MATERIA.ONE Update: Land Auctions Have Been Postponed

Staramba land auctions have been suspended

Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in the beta test of the virtual world called MATERIA.ONE, by a company named Staramba, which is better known for its 3D scanning systems and motion capturing. I signed a strict NDA (non-disclosure agreement) as part of that beta test, so I cannot share anything that I saw when I paid a visit to the platform. You can read more about the demo here on the Staramba website.

If you don’t remember, MATERIA.ONE (formerly known as Staramba Spaces) is banking heavily on celebrity endorsements, including Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan.

It would now appear that Staramba is among the companies who have been impacted by the slower-than-anticipated consumer uptake of virtual reality. Today I got an email from the company, which stated:

We announced some time ago that we are going to launch our next auction for spaces in our VR world called MATERIA.ONE in summer 2019

As we announced in our corporate news earlier this year we need to adapt our strategy. As current market research shows, VR is growing strongly, but it is yet to become a mass market. So in line with our mission to create the best VR world for our community and to enforce our USPs against competitors, we decided to postpone development of certain product features into the near future. As a result we will also not organize another auction of virtual spaces this year or in the near future.

This does not mean we will not do any auctions in the future at all, but rather at a point in time when it makes sense for you as current and potential investor in such property. We will keep you posted.

Now, I have absolutely no idea what “USPs” stands for. From the context, it would appear to be something associated with intellectual property, perhaps? I don’t know.

Look, I am just going to come out and say it: I don’t believe that Staramba is ever going to be able to get MATERIA.ONE off the ground. Being good at 3D scanning and motion capture is one thing; building a virtual world from scratch is another. The whole idea of buying virtual parcels of land associated with celebrities was a crazy one to begin with. Why would anybody spend their hard-earned money to buy MATERIA.ONE’s cryptocurrency and then spend it on so-called “bidding rights” to virtual plots of land associated with Paris Hilton, Hulk Hogan, or some soccer star, with absolutely zero guarantee of any interaction with the actual celebrity?

I notice with amusement that over 254 spaces are still up for grabs in the Paris Hilton sector. (The last time I checked, it was 412, so obviously somebody has thought that investing in this was worthwhile. I am of the opinion that greedy crypto investors will put money into anything if they think they can make a buck off it. Hellooo, CryptoKitties?)

Given the lacklustre response, I can understand why Staramba has called a halt to the proceedings. This whole project needs a complete rethink.

If you’re interested in following the progress of MATERIA.ONE, you can visit their website, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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Somnium Space Embraces Blockchain

Somnium Space is planning to release version 2.0 of their social VR platform to the general public right after their Initial Land Offering in early October of this year, according to a conversation I had with Artur Sychov, Somnium Space’s founder. (Backers of their successful IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign will be able to get an advance look at the platform.)

Somnium Space is one of the companies involved in the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (along with JanusVR and High Fidelity), and they are planning to embrace blockchain technology in a big way. In a recent post on Medium, the company states:

At Somnium Space, we are fundamentally against pure gimmicks. That is why we have taken our time to thoroughly design and incorporate blockchain into our VR world from the ground up. We did not do any ICO’s, IPO’s or any other public offering based on shiny promises and so called “white papers”. Instead, we have invested our own money and hard work to firstly build a real and existing VR world, then we raised a very healthy seed round from VC’s [venture capitalists] to ensure stability of operations for our company and as a final step we are bringing this technology to you — Somnium players / citizens by having our Initial Land Offering. But that’s not it. We have also partnered with companies which are recognizable leaders in the blockchain industry to make sure, that our process of ILO (Initial Land Offering auction) is well designed, programmed and executed. It is time to give you the power to truly own part of Somnium land and start creating, monetizing and enjoying true VR metaverse without a fear of losing it all one day. You can finally plan for a very long-term future inside Somnium Space and build this incredible world of your dreams together with all of us.

So what is [an] ILO? [An] Initial Land Offering auction is a process which will take place within couple of months (precise dates will be revealed very soon, so stay tuned). During this public auction Somnium Space will auction off all available (tokenized on blockchain) parcels on the Somnium Space map. In total, there are 5000 parcels on Somnium Map, 500 of those are already taken by our early supporters and backers, but [the] rest, 4500, are available for anyone to own.

Somnium Space land map (parcels in red are already reserved)

If you are interested in Somnium Space and want to find out more, here is their website. You can also follow them on various social media (DiscordTwitter, Telegram, or Instagram). 

Editorial: Will Social VR Companies Have to Turn to Influencers to Promote Their Products?

Photo by Diggity Marketing on Unsplash

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Recently, I have become fascinated by a particular kind of celebrity: the YouTube influencer. Yesterday, I watched a video by the successful YouTuber and real estate agent Graham Stephan, who is currently pulling in US$100,000 per month from his YouTube channel alone:

These are people who have been able to attract significant numbers of subscribers to their YouTube video content, and earn hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars a year with advertising and endorsement deals. For example, the 28-year-old Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a PewDiePie) earned US$15.5 million last year, according to Forbes.

Now, you might remember that PewDiePie was one of the YouTubers who devoted coverage to the social VR platform VRChat in late 2017 and early 2018, which led to a surge in the number of concurrent users (here is a chart from Steam showing the number of concurrent users of VRChat over time, with an arrow pointing to that surge):

Now, I’m pretty sure that PewDiePie did not sign an endorsement deal with VRChat; he probably just stumbled across it and thought it was entertaining enough to share with his audience of 98.6 million viewers. VRChat was probably just as surprised as everybody else by this sudden spike in users. I remember how they struggled to keep their servers running smoothly to deal with this unexpected onslaught over the Christmas holidays in 2017, and they were eventually forced to implement a detailed safety and trust system to cope with the resulting tidal wave of harassment and griefing on the platform. (Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!)

But obviously, PewDiePie and his fellow livestreamers on Twitch and YouTube were a powerful, free promotional tool for VRChat. (The Ugandan Knuckles meme helped a lot, too, by becoming a self-perpetuating cycle that helped popularize VRChat.) While the platform peaked at 28,500 simultaneous users, it has since settled down to around 6,000 concurrent users in recent months, which still makes it the most popular social VR platform so far.

It’s no secret that most social VR platforms are struggling to attract users. According to a statement made by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg to Forbes about the Monstercat 8th anniversary concert event in Sansar:

Monstercat: Call of the Wild Experience is a VR space where the music label will host artist meet and greets, giveaways, and more. Altberg didn’t give me exact numbers but over a thousand people watched the show in VR via Sansar.

“Tens of thousands of people watched the concert across Twitch, Mixer, and Huya, and over a thousand people around the world attended the event in Sansar – across 6 continents, 65 countries, and 675 cities.  Fans feel more connected and immersed in the music they love, while artists, in turn, effectively reach more people and places in a single day than they’d reach on a real-life tour. “

Now, while I am slightly suspicious at that “675 cities” figure (I always knew you could determine country by IP address, but I wasn’t aware you could pinpoint IP addresses down to the city level), the fact remains that 1,000 users in one day is seen as a major success for Sansar. But compare this with the estimated 600,000 regular users for Second Life. And compare this with the estimated 7,500 users of the adult virtual world 3DX Chat, which, as one commenter noted (here and here):

… 3DXChat. It started as just a sex sim. Then they added building. Then users started building and visiting each others places, instead of paying for sex like they were supposed to.

It’s more successful than High Fidelity, Sansar, and Sinespace put together. About 7,500 paying users.

So, although 1,000 users in one day for one event in Sansar is a significant achievement, it still doesn’t take the platform to the next level, where Linden Lab can really start making money off it.

Which leads to my question: will Linden Lab and other social VR companies eventually have to pay YouTubers and other influencers to promote their platforms to a wider audience and attract more attention? The experience of VRChat was an instructive lesson on the advertising power of influencers like PewDiePie.

Linden Lab has already taken some tentative steps in this direction already, with links to Twitch livestreamers like UmiNoKaiju (which, as far as I know, went nowhere). It would appear that companies would get more of a bang for their buck if they entered into partnerships with people with much bigger followings on Twitch and YouTube. And frankly, that is not cheap. Viral Nation, one of the top influencer marketing agencies, which represents hundreds of successful influencers using Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Snapchat, is only interested in customers who have a advertising budget in the range of $10,000 to $10,000,000.

Linden Lab and other social VR companies may decide that slower, organic growth is best. However, the pressure to attract a lot of users more quickly using high-profile influencers must be sorely tempting. Will Linden Lab, High Fidelity, Sinespace, and other social VR platforms eventually bite the bullet and sign deals with popular influencers? Only time will tell.

UPDATE Aug. 16th: I have been told that it is, indeed, possible to identify cities by IP address, which I did not know before!