I have been waiting a while to write this editorial, but I think the right time has come.
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.
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):
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:
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.
Where many see regulatory murkiness, the five-year-old, New York-based investing platform Republic sees opportunity. Indeed, while many outfits grapple with whether to distance themselves from certain digital assets, Republic — whose CEO, Kendrick Nguyen, started his career in securities litigation with Goodwin Procter — has focused from the start on establishing itself as a go-to brand for what Nguyen calls “compliant tokenization.”
Just today, the company is announcing a $150 million Series B round led by Valor Equity Partners, which follows a $36 million Series A round that the company announced in March from Galaxy Interactive, Motley Fool Ventures, HOF Capital, Tribe Capital and CoinFund. (Those earlier investors just re-upped, by the way, and were joined by new backers Pillar VC, Brevan Howard, GoldenTree and Atreides.)
Altogether, says Nguyen, Republic, which employs 200 people, had raised more than $50 million in equity financing ahead of this newest round, and more than $20 million in a token sale.
The outfit is certainly busy putting it all to work. Republic already comprises several different business arms, including a popular retail investment platform that invites people to invest with as little as $10; a private capital division with almost $1 billion in assets under management that funnels accredited investors into startups; and a blockchain consultancy arm that provides technical, financing, distribution and tokenization services.
Republic also right now has two affiliated closed-end investment funds deploying capital into startups and crypto projects, along with a digital investment arm operating as Republic Realm that focuses exclusively on metaverses and NFTs.
Over 100 metaverse real estate developments (including the Metajuku shopping district in Decentraland)
It’s clear that Everyrealm has serious money to spend (they’ve already raised US$60 million), and they intend to invest it in a variety of metaverse platforms! Anita reports:
Everyrealm hopes to become “the gateway to the entire metaverse ecosystem,” according to the company. It is invested in 25 different metaverses and owns 3,000+ NFTs today, Yorio said.
“We started out investing [in the metaverse], but we’ve since expanded our mandate to do a lot more than that. We see ourselves as developers of metaverse content, so we don’t just passively invest and sit back and wait for other people to build things,” Yorio said. The company has built on top of many of its virtual properties — for example, it launched a retail store concept in Decentraland two weeks ago, which it plans to expand into other metaverse platforms, Yorio said. Indeed, 10,000 virtual items in the store sold out in the span of an hour, she added.
Apparently, they have set up a virtual campus in the blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space, and Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov himself will be teaching “a class at the Academy about VR and the future of the metaverse:”
Tuition for four weeks, which includes a “limited edition Republic Realm Academy NFT Tuition Badge”, which will “be your campus ID card and unlock all Republic Realm Academy resources and initiatives at the start of the term”, six online courses, plus “limited office hours with professors, subject to availability”, costs US$1,000…
Let’s face it: it’s to Cathy’s and Artur’s and so many other people’s advantage to sell (and yes, I deliberately use the word sell) as many people as they can on this frankly blinkered perspective on the metaverse—even to the point of offering thousand-dollar certificates for things could probably be learned just as easily from others for free! The overall messaging here is that the non-blockchain-based metaverse platforms which predate this boom in artificially-scarce NFT-based real estate are simply not worth bothering with or investing in.
Well, I now publicly will eat some crow, because buried in Anita’s TechCrunch report is the following news nugget:
Everyrealm also operates a virtual educational campus called Realm Academy in the Somnium Space metaverse, where users can learn more about web3 concepts through online courses. Its inaugural class has 500 students who have paid $1,000 each to attend, Yorio said.
If Janine Yorio is to be believed (and frankly, I have zero reason to doubt her), Everyrealm cleared 500 x US1,000 = US$500,000 from the first offering of their six-course educational program. That’s right—a cool half-million dollars! I guess I was seriously wrong about people not being interested in signing up for their courses, and I am willing to admit that I was wrong. Hey, it does happen—sometimes… 😉
Check out this video sneak peek of what to expect on the runway. Video Production by Vrutega.
Irritatingly, the above link to “several runway shows scheduled throughout this week” only takes you to the sim where the events are taking place, but without the details of when they were happening! Fortunately, Inara Pey has all the details in a detailed write-up on her blog:
The individual in question is New York fashion designer and 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Jonathan Simkhai. As a part of the New York Fashion Week event, he offered a special preview of some of his designs from his Autumn / Winter 2022 (AW22) collection at a special fashion show that took place in Second Life.
In all 11 pieces from the collection have been visualised for Second Life by none other than Mishi McDuff (aka Blueberryxx), founder and owner of SL’s popular Blueberry brand (and, I will admit, one of my go-to designers on the admittedly rare occasions I feel I need to spruce up my virtual wardrobe). In bringing the designs to SL, Blueberry has also given them a special “metaverse flair” – utilising the unique advantages of the digital world to offer twists to some of the items that cannot be replicated in the physical world – such as a sequined dress that gradually loses its embellishments and morphs into a bodysuit as the model walks the runway.
The items were presented to an invited audience of models, influencers, celebrities, and journalists from the fashion, technology and lifestyle industries. They had the opportunity to see the virtual items ahead of Simkhai presenting their physical world equivalents on the New York catwalk, so the guests could witness the virtual garments and their unique properties up close – and even try them on.
I think that this is a brilliant move by Everyrealm. Why? Because none of the NFT metaverse platforms they currently invest in (Decentraland, Somnium Space, Axie Infinity, etc.) have anything which compares to the mature, fully-evolved dressable avatar system which has evolved over the 18+ years of the history of Second Life! Here’s one of the pictures used in the (unfortunately paywalled) Vogue Business article:
This may sound like something straight out of 2006-2008, when many physical world brands tried to hop into SL in the belief it would magically allow them to grow their market influence, but actually it isn’t. The Simkhai / Blueberry relationship is far more symbiotic and engaging, and for two reasons.
The first is that as well as being presented to invited guests, the Second Life Simkhai collection will be the subject of a series of catwalk shows open to Second Life residents on Thursday February 17th / Friday February 18th, with shows set hourly from 13:00 through 16:00 (inclusive – see the Destination Guide link at the end of this article). Not only will these serve to show the designs to the Second Life community, they will also – according to Vogue’s Maghan McDowell – allow SL users to purchase them at around L$1,000 per item.
These NFTs, which cost anywhere from US$200-600 apiece, confer the following “benefits” (please note that this does not apply to sales within Second Life; as mentioned earlier, SL versions of these virtual garments, made in association with well-known womenswear designer Blueberry, will cost about L$1,000 each, a relative bargain!):
Ability to wear Jonathan Simkhai NFT wearables as your avatar in the metaverse
Access to future Everyrealm digital wearables activations
Whitelisting for future digital wearables drops
Keep in mind that your ability to actually wear these garments on your avatar in the various NFT metaverse platforms is heavily dependent upon the ability of the various companies building those platforms to support it (I can guarantee you that the lovely Lucee dress shown above will not look nearly as sparkly on the current crop of Decentraland avatars, for example, let alone the voxel-based blockchain-based platforms like Cryptovoxels and The Sandbox!)
Therefore, many of these “benefits”, like so much for sale in this current season of blockchain, crypto, and NFT-based metaverse madness, are essentially the opportunity to flex and/or gloat to your friends…and to be first in line for the next line-up of expensive NFT-based avatar wearables!
However, I do have to hand it to Everyrealm. The company is certainly putting its money where its mouth is, and they are making a significant splash in the metaverse in a short time. I honestly cannot think of another firm which has its fingers in so many metaverse pies, all at the same time! More power to them.
As I often say on my blog, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and Everyrealm is attracting big money (and attention) to the ever-evolving and mutating metaverse! Who knows, maybe Second Life will be home to a few more fashion shows linked to real-world, big-name designers? As we can see, there’s still a valuable place for older, non-NFT-based metaverse platforms like SL in this season of the NFT metaverse!
2022 is promising to be a very interesting year, I predict! Stay tuned! I leave you with this (undated) writeup by David Murphy of MobileMarketing:
Metaverse Fashion Week, an event produced by Everyrealm and Blueberry Entertainment, took place yesterday, featuring Jonathan Simkhai as the debut designer. The event occurred day prior to the physical Jonathan Simkhai 2022 presentation at New York Fashion Week, making the real-world designer the first ever to show it’s Fall/Winter 2022 digital wearables collection ahead of their physical counterparts…
Guest took their seats in the larger-than-life bespoke set made specifically for the fashion event in the Second Life metaverse. The secluded location was inspired by natural elements such as rock, water, air, and fire. Simkhai’s latest collection was showcased on the avatar models during the 8-minute presentation. Simkhai debuted 11 designs from his Fall/Winter 2022 collection, which were digitally reimagined for the Metaverse.
The garments are converted from the real-world version into 3D digital models using design software and video gaming technology. The Second Life Marketplace has been selling digital clothing and accessories from Blueberry since 2011. Wearables and clothing are among the most popular types of commerce in Second Life’s $650m dollar virtual economy.
Founded by Mishi McDuff in 2012 as a solo creator on Second Life, Blueberry has sold more than 20m on digital wearables, amassed a library of more than 10,000 digital SKUs optimized for hundreds of design attributes, and scaled an engaged community of loyal customers. Blueberry is already live on multiple metaverse platforms, and is actively expanding its brand and community to other web 2.0 and 3.0 metaverses.
Of course, virtual real estate brokers are not new; Second Life, over the 18+ years of its existence, has had dozens and dozens of companies who buy, subdivide, and sell virtual land for your home or business use. In fact, that’s how the first person to earn a million dollars (U.S.) in Second Life made her fortune! Anshe Chung even had her avatar featured on the May 2006 cover of BusinessWeek magazine (see image, right), an event which sparked a boom period for Second Life, as many people and companies piled on, lured by the opportunity to make some money.
And the newer, much-hyped blockchain-based virtual worlds are going through a similar boom at present, with a predictable result: the rise of the real estate agent who specializes in selling land on the blockchain to individuals and companies!
The Metaverse Group is a leading virtual real estate company offering exposure to this burgeoning industry via the Metaverses. We facilitate the acquisition of virtual property along with a suite of virtual real estate centric services that are provided by pioneers of the crypto, blockchain and non-fungible token (NFT) industries.
We currently offer (or plan to offer) the following services to help you enter and engage in the metaverse:
• Buying and selling of virtual real estate across the Metaverses • Development of virtual land (we help bring your dream to life) • Expert level consulting for all major metaverses • Finding a rental within the metaverses to fit any need • Property management of existing real estate • Marketing and advertising your business in the metaverse
At press time, Metaverse Properties is brokering the sale of NFT-based virtual real estate in Decentraland and Somnium Space (both of which have already launched), and The Sandbox (which recently completed a first, closed alpha test, and is expected to launch later this year):
Tal and Oren Alexander, the brothers who became famous for closing megadeals in their early 20s then moved onto the biggest deals ever in their early 30s — they represented Ken Griffin when he bought that record-setting $238 million penthouse at 220 Central Park South in 2019 — recently announced that they’ll be developing and selling luxury real estate in the metaverse…
The brothers have formed a partnership with Republic Realm, a metaverse developer that recently paid $4.3 million for virtual property in the Sandbox, one of the more popular metaverses. (It also owns a 259-parcel virtual estate in Decentraland that it bought for about $900,000.) “We want to just focus on trophy properties in the various metaverses,” Alexander told the Real Deal. This will take the form, according to Republic Realm, of an “architecturally significant master-planned community.” Which sounds a little (or very?) depressing.
Real estate has always been about status and shelter, skewing increasingly toward the former as one moves up the economic ladder. Speculators like Republic Realm and the Alexanders are banking (literally) on the fact that you can take the shelter piece out of the real-estate equation altogether, leaving just speculation and status.
Kim raises an important point about all this speculation in blockchain-based virtual real estate, which is all about artificially-induced scarcity: that it’s a luxury item, a status item, something to give you (or your company) bragging rights. Real-world real estate agents like the Alexanders wouldn’t give a toss about the metaverse unless they smelled an opportunity to make money.
As I have written before, we’ve already seen the rise and subsequent fall (circa 2006 to 2008) of Second Life, when everybody and their dog trooped in, set up shop, then just as quickly trooped out a year or two later, when they realized that the money-making opportunities were just not what they had hoped for. It takes more than just setting up a virtual version of your brand to make money in the metaverse!
And, while the current signs for the blockchain-based social VR platforms and flat-screen virtual worlds certainly do look very promising, it still remains to be seen whether all this excitement will translate to the average, non-crypto consumer. All the people and companies who are currently investing in virtual real estate in Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space, and other NFT-based real estate won’t have a problem attracting the blockchain enthusiasts, the crypto bros (and women, and those who identify as non-binary).
They will, however, also have to entice Joe and Jane Average Consumer to pay a visit, set up a wallet and an avatar, obtain and spend cryptocurrency, and stick around long enough to help build a strong community. And that’s going to be a much harder sell.
We could see a repeat of what happened in Second Life, as companies realized that they were spending a lot of money on something that wasn’t helping their bottom line, and then largely pulled out. Or we could see great success, who knows? (God knows my track record at making predictions on this blog is absolutely abysmal. I once infamously predicted that Cryptovoxels would fail miserably, and they have been going from strength to strength! I also predicted that Virtual Universe would be a hit, only to have it fold. So, meh, what do I know??!?)
So, to answer the question in my admittedly click-bait blogpost title: are virtual real estate agents a trend or a fad? I would argue, based on my 14+ years of experience in Second Life, that they are an already-established trend worth watching. I think that there is a possibility that in the future, real estate agents will buy, sell, and trade virtual properties, acting as brokers for individual and corporate customers who don’t want to fuss with their purchasing experience on OpenSea and other NFT marketplaces, and are willing to pay to have somebody advise and navigate them through all the fussy details of owning a piece of the metaverse.
Somnium Space has been busy! In a Medium post last October, as part of several announcements of investments in various XR technologies such as TESLASUIT and XTAL, they wrote:
We are extremely excited to share with all of you what we have been working on already for months — a Somnium Space VR headset. At Somnium we believe that users must have the right of choice. That VR hardware market should not consist of few big players producing headsets with closed eco systems thus creating silos and with full control over user experience and more importantly data. Moreover, as a decentralized and open Metaverse company we cannot allow Somnium Space to be dependent on hardware gatekeepers to be able to communicate and engage with our users. That is why, earlier this year we have taken a strategic decision to start working on our own VR headset.
Currently we are deep in the R&D phase, finalizing specifications and component details. Testing compatibility and preparing supply chain. In December 2021, during Somnium Connect physical and VR event we will release final specifications and more details about production and delivery timelines, prices and much more. As of now we can share few high-level teasers about headset:
– Standalone mode powered by Snapdragon XR2 chip
– Native PC VR mode
– Open, community driven software eco-system
– Modular design
We can not wait to share more information in December and work on this together with you — community and amazing partner companies for seamless integrations of hardware and software experiences.
The headset, which [Somnium Space CEO Artur] Sychov refers to as the “Somnium VR Headset”, is packed with some killer specs and designed specifically for a VR audience that doesn’t want to be tied to a specific app store or be boxed into any sort of platform restrictions.
“We wanted to create a headset that you truly own. We didn’t want to lock you down into our ecosystem,” said Sychov. “We didn’t not want to allow you to do things with your own items. If you buy a VR headset from Somnium Space, you truly own it.”
According to Somnium, the headset features a modular design that allows you to easily customize your experience. You can also remove the sides and bottom of the headset to add custom 3D printed accessories (up to 55 lbs!), making it a truly customizable VR headset. “We really believe in modularity,” said Sychov, adding, “with access to the platform, you’ll be able to extend the life of the headset.”
Another cool feature is that Somnium’s VR headset is completely programmable, which means you can dive into the system to change the actions of the buttons and sensors in order to meet your custom needs.
Somnium Space, which is best known for its open social VR platform that integrates blockchain and cryptocurrency for true ownership of digital goods and virtual land, partnered with VRgineers (makers of the XTAL 3 headset) to develop their own hardware. Though not as beefy as VRgineers’ XTAL 3 headset, which is designed for enterprise use, Somnium Space looks to raise the bar for non-enterprise VR headset expectations.
Somnium Space hopes to deliver their branded virtual reality headset to consumers by the fourth quarter of 2022. These are very ambitious plans, and UploadVR‘s Jamie Felton notes:
These are ambitious plans for sure, and it’s worth remembering the difficulties many other small to medium-sized companies have faced bringing VR hardware to market. DecaGear recently drastically revised its plans for a $450 SteamVR headset to $700, citing the realities of competing with Meta. Plus there are many vital elements of Somnium’s plans that still sound up in the air, like a reference to “researching Micro OLED displays” which would surely drastically change the shape and form of the product.
As far as I am aware, Somnium Space is the first social VR platform (besides Meta) to offer a branded VR headset. I wish Artur Sychov and his team every success in their gutsy endeavour!