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 RyanSchultz.com 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 frankly misleading 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 the public beta launch, you can follow Decentraland via Twitter and Reddit, or via their blog. You can also join their official Discord server.

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VIBEHub: Riding Madly Off in All Directions

This picture was an illustration from the original VIBEHub white paper, which has since been taken down from their website. Stupid pictures promoting virtual reality, anyone?

Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.

—Stephen Leacock, “Gertrude the Governess”, Nonsense Novels (1911)

It’s been interesting to watch as the blockchain-based virtual world platform VIBEHub takes it first steps. Back in September, they launched their virtual world, and I wrote about it then. Since then, they have launched two other, completely different projects:

  • VIBE or DIE, a first-person shooter game where you earn or lose VIBE, Ethereum or Binance Coin cryptocurrency every time they make a kill or are killed by another user.
  • Feel the VIBE, a brand-new “hologram singing competition” with a US$10,000 grand prize, where you can watch musical performers as three-dimensional hologram videos on your mobile device.

Here’s a 50-second overview video showing both projects:

And here’s a brief promo video showing you how you can watch the Feel the VIBE contestants in “AR” via your iOS or Android mobile device:

The video description states:

Each round will consist of singers who will perform an original or cover song. During each round users like yourself will vote for your favorite performers, the performers with the most votes will advance to the next round. The champion will win a grand prize and be given their own PPV (pay-per-view) performance on the VIBEHub platform.

You must have a minimum VIBE token balance on the VIBEHub platform and will only be permitted to vote the allotted times per match. The community will determine who advances in the competition by voting for their favorite performance and will ultimately crown the winner of “Feel the VIBE.”

Now, I look at the three projects that VIBEHub has launched to date (the virtual world, the first-person shooter, and the singing competition) and I think to myself: whoa. The only thing that these three initiatives have in common is that they are all by the same company. I will say one thing, the company behind VIBEHub certainly isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket! Perhaps this is a wise strategy. But perhaps they are spreading themselves a little too thin? You can’t do everything well.

If you are interested in VIBEHub and how it develops, you can follow them on Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, or join their Discord server.

UPDATED! Taking Another Look at Mark Space and Its Shopping Mall: Ryan Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s time to take another look at Mark Space, the blockchain-based virtual world I have talked about a fair bit in the past. I still find the whole project to be somewhat mystifying, even a bit stupefying, in its lofty ambitions and slick promotion.

And Mark Space has been putting out some pretty perplexing promotional videos lately, like this one:

And this one, focusing on their development team:

Which is all well and good, but neither video tells you a damn thing about the actual product they are selling! I tend to be rather suspicious of companies that choose to spend their money on slick advertising which lacks in specific product details.

In case you forgot, the basic idea behind Mark Space is that you can buy square virtual spaces which you can decorate with 360-degree photographs of interiors, and 2D and 3D models of furniture. And… that’s pretty much it for now. Frankly, Mark Space cannot even begin to compare with much more fully-featured social VR platforms and virtual worlds such as Sansar, High Fidelity, even long-in-the-tooth Second Life, where your avatar navigates within actual three-dimensional space, instead of just clicking and panning through 360-degree photographs!

But perhaps there have been some recent developments, something to support the hype, so I decided to pay a return visit to see what’s up.

The Mark Space Shopping Mall

The Mark Space three-story shopping mall, where you are dropped when you first arrive in Mark Space, and which currently seems to be the only space you can explore, is packed full of big name, high-end stores, including, but not limited to:

  • Givenchy
  • Balcenciaga
  • Dolce & Gabbana
  • Saint Laurent
  • Prada
  • Alexander McQueen
  • Fendi
  • Valentino
  • Alexander Wang
  • Gucci
  • Burberry
  • Stella McCartney
  • Versace
  • Diane von Furstenburg
  • Michael Kors
  • and many more brands

For example, here’s the virtual Gucci store:

And, once you get inside, you can select and inspect Gucci wear:

A pop-up window appears when you click on an item in the store, like this red jacket, complete with a Buy button at the bottom:

When you click on the Buy button, it takes you to another website, MARK.MODA, where all the goods I checked were marked “Not Available”:

My question is: does Mark Space actually have any agreements with these vendors to display their products and use their brand names and logos so prominently in its shopping mall? I would expect that an official affiliation with many of these high-end brands would be rather expensive line item for (what I assume is) a small start-up company. One journalist has already caught the company on their previous claim to having an official partnership with Jaguar and Land Rover, when that was not the case. So when I see such a lengthy listing of prestigious brand names, I do tend to get a little suspicious.

I wonder what the official representatives of these companies would have to say if they were to take a look at what Mark Space is doing. Do they even know about this? Do they care? And can Mark Space get away with this, even if they claim it’s just for demonstration purposes? The answers to those three questions, in order, are probably: No. Yes. and No.

According to the legal section on Gucci’s official website:

The content on this Website, such as text, graphics, images, photographs, illustrations, trademarks, trade names, service marks, trade dress, logos…(collectively, “Contents”) is protected under domestic and foreign intellectual property laws. Gucci owns all rights and/or license in and to the Contents. Any use of the Contents not expressly permitted by these Terms of Use is a breach of these Terms of Use and may violate copyright, trademark, trade dress, patent and other laws. You understand and agree that, except as stated herein, none of the Contents may be copied, reproduced, distributed, republished, downloaded, displayed, posted, transmitted, modified, or created into derivative works in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from Gucci…The use of the Contents on any other website or in a networked computer environment for any purpose is prohibited. 

Oh, and in another development, Mark Space also boasts a brand-new “VR mode” for their web browser app. Here’s what it looks like on my desktop monitor:

Mark Space’s “VR Mode”

I can only assume this display is meant for cellphone-based VR headsets. According to a press release issued today:

Today we’ll tell you about a new platform feature — screen synchronization! The new feature allows to display everything that the user sees in the cardboard (into which a smartphone is placed) on a second screen. This means that the platform already allows to easily start using virtual reality for educational and auxiliary purposes: for example, during exhibitions, presentations, or just because. To enable this feature, you must simultaneously log into the same MARK.SPACE account on your smartphone and PC.

Sigh. Forcing you to sign in twice (on two different devices), just to be able to see a scene in cellphone VR? And I can find no Mark Space app on the iPhone App Store, so I assume this works for Android phones only. Or do they just expect you to use the web browser on your phone, too?

Caveat emptor! Oh, and I have emailed the Intellectual Property department of Gucci to ask them whether or not they actually have a relationship with Mark Space, with a link back to this blogpost.

UPDATE 6:28 p.m.: Well, I have been doing some more in-depth exploring of the MARK.MODA website, and I have found a number of Gucci items that appear to have valid pass-through links to third-party online stores carrying the actual Gucci products, like the Russian version of Farfetch.com. So who knows? Maybe I could be completely wrong, and all this is totally legitimate. Perhaps MARK.MODA (the store) predates MARK.SPACE (the virtual world), and the company is merely expanding its existing online business to include virtual world shopping. If so, then more power to them, and I apologize. But I still wonder if Gucci actually knows about their virtual storefront in Mark Space, and what they have to say about all this.

UPDATE 6:53 p.m.: Well, this just gets weirder and weirder! It looks like MARK.MODA is not really so much a shopping site as a sort of Pinterest-like social media site where users can dress up a model in clothing selected from various designers, and share the resulting picture with their social network for comments and likes. Any sales links go straight through to various third-party vendors. I even found a two-minute promotional video for MARK.MODA:

And it would appear that MARK.SPACE (the virtual world) predates MARK.MODA. None of the videos on the MARK.MODA YouTube channel is older than 5 months, and Mark Space has been around for longer than that. This is absolutely fascinating! I feel as if I have tumbled down a rabbit hole!

I wonder how long they have been working on all this, and if this rather cool service is only available via the one Russian website, or if there are other versions as well. This actually puts the whole Mark Space project in a rather different light. According to the English version of this Russian page from the MARK.MODA website:

MODA-MARK.com is one of the core products of MARK.SPACE Technologies, which operates an open-source platform for creation of 3D, VR and AR-compatible spaces (websites). MARK.MODA is built and based on a unique VR-code, created by our developers within the framework of our main company MARK.SPACE.

At present, we are testing the platform in the Russian Federation, where it has already gained popularity among stylists and fans of fashion. In the near future, MARK.MODA will be integrated into the MARK.SPACE Universe, which will allow for use of the full functionality of the platform and its launch into Asian / US / EU markets.

So it does look like it is just the one Russian website for now, with plans to expand. Now, whether any of this is actually going to work in a virtual world (let alone adding in VR) remains to be seen. But it is cool nonetheless. And I am rather intrigued!

Decentraland Finally Gives Us a Sneak Peek at Their Avatars

Decentraland has finally provided an answer to one of the most burning questions I have had about the project so far: what will the avatars look like? You can now get a sneak peek at them on this page:

Now, I don’t know anything else about their avatars others than this one picture, like exactly how customizable they are. But at least we have something to go on! Frankly, they look much better than I expected.

You can, if you wish, enter your email address into this page to be kept in the loop on future Decentraland news and announcements.