The Explosion of the “Buy a Virtual Piece of Earth” Game Market: Caveat Emptor!

In the past, from time to time on this blog, I have written about virtual world apps which consisted of arbitrarily dissecting the Earth into sections, as an augmented reality overlay, and then selling the rights to these virtual plots of land. In each case, the company involved makes vague promises that the buyers-in will make some sort of profit (usually by selling said lands for more than what was paid for them, or perhaps building stores or selling advertising on them at some future point). Among the projects I have blogged about in the past, which fall into this category, are Infiniverse, Mossland, SuperWorld, and Worldopoly.

(A variation on the theme is selling virtual plots of land on a made-up-from-scratch planet, the prime example of which was the ill-fated MATERIA ONE/Staramba Spaces project, of which you can read the whole lamentable saga here.)

Well, over the past three days, attracted by no small amount of messy YouTube drama regarding yet another one of these projects, I discovered that the number of these buy-a-piece-of-Earth apps has multiplied! In the past 72 hours I learned about a number of projects which I had never heard of before:

Here’s the requisite glitzy promo video for Earth2:

It was Earth2 that first led me down this rabbit hole, where a number of YouTubers are engaged in vociferous verbal battle with each other regarding this project, in which some players have invested tens and even thousands of dollars (converted into something called E-dollars, Earth2’s in-game currency), in order to buy the rights to virtual tiles corresponding to real-world locations.

The best overall summary of how Earth2 works is the following 50-minute video by a British fellow named Josh Strife Hayes:

In it, he does a masterful job of explaining that Earth2 is engineered in such a way that the company running it will never lose money. (He also briefly mentions Decentraland, as an example of a virtual world that actually already has visitable destinations with games and such, as opposed to promises of future development, which may or may not come true.)

Earth2 is being marketed in three phases, of which Phase 1 is the sale of virtual land, and Phase 2 is the creation of a 1:1 virtual version of the entire Earth, similar to the Matrix or Ready Player One. A game developer released the following 6-minute YouTube video explaining why this Phase 2 claim doesn’t pass the sniff test:

Other critics of Earth2, such as Callum Upton, have been nothing short of absolutely scathing in their dissection of the project, comparing it to the notorious Bitconnect scandal:

Given that most of the projects I have written about to date have failed to arouse very much interest outside the hothouse bubble of crypto greed (and I should be very clear that, as far as I can tell, there is currently no crypto or blockchain in Earth2), the amount of attacking and counter-attacking relating to Earth2 is quite noteworthy! Most projects would kill for this level of attention… 😉

Now comes my standard warning for any and all such projects: please do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing a penny in them! Read everything on the website, including the white paper, if any. Check secondary sources of info—including Discord servers and social media— for opinions, both pro and con, before you invest. Caveat emptor!

UPDATE 9:58 p.m.: A commenter on the Twitter post of this blogpost pointed me to the Build the Earth project, where thousands of people are busily at work to create a 1:1 version of Earth in Minecraft!

Pandemic Diary, August 26th, 2021: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Last week and this week, I am officially on holidays from my employer, the University of Manitoba (although I am still beavering away on my presentation on social VR in higher education, which I am scheduled to give on September 8th to the university’s Senate Committee on Academic Computing). No rest for this social VR blogger!

September is going to be a busy month, as classes resume! I am still largely working from home, and all of the training sessions I do this fall for various classes will be conducted via Zoom, Cisco WebEx, or Microsoft Teams. The University of Manitoba still has an on-campus face mask mandate, and recently, they announced that all faculty, staff, students and visitors to campus must be fully vaccinated against COVID (something which I was very happy to hear).

While I have been fully vaccinated for two months now, I have rarely left the safe cocoon of my apartment these past two weeks. Why? Well, for one, the Delta variant is spreading quickly in various parts of the country. I do not want to become a “breakthrough case”, even though I know that the vaccines will protect me against a serious case of COVID-19 if I should become infected. But I don’t feel like tempting fate!

My excursions from my apartment fall into three categories: visiting my mom and stepfather at their seniors life lease condo across town; dinners on outdoor restaurant patios with my best friend; and picking up my online grocery order every two to three weeks from my local Walmart (a habit I expect to keep once the pandemic is over). Other than that, I stay put!

Here in Manitoba, it’s been a dance of two steps forward, one step back. The good news is that over 75% of the province has been fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, due to projections of the spread of the Delta variant, and its potential impact on our healthcare system, Manitoba has had to reimpose restrictions:

The Manitoba government will require all provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations to be fully immunized for COVID-19 by Oct. 31, or undergo regular testing, to protect Manitoba against a fourth COVID-19 wave, Premier Brian Pallister announced today.

In addition, the province will put indoor mask requirements in place across Manitoba in the coming days, including in schools, and will expand the list of activities and services that can only be accessed if an individual is fully immunized.

“These steps are necessary to protect children in Manitoba, avoid another lockdown, and keep our health-care system safe from a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the dangerous delta variant,” said Pallister. “Despite having among the highest rates of vaccination in Canada, children in Manitoba are not yet eligible for the vaccine and we have to take every step we can to protect them from this virus, especially as they prepare to return to the classroom this fall.”

Like I said: two steps forward, one step back. God, I will be so happy when this dance is over! Stay safe and stay healthy, everyone!