UPDATED! Editorial: Decentraland Is Paying for Contest Entries (And Why This May Backfire)

On Nov. 8th, I wrote about the Decentraland Builder Contest, which is currently underway and runs until Dec. 15th, 2019. You can refer to my previous blogpost for all the details on the contest, or you can check the Decentraland website.

One thing that I did not know about the contest is that each accepted entry will receive 200 MANA, which works out to about US$5.00 at the current exchange rates. I understand that you can submit up to 20 entries per person, which means that a user who submits the maximum number of entries earns 4,000 MANA, worth about US$100. (This information comes from a recent blogpost on the DCLPlazas blog, which is a good source of news about Decentraland.)

This reminds me of how High Fidelity was offering US$300 per accepted entry to an avatar contest at one of its final big events (this was before its abrupt pivot earlier this year to promote business use of HiFi for remote workteams, and an attempt to rein in runaway costs). For a while there, High Fidelity was spending money like a drunken sailor, and I am starting to wonder if the same thing is starting to happen over at Decentraland, which has been extremely generous with its contest prizes this year.

I have absolutely no problem with large cash prizes for contest winners, and I know that contests encourage the creation of good content, which drives usage of the platform. But in my opinion, paying for every single contest entry is only going to encourage a flood of people gaming the system with the maximum number of contest entries, just to collect the most money they can and then cash it out.

This is essentially bribing people to use your platform, which means that as soon as the money stops flowing, fickle users, who were there only because they were paid, will abandon the platform (which is exactly what happened to High Fidelity).

One of the things that is starting to concern me about blockchain-based virtual worlds like Decentraland is how they seem to encourage a rather mercenary approach to their in-world economy. It doesn’t help matters that land is such an expensive commodity in DCL, which almost makes it imperative to be able to use it to generate revenue. (A year ago, DCL even launched virtual land mortgages, for those who could not afford to pay for their LAND up front.)

Want to play a hunting game? You’ve got to pay for the arrows. Want your choice of avatar username? You’ve got to buy one. One person on the official Decentraland Discord server recently asked whether they would be allowed to erect a paywall in front of a constructed scene, so you couldn’t even look at it without paying. Everybody seems out to make a buck.

The blockchain/cryptocurrency community is a world apart, and most current Decentraland users and investors do not see this sort of setup as strange. But I wonder how well this will play out with the casual, non-crypto visitors which DCL needs to attract in order to survive and thrive long-term. Will potential users be put off by having to pay for everything, even buying their username? I guess we’ll find out once the doors open to the general public.

UPDATE Dec. 6th, 2019: Ari Meilich, the Project Lead at Decentraland, says:

The idea behind subsidizing content creation is trying to crack the chicken and egg problem. A lot of people have been building in the absence of incentives, but other are more likely to create better scenes provided they receive tokens, particularly before we have launched and there isn’t an immediate flux of users. In the previous contests it has worked out great. This contest will be the last one before launch, Ryan. And it’s looking like there’ll be enough interactive content to put us in a good position to open the world publicly soon 🙂

Thanks, Ari!

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