UPDATED! Decentraland and Somnium Space: A Tale of Two Auctions

Today is officially the last day of the week-long land auctions for the blockchain-based virtual world Somnium Space. You can check out the status of the auctions using their up-to-date land auction map (which might take a minute or two to load on slower computers).

Red parcels were those which were claimed before the auction as an incentive for investors in their previous crowdfunding initiatives (approximately 500 parcels in total). There are 4,500 parcels up for grabs this week to the highest bidder. Yellow parcels are those which have bids in the auction. Green parcels are those which have not been bid on.

Here’s what the map looks like (in two sections, top half and bottom half), as of today around 2:00 p.m. Central Standard Time:

As you can see, there’s a veritable sea of green parcels on the Somnium Space map, and not a lot of yellow ones. Compare this to the bidding frenzy that occurred in both of Decentraland’s previous land auctions, in which almost every single parcel of land was sold.

The team over at Somnium Space must be feeling a little surprised by the (relative) lack of response from bidders, and I must admit that I am feeling somewhat surprised myself.

The cost of the Somnium Space land parcels currently up for auction varies from 0.3 ETH to 3 ETH (US$54 to US$540), compared to the cheapest parcel of LAND available on the Decentraland LAND Marketplace at 12,900 MANA (US$412). If course, some LAND is much, much more expensive than that!

And let’s compare feature sets between the two products: what you can do in Somnium Space compared to Decentraland. You can actually build using the in-world building tools in Somnium Space, which offer you much more functionality than the somewhat limited Decentraland Builder, which is not really an in-world building tool at all, but rather an external website. (Someone has already built an experimental in-world building tool in DCL, but it is rather primitive.)

You also have better, more realistic graphics in Somnium Space than in Decentraland. Let’s compare two scenes, one of Somnium Space, and one of Decentraland:

Somnium Space
Decentraland

You can see more pictures of the new Somnium Space 2.0 here. Decentraland is hobbled by the significant content constraints placed on its builders, and cannot currently hope to match SS’s scenes.

So, why aren’t people (yet) flocking to Somnium Space as they did to Decentraland? Why aren’t people choosing to spend their money on cheaper virtual land that offers much greater creative possibilities?

One of the issues may be timing. Decentraland started off with an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) at the height of the cryptocurrency mania, which generated a lot of money (millions of dollars) and a lot of interest because it raised so much money. Somnium Space started off with less of a bang, as a non-blockchain project which had blockchain added afterwards. At the time of Somnium Space’s land auction, the bloom has definitely come off the rose for blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which might explain the relatively sedate pace of bidding compared to the frenzy over Decentraland in their two previous LAND auctions.

Another reason might be that Somnium Space is still a relatively new and untested platform (particularly the new, contiguous version 2.0 landscape), and potential investors might be cautious, wanting to wait and see what the early pioneers are going to do with the land they bought. As someone said on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel in talking about thos week’s Somnium Space auction:

Unless the worlds become bustling with life and events and creators and MONEY, nobody will ever want to buy more land (only if they are still sick with blockchain hype). Buying an abstract piece of “land” in some obscure world that might or might not become popular is a gamble, and the only winning party here is the House, aka the creator.

Decentraland may not compare that favourably to Somnium Space in terms of technical features, but it does hum with money—the millions of dollars that MANA and LAND speculators invested ensure that DCL gets the white-hot spotlight of more attention, including mainstream news media coverage from places such as CBC Radio and the BBC. Once a project gets that level of coverage, it almost takes on a life of its own. And Somnium Space will likely need to get that kind of attention, that kind of coverage, in order to succeed. (I mean, I’m covering it, but I’m just a niche blog with 600-6,000 viewers a day! That’s peanuts.)

And, as we have seen with failed blockchain-based virtual world projects such as Virtual Universe, simply having better features alone does not guarantee success. Virtual Universe supported VR, had simply stunning realism in their world, and some truly innovative in-world creation tools, but the company was simply unable to entice the public to invest in their project’s cryptocurrency, and they folded.

It will be interesting to watch as both Somnium Space and Decentraland evolve and adapt to circumstances in future. I wish both companies every success in their endeavours, and good luck! They will both need it. (Remember, Facebook is planning to launch a social VR platform and a cryptocurrency next year. Don’t think for a moment that they haven’t considered combining the two in some fashion.)

UPDATE 7:34 p.m.: I wanted to add a time-lapse video of Somnium Space’s in-world building tools in action, since not a lot of people have had an opportunity to try them out yet:

I find this to be pretty impressive!

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2 thoughts on “UPDATED! Decentraland and Somnium Space: A Tale of Two Auctions”

  1. The fact Decentraland is browser based is a huge differentiator. The technical constraints have been intelligently applied to get the best user experience (minimise download times and improve performance) and from contsraints come creative solutions.

    The Decentraland team get a lot of stick for not delivering things when initially planned but I’d rather have a well considered and worked through end result and have to wait for it rather than get something half baked much earlier.

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