The current boom in NFT art has led to new partnerships between bricks-and-mortar art galleries and brokers and blockchain-based platforms, such as Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, where such art can easily be displayed and admired.
Venerable art auction house Sotheby’s has just announced via Twitter that they have set up a digital replica of its London galleries in the blockchain-based virtual world of Decentraland, as part of Natively Digital, an inaugural curated sale of Non-Fungible Token (NFT) artworks (along with a discussion room on Clubhouse today):
Artnet News reports (this site is paywalled so use the incognito mode of your web browser to see this article):
Sotheby’s virtual gallery is a twin of its New Bond Street outpost, complete with five ground-level galleries—but instead of London’s tony Mayfair enclave, it is located in Decentraland’s prime art hub, known as the Voltaire Art District (map coordinates: 52,83).
A virtual version of Sotheby’s avuncular London commissionaire Hans Lomulder…welcomes visitors at the gallery entrance, top hat and all.
The NFTs that will be for sale include both the work of early, pioneering crypto artists in the field and more recent blockbuster stars; some of the names represented in the sale are Rhea Myers, Lethabo Huma, and Larva Labs. Recently, Christie’s scored a huge win with the $16.9 million sale of 9 Cryptopunks NFTs manufactured by Larva Labs, so that listing in particular is likely to score comparable dividends for Sotheby’s.
If you want to visit the virtual Sotheby’s in Decentraland, read my step-by-step guide on how to get started, then type /goto 52,83 into chat (note that you should also be able to visit Decentraland as a guest, without setting up an account). Enjoy the art!
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.
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:
Second Life (which I still consider to be the perfect model of the mature, fully-evolved virtual world that the companies creating the newer social VR platforms would be wise to study) has two levels of membership: Basic (free), and Premium. How Premium membership in Second Life works: for US$99 a year (or $32.97 quarterly, or $11.99 monthly), you get a set of benefits and perks over free, Basic user accounts:
VRChat is another platform that decided to offer a comparably-priced paid premium membership level last December, called VRChat Plus (which I first wrote about here). Now, upon first reading of the perks such a membership would offer me (see below), I was less than impressed (probably because I have been spoiled by all the goodies Second Life Premium memberships offer me in comparison).
Among the (relatively) small number of features for VRChat Plus users is the ability to set a user icon to display in a circle next to your user name:
But in conversation with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye last night via Zoom, he raised a point that I had hitherto failed to consider, Given my well-documented, one-man, scorched-earth campaign against Facebook and Oculus for, among other things, forcing Oculus headset users to get Facebook accounts and their toxic advertising-based business model which scrapes and strip-mines users’ personal data, why would I not support an alternative way for VRChat to earn a profit?
I stopped to think of what VRChat would be like with Facebook-like advertising, and I positively shuddered in revulsion. So this evening, I pulled out my credit card and ponied up for a VRChat Plus membership (US$99.99), so I now have the familiar “red Ryan” logo displayed next to my username in world (which has sort of become an icon for my brand, as I use it everywhere else, too). If it helps other users in VRChat recognize who I am, then I think it’s worthwhile.
So, I have decided to do a quick survey of the major social VR and virtual world platforms, and find out whether or not they offer a paid premium service, and if so, what you get for your money.
Second Life Premium membership (currently priced at US$99 a year) offers you the following benefits:
A weekly L$300 stipend (basically enough to buy a nice outfit or pair of shoes for your avatar every week)
A L$1,000 sign-up bonus for first-time Premium users (can only be used once)
Priority entry when regions/sims are full of avatars (in other words, if a Basic user and a Premium user both try to get into a packed sim at the same time, the Premium user gets priority; this comes in handy at crowded shopping events, and I have made use of this perk often!)
A 1024m² virtual land allotment for use towards a nice starter Linden Home or a parcel on the Second Life mainland; this is another benefit I do take advantage of!
Expanded live-chat customer support (which I have used on occasion!)
Premium virtual gifts (frankly, kinda useless to me)
Exclusive access to Premium areas and experiences (such as building sandboxes)
Increased cap on missed IMs (which I never use)
Increased group membership limits (I make use of my groups ALL THE TIME! A freebie fashionista can NEVER have too many free group slots for store groups, freebie groups, etc. Basic accounts have 42 group slots, but Premium has 70;)
Voice morphing (never used it, myself; most SL users never use voice, anyways)
UPDATE 11:36 p.m.: Animesh (animated mesh) creator Medhue tells me that SL Premium members can attach two animesh items (e.g. pets such as Medhue’s delightful animesh cihuahua), while Basic members can only attach one.
Basically, I have three Premium accounts, with two lovely Linden Homes between them (which I think is the major benefit of a Premium membership). More group space and priority access to overcrowded sims are also perks I tend to use a lot.
As I said up top, this list is a bit sparse, especially compared to what Second Life offers (and yes, you can be an anime girl in SL, just as easily as you can in VRChat!), but of course, there’s zero VR support in Second Life.
Rec Room offers something called Rec Room Plus at US$7.99 a month, which includes the following benefits:
You get 6000 tokens (r6000) monthly, delivered in installments of r1500 per week
One four-star gift box per week
A 10% discount in Rec Room stores that accept tokens
Exclusive access to the RR+ section of the item store
100 saved outfit slots
The ability to sell premium inventions/keys for tokens
NeosVR uses Patreon levels to hand out perks to various levels of paying users (more info). For example, at my current “Blade Runner” level ($6 per month), I get:
Access to private channels on the official Discord Server
Patreon supporter badge in Neos
Early access to Linux builds
Early Access to Patreon only content (exclusive experiences, work in progress experiences before they’re public)
A Neos Mini account with 25 GB of storage
Your name in the stars! (your name will appear in the sky in the Neos hub)
The ENGAGE educational/corporate/conference social VR platform offers a free, “lite” version, and a premium, “plus” version for €4.99 a month, which gives you space to save your presentations, among other benefits. (They also offer enterprise and educational rates on request.)
Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space)
Of course, the various blockchain-based virtual worlds sell everything using whatever cryptocurrencies they support (for example, a custom, non-randomly-generated avatar username in Decentraland will set you back 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (which is about US$36 at current exchange rates). It’s just a completely different model than the “freemium” ones offered above.
Thanks to Kent Bye for giving me the idea for this blogpost!
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!
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).
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.
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:
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.