NFT avatar enabler GoodGang has the blessings of Korean giants Kakao and Naver

Critics have long discredited non-fungible tokens as overpriced JPEGs sold by people who want to make quick bucks. NFT believers want to prove them wrong and show that these certificates of digital art stored on the blockchain, a distributed, immutable database, have real use cases.

Their efforts often involve integrating NFTs into applications already with mainstream adoption. Twitter, for example, now lets users authenticate their NFT profiles for a fee so others know they actually spend a fortune on their Bored Apes rather than having right-clicked on a JPEG.

What about making one's NFT avatars talk? Kakao Investment, a subsidiary of South Korean messaging giant Kakao, has recently put $2 million into GoodGang Labs, which enables users to interact through animated avatars and soon NFTs, like this:

South Korean companies always seem to have a knack for how the new generation likes to interact in the virtual world. Naver, another internet conglomerate from the country and owner of the popular messenger Line, introduced the metaverse platform Zepeto back in 2018. The app has since attracted tens of millions of youngsters around the world to design virtual experiences and trade digital items.

In fact, Naver and Naver Z, the former's subsidiary that runs Zepeto, both invested in Singapore-based GoodGang in previously undisclosed financings.

Having the support of two of Asia's biggest social networking companies shows that GoodGang might be doing something useful. Video calling through motion-tracked avatars isn't a particularly novel idea. A San Francisco startup called Hologram Labs raised money last year from investors including Mike Shinoda to build a plug-in for Zoom and Google Meet so users can appear as their NFT alter egos.

But GoodGang's strategy is slightly different. The startup operates a two-pronged approach. First, it runs a proprietary communications platform called Kiki Town, where users can interact as avatars, which could be intellectual property from other platforms, such as Line Next and Zepeto.

Kiki Town animates the avatars by having its AI model infer data coming through the users' webcams and mics. It transmits only motion and voice -- rather than video data -- an approach, according to GoodGang's co-founder Dookyung Ahn, that "conserves valuable network resources but also enhances privacy by reducing the exposure of personal visual information."

The method allows Kiki Town to use up to 1,000 times less data, particularly when considering high-resolution 4K videos, Ahn told TechCrunch.

The startup also powers other communication platforms with these functions through a SaaS API. This offering could be appealing to social apps that want to attract Gen-Z users but don't necessarily have the willingness or ability to build a new team dedicated to avatar animation.

GoodGang will soon allow users to interact through NFTs on a new platform called GangHouse, which supports 2D and 3D assets from multiple blockchains.

The startup was founded by veterans from Facebook, Line and augmented reality startup Seerslab. Its existing investors include Kimgisa Lab and Planetarium.