-limited events. And on top of that, I have an entire island to decorate. And I can add friends to decorate the island with them,” notes Hazel Lim, an avid gamer.

“But to me, what’s probably the most suspicious is that there seem to be plans to introduce NFTs into Bondee.” 

Users voice concerns over upcoming NFT features

As it happens, this concern seems to be one shared by many players, and they have good reason to worry.

Veterans of the crypto space have touted NFTs as one of the cornerstones of the next crypto bull run, and crypto prices have been on the rise over the past two weeks. 

Players who bothered to read Bondee’s privacy policy would find incriminating evidence that NFT integrations are very much in Metadream’s plans. There are mentions of how users will be able to purchase B-beans using fiat currency, and trade them in for NFTs.

bondee nft b-beans
NFT mentions in Bondee’s private policy / Image Credit: Burhan via Twitter

Aside from this, Metadream has also already come under fire for allegedly mishandling users’ credit card information, though the company has denied any wrongdoing. 

How long can Bondee keep its crown?

Bondee has certainly captured the attention of many in the crypto community. For one, its overnight success speaks volumes of how many people can be brought onboard social platforms with the right mix of social features.

Yet, Bondee is not the first of its kind. It already has a competitor: Decentraland. 

music festival decentraland
A music festival in Decentraland / Image Credit: NFTs.WTF

Much like Bondee, you can add friends, chat with them, find new friends, hold meetings, and more. Some of the more creative folk have even managed to hold full-scale events like concerts or virtual fashion weeks on the metaverse.

But for all its functionality, Decentraland has not been able to retain a high number of users because aside from being social, there isn’t much else to do that would keep users online. 

After all, if you want to message someone, especially someone that you know, why not head to the usual messaging apps like Telegram or WhatsApp?

The failure to keep things interesting has meant that Decentraland is now suffering from a lack of users. 

DappRadar estimates that Decentraland sees less than a thousand active users every day, though Decentraland creative director Sam Hamilton has claimed that there are around 8,000 users on average every day. 

Number of active users on Decentraland and The Sandbox
Number of active users on Decentraland and The Sandbox / Image Credit: New World Notes

Bondee may be seeing high numbers now, but whether they can keep the success story going is another question altogether. 

This is where, as many people speculate, NFTs will come in. 

The most common way for NFTs to be used in games is for them to act as collectibles that can generate more NFTs or tokens, which can then be sold for profit. The most successful NFT game thus far has been Axie Infinity, which follows this exact model. 

But NFT games are not a magic solution that can be slapped onto any game to make easy money. 

In fact, even Axie Infinity has been having trouble keeping their players interested. These games, marketed with a play-to-earn tag, eventually becomes a tiresome slog that people play in order to earn tokens for a profit, and once the element of fun runs out, the tokens are sold and the games abandoned. 

Axie Infinity's playerbase has been on the decline
Axie Infinity’s playerbase has been on the decline / Image Credit: Bloomberg

If Axie Infinity couldn’t do it, does Bondee actually stand a chance? Customising your avatar may be fun for a while, but unless new and unique designs keep coming out, and fresh activities keep getting planned, it is likely that Bondee’s novelty will wear off after a while. 

For platforms like Bondee that rely so heavily on elements of socialisation to draw in new players, even a small exodus of players may be enough to trigger a vicious cycle where all but the most loyal players leave.

NFTs are not a cure-all solution

Clearly, NFTs are not some magic pill that Metadream can simply use to turn Bondee from an overnight sensation into a long-term success story. 

But that is also not to say that NFTs have nothing to offer for Bondee. Instead, Metadream should recognise that NFT integrations are not something to be taken lightly — and that failure in the metaverse is not met with kindness.

Last week, Porsche opened its NFT mint, and was greeted with ridicule for its efforts. The NFT community took to Twitter to mock the event and criticise Porsche, and within hours, Porsche released a statement announcing a halt to the mint, citing a lack of community support. 

Porsche announced that they are cutting supply of their NFTs / Image Credit: Porsche

The reason why the NFT community refused to throw their support behind such a project was clear: Porsche NFTs were nothing more than digital replicas of actual cars, with no real utility behind them. 

The NFT community is not merely another group of consumers for companies to extract wealth from, and members are careful about what they support. 

Successful NFT releases depend on understanding the Web3 community and bringing real value to customers. Tiffany and Co and Nike are examples of how NFTs and Web3 releases can be done.

Instead of rushing towards an NFT mint, Nike has spent time immersing itself in the metaverse and Web3 space with acquisitions and partnerships, before launching its own community-based platform for users to create and purchase digital wearables, and doubles as an educational platform to onboard its Web2 audience onto the Web3 space. 

When it released its CryptoKicks collection, NFTs sold for more than US$100,000 a piece.

For Tiffany and Co, their NFTs were made redeemable for real jewellery, and the collection, titled NFTiff, sold out within 20 minutes after the mint started. It is estimated that this release brought in around US$12.5 million for the company. 

NFT releases can be successful, but companies should be careful about how they go about it — Bondee is no exception.

The fact is that there are plenty of NFTs out there for those who want to get into the Web3 space, and Bondee has yet to prove why its particular brand of NFTs is worth buying. 

On the contrary, the community that Bondee has attracted seems to be skeptical of its planned NFT release, and for good reason. 

At present, Metadream has not made clear how Bondee’s NFTs will bring value to consumers, and it certainly has not helped that Metadream seems to be hiding NFT integration plans within the fineprint. 

If Bondee’s NFT release is going to simply be premium collections of clothes or items for decoration, it will be difficult to see how either its current player base or NFT enthusiasts will welcome the integrations.

While Bondee has seen quite some success over the past week, for now, it seems that the community is holding their breath for what is to come. How Bondee handles the delicate situation can decide whether they will be remembered for bringing a breath of fresh air to the NFT scene, or if they will be forgotten in time.

Featured Image Credit: CandyMag

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