EDITORIAL: How Big Tech Layoffs, the Deepening Crypto Winter, and Global Chaos Will Impact the Metaverse

So (like many of you), have been following the news media these past seven days, and between the U.S. midterm elections, the jaw-dropping layoffs at both Meta and Twitter, and the collapse of major cryptocurrency exchange FTX, it’s been quite a week!

As I write this, I am listening to a Sept. 22nd, 2022 report written by Adam Fisher for clients of the investment firm Sequoia, titled Sam Bankman-Fried Has a Savior Complex—And Maybe You Should Too.

UPDATE 3:08 p.m.: Sequoia has just removed Adam’s report from its website but, as always, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has you covered! WARNING: I listened to all one-and-a-half hours of the audio version of this article, and I want that time back! The level of hubris and cringe in this article is off the charts!

Given what’s happened in the past 48 hours, this report has aged like milk—badly. I had bookmarked it yesterday, and when I went to revisit the page today, I noticed that it had been updated:

UPDATE: Nov 9, 2022: Since this article was published, a liquidity crunch has created solvency risk for FTX and its future is uncertain. Many have been affected by this unexpected turn of events. For Sequoia, our fiduciary responsibility is to our LPs. To that end, we shared this letter with them today regarding our investment in FTX. For FTX, we believe its fiduciary responsibility is first to its customers, and second to its shareholders. As such, FTX is exploring all opportunities to ensure its customers are able to recover their funds as quickly as possible.

Of course, the best front-row seat to the three-ring circus that is crypto is the r/Buttcoin cryptosnark community over at Reddit, and let me tell you, there has been no shortage of things to talk about. Many there predict that (much like the unraveling of the LUNA cryptocurrency “unraveling “stablecoin” on May 7th, 2022, which in turn led to the failures of cryptofirms like Celsius and Voyager) there will be a significant impact to the sudden FTX implosion (Sequoia announced that they have written down their investment in FTX to zero). Even in the crazy world of crypto, the speed with which Sam Bankman-Fried has fallen off his pedestal and destroyed his reputation and his companies (not to mention his investors’ money) is bonkers. But that’s not the only big news these past seven days.

First: The crypto crash is looking more and more like a sustained crypto nuclear winter. Blockchain is now tainted, perhaps irredeemably so, and blockchain-based metaverses are tainted by association. What this means is that the already-established, relatively stable platforms (Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, and a handful of others) are going to have a very difficult time selling NFT-based land, avatar accessories, etc., as well as encouraging new users to come and set up shop. We’re rapidly reaching the point that the general, non-tech public will run the other way when crypto, blockchain, or NFTs are mentioned, given the unending litany of bad news.

People and companies who invested in these platforms at the height of the hype cycle may have to make some hard choices between holding on (perhaps forever) in hopes of seeing a profit, or being forced by circumstances to sell at a loss, because they desperately need to get out of the market. (Perhaps they worked at Meta or Twitter or some other company downsizing during this increasingly brutal recession?). In my opinion, this will keep prices for NFT properties at or near rock-bottom for the foreseeable future, and it will impact these metaverse firms and their future development plans.

But, as bad as that is, the news is even worse for those blockchain-based metaverse projects which have not yet launched. In my opinion, many of these projects are doomed to fail, taking their investors’ money along with it. Some were designed to be rugpulls from the very beginning, hoping to cash in on the ignorant, while others were just weirdly-hatched and poorly-executed but honest proposals (e.g. Cirque de Soleil’s Hanai World project, which I am told has now folded).

Second: Meta is wounded, having lost the public’s trust and investors’ confidence, and facing increasing blowback for its decision to heavily invest in the metaverse and virtual reality. Meta’s missteps are negatively affecting the general public’s impression of the “metaverse”.

Say the word “metaverse” to your average man (or woman) on the street and you probably would get one of the following two responses:

  1. The “metaverse” is Meta/Facebook’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms only; or
  2. The “metaverse” consists of the blockchain/crypto/NFT-based platforms only, e.g. Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox, etc.

I’ve already dealt with the blockchain-based metaverses above; now let’s turn to Meta. Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Meta have spent a fair deal of time and money to promote Meta’s visions of the “metaverse”. Mark doesn’t want you to spare a thought for the countless other metaverse platforms which have been in development for years, and in some cases like Second Life, decades. He wants you to focus on Meta. Meta, people! Pay no attention to those other people!!! (Yeah, I know; it’s going about as well as you can expect, given people’s lack of trust in Mark or his company.)

Things have not been going especially well for Meta at the moment, with numerous new media reporting on its financial turmoil, as Mark Zuckerberg invests billions of dollars into research and development to build his vision of the metaverse. Venture capitalist Nathan Benaich recently tweeted (please note that Meta Reality Labs is the R&D arm of Meta working on VR/AR/MR/XR projects.):

In fact, things have been going so badly for Meta lately that many metaverse pundits (myself included) have begun to worry that it is tainting the general public’s perception of the “metaverse”, perhaps unfairly so. Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, covers the VR/AR/MR/XR industry and the metaverse, wrote a recent editorial which I think needs to be read. He echoes what I and other metaverse pundits have noticed for quite some time now: the general public’s mood on the metaverse has soured quickly.

Tony Vitello points out something that many of us writing about the metaverse have noticed for quite some time now: the concept of the metaverse is developing a bad reputation

In an article titled Meta bad, metaverse bad, Tony writes:

After my usual Sunday tour of Twitter and LinkedIn feeds to gather news for my weekly newsletter, I feel the need of writing a rant about a trend I’m seeing online after the Meta Connect about Meta and its involvement in the “metaverse” field.

Many journalists of important tech magazines (TechCrunch, Business Insider, etc…) are all playing a common sport now: targeting Meta and Mark Zuckerberg. They are all writing posts about how Meta has failed, the metaverse has failed, the Meta Quest Pro failed, and also Zuck has failed. Everything is a huge failure. I admit that this news has caught me by surprise, because I have many projects in XR that are doing pretty well, and actually this has been one of the best moments to be in the ecosystem for me. I’m sorry that I hadn’t received the memo that everything failed: I’ll stop doing what I’m doing now and immediately go looking for a job to make fries at McDonald’s.

Look, I get it. Bad news draws eyeballs and clicks, and most people don’t like or trust Mark Zuckerberg or his Meta/Facebook empire. So the negative press pile-on in the wake of the Meta Connect 2022 event was not unexpected. Here’s an example of the recent coverage, by Paul Tassi of Forbes:

Meta shocked the financial world this Thursday by posting a 52% profit decline, its second straight quarterly decline, and a revenue decline of 4% year-over-year. This decimated their stock so badly with a 24.5% drop that it caused financial analyst Jim Cramer to break down crying and apologize on air for having faith in the company.

A main culprit of Meta’s decline is the thing it was named after, Mark Zuckerberg’s relentless pursuit of the metaverse through the company’s Reality Labs division, which has lost $9.4 billion this year so far, and there are warnings that bigger and broader losses are to come in 2023.

And, of course, the news yesterday that Meta was laying off over 11,000 employees has not helped matters in the slightest. It’s not yet known how these massive layoffs will affect Meta’s work in virtual reality, augmented reality, and the metaverse, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few projects in that area are trimmed. Many in the financial community are attacking Mark Zuckerberg and his desire to repivot Meta to be a metaverse company, and the negative blowback will also impact other companies working in this space. I’ve written more about this on my blog in this August 2022 editorial, How the Crypto Crash—and Meta’s Missteps—Are Souring the General Public on the Metaverse, so rather than repeat myself, I will direct you there if you want to learn more of my thoughts on the matter. On to the next point!

Third: Elon Musk is killing Twitter, and its death throes, plus Meta’s continued struggles, will lead to many people radically rethinking their use of social media, and leaving Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Image source: r/EnoughMuskSPam subreddit on Reddit

If you haven’t got the memo yet, surveillance capitalism and algorithmically-driven echo chambers/walled gardens are about as popular as crypto nowadays. Despite daily reassurances from the Chief Twit himself, the MIT Technology Review reports that Twitter may have already lost one million users, many of whom have moved to Mastodon and other federated services, beyond the control of capricious billionaires. And, while not in dire straits like Twitter, Meta’s social media platforms are similarly bleeding users, as the younger generations abandon Facebook and Instagram for TikTok (which, of course, has its own user data privacy and surveillance capitalism issues, not to mention a parent company now marketing a standalone VR headset to compete with Meta, but that is an issue for a different editorial).

How will this affect the metaverse? Well, for starters, it’s going to be a lot harder for metaverse-building companies to get attention using traditional social media during this time of turmoil and upheaval, which is their primary form of advertising. For example, Mastodon is notoriously resistant to influencer culture and corporate shilling, even going so far as to ban entire instances/servers to avoid being tainted by the filthy lucre of capitalism. (For example, the overly-protective but proactive moderator of the well-established scholar.social Mastodon instance/server just banned the new journa.host instance, because of problems the latter has had in setting up their server, which means that journalists who set up accounts on journa.host are barred from seeing what is going on over at the scholar.social server. These people, many of whom were burned by older forms of social media, are not playing around!)

Another example of the impact: I have unfollowed all the people I used to follow on Twitter, deleted almost all of my tweets, and deactivated my account, in direct reaction to the callous, heartless way that Elon Musk handled his layoffs, gutting half the Twitter staff (I wrote about it in an update at the end of my previous blogpost). This means that I deliberately cut off one venue by which I leaned about news and events taking place in the VR/AR/MR/XR and the metaverse. However, I am still a member of almost 100 different Discord servers, including the 715-member RyanSchultz.com Discord, and my connections there keep me just as well-informed, without having to take part in Facebook or Twitter! I am also quite active on Reddit, although lately most of that time has been spent lollygagging in r/Buttcoin! 😜

Finally, we are entering a severe global recession, with both mass layoffs (see above) and staffing shortages, combined with skyrocketing inflation, which means that we are going to continue to see chaos, disorder, and upheaval all around the world. The war in Ukraine is still upending global supply chains, and China’s continuing strict COVID lockdowns are still impacting product manufacturing. Oh, and did I mention that we need to act now to put the brakes on global climate change before many parts of the world become inhospitable and even uninhabitable? If you’re not depressed, then you haven’t been paying attention!*

Fasten your seatbelts, kids; I have a feeling it’s going to be a bumpy ride, and not just one bumpy night! While chaos can be liberating for some people, it is anxiety-inducing for many others (including myself). We are also still operating under an ongoing pandemic that is absolutely NOT over (for example, my best friend’s 92-year-old mother passed away from COVID-19 in hospital a couple of weeks ago). I am, still, barely leaving my apartment, and my university still has an indoor facemask mandate in place. (Good thing my passionate hobby is virtual reality and the metaverse! Avatars can’t catch the virus. 😉 )

In summary, this global chaos (plus all the other points I made above) will impact the people and companies building the metaverse, as well as the people using it! There will be new challenges, but also new opportunities. Expect the unexpected!

* If you are struggling with your mental health, at the start of the pandemic I pulled together a list of helpful resources, which you can find here. It’s a little out-of-date, but most of the links should still work. Remember, help is out there if you need it!

Editorial: A Kerfuffle Over Decentraland Usage Statistics

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

—quote popularized by Mark Twain, origin unknown

On October 7th, 2022, the CoinDesk crypto news website published an article by Cameron Thompson, titled It’s Lonely in the Metaverse: Decentraland’s 38 Daily Active Users in a $1.3B Ecosystem:

screen capture of the CoinDesk article

This article led to some animated discussions over on the cryptosnark subreddit on Reddit (memorably named r/Buttcoin). I would encourage you to take a look at the full discussion thread yourself, which features an interesting side discussion of Second Life, but I will pick out a few choice quotes to share here (please keep in mind that this is a community of cryptoskeptics, not necessarily fans of NFT metaverse platforms!):

[More like] Desertedland.

I’m a land owner on DCL, was super bullish on it when I bought in last year (and before Facebook renamed to Meta and there was the metaverse craze). However, I just can’t see how it can scale. The game is laggy as f*** every single time you load it, got even worse during the craze period. How the heck can a virtual ‘world’ scale when majority of the users can’t even ‘walk around’ the ‘world’ properly?

Now it’s just a ghost town.

It’s pushed as a pet project by certain vested interests who have sunk lots into this, so they need their money’s worth (cough GRAYSCALE cough). Grayscale went full stupid on this, they even created a Trust offering for MANA similar to Grayscale BTC trust where people could hold MANA in traditional IRA accounts

My son’s Minecraft server has more active players.

Tried to use it once. Bounced after it presented me with a $250 gas fee for trying to use a virtual vending machine. That was about an entire ETH at the time. Sold what little MANA [Decentraland’s cryptocurrency] I had, a couple hundred bucks at the time… which would’ve been worth about 20 thousand at its height. I’d even started designing assets for it. Was gonna buy some land and make a go of it, but Ethereum being a terrible inefficient network killed my momentum. Can’t help but be a little bitter about it.

Tried using Decentraland on both a 2020 Microsoft Surface and an older laptop that could run World of Warcraft, [and I] couldn’t even walk around because the system demands were so high. If they are selling their ecosystem to gamers then they are going to require A LOT more development to make it actually fun (i.e. more to do than just poker and microtransactions). If they are selling to the everyday consumer then they are going to need to cut down the hardware requirements to entry for anyone without a $1000+ computer. It has potential, but still a long way to go before it sees the everyday popularity that other digital platforms enjoy.

Just to clarify, the article says an “active” user has to make an actual transaction or another smart contract interaction. So there are probably a lot more users who just log in [and] play the game without being counted.

With respect to that last comment, the CoinDesk article indeed does state:

An active user, according to DappRadar, is defined as a unique wallet address’ interaction with the platform’s smart contract. For example, logging onto The Sandbox or Decentraland to make a purchase with SAND or MANA, each platform’s respective native utility token, is counted as an “active use.”

This means that DappRadar’s compilation of daily active users doesn’t account for people who log in and mosey around a metaverse platform or drop in briefly for an event, such as a virtual fashion week. It also likely means that these spaces are not where people are making transactions, such as buying non-fungible tokens (NFT)…

The largest number of daily users ever on Decentraland was 675, according to DappRadar.

So, for example, if I visit Decentraland, wander around the virtual world, but not interact with a smart contract (e.g. buy something like arrows for a hunting game), I am not counted as a user that day. This is a good example of how statistics taken from blockchain transactions do not give the full picture of what’s going on in an NFT metaverse! So this is rather sloppy reporting, which hurts Decentraland.

Decentraland was very quick to push back on what they consider to be an inaccurate way to count usage of its platform:

Here’s part of their Twitter thread:

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation on the number of active users of Decentraland. Some websites are tracking only specific smart contract transactions but reporting them as daily active users DAU, which is inaccurate.

Let’s have a look at some of September’s data:

56,697 MAU [monthly active users. i.e. the total number of unique visitors in one month]
1,074 Users interacting with smart contracts
1,732 minted Emotes
6,315 sold Wearables
300 Creators received royalties
161 created Community Events
148 DAO Proposals

For better data: DAO grantee DCL Metrics tracks Decentraland’s Daily Visitors looking at the catalyst server visits and provides a similar data point as DAU. https://dcl-metrics.com

The DCL Metrics website allows you to pull up charts showing statistics over the past 90 days: Unique visitors per day (the blue chart on the left) and parcels visited per day (the purple chart on the right). Over the past three months, DAU (daily active users, i.e. the total number of unique visitors to Decentraland in one day) ranges from 5,871 to 11,965 users, with a slight but noticeable downward trend. On the other hand, there is a slight upward trend in the number of parcels visited each day (perhaps as new venues are constructed?).

Also, according to another, older thread from the Decentraland subreddit, there are webpages you can check to see the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). However, please remember that these are snapshots, minute-by-minute figures, as opposed to the total count of daily active users. (At the time I checked them today, on a Canadian Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, there were approximately 530 users in all of Decentraland.)

So, watching this whole kerfuffle unfold online, here are some of my thoughts.

First: accurate metaverse usage statistics are sometimes hard to come by. They can be even harder to come by, if the metaverse company building a particular platform decides not to release them (for example, if they are so low that it would prove embarrassing to the company, which is likely working hard to encourage new users to its platform, and don’t want to share any news that makes them look bad).

Case in point, Linden Lab used to provide detailed user statistics for Second Life, then stopped, aside from the rare announcement of their MAU (monthly active user) figures. The company largely left the gathering and reporting of statistics to crafty folks who were able to scrape data from various sources. If you’re looking for some up-to-date SL statistics (as of Sept. 30th, 2022), Daniel Voyager reports:

  • daily Second Life user concurrency figures (i.e. the number of avatars online at any one time) range from 27,000 to 51,000. with a peak of 55,737 on Feb. 5th, 2022
  • the official Second Life website regularly gets over 10 million visits a month
  • 27, 453 grid regions (more commonly known as “sims” in SL; please note that, unlike Decentraland, there is no artificial scarcity in virtual land in Second Life, since Linden Lab regularly creates and leases out new land to meet demand)

While we cannot directly compare DCL’s unique daily visitor count with SL’s user concurrency figures, we can compare the latter to the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). While certainly better than the 38 figure touted in the CoinDesk article, the 530 user concurrency figure for Decentraland pales in comparison to the 27.000-to-51,000 user concurrency figures for Second Life.

Also, compare these figures with the user concurrency figures put out by Steam for VRChat, with an all-time peak user concurrency of 42,564 (and on Jan. 4th, 2022, Wagner James Au reported that VRchat hit an all-time high of 89,300 concurrent users during New Year’s Eve 2021 celebrations, citing statistics scraped by a VRChat user named Adeon). So, as you can see, even with more accurate stats, Decentraland is still not anywhere nearly as popular as Second Life or VRChat (while it certainly is more popular than, say, Sansar).

Now, let’s focus in on one of the statistics Decentraland shared in its rebuttal series of tweets. 6,315 avatar wearables sold in one month seems to me to be a relatively small number, especially when you compare it to the sales juggernaut that is Second Life (both in-world store sales and SL Marketplace online sales, the latter of which would be the most direct comparison to Decentraland’s Marketplace).

I don’t have exact stats on SL sales (again, they can be hard come by), but a January 13th, 2022 Linden Lab press release stated that “Second Life has had one of its strongest years ever, with a growing user base and booming economy including an annual GDP of $650 million USD with 345 million transactions of virtual goods, real estate, and services.” Second Life’s non-crypto economy appears to be doing well!

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2), and I suspect that this rule would also seem to apply to social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds: the more users you meet on a metaverse platform, the more popular it becomes.

Hopefully, this becomes a virtuous circle, where more users lead to more events, more engagement, and people telling their friends, family, and colleagues about “this cool place I’ve found,” and getting them to join. But it can also lead to a vicious circle, where people eventually stop visiting a platform because every time they log in, there’s next to nobody there, almost zero events happening, and little or nothing engaging to do.

Given the resounding crash of the NFT marketplace overall, and the resulting growing antipathy towards crypto and NFTs after a series of well-publicized failures and scams, even those legitimate NFT metaverses which have actually launched a working platform (Decentraland among them) are facing unprecedented pressures. Both crypto prices and sales volumes for all these projects have crashed, leaving those who bought at the top of the market wondering when they will be able to recoup their investments.

Another thought: the 1.3 billion dollar ecosystem mentioned in the title of the CoinDesk article is a bit misleading, too; this valuation is, as far as I am aware, based on what people actually paid for their virtual lands, avatar accessories, etc. Of course, in the current crypto winter, these assets are probably worth a lot less today. However, since the investors won’t realize a loss until they sell, they can cling to the inflated value of their NFTs (or, as the cryptobros like to say, “hodl”, short for “hold on for dear life”).

Molly White, the creator of the sarcastically-named website Web3 is going just great, has written an excellent article on cryptocurrency “market caps” and notional value, which I recommend you read to get a better picture of what’s going on in this space. It’s all too easy to blindly accept what promoters are telling you is the “value” of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Molly outlines some of the shenanigans used to artificially inflate these “values”, such as wash trading. (And check out her website!)

O.K., let’s just wrap this editorial up with an executive summary: Decentraland is not as bad off as the CoinDesk article might suggest in this misleading article, but compared to other metaverse platforms like VRChat and Second Life, it’s lagging behind in usage, despite its billion-dollar valuation.

UPDATE Oct. 12th, 2022: From Futurism: $1.2 Billion Metaverse Horrified by Report It Only Had 38 Active Users. Here’s a choice quote from that article:

Of course, even 8,000 users on a given day is dismal for something that’s supposed to be the future of online communities. And if blockchain is the underlying economic mechanism of the endeavor, it’s outright embarrassing if only a few dozen transactions are happening per day.

In short, it’s a perfect example of the kind of massive disparity between market value and actual users that has been plaguing the Web3 world for years, and could also be indicative of a serious slowdown in appetite for virtual real estate and other blockchain-related assets, including cryptocurrencies and NFTs

Decentraland’s Twitter account also attempted to do some damage control, writing that the platform saw “1,074 users interacting with smart contracts” in all of September.

All told, though, none of these numbers really amount to much, given the amount of money being poured into metaverse platforms like Decentraland.

And that doesn’t bode well for the future of the metaverse.

I Pay a Visit to The Sandbox: My First Impressions of Alpha Season 3

I have written about The Sandbox before on this blog (here and here), and mentioned it in passing in other blogposts, but this weekend I decided to actually pay a visit to the third alpha test of this blockchain-based flatscreen virtual world, to see what all the fuss was about.

The Sandbox (a subsidary of Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based software and venture capital company) describes itself as “a community-driven platform where creators can monetize voxel assets and gaming experiences on the blockchain.” It is what I consider the fourth major blockchain-based metaverse platform, after Decentraland, Somnium Space, and Voxels (formerly known as Cryptovoxels). Please note that I am only referring to those projects which have already launched an actual platform, which you can visit and explore as an avatar! There are, of course, countless other blockchain-based metaverse projects which are still in the pre-launch stages (some of which may never launch during the current crypto winter!).

The Sandbox is currently running a series of alpha tests; the current one is called Alpha Season 3, and it is open to anybody who wishes to come kick the tires on an interim version of the product. Alpha Season 3 launched on August 24th, 2022, and will apparently run for ten weeks. According to the detailed FAQ documents:

The Sandbox Alpha Season events will allow players the opportunity to be the first to experience gameplay, social hubs and play-to-earn in The Sandbox’s metaverse.

Alpha Seasons will be multi-week events, where players can potentially earn $SAND rewards – and possibly NFTs (non-fungible tokens) – just for playing games. Players will have the opportunity to explore The Sandbox Metaverse for the first time through the experiences and social hubs available for the period that the season is running.

Note that Alpha Seasons are not the official full release of The Sandbox game. They are Alpha testing events whereby The Sandbox can collect community feedback and so on to determine if any changes or new features need to be added to The Sandbox metaverse.

All you need to do is set up an account (i.e. a username and password), connected to a crypto wallet (the four options supported are MetaMask, Coinbase, Bitsky, and Venly). According to the FAQ:

The Sandbox utilizes blockchain technology and therefore a wallet is required in order for you to be able to interact with this blockchain technology. Your wallet will securely authorise your access to the website and help you to keep track of any transactions that you perform.

It will also act as storage for any ERC-20 tokens that you have from The Sandbox, such as $SAND and GEMs, as well as any virtual goods that you own (ERC-1155), such as LAND and ASSETs. For example, you might earn some $SAND via The Sandbox’s Play2Earn features and will need a place to store it.

A cryptocurrency wallet provides you with true ownership of everything that you purchase, earn or win on The Sandbox’s platform. You will always have control and access to these virtual goods as long as you remain in control of your wallet.

Aah, yes, the famous “decentralized” aspect of NFT-based metaverse platforms! Of course, in the unlikely event that The Sandbox should ever fold, your “LAND and ASSETs” will probably not be transferable to any other blockchain-based metaverse.

Having just moved my MetaMask wallets over from my old personal computer to my new one (one for Voxels and a second one for Decentraland), I chose to link my Voxels account to MetaMask, even though I am not planning to purchase any of their cryptocurrency (called SAND), to buy NFT-based avatars, assets, or land from their Marketplace.

The Sandbox’s NFT marketplace

If you wish, instead of a generic avatar, you can choose an NFT you already own from a number of compatible NFT projects, such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club, the World of Women, Snoop Dogg, etc.:

The Sandbox has a downloadable client for both Windows and Mac users, but there’s also a web-based component (for example, the map of the Alpha Season 3 land, and the avatar customization tools):

The Sandbox map for Alpha Season 3
The (non-NFT) avatar customization screen

The first time you enter The Sandbox, you are automatically dropped off at a place called Start Here (or the Alpha Lobby), where you are given several quests to complete in order to gain Experience Points. You use your W, A, S, and D keys to move around, your spacebar to jump, and the E key to interact with NPCs and various objects, and receive quests.

The first two quests I did were to collect a series of bathroom plungers with rabbit ears (?!), and to “inspect” a collection of ten Bored Ape yacht Club NFTs in a gallery, which consisted of walking to each picture, then pressing the E key when standing in front of a pedestal placed in front of each. I found it a rather underwhelming experience.

The Sandbox style is Minecraftesque, and a bit of a mix of those of Roblox, Voxels and Decentraland. Here is my avatar standing in front of an amusement park ride in the starting lands. The lighting is good, and it gives everything a crisp, clear look.

It’s clear that a LOT of hard work has gone into the design of the worlds I visited! Here’s another look at the Start Here lands, showing a variety of fantastical animated creatures:

As I mentioned, there are Non-Playing Characters dotted through the landscape, with whom you interact using the E key, to roleplay through a pre-scripted conversation, or perhaps pick up a new quest. Here’s a selfie of me with Snoop Dogg (no, not the actual celebrity, just an NPC!).

To travel to other lands, you need to pull up the web-based map and click on a destination, which then teleports you to the new land you have selected (there is a noticeable delay in the client as the new land loads; the topmost image in this blogpost is an example of what the loading screen looks like in your client software while you wait for everything to load, before you can enter).

The South China Morning Post experience plunks you down in Hong Kong harbour (note the beggar and his dog on the right)

The Sandbox has numerous partners listed on its website, a real hodge-podge that ranges from celebrities like Snoop Dogg and the DJ deadmau5, to corporations like Adidas and Atari, to publications like the Tatler and the South China Morning Post! The Sandbox has also partnered with well-known children’s brands like the Smurfs and the Care Bears!

I found the juxtaposition of PG13 content (like the marijuana leaf above the Snoop Dogg logo) and the cartoony avatars and frankly silly quests to be a bit off-putting (the Terms of Use clearly state that The Sandbox users must be 18+, but obviously there’s nothing stopping children from lying about their age to access it).

For example, one of the lands you can visit in Alpha Season 3 is a game called You’re a Big Boy Now, where the set-up is the following: it’s 24 hours before the end of the world, and you leave behind your very pregnant girlfriend to travel to an epic end-of-the-world party you’ve heard about, in order to get blasted out of your mind on drugs and alcohol.

Not exactly on the same level as the Smurfs or the Care Bears, right? Why even bother to have those well-known children’s brands as official partners if your metaverse is restricted to those age 18 and up? It makes absolutely no sense at all. I expect that The Sandbox, given its similarity in look-and-feel to such popular children’s platforms like Roblox and Minecraft, is going to have a potential problem on its hands if they can’t find a way to keep the kids away. (Perhaps The Sandbox would be wise to take a look at the history of Second Life, where one way they dealt with the issue was to have completely separate lands for those under 18, although they later merged them with the mainland.)

Anyway, I can now honestly say that I’ve set (virtual) foot in all four of the major blockchain-based metaverse platforms released to date: Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, and The Sandbox. I will continue to write about these platforms as they evolve and grow over time, and will also keep an eye on the many other blockchain-based metaverse platforms that have not yet launched! Stay tuned.

If you are interested in The Sandbox and want to learn more, you can visit their website, read through their one-page summary of the project, peruse their detailed FAQ and their blog on Medium, or follow them on various social media: Discord, Telegram, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

Editorial Rant: Yet Another Bullsh*t Article About the “Metaverse” by Canadian Business Magazine (And Why All Metaverse Companies Are in Danger of a Widespread Negative Backlash by Consumers)

Have you read? How the Crypto Crash—and Meta’s Missteps—Are Souring the General Public on the Metaverse

A billboard for the NFT “metaverse” Upland, in the New York City subway system;
I wrote about Upland and its ilk in this editorial
(image source: posted to the Buttcoin crypto snark subReddit)

I have been trying (dear Lord, how I try!) to stay away from what seems to be an unending litany of bad news lately, but last night I slipped up and opened the Apple News app on my trusty iPad, which promptly spit up the article which is the topic of today’s cranky editorial. (It’s a bit old now, but it’s the first time I read it.)

The piece, written by Katie Underwood on July 7th, 2022, for Canadian Business magazine, is the perfect example of metaverse bullshit that is currently circulating in the news and social media, and I have had it up to here with what passes for accurate reporting on the topic. Honestly, I swear, if this keeps up, I fear that the word metaverse itself will become so tainted that the general public will run the other way when it is mentioned! (And Mark Zuckerberg and his many missteps trying to pivot Meta into a metaverse company are not helping, either.)

The title of the article is Your Next Home May Be in the Metaverse (although the web page itself is actually titled Buying Real Estate in the Metaverse Isn’t Cheap; if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version). The article starts with a profile of digital artist Krista Kim, who built the home of her dreams—and then apparently promptly minted an NFT of it and sold it:

“I imagined creating a house that would heal me,” she says. She also hoped she’d find a buyer. “The question was: Would anyone else understand what I was selling?”

As it turns out, someone did. Kim’s futuristic dreamscape sold for approximately US$512,000 in March of 2021. The metaverse is a loosely but increasingly understood shared virtual space, accessible via smartphone, goggles or headset—and it’s the newest frontier in the global real estate blitz. The sale of Mars House, a 3-D file rendered using the video game software Unreal Engine, marked the metaverse’s first-ever NFT-based residential transaction.

Already, at the very beginning of the article, I am ready to tear my hair out. First, THIS IS NOT THE METAVERSE! The artist built a home using Unreal engine, but it is simply a three-dimensional object, which needs to be imported into an actual metaverse platform (e.g. VRChat) in order to be used! A CNN article about this transaction correctly reported:

The new owner paid digital artist Krista Kim 288 Ether — a cryptocurrency that is equivalent to $514,557.79 — for the virtual property.

In exchange, the buyer will receive 3D files to upload to his or her “Metaverse.”

So yeah, the fool who paid half a million U.S. dollars for this house still has to find a place to park it before inviting his or her friends over for a virtual barbecue.

Second, it is far from “the first NFT-based residential transaction”, which Katie Underwood would have known if she had bothered to do a little research before writing this article. Blockchain-based metaverse platforms have been buying and selling NFT-based virtual land parcels for years now! Decentraland, for one, began selling land back in 2017, and yes, some people have built virtual homes on that land.

With my teeth firmly set on edge, I continued reading, to find yet another section of Katie’s article which raised my blood pressure a notch:

Like terrestrial homebuyers, users keen to buy or sell real estate in the metaverse will have to go through a rigmarole not unlike the one for bricks and mortar. Right now, land sales in the metaverse are typically concentrated within the “Big Four” platforms—Decentraland, The Sandbox, Somnium Space and Cryptovoxels—which are developed and owned by users. (To date, their combined total of virtual plots is just under 300,000.)

…aaand once again, here’s yet another blinkered reporter writing an article that completely overlooks the fact that metaverse platforms like Second Life and Sinespace have been doing brisk business in buying and selling virtual real estate for years, in some cases decades, without the use of blockchain, crypto, or NFTs! (I wrote about this at length in an earlier, similarly cranky editorial: Why Focusing Exclusively on Blockchain-Based Metaverse Platforms Ignores the Bigger Picture, and the Rich and Vibrant History of Social VR and Virtual Worlds.)

The article continues:

Even in the metaverse, location is everything. In Decentraland, neighbourhoods are designated for specific activities; for example, there’s Festival Land (for live music events), University (for education) and District X (for clandestine dating adventures and adult-themed e-stores). Its fashion district is of particular interest to the Metaverse Group, a Toronto-based virtual-real-estate company that scooped up more than 100 of the area’s 16-by-16-metre parcels for US$2.4 million last November.

Also, “last December, one of Snoop Dogg’s most ardent fans dropped US$450,000 for a plot next to the rapper’s mansion in The Sandbox, a popular gaming platform.” Again, these quotes make me want to tear my hair out! Listen to me, people: LOCATION IS NOT EVERYTHING. For example, in Decentraland you can click on a URL with the exact coordinates of the parcel of land that you want to visit, which will take you directly there. Any metaverse platform worth its salt offers you some form of teleporting from place to place.

And—as we have seen before with previous failed celebrity-endorsed metaverse projects like Staramba Spaces, which hooked its wagon to Paris Hilton—spending a fortune just to be “next to” a rapper’s virtual home is just plain fucking stupid. (Staramba Spaces was a complete and utter failure, but Paris Hilton has since moved on to other crypto projects, from what I understand. It’s never the celebrities who lose money on these harebrained schemes; they get paid in filthy but stable fiat currency, up front. Ask Matt Damon.)

The idea of one virtual piece of land being “worth” more than another due to its location is patently absurd, an idea first brought you by the NFT-based metaverse companies who were only too eager to incite FOMO-driven bidding wars during the crypto bull market which has now cratered so spectacularly!

I wonder how the Metaverse Group is feeling about that particular $2.4 million-dollar purchase, on the other side of a cataclysmic crash. Or another company called Republic Realm, which shelled out a cool $4.3 million for virtual property in The Sandbox. They are among the tens of thousands of corporate and personal investors whom I predict are going to be waiting a long, long time to see any profits from their expensive virtual land, no matter what they build there. And good luck trying to flip it to the next Greater FoolFortune reports that trading volume on the leading NFT marketplace OpenSea is down a staggering 99% since its peak, only a short four months ago.

I could go on, citing other parts of the Canadian Business article that drive me insane, but I’m done enough ranting for today, and you get my drift (you can go read the rest of the article yourself if you want). I need to go put my feet up and listen to some Enya to calm down. If I sound absolutely and completely fed up about all this, it’s because I am. THE METAVERSE BULLSHIT HAS GOT TO STOP, NOW.

Look, I have no problem with the idea of a blockchain-based metaverse, but the entire ecosystem and environment around it have now become a toxic cesspool of scams, frauds, and rugpulls. And all that negative attention is dragging down even the legitimate players in the metaverse space. Frankly, things are now getting to the point that whenever the general public hears the words crypto, NFT—even metaverse—they start gingerly backing towards the exit door, because so many scammers and other bad actors in the blockchain space have tainted the concepts themselves!

It doesn’t matter if there are actually working blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there, like Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space (soon to be joined by The Sandbox)…the bad actors are like a pervasive rot that has set in, damaging their credibility merely by association, and potentially negatively impacting their future operations. (And God help those companies who are trying to set up new blockchain-based metaverse platforms during this crypto winter!)

For example, NeosVR is the perfect example of a truly wonderful, cutting-edge metaverse platform that has been effectively hamstrung by what happened to Neos credits (NCR), NeosVR’s associated cryptocurrency.† The resulting deluge of attention of the cryptobros earlier this year completely changed the tenor of the Neos community, causing great divisiveness and conflict, and finally, a cynical pump-and-dump by a cadre of investors (who were impatient for profits) eventually led to NCR becoming near-worthless. I had started what was intended to be a multi-part series of blogposts to cover the entire sad saga at length, but unfortunately I got too busy to complete it in a timely way.

However, the prolific VR YouTuber ThrillSeeker has done an excellent 20-minute overview video, which does a much better job than I could do to explain what befell Neos:

The Twitter user Coinfessions (with over 100,000 followers) reposts items submitted anonymously to a website form, and let me tell you, the reading is WILD, people. And at times heartbreaking. Here’s just one example from the Twitter feed:

See what I mean? I swear, between what’s been going on in the crypto crash, and companies like Meta stumbling around trying to build the metaverse and getting roundly criticized for not getting it, I’m afraid that the term metaverse is going to get an extremely negative connotation…and then all of us will be the poorer for it.

Think about it—what do you want the average person to think of when you talk to them about the metaverse? Because I can tell you, pieces like this article from Canadian Business are not helping matters out there, in the general public’s minds. More and more people are starting to ridicule the entire concept of the metaverse, either ignorantly equating it with Meta’s soulless Horizon Worlds platform, or else associating it only with the NFT metaverse platforms, many of which are now facing tougher times as greedy speculators (who thought they could make a quick buck) get burned and flee the market, never to come back.

And, ultimately, those people (Joe or Jane Average on the street) are the people we are going to need to the sell the metaverse to in order for it to eventually take root, and take off, in any way beyond existing uptake.

Feh, enough bullshit! Time for some Enya…

UPDATE Sept. 7th, 2022: I had originally written that Neos credits had not even been implemented yet as an in-world currency in NeosVR, but I have been told that this is not strictly true. Apparently, Neos credits, while underused, had been implemented and usable for user-to-user transactions (e.g. tipping) for years, and a bit more recently Neos had added features like buying and gifting storage space using Neos credits. So I stand corrected! Thank you to the person who reached out to me to correct my mistake.