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…

Editorial: The Licensing of Wearables in Decentraland Could Lead to a Creative Bottleneck

Watching the various blockchain-based virtual worlds evolve, and comparing and contrasting their decisions on how they wish to operate with longer-established, non-blockchain-based virtual worlds such as Second Life, has proven to be quite interesting.

Many of the eager cryptoinvestors who have bought NFTs (non-fungible tokens) such as virtual land, avatar names, and avatar wearables in places like Cryptovoxels, Decentraland and Somnium Space like to tout that their possessions cannot be taken away from them, or censored, revoked or restricted by any central authority, even by the companies running the platform.

For example, they point out that if a user runs afoul of Second Life’s Terms of Service, they can have their account suspended and lose all their virtual possessions. In contrast, the adherents of blockchain-based virtual worlds claim that they can evade such restrictions by simply selling their items on the open market (one such example is the popular OpenSea collectibles marketplace).

Limited-edition wearables (i.e., avatar clothing) which are bought and sold on the blockchain are already proving quite popular both in Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, but the two platforms are taking distinctly different approaches in their implementation. While Cryptovoxels is using the open market approach already proven as successful in places like Second Life, Decentraland seems to be opting for a more restrictive licensing approach, which at first glance seems rather at odds with its “open, decentralized” advertising.

Forcing creators to sign licenses to be allowed to make and sell content, and having investors vote on who will and will not be allowed to create content, stifles the creativity of an free and open marketplace, and seems to go against the “decentralized” nature of Decentraland.

According to an announcement made Monday on the official Decentraland blog:

The creation of wearables for Decentraland is a complicated process requiring a lot of support. To ensure user-generated wearables look great and function properly in Decentraland we will need to make the tools to support this process.

It will take time to develop the workflow and build the equivalent of an SDK and Builder tool for wearables so during this process we will work with small teams of developers from the community that we are confident can deliver quality products and the feedback and communication we need.

Once the workflow is in place and the quality at the high level you’d expect, we’ll implement Stage 2 of the initiative.

This involves opening up the application to create wearables to the entire community. It will take the form of licenses being granted to teams and individuals by the community, through the DAO.

The DAO (short for Decentralized Autonomous Organization) is a relatively new mechanism to allow Decentraland’s investors to vote “on the policies created to determine how the world behaves: for example, what kinds of wearable items are allowed (or disallowed) after the launch of the DAO, moderation of content, LAND policy and auctions, among others.” (More information on the DAO can be found here.)

I have seen a lot of virtual worlds come and go in my time, and one thing that I can tell you is this: imposing any kind of licensing on the creative process can lead to a creative bottleneck, and potentially drive away content creators.

One reason that Second Life continues to be the most commercially successful and popular virtual world, is that Linden Lab had, very early on, decided to create a free and open market, where creators could set up stores and sell their content to whoever was willing to buy it, retaining the rights to their creations and earning income.

Linden Lab has never licensed stores or creators in Second Life, and never will. The workload associated with such an enterprise, in a market with many millions of items for sale, would be impossible to scale upwards as the economy grew. Yes, Linden Lab will step in if a DMCA copyright complaint is received from a competitor, and they will also shut down stores which sell illegally-copied content when it is pointed out to them, but otherwise, they very wisely stand aside and let the market decide what people want.

And while stores open and fold with astounding regularity in Second Life, the fact that they have approximately 900,000 regular monthly users means that they must be doing something right (even if it was all a happy accident which to date still has not been replicated by any other platform). Those virtual worlds that look on with envy at SL’s success, and wish to snatch that mantle of success for themselves, need to pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t.

It would appear that, going forward, Decentraland will be focusing on a licensing process for all avatar wearables, letting its investors vote, instead of letting anybody who wants to, simply create and sell avatar clothing and accessories for the DCL marketplace. While some see this as a necessary effort to impose and refine a high-quality workflow, others see it as a means to restrict market access, and reward those who have the deepest pockets and the best connections. (Some commentators have complained about the opaque process by which the initial five wearables creators were chosen.) Time will tell who’s right and who’s wrong here.

As I see it, Decentraland already has some daunting obstacles which stand in the way of attracting and retaining your average, non-crypto virtual world user to their platform: the many steps required to set up a crypto wallet and purchase ETH and convert it to MANA; the need to purchase even things as basic as a username; and the prohibitively expensive virtual land, its price driven up by speculators. Placing licensing restrictions on who can create items such as avatar wearables could become another such obstacle.

Decentraland should study the history of its competitors carefully, to glean a few pertinent lessons on how to run and grow a virtual world. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, folks.

Photo by Jon Cartagena on Unsplash

NFT Estate: A New Website Examining Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds

The NFT Estate Website Home Page

There’s a new website which examines and analyzes the various blockchain-based virtual land platforms that have been springing up, called NFT Estate. (NFT, of course, stands for Non-Fungible Tokens, the concept that blockchain-based property is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH).

As far as I am aware, the website is not tracking those platforms which have a cryptocurrency, but do not have blockchain-based virtual land for sale (for example, NeosVR). The focus here appears to be squarely on blockchain-based property.

The mission of NFT Estate is:

Our mission here at NFT.estate is to help showcase and introduce our exciting new world, to the rest of the world. We believe that the NFT space has so much potential in the coming years and that the more people who join us on that journey ahead the better for the whole space. At NFT.estate we strive to introduce the best of  the well established as well as the new, up and coming projects, creators and innovators of the non fungible world.

So far, the website has profiled four such platforms:

The site also attempts to do a head-to-head comparison of these four platforms:

The data includes charts with seven-day trading volumes scraped from OpenSea:

Looking at this chart, I do find it interesting that Somnium Space (the green bar) has seen a surge in trading activity in the most recent week, outstripping even Decentraland (the red bar)! It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

If you want to know more about NFT Estate, you can visit their website, join their Discord server, or follow them on social media: Telegram, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Report from the First Day of the BlockDown 2020 Conference

As I wrote about earlier (here), the BlockDown 2020 blockchain/cryptocurrency virtual conference is taking place April 16th and 17th, 2020 on a special-purpose, white-label platform operated by Sinespace.

I got an email yesterday evening inviting me to download a special version of the BlockDown client software, visit the BlockDown Lobby area, and customize my avatar. (Note that this is a separate client from the regular Sinespace client, and you must have purchased a ticket to the conference to be able to attend.)

So I decided to pay a visit before the conference started at 9:00 a.m. CET (2:00 a.m. my local time here in Winnipeg). The BlockDown Lobby area is futuristic, spacious, and attractive, with plenty of space for avatars to mix and mingle:

However, there is no getting around the fact that there is still an overwhelming amount of information presented for newbies to process and digest, both in the PDF guide attached to that invitation email, and on in-world bulletin boards in the lobby!

There was always going to be a learning curve associated with holding a conference in a virtual world, but I really think this could have been drastically simplified. After all, these are crypto people first and foremost, who might not be all that interested in the finer details of avatar customization, attachment repositioning, and shopping for new duds to stand out from the crowd.

To make things a bit easier for those brand new to virtual worlds, there are eight starter avatar models at the landing point, which you just click on to grab a predetermined avatar look (four male and four female, including a couple of astronaut suits):

Me, I immediately hit the Shop button and spent some of my starter 30,000 “Blocks” currency to make myself look a little different from all the cookie-cutter avatars around me! (I also fattened myself up a bit to match the real-life me. Sinespace is still among the very few virtual worlds where I can actually adjust the body sliders to be overweight! Hey, it’s my reality, I may as well embrace it.)

New eyes, new skin, new hair, new jacket, a little extra avoirdupois…much better!

A couple of Sinespace employees were present to help out the newbies, whom I chatted with for a bit:

So, all set up for the conference, I set my alarm for 1:45 a.m. and went to bed. I landed up getting up once in the middle of the night for about half an hour, then going back to bed, and then finally waking up again this morning at 5:30 a.m. to revisit the conference.

There is a small trade show floor, rather sparsely attended when I visited, with virtual booths (some manned by avatar sales reps):

I was slightly disappointed when I realized that most, if not all, of the featured speakers were not going to be represented by in-world avatars, but by video screens in the conference auditorium:

To be honest, I really came more for the novelty of attending a white-label version of Sinespace, designed specifically for an event. I simply wanted to see what would be the same as regular Sinespace, and what would be different. My interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies only extends as far as blockchain-based virtual worlds, so most of the presentation topics have not been not that applicable to me.

As I predicted, almost all the other avatars I encountered were one of the eight basic models provided in the lobby, with absolutely zero modifications. Were it not for the name tags over everybody else’s heads, I would have had a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between people!

The BlockDown 2020 conference runs all day today and tomorrow; here is the complete conference agenda. Tickets cost £20.00 and can be bought through their website.