Denise Kelley on Facebook told me about Occupy White Walls (OWW for short), and so I decided to pay a visit. This app, created by a company called Stiki Pixels, is best described via this blurb from its high irreverent website:
To say it’s a PC sandbox-building, AI-driven MMO where people play with Art, developed by people who really love architecture and abstract characters… would be a bit of a mouthful.
We could have named it ‘World of curation craft’, or ‘Clash of artistically and architecturally curious people’ but we chose Occupy White Walls. OWW for short.
Pronounced as Owouawwouaw.
They describe this virtual world as “Fair-to-Play”:
The ‘Art Market’ is already cynical, patronising, unethical and geared for the very-very-rich, we don’t see a point in making an online ‘Art fantasy land’ like that too.
OWW is as far away as possible from ‘social casino’ and ‘Pay-to-win’. No matter how poor you are, if you are creative (you are), opinionated (that too) and enthusiastic, you’ll do great in OWW.
Fair-to-Play means that OWW has no loot boxes (sorry) and no ‘real money’ required to buy any of the game elements – you can realise your way to whatever you like, organically.
Basically, you select your basic avatar and add attachments like hats or masks to it, work your way through a step-by-step tutorial to learn the basics, then build the floor and walls of your own personalized art gallery, selecting from an impressive array of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century artworks. Essentially, you curate your own art gallery, arranging the art as you prefer, then invite other avatars to come visit! You can also teleport to other avatars’ galleries. It’s a very cool idea.
Here’s a picture of me (in my Guy Fawkes Mask, centre) standing in front of my first wall of art. I picked plain white walls so as not to distract from the paintings. You can also select how you wish to frame your works, from a selection of frames. It’s all very easy to do, drag-and-drop using the OWW user interface. The frames automatically adjust to the art you are framing.
Here are a couple of shots of me exploring other curated art collections.
I shot the following one-minute video to give you an idea of what to expect when exploring within the galleries of Occupy White Walls. I am the black-and-red avatar wearing the Guy Fawkes mask, with my name “ryanschultz” hovering over my head in white letters. I walk around the gallery created by a user named halfmambo, which was mostly empty of art (except for one section), but full of what appeared to be animated bots (very strange!). There’s even a bright blue flash near the beginning, when a portal opens up and an avatar steps into the scene from another gallery!
Much of the activity in the various channels on the Decentraland chat server revolves around the buying and selling of LAND, which is the name they actually use for the 10m-by-10m parcels of virtual real estate that were first auctioned off in December 2017 and January 2018. It’s not yet known when the next auction of LAND will take place, so currently the only way to obtain LAND is to buy it from an existing owner.
Here’s one example of some LAND parcels currently for sale, along with their asking prices (this is a screen capture of part of an image shared by a seller on the chat server) :
The red circle to the left, near Vegas City (the proposed gambling district), is three parcels of LAND together in a reversed L shape. Asking price is 80,000 MANA, which, according to today’s value using this MANA-to-USD converter tool, works out to about US$8,749. According to Decentraland believers, this land is considered more valuable because it is located next to what is anticipated to be the lucrative and busy gambling district.
Now, mind you, you can’t even VISIT this land yet, and there is as yet NOTHING in Vegas City. The Vegas City investors are still wrestling with what they want to do with this large expanse of pooled property, how best to organize themselves, and how to split their anticipated future profits. There’s been quite a bit of discussion and even open conflict amongst the members of this group. The three main organizers were initially going to do an Initial Coin Offering of their own blockchain-based Vegas City token, until Decentraland (the company) poured cold water on that idea. (Decentraland is turning out not to be as “decentralized” in authority as some early idealists might have hoped. I think this sort of disillusionment happens in all virtual worlds. Eventually, the parent company has to step in and set corporate policies which the users might not like, want, or appreciate. Ask Second Life users who tried to set up banks and casinos.)
The red circle in the upper right corner of this map is a slightly smaller area (2 adjacent parcels of LAND), in a possibly less desirable location, for which the seller hopes to get his asking price of 25,000 MANA, equivalent to US$2,734. Again, all LAND prices are based on speculation, on anticipated future value. And obviously, some people jumped into Decentraland hoping to make some sort of profit by flipping LAND parcels.
In my opinion, these are astronomical prices, far outstripping what people have spent for virtual land in established virtual worlds like Second Life (where a full sim, 256m-by-256m, is US$600, with an additional US$295 per month maintenance fee). And Second Life land is widely considered to be expensive! Quite aside from the significantly higher up-front costs for much smaller pieces of land, it’s not immediately clear whether there will be any other fees (either monthly or one-time) associated with Decentraland real estate.
What’s worrying me is the fact (as I have said before) that the technical aspects of the Decentraland project are lagging far behind the financial ones. People have spent thousands of dollars on this virtual real estate (with prices actually reaching US$120,000 for one 10m-by-10m parcel of LAND) without a really good sense of what they are actually going to be able to build there, how they are going to build it, who’s going to visit it, or how to monetize it.
I’ve already gotten some flak from certain quarters in Decentraland for being a negative Nancy, for not being a true believer in the value of the blockchain, for being one of the relatively few people to say, “hey, wait a minute…” in the midst of all this fevered speculation. I’ve argued with people who assert that the scarcity of land in Decentraland is real scarcity, not artificially-induced scarcity, and that land scarcity is a good thing.
But (and I do apologize for mangling a line from the movie Field of Dreams) there’s absolutely no guarantee that if they build it, they will come.* The social VR/virtual world marketplace is getting increasingly crowded, and many competing products are more fully featured, and based on models of virtual land abundance, as opposed to scarcity. Sansar experiences can be 4 km by 4 km, and I know that Sinespace regions can be much larger than that (I’m not sure that they have a maximum size limit, although I seem to remember Adam Frisby telling me they could be as big as 32 km by 32 km. I know you could drive a dune buggy for half an hour in one direction in Sinespace’s single Grand Canyon region, before reaching the edge. It was seriously impressive!)
I’ve already written about virtual worlds that foundered due to misplaced priorities and bungled promotion. Having watched various platforms come and go over the past decade (Cloud Party, Blue Mars, Twinity, etc.), I have learned that building a successful virtual world is a much bigger and tricker endeavour than most people realize. In many cases, it’s like trying to fix all the parts of an airplane, one by one, while it’s flying in mid-air. Only in the case of Decentraland, people are frantically bidding up seat prices on a plane that hasn’t even been shown to be able to take off yet.
*Yes, I know that there is no guarantee that Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, etc. are going to succeed either. But unlike Decentraland, they are already actual working platforms which you can visit, test, and evaluate directly. Each has already attracted a small but committed group of avid tinkerers and experimenters. So far, the only truly successful virtual world is Second Life, still going strong after fourteen years and still profitable for Linden Lab, and many new social VR platforms are now fighting to inherit that mantle. Not all of them will succeed. I still do believe that at least one of the Big Five tech firms (Amazon, Apple, Facebook/Oculus, Google, and Microsoft) will release a social VR/virtual world product that we haven’t seen yet, funded from their deep pockets, and roil the marketplace even further. It’s an exciting but perilous time for any new virtual world. We may well end up with a Facebook-like situation, where one company dominates the market. We’ll see.
UPDATE March 5th: I was able to confirm that the maximum size of Sinespace regions is 32 km by 32 km, which is amazing!
The following forty-second video (no sound) captures C3rb3rus’ gigantic animated tree man as he approaches a visitor on a raised platform in the Darkwood Forest experience, reaches out several times in an effort to touch him, then lumbers away into the green mist:
I had forgotten to direct people to Inara Pey’s regular comprehensive blogposts about the most recent Sansar Product Meetups. Sorry! Unfortunately, I can no longer simply reblog them, but I can still embed links to them: