Editorial: New Year, New Directions, Part II—How I Plan to Cover Blockchain Metaverse Platforms Going Forward

Photo by Pierre Borthiry – Peiobty on Unsplash

There is simply no better place to watch as the dominoes fall in the beleaguered world of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) than the cryptosnark subreddit, r/Buttcoin (tagline: “ButtCoin. It’s a scam. At least we’re honest about it!”).

And it was there where I learned that the latest domino had fallen—Genesis Trading, a crypto lender forming part of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group (DCG), filed for bankruptcy:

Crypto lender Genesis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late Thursday night in Manhattan federal court, the latest casualty in the industry contagion caused by the collapse of FTX and a crippling blow to a business once at the heart of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group.

The company listed over 100,000 creditors in a “mega” bankruptcy filing, with aggregate liabilities ranging from $1.2 billion to $11 billion dollars, according to bankruptcy documents.

A list of the 50 largest unsecured creditors was leaked, and it turns out that both of the co-founders and the current Chief Financial Officer of blockchain metaverse Decentraland are owed an eye-watering US$55 million. Crypto news website The Block reports:

Virtual world platform Decentraland has not one but three of its executives and founders listed among the 50 largest non-insider unsecured claims against Genesis Global, the crypto lender that filed for bankruptcy protection on Thursday.

Decentraland CFO Santiago Esponda drew attention after his Decentraland email address was listed in court filings as the contact for Heliva International, a Panama-based company owed $55 million by Genesis. But a closer look reveals that Decentraland’s two co-founders are also listed in the documents with non-Decentraland email addresses.

Esteban Ordano, a Decentraland co-founder who now acts as an adviser, is listed as the contact for an entity called Winah Securities. Genesis owes Winah, which is located on the same floor in the same building as Heliva, almost $27 million. Ordano told The Block that Winah has no relationship with Decentraland.

Gaming company Big Time Studios is owed $20 million. It’s run by Ari Meilich, Decentraland’s other co-founder. He started Big Time in 2020 but also remains a Decentraland adviser. Meilich declined to comment. 

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point of this particular editorial: how I will be covering blockchain-based metaverse platforms going forward on this blog.

In a previous editorial, I explained that I was substantially cutting back on my coverage of Second Life, to refocus my blog on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. Likewise, I have also decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain-based metaverse platform unless it incorporates virtual reality. According to my comprehensive and reasonably up-to-date list of virtual worlds and social VR, the only platforms which incorporate blockchain technology (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs) and support virtual reality are three:

  • NeosVR (a social VR platform with an associated cryptocurrency called NCR, which was planned to be the in-world currency but has not been incorporated; please note that Neos does not have NFT-based virtual real estate, or use NFTs at all)
  • Sensorium Galaxy (this ultra-high-end social VR platform uses the SENSO cryptocurrency to purchase avatars in their online store; as far as I am aware, Sensorium Galaxy does not use NFTs)
  • Somnium Space (a blockchain-based virtual world that supports VR, with a cryptocurrency and NFT-based real estate)

All the other blockchain metaverse platforms I have written about on this blog (including the one that first attracted my attention, Decentraland) are either flatscreen virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality, or they have not yet launched (and, in the current crypto nuclear winter, are increasingly unlikely to do so; the only exception being The Sandbox, which is still in extended alpha testing).

And (as illustrated by my initial anecdote about the Decentraland co-founders and executive entangled in the Celsius bankruptcy case), those platforms which had the great good fortune to launch well before the current crypto carnage, are possibly still entangled in the web of interconnected crypto companies lending and borrowing from each other, in highly speculative cryptocurrencies whose actual value is based only on what the next greater fool is willing to pay for them. In particular, those who purchased overpriced NFT-based real estate on such platforms as The Sandbox, Somnium Space, and yes, even pioneering Decentraland, are going to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to make any sort of profit off their investments.

And one only has to observe the travails which NeosVR has gone through, after a cyncial pump-and-dump instigated by cryptobros, to see how a social VR project with such technical promise can be hamstrung by attaching a cryptocurrency to it. There has, to my knowledge, been no active development on the platform in over a year, and it is unclear what 2023 holds for NeosVR. It breaks my heart and it angers me.

While I will continue to follow the current crypto winter shenanigans as an interested (and bemused) observer, I have decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain metaverse unless it has launched, and it supports virtual reality. In particular, I will no longer waste my time (and your patience) writing about all the blockchain metaverse projects which consist of little more than an .io website, a Telegram or Discord channel, and a white paper long on hand-waving, but short on actual technical details. Enough with the bafflegab and bullshit.

If you happen to actually launch a product which incorporates blockchain in some way (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs), and it supports users in a VR headset, then I will gladly write about it. Otherwise, I’m no longer interested.

Stick a fork in it; it’s DONE. (Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

UPDATE 4:43 p.m.: Well, well, well…another news nugget I gleaned from the r/Buttcoin subreddit: AsiaMarkets.com is reporting this evening that the mighty SWIFT global financial network will, as of Feburary 1st, 2023, no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, if they are worth less than US$100,000:

The SWIFT payments network has made an extraordinary decision that will have widespread implications on cryptocurrencies.

Asia Markets can reveal SWIFT will no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a value of less than US$100,000, effective from February 1, 2023.

The move will thwart cryptocurrency access to tens of millions of people worldwide.

One of the first crypto giants to notify users of the development this weekend, has been the world’s largest exchange, Binance.

“The banking partner that services your account has advised that they are no longer able to process SWIFT fiat (USD) transaction for individuals of less than $100,000 USD as of February 1, 2023. This is the case for all their crypto exchange clients,” said Binance.

“Please be advised that until we are able to find an alternative solution, you may not be able to use your bank account to buy and sell crypto with USD via SWIFT with a value of less than $100,000 USD.”

Time to go get more popcorn; this three-ring circus is just getting started!

UPDATE Jan. 25th, 2023: It turns out that my previous update is not as all-encompassing as it first was reported! Amy Castor and David Gerard write in David’s blog, Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain, today:

Binance sent a notice to customers that starting February 1, their banking partner, Signature, would not be processing SWIFT transfers of less than $100,000.

Retail customers of Binance have until the end of the month to get their US dollars off the exchange. After that, their money is stuck.

Rumors are swirling around this — not helped by an early news report (rapidly corrected) claiming that the SWIFT system itself was cutting off all crypto exchanges. Here are the facts that we know so far:

  • Binance is cut off from Signature for transactions below $100,000.
  • Signature’s other exchange customers have not said they’re affected, and we haven’t seen their customers saying so either.
  • We haven’t heard of other banks putting such a condition on Binance or another exchange.

So it’s so far just Binance, via Signature.

Still, it is significant that Binance, the biggest cryptobroker still standing, is facing such a stringent sanction by one of its banks. (By the way, Attack of the 50=Foot Blockchain is well worth following, for its expert analysis of the ongoing crisis in crypto!)

UPDATED! How the Crypto Crash Is Affecting Blockchain-Based Metaverse Platforms: Will a Crypto Winter Kill Off Some Projects?

I have been waiting a while to write this editorial, but I think the right time has come.

(Somebody posted this to the r/buttcoin Reddit, and I had to laugh!)

I have been avidly following every twist and turn of the current crypto crash, following various Reddit communities and scouring Google and Apple News for the reports of the latest crypto companies to fail, taking their investors’ money with them. The chain of dominos continues to fall, and nobody can predict where or when this “crypto winter” will end.

In talking about all this, there’s lot of jargon being thrown around which can sometimes be difficult to understand: smart contracts, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, etc. The following 7-minute YouTube video explains all these and other terms, and I can recommend it highly (and it can serve as a refresher for the rest of you):


From the moment I first began writing about the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms (starting with Decentraland, years before they actually opened their doors to the general public), I have been fascinated by the new crop of metaverse projects boasting some blockchain component. These projects seem to split into two kinds:

1. Projects with Non-Fungible Token (NFT)-based virtual real estate (e.g. Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox). All such projects tend to have their own cryptocurrency (or use Ether, ETH), and offer a marketplace where you can buy and sell other blockchain-based goods, such as avatar wearables.

2. Projects without NFT land, but with an associated cryptocurrency (e.g. Sensorium Galaxy and NeosVR).

While examples of the second category are few in number, there has been an explosion of projects announced in the first category over the past couple of years. Many of these projects had hoped to duplicate the success of Decentraland, which had the great good fortune to do an Initial Coin Offering at the absolute perfect time, in 2017 raising US$24 million dollars before ever building a platform.

Decentraland’s successful subsequent virtual land auctions (with their frenzied bidding wars for NFT-based virtual pieces of land called, naturally enough, LAND) also attracted a lot of attention and favourable press. This no doubt encouraged other companies to set up similar schemes in an effort to duplicate that success. Among those that have actually delivered a viable product to date are Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and the still-in-alpha/beta-testing-but-soon-to-launch platform The Sandbox. Each of these projects inspired similar bidding frenzies for artificially-scarce NFT-based parcels of virtual real estate, in some cases setting records.


The following charts show just how much the value of the cryptocurrencies associated with just these six projects has tumbled over the past three months (all charts are via the CoinMarketCap website):

Decentraland MANA to USD chart (past three months)
Somnium Space CUBE to USD chrt (past 3 months)
ETH (used in Cryptovoxels/Voxels) to USD chart (past three months)
The Sandbox’s SAND to USD chart (past three months)
Sensorium Galaxy’s SENSO to USD chart (past three months)

And here’s one that really hurts: the surge and plunge in value of Neos Credits (NCR) over the past year. At the moment, project development has come to a near-standstill as the CEO fights against the CTO and the rest of the dev team about the role crypto will play in the NeosVR platform (and the matter will likely land up in court for the lawyers to battle over).

It’s still not clear if NeosVR can recover from this fiasco, which breaks my heart because it has such great technology! I do consider this to be the textbook example of how crypto speculation and greed can cause problems with an otherwise stellar platform; without being hooked to NCR, a cryptocurrency which has as yet has no practical use on the platform, NeosVR would still be doing very well! Instead, it is bleeding investors.


In addition, you can see the clear downward trend in both sales volume and average sale price for the following NFT-based properties over time (all taken from the NFT Stats website). Some seem to be doing a bit better than others, but all are down:

Decentraland LAND sales volume and average sale price (past three months)
Somnium Space Land NFTs sales volumes and average sales price (past three months)
Voxels—foremerly called Cryptovoxels—sales volumes and average dale prices (past three months)
The Sandbox’s LAND sales volumes and average sale prices (past three months)

The overall situation is grim, particularly for those who bought cryptocurrencies and NFTs at the height of the market, perhaps expecting to flip them for a quick profit. But, for the countless blockchain-based metaverse projects who hopped on the bandwagon after Decentraland and the other market early movers, the situation is even worse. In many cases, the newer companies expected to raise funds by minting and selling NFTs to investors, often well before anything concrete was built! Examples of such projects include two I have written about earlier this year, Wilder World and VictoriaVR, but there are literally dozens and dozens more such projects, more than I could ever hope to cover in my blog. The prognosis for these newer projects is not looking especially promising, as potential investors head for the hills.

And, sadly, the bullish crypto market also brought out all the scammers who wanted to take advantage of the hothouse atmosphere of crypto investment, accepting money up front for what was essentially vapourware, and then pulling the rug out from under those who had not done their proper due diligence. Greed and FOMO (fear of missing out) drove a lot of ignorant cryptobros to pour money into a lot of projects which, to date, have had little to show for them but a slick website and an active Discord (or Telegram) server where everybody was pumping everybody else up to buy and HODL (hold on for dear life to) their associated crypto and NFT assets.

Some non-financially-savvy people, believing that they were truly on to a sure thing, gambled money they could not afford to lose—their life savings, their retirement funds, even their childrens’ college funds—and have lost everything, or next to everything, in the current bear market, holding near-worthless assets they cannot find anyone to sell to. I keep reading heartbreaking stories in the various subReddits of investors who have lost everything. Many have spoken of suicide, and many Reddit communities have posted resources to support those who are struggling with their mental health as a result of their poor financial decisions.

In the current environment, I believe that any blockchain-based metaverse (or a metaverse platform with an associated cryptocurrency), is going to be in for a very rough ride over the next few months, as governments around the world raise interest rates, and the easy, low-interest credit dries up, and a global recession looms. People are going to retreat to safer investments, fleeing the demonstrably high volatility of crypto and blockchain assets like NFTs. We can expect to see a mass stampede to the exits in some projects, and frankly, not all the blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there will survive.

UPDATE July 14th, 2022: In yet another sign of growing trouble in the NFT space, which has seen sales nosedive in recent months, the major NFT marketplace OpenSea has announced today that it is laying off 20% of its staff.

To Teleport or Not to Teleport: Teleporting Versus Walking in the Metaverse

Ever wish you could teleport in real life?
(Photo by Chris Briggs on Unsplash)

Earlier this week, I had a guided tour of the blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space, where I was informed by my tour guide that the virtual world had just implemented teleporting. Scattered throughout the one large, contiguous virtual landscape which comprises Somnium Space were teleporter hubs, where you could pull up a map, click on the teleporter hub you wanted to travel to, press a button, et voilà! You were instantly transported to your destination.

A teleporter hub in the central city square of Somnium Space (at night)
The red arrows indicate the location of teleporter hubs on the map

What makes Somnium Space unusual among metaverse platforms is that you cannot simply teleport from one place to another distant location; you either must make use of the provided teleporters, or walk/run/fly/swim to your destination. (Of course, you can certainly “short hop” using a limited form of teleporting, but that is only for shorter distances, not for instantly getting from one end of a large, contiguous landmass to another.)

In other words, the teleporter hubs of the Somnium Transportation System are set up much like a modern urban subway system, where you can only travel to a particular, pre-built subway station that is situated the nearest to your intended destination, and then walk the rest of the way. Many people might remember that in the very earliest days of Second Life, there were also teleporter hubs in the days before avatars could instantly teleport themselves from one location to another!

Another thing that sets Somnium Space apart from other social VR platforms is that there are only going to be so many “public” teleporter hubs. In face, some of these hubs are going to be auctioned off as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and the successful bidders with such a teleporter hub on their properties will be able to charge a cryptocurrency fee in order to use their teleporters! (In other words, they would operate much the same as a real-life toll road or highway.)

Closely intertwined with the idea of teleporting vs. walking is the layout of a metaverse platform. Is it one large contiguous landmass, like Somnium Space, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and (to a certain extent) Second Life? Or is it a collection of smaller worlds, like VRChat, Rec Room, Sansar, and Sinespace? If it is the former, then means of transportation (and ease of access to transportation) becomes more important. If it is the latter, then another tool which many of the newer social VR platforms offer is the ability to create a portal—either temporary or permanent— between two worlds. (Of course, you could consider a teleporter hub a portal.)

So, keeping all this in mind (particularly the distinction between SHORT HOP teleporting and teleporting to a DISTANT location), we can create a chart outlining the transportation affordances of the various metaverse platforms:

Name of Platform (Layout)Walk/Run? *Distance
Teleport?
**
Create Portals?
Second Life (mostly one contiguous landmass, with private islands)YESYESYES
Sinespace (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Sansar (separate worlds)YESNO (but you can create teleport hubs)YES
VRChat (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Rec Room (separate worlds)YESNOYES
AltspaceVR (separate worlds)YESNOYES
NeosVR (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Cryptovoxels (one contiguous landmass with some islands) YESNO (you can add coordinates to a URL, though)YES
Decentraland (one contiguous landmass) YESYES (/goto X,Y)NO
Somnium Space (one contiguous landmass)YESNO (but there are teleport hubs)NO (unless you count teleport hubs)
* – Can a user walk/run/fly/swim from one location to another? This includes SHORT HOP teleporting.
** – Can a user personally choose to teleport from one location to a second, DISTANT location?
† – Can a user create a temporary or permanent portal from one location to another?

Obviously, all metaverse platforms offer some form of personal locomotion for your avatar (walk, run, fly, swim, short-hop teleporting, etc.). This is standard.

It is also clear from this table that the metaverse platforms which consist of many smaller worlds (Sinespace, Sansar, VRChat, Rec Room, AltspaceVR, and NeosVR) all prefer the creation of temporary and permanent portals to allowing users to teleport great distances on their own steam. On the other hand, all the social VR platforms and virtual worlds which consist of one contiguous landmass tend to allow some form of teleportation across great distances.

You will notice that Cryptovoxels uses a rather brute-force method of “teleporting”, which consists of appending the coordinates to the end of the URL you enter into your web browser client (which are much the same as the coordinates which form part of the SLURLs used in Second Life, but not nearly as convenient in my opinion).

Transportation affordances are yet another way to classify metaverse platforms in my continuing effort to create a taxonomy of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

So, what do you think? Have I made an error in my table? Do you have an opinion about the benefits of teleporting and portals versus walking around and exploring the landscape? I’d love to hear your opinions, so please leave a comment, thank you!

Editorial: Fuelled by the NFT Boom, Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds Are Having a Moment—But Will It Last? Is It a Bubble?

A Reuters news article posted today, titled The ‘metaverse’ bet: crypto-rich investors snap up virtual real estate, which first came to my admittedly-distracted attention as a trending news item in my Twitter news feed, starts off as follows:

What do you do with a $69 million artwork that doesn’t physically exist?

That’s the question faced by the Singapore-based investor calling himself Metakovan, who made headlines last month when he bought the digital artwork “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” by the American artist Beeple at Christie’s.

The work is a non-fungible token (NFT) – a new type of virtual asset that has its ownership status and authenticity verified by blockchain. NFTs have exploded in popularity in 2021, with prices skyrocketing.

Metakovan, real name Vignesh Sundaresan, plans to put the artwork on display in four virtual world environments. He is working with architects to design gallery complexes that the public can enter via web browsers or virtual reality technology.

Blockchain-based virtual worlds are definitely having a moment: the following trending news story showed up on my Twitter feed

It is clear to anybody that is paying attention that the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) boom is sparking intense interest and resulting speculation in the blockchain-based virtual worlds where such NFTs can be displayed: Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space (all already launched and seeing more and more business) and The Sandbox (which launched its first phase on March 31st, 2021). It seems like every second room on the hot new drop-in social audio app Clubhouse is about NFTs and how to get into the market.

Market speculation in the first three blockchain-based virtual worlds has only intensified recently, with previously unheard-of trading volumes and rapidly escalating prices as bidding wars break out over virtual properties. Here is a graphic linked to from the aforementioned Reuters article, showing just how suddenly land values have jumped in Decentraland (and I’m quite sure that early investors are rubbing their hands with glee!):

And some big-name companies are being attracted to the blockchain-based virtual world marketplace (quotes are from the Reuters article up top):

In what will be one of the biggest names to join the party, videogame maker Atari told Reuters it planned to launch its own blockchain-based virtual world and would soon announce details.

Online environments are going to be “very very big”, regardless of fluctuations in the price of bitcoin, said Frederic Chesnais, head of Atari’s blockchain division and the company’s former CEO. NFT real estate could one day fetch millions of dollars, he added.

Atari, ahead of its plans to open its own blockchain-based world, has licensed a retro arcade within Decentraland and is due to open a casino.

Among the people interviewed for the Reuters article was the creator of Cryptovoxels, Ben Nolan, who expresses caution in the current feverish NFT market:

“I expect that there’ll be a crypto winter in the next couple of months, the whole NFT boom will explode and then all the value will absolutely collapse,” said Ben Nolan, founder of the virtual world Cryptovoxels.

“Doing NFTs as an investment or as a way to make money is really ill-advised.”

However he does see a future for virtual worlds and NFTs.

“Do I think most people will use virtual worlds? Probably not, but I think a lot of people will and I think NFTs are a big part of that growth,” he said.

“Actually walking around with another person in a virtual space and looking at art together is a really nice way to spend time,” he added.

We can expect that more companies will enter the blockchain-based virtual worlds marketplace, attracted by the possibility of making profits from virtual real estate—whether that real estate is used for galleries to show NFTs or not.

Interesting times! I choose to remain safely outside the fray, peering in occasionally to write the odd blogpost—emphasis on odd 😉 . The following are links to all my previous blogposts written about four of the currently available (or soon-to-be-available) platforms:

Stay tuned for further dispatches from the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms! (Yes, both Cryptovoxels and Somnium Space support VR.)

And I’d love to hear from you: Do you hold land on these four platforms? Do you think we are in a financial bubble? Feel free to sound off in the comment section!

We’d love to hear form you!