Blockchain-Based Virtual World Decentraland Will Finally Launch Its Public Beta in June, But It Won’t Be Very Decentralized (Yet) and It Won’t Support VR

A Decentraland Scene Taken from Their Website

Many investors (and non-invested observers) are still waiting for Decentraland (DCL for short) to announce the public beta of its much-hyped, much-anticipated blockchain-based virtual world. There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the official Decentraland Discord server about the project, some of which I wanted to summarize here.

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you already know that Decentraland has had two successful virtual land parcel auctions, and (to my knowledge), all those parcels (which are actually called LAND) have been sold, and there is an active Marketplace for the buying and selling of LAND. In response to a recent user question about whether or not Decentraland will have another land auction, toonpunk (one of the DCL developers) stated:

We will not be creating more LAND for an auction, the focus in on launching the public beta by the end of next month…The public beta will be the first public release of the platform, where you can interact with the world.

So it looks like the general public will finally get its first look at Decentraland by the end of June, 2019. However, it would appear that this first iteration of DCL is not going to be as decentralized as first hoped, nor will it support virtual reality. In response to user questions on the official DCL Discord server, Nico Earnshaw (one of the developers) said:

For our launch, we’re putting our efforts on the desktop client that runs on the browser. To be honest, I’m not sure how well that first browser open beta will run on mobile, we haven’t been testing it, but there’s still a lot of room for optimizations. It probably will run O.K. on Android, but not on iOS. We’re planning to have a native app for iOS further down the line, we’ve been already hiring developers specifically for that, but that won’t be ready to release at the same time as our first open beta.

Our desktop client will be accessed as a web page, as a user you don’t need to download anything. The rendering will be all client side. The data for what’s stored on each parcel will be on what’s today a single centralized server for now, where all the files have unique hash codes that can be verified. We plan to decentralize that single server in the future. The same goes for the sharing of data between users: position, chat, and changes to scenes… that’s also handled by a single centralized server for now, but our plan is to decentralize it too in the future. Also, any scene developer can choose to rely on using their own server to keep scene data in sync between players that are on that scene. VR support is still not on our immediate road map. At this stage, we don’t have plans to support it in the near future, and we haven’t started any development towards that goal yet. Of course it would be a great thing to have, but we need to focus on one thing at a time.

In a discussion thread on the Discord server, one observer made the following argument:

DCL hype was built on it being the first (1) decentralized (2) VIRTUAL REALITY world. Without having both, it’s just another virtual world, of which we already have plenty.

Carl Fravel, who has always been a strong supporter of the Decentraland project from the very beginning, responded:

Land ownership and content uploading decisions are decentralized. I have visited my scenes in Oculus Go. Decentraland is on the path to fulfilling the vision…Another issue with HMDs is that there isn’t something like MetaMask in them yet, for identity or commerce.

Well, it’s fine to say that land ownership is decentralized. However, until such time as a truly decentralized server system is deployed, there’s absolutely no guarantee that Decentraland won’t just fold and shut down the whole project, with zero recourse for the many people who invested thousands of dollars on plots of virtual real estate.

I’m not surprised that Decentraland will not support users in VR headsets, although some customers do seem disappointed. Frankly, they’re going to have their hands full supporting what they are offering to start: a low-poly virtual world that you can only visit via desktop browser, and perhaps an Android app.

And this is what drives me crazy about the Decentraland project. I have no doubt that the founders are sincere people who genuinely want to build a working blockchain-based virtual world. But the hyperbole surrounding this project from the very beginning (inflated by some frankly misleading early advertising and a greed-driven buying frenzy that drove LAND prices to insanely high levels), has led to impossible-to-meet expectations by DCL’s userbase. No matter what happens now, some people are going to feel bitterly disappointed.

And there’s still no market research out there which shows that a blockchain-based virtual world is something that people actually will want and use. This is a venture built entirely on up-front speculation, which has driven the whole endeavour. As I have said before, building and selling a platform based on virtual land scarcity simply doesn’t work when your company is competing against much better-developed, much more fully-featured platforms which are based on models of virtual land abundance, such as Sansar and Sinespace.

Who is Decentraland’s target audience? How will they advertise their product? How do entrepreneurs expect to make money off the platform? How will they entice people to visit and invest in an untested platform, one of countless others in this increasingly crowded marketplace?

I will continue to follow Decentraland’s developments with great interest. But I still have this nagging feeling that we’re going to see the company go through some pretty massive growing pains. And I still worry that many investors who bought when the market was at its fever pitch will be waiting a very long time to see any profit from their ventures in virtual real estate.

If you’re curious and you want to monitor the company’s progress as they near their public beta launch, you can follow Decentraland via Twitter and Reddit, or via their blog. You can also join their official Discord server.