UPDATED! Taking a Second Look at SuperWorld

Image taken from the SuperWorld website

I first took a look at SuperWorld (and another virtual world by the same co-founder, Max Woon, called Stan World), back in October of 2019, and I wrote up a blogpost about the projects. At the time, I thought SuperWorld was an intriguging, even audacious concept, but not something that I would personally choose to take part in. I added SuperWorld to my ever-growing list of metaverse platforms, and promptly forgot about it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Will Burns (whom I have blogged about before here and here) ping me via Twitter, suggesting:

If it’s in your wheelhouse, Ryan, check out SuperWorld Inc. and its CEO, Hrish Lotlikar.

It turns out that Will Burns, along with a couple of other names I was familiar with, such as computer scientist Stephen Wolfram and blogger Robert Scoble, are on the advisory board for SuperWorld. So, I decided to revisit SuperWorld, just to see what has been going on since my last look-see in 2019.

Here’s a slick, one-minute introduction video for SuperWorld, narrated by its CEO Hrish Lotlikar, explaining the basic concept behind the project—you use cryptocurrency to buy and sell virtual real estate parcels, 100 metres by 100 metres in size, which correspond to actual, real-world locations on Earth:

You wanna own a piece of Central Park or the Taj Mahal? It’s yours, baby!

According to the project’s white paper:

In SuperWorld, users search for, share, and create persistent AR content and place it anywhere in the world. From photos and videos to 3D objects and animation, digital natives and first-timers alike are building creative new social communities as they explore the world in a one-of-a-kind interactive experience.

And I also found an hour-long interview with Hrish on YouTube, so I sat down and watched it early this morning, with a large mug of strong black coffee (I also perused their Investor’s Guide, which you can download from the SuperWorld website). The chat about SuperWorld starts at the 23 minute mark on the following video:

So, what do I think?

Well, Hrish seems very personable, and a natural connection-building type, qualities which make for a good startup founder and CEO. He and his co-founder, Max Woon, were inspired by the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go, and decided to build SuperWorld, to serve as a platform where the next Pokémon Go-like game could be hosted. He definitely has the vision! He even mentions Second Life when talking about SuperWorld! He’s a good interview subject, and I would encourage you to watch the whole video (or at least, the part where he talks about SuperWorld).

However…

In October 2019, I wrote:

The big problem will all of these projects is that they are being set up well before any kind of wearable augmented reality headgear becomes popular among consumers…

I do think that attempting to build a global augmented-reality overlay when we don’t have any kind of affordable, consumer-grade AR headset technology is a bit of a folly. There’s absolutely no guarantee that SuperWorld’s way of slicing up the real world is going to be accepted or adhered to by any other company.

And I am going to stand by these earlier observations. I mean, what’s to stop Facebook or Apple from creating their own augmented-reality system, overlaid over the real world, as part of any future AR headset they release, and making that the standard? Your whole business goes up in smoke.

The white paper talks about monetization opportunities involving advertising on these virtual parcels of real estate (think neon signs on the Taj Mahal), but I ask: do you honestly expect that people are going to download an app, and click on a map, just to watch an advertisement? Don’t we get bombarded with enough advertising as it is, without seeking out more?

The paper also talks about gaming, which is a possibility, but you really do need to add a lot more programming to the system to support something like that, something that I don’t really see in any of the promotional material for SuperWorld (aside from a brief glimpse of someone attempting to throw a basketball through a hoop).

If you buy one of these parcels, you’re going to be waiting quite a while to recoup your investment, and generate some income (and many crypto investors seem to have those as goals). And you can do a lot, lot more with the virtual land you can buy or lease from countless other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, which are more feature-filled than SuperWorld, and which allow you to visit it with other avatars simultaneously, to share the experience.

SuperWorld already has apps for both Apple and Android mobile devices for you to “visit” and “look at” your virtual land and whatever you choose to build on it (essentially, superimposed 3D objects, images and text on still photographs). However, I honestly do not consider cellphone-based AR to be true augmented reality. I also don’t consider it social augmented reality, or a “social community”, using the term used in their investor’s guide/white paper, which I quoted earlier.

I have spent time in a great many social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and those are places which you can actually explore with other people, as a shared experience. This is not a shared experience; it’s merely an app where you navigate through an overlay on a map, a solitary activity on your cellphone, like browsing through two-dimensional social media like Facebook or Twitter. There’s really very little to encourage community and connectedness.

SuperWorld’s attempt to carve out the real estate before there’s any sort of mutually-agreed-upon consensus on how to do that, or even any popular consumer augmented reality headsets for sale, still seems to me to be a highly speculative and risky endeavour. I am of the opinion that this is a concept which has been implemented way, waaay too early, in an attempt to cash in on the current VR/AR/MR/XR hype and tempt speculators to open their crypto wallets and part with some of their hard-earned currency.

(Sorry, Will. I know you probably would have liked me to review SuperWorld and love the project. I would probably still classify myself as a cryptoskeptic, which tends to colour my judgement. For example, I am mystified and bewildered by the success of collectibles such as CryptoKitties.)

As always, I include my standard warning about any and all blockchain and cryptocurrency projects: do every single scrap of your homework before you invest a penny in any project, no matter how enticing it sounds on paper (or in pixels). Personally, I wish the SuperWorld team the best, but I will continue to watch this project develop from the sidelines. Much like a very similar South Korean project called Mossland, I just don’t buy the concept underlying SuperWorld.

If you are interested in learning more about SuperWorld, check out their website and their YouTube videos, join their Discord server or Telegram discussion group, or follow them on various social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, even TikTok!

UPDATE 1:44 p.m.: I just discovered a second, more recent, one-hour interview with SuperWorld CEO Hrish Lotlikar, which I also plan to watch later today:

*sigh*

I realize that I have written yet another one of my critical (even cranky) blogposts this morning. I do apologize to Will, to Hrish, and to the team at SuperWorld. Perhaps Will is right; this sort of thing might not be in my wheelhouse, and I should stick with what I consider to be true metaverse platforms, including the blockchain-based virtual worlds Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, each of which I have written about at length on this blog.

Decentraland Scam Warning

Many people who have accounts on the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (DCL) have received the following direct message from Discord this afternoon. It claims to be an official bot called Decentraland Announcement, informing users that there is a brand new version of the DCL client which can be downloaded. THIS IS A SCAM! DO NOT VISIT THE ASSOCIATED WEBSITE, OR INSTALL ANY SOFTWARE. Decentraland remains a web browser-based app; there is no separate client for you to download.

Here is what the scam notice looks like, so you will recognize it:

This is a prime example of how scammers use social engineering tricks to try to separate you from the cryptocurrency in your wallet. Be warned and stay safe! It took me about half a minute of reading to realize that this was a scam (the website URL, which I have blurred out in the image above, was a major red flag to me).

I leave you with the final, authoritative word on the matter from DCL employee Sam Hamilton, a.k.a. toonpunk, who posted to the official Decentraland Discord server:

Decentraland News is a scam, they have been banned but if you have a message from them do not click any links.

Here is a website from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission with tips on how to spot and avoid cryptocurrency scams, which unfortunately are proliferating.

Sensorium Galaxy: A Brief Introduction

Sensorium Galaxy is a yet-to-be-launched social VR platform with its own cryptocurrency (called the SENSO Token), which has recently signed deals with major DJs such as David Guetta and Carl Cox:

Earlier this year, Sensorium Galaxy announced their partnership with French DJ and global superstar, David Guetta, who will also produce a series of music events in the VR platform. 

Through the new collaborative partnership, Cox will call upon his experience working with festivals and events such as Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland, and Glastonbury to design his virtual shows. The globe-trotting DJ has previous experience performing for a virtual crowd, including AltSpaceVR’s Burning Man 2020 as well as Glastonbury’s virtual Shangri-La festival on Sansar.

Here’s a teaser video for the music venue, which is called Prism:

The virtual world of Prism is the epicenter of music within Sensorium Galaxy. In this virtual setup, you can attend multiple grand shows by the world’s top electronic music artists. The brutalism of the Prism environment is balanced by the musical harmony and the performance of a digitized DJ. The production and scenography are prepared in partnership with renowned performers, producers, and organizers of the world’s top concerts and electronic music festivals.

There’s also a spaceship simulation called Starship Sensorium:

The first group of virtual space travelers embarked on a year-long journey to Sensorium Galaxy. And today, you can also jump aboard the starship. During the flight, guests are entertained with live performances of DJs and unimaginable galactic views. For a comfortable trip, each passenger is offered personal cabins, various activities in the lounge area, and walks in the open space. Virtual bartenders also offer heavenly drinks, while our flying camera captures the brightest moments of the adventure.

In addition, there is something called Motion World, which describes itself as “an underwater world of perpetual motion and dance”, with creatures called Omojas:

Illustration for Motion World

There’s really nothing to see here yet, except for a Windows tech demo you can download here. It looks like you will need to shell out at least $8 in SENSO Tokens (which apparently are not rolling out until the first quarter of 2021) to get an avatar from their store (the credit card and PayPal payment options don’t work). So there’s already a store with cabins, avatars, and avatar clothing for sale, but as yet no way to buy anything.

VR Scout reports:

One investor who is really excited about the future of music in VR is Mikhail Prokhorov, former owner of the Brooklyn Nets and Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal, who has helped attract more than $100 million in investment money for Sensorium Galaxy.

And—this was bound to happen sooner or later—Somnium Galaxy is the first social VR platform that I have encountered where my desktop gaming computer does not meet the minimum specifications: a i5-7500 or Ryzen 5 1600 CPU, and a GeForce GTX 1080 or RX Vega 64 GPU (I have the GeForce GTX 1080, but my CPU is only an i5-6600).

They are aiming squarely for the high-end PCVR crowd here, users with an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift S (and Facebook has already announced that they will be suspending sales of the Rift this coming spring). This is not a platform you will be able to visit on your wireless Quest headset! And, as the teams building the old High Fidelity platform and Sansar have each discovered to their detriment, aiming for high-end PCVR might just be a tactical error.

As always, I issue the following warning: Do every single shred of your homework before investing a penny in ANY blockchain or cryptocurrency-based project! Do not be swayed by the names of famous deejays attached to this project; as we have already seen before with Staramba Spaces/MATERIA.ONE, celebrity endorsements alone are not a guarantee of a viable platform.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sensorium Galaxy, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and LinkedIn.

Updated! XANA: A Brief Introduction

XANA is a new social VR platform/virtual world which is (at least, according to its website) “coming very soon!”. It describes itself breathlessly as the “World’s Leading Virtual Social Experience Platform”:

XANA is the next generation virtual social experience platform which allows anyone to access or create open worlds to do anything from virtual events for fun to profitable virtual business, available for universal devices from VR , PC to mobile.

(By the way, none of the links to any of their “supported platforms” works.)

Here’s the three-minute promo video I was able to find on YouTube, which features the Chineses entrepreneur spearheading the project, and a whole ton of stock footage (a homeless man doing a fist pump in front of a notebook computer? Whatever, bro):

This video reminds me of some of the unintentionally hilarious promotional videos shot for other blockchain projects. Dig through all the blather, and note that there are precious few glimpses of what XANA actually looks like, and what little we do see, appears to be footage stitched together from a number of completely disparate virtual worlds and games. (Perhaps my readers could help me identify where some of this footage comes from? Thanks in advance for your help here.)

And yes, apparently XANA will incorporate virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and—wait for it!—blockchain/cryptocurrency. Sigh. All the requisite buzzwords are present and accounted for.

Haven’t I already promised myself that I wouldn’t bother covering any new blockchain-cased virtual worlds unless they were actually shipping product?

Yep, I did:

For example, aside from the three projects that have actually successfully launched (that is, Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, each fascinating in their own way), I will no longer be covering any more blockchain-based virtual worlds—unless they actually ship productIt was fun for a while, but more than half the time lately, I find myself writing about projects that are pretty much nothing but a white paper (and an .io website, and a Telegram channel) full of hypotheticals, handwaving, and hot air. Come talk to me when you actually have something concrete.

This is yet another example of a social VR platform/virtual world which appears to be more hype than substance. Like so many other half-baked blockchain projects I have witnessed before it, I’ll be extremely surprised if the project comes to fruition at all.

The XANA website is notably (and predictably) sparse on any actual technical details, including a link to a “Help Center” devoid of any help. If you’re still interested despite all this, you can follow XANA on various social media: Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. As always I caution: do every single scrap of your homework before investing in any blockchain/cryptocurrency project or platform!

UPDATE 3:43 p.m.: Well, that didn’t take long! Sharp-eyed reader Rainwolf tells me that he has spotted various pre-made game assets from the Unity Asset Store: Cyberpunk, Medieval Kingdom, and The Lost Lands. Look familiar?

Rainwolf tells me that what tipped him off was the avatars looked like they were created using the Unity SDK for avatars, so he just started searching on the Unity Asset Store for keywords like “cyberpunk”, and it didn’t take him long to find it. Thanks, Rainwolf!

At this point, it’s pretty clear that there is no XANA—at least, no original content. It’s vapourware, folks. Nothing to see here, move along now…