Blockchain-Based Metaverse Platforms: A New List

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: The RyanSchultz.com blog will be on an indefinite hiatus, as I am working on a brand new project: writing up a proposal for a VR lab for my university library system! More details here. I’ll be back as soon as I can, folks!

Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

As a first step in reorganizing and recategorizing my perennially popular list of social VR, virtual worlds, and metaverse platforms, I have separated out a sub-list of those platforms which incorporate blockchain in some way: cryptocurrencies and/or Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

You can check it out here (I put it at the tail end of my original listing).

I did this in response to reader comments and feedback, and I hope you will forgive me if I have forgetten to move a particular metaverse from one list to the other! As I said before, I do plan to continue to write about blockchain-based metaverse projects on the RyanSchultz.com blog, so expect this list to expand significantly this year!

Also, a small housekeeping note: from now on, I also will no longer be writing about any of the “buy a virtual piece of Earth” blockchain projects (e.g. SuperWorld)—here’s what I think about all of those projects. I don’t find these sorts of projects interesting in the slightest, and I believe that all such projects are, at best, ill-advised investments, and at worst, outright scams to part people from their hard-earned cryptocurrency.

UPDATED! Blockchain, Crypto, and NFT Metaverse Platforms: How to Spot a Scam

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

Not too long ago, I wrote up a blogpost about an NFT-based metaverse project called Wilder World. As part of my research, I joined the Wilder World Discord server. This morning, I got a direct message from someone with the account name Wilder World, with a come-on to invest in a “limited-time presale” of Wilder World virtual land.

As I suspected, this was a scam. I know this because I know that legitimate NFT metaverse projects do not direct message users via Discord. (I have seen similar messages before, borrowing the names of projects such as Cryptoland, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, to the point where I recently issued a warning via Twitter:

I also got a DM via Discord from them this morning. In the past month, I have received phishing offers from scammers impersonating Cryptovoxels, Decentraland and Somnium Space. Caveat emptor! These are all scams. #MetaverseNFT

Getting back to the scammer from Wilder World, I read the message carefully, and noticed a couple of signs that something wasn’t quite right.

First, in a direct message, Discord will inform you if you and the other person have any Discord servers in common. The fact that Wilder World and I had “no servers in common” is a big red flag. You seriously mean to tell me that the REAL Wilder World would contact me from a Discord account that doesn’t even belong to the official Wilder World Discord server?

Second, I checked the URL against the list of official links in the #official-links channel on the official Wilder World Discord server, and did NOT find this new, suspicious URL on it! (I blurred out part of the URL address in the previous image.) If the Discord server does not have such a list (and all legitimate projects should), then look for it on the official website. Never click on a new, unfamiliar URL you have not thoroughly investigated first!

It is all too easy to target people who have joined an official Discord server for NFT metaverse projects, since you can easily see who else is with you on the server (just check the far right-hand column). It’s also very easy to create a false account by stealing an official logo and calling yourself the project’s name (e.g. “Wilder World”). There is nothing stopping you from creating as many Discord accounts called Wilder World as you wish, since each one has a separate, randomly-generated four-digit suffix at the end of the username (see image, right).

And, unfortunately, some people always fall for this particular scam which appropriated the logo and name of Wilder World, using a well-written come-on and a fake website to take that person’s hard-earned cryptocurrency:

A: That was a scam, I think
Victim: are serious?! ffs

B: There is no land stuff [right now] The focus is on Pets.

Victim: I just filled it out!

A: So any land sale is a scam [right now]

Victim: omg did I just get scammed

C: There was a scammer yesterday DM’ing people

Victim: wtf it was a message from Wilder World
D: From a scam CLONE
E: oh noooooooo Wilder World never DMs u!!
F: Was a scammer with a WW logo on their profile
G: [refers Victim to the -scammers channel]

H: Land is not for sale yet, only raffle for mint list is available on [Wilder World] website, click the link in announcements

And I went over to take a look at the -scammers channel on the official Wilder World Discord server, to see this, plus numerous other scams being reported on. The Victim did report this scam on that channel (see image right), but unfortunately, any money he thought he was spending on NFT-based virtual land in Wilder World is unrecoverable.The scammer, once he or she fleeces a number of people, then deletes the Discord account and the website, and vanishes into the night—likely to repeat the same scam on a different target in future.

So, once again, I am going to list the things that you can do to avoid getting scammed via a direct message on Discord for the various and sundry NFT metaverse projects:

  1. Legitimate projects will not direct message you on Discord. Instead, they will use an #announcements channel on their official Discord server, or perhaps post a blogpost on their official website.
  2. Always check any DM you receive via Discord to see what servers you and the other person have in common. If you and the other person have “No servers in common” (particularly, the official Discord for the legitimate project), that is a red flag! I belong to almost a hundred Discord servers related to social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, and I now routinely block any DM from someone where I have “No servers in common”. The reasoning is this: anybody whom I am interested in talking to should belong to at least one of the same Discord servers as I do!
  3. Check the various channels of the legitimate NFT metaverse project Discord server carefully. Look for an official announcements channel. Look for an official links/URLs channel, either on the Discord or on the project’s official website. Look for a channel to report potential scams and scammers.
  4. Always stop and ask yourself if something is too good to be true. Be highly suspicious of any “good-will gesture” such as the following example, taken directly from today’s Wilder World scammer: “As many of you may have expected, there has been talks of a land sale coming up and we are excited to officially announce…As a way of giving back to those who supported Wilder World early, we will be hosting a limited-time presale to raise liquidity and allow our users to buy the land early before…”.
  5. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON BLOCKCHAIN, CRYPTOCURRENCIES, AND NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS! If you aren’t willing to take the time to learn how all this works, you are better off staying out of this arena until you do.

I leave you with a few articles on the subject of blockchain/crypto/NFT scams (I’m sure you can find many more on your own):

REMEMBER: Do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing in any blockchain. cryptocurrency, or NFT project! Be especially cautious when you receive a direct message on Discord!!! Caveat emptor!

UPDATE 4:17 p.m.: Someone on the official Wilder World Discord server shared the following handy tip:

You should turn off server DMs from any NFT Discord you’re in – just click on the server name, select Privacy settings from the drop down menu, and switch them off. NFT Discords will never DM you directly.

Mario Gabriele Does a Deep Dive into the Start-Up History, Current Value, and Potential Future of Decentraland

Mario Gabriele (image source)

Mario Gabriele is the founder and editor of The Generalist, a self-described “free newsletter for deep thinkers, serious builders, and imaginative investors”, with over 53,000 subscribers. On January 9th, 2022, Mario wrote a long and wide-ranging article (what he calls one of his “briefings”) about one of the very first blockchain-based virtual world projects, Decentraland (which is, of course, of interest to me!).

I found what Mario had to say so interesting that I wanted to write this blogpost to bring wider attention to his article, which os titled Decentraland: The Metaverse’s Early Mover. One of things I found unique about this article is that Mario really does his homework, delving into the early history of Decentraland and interviewing many key people associated with the project in one way or another. Also, he isn’t afraid to level criticism of the project. This is not some breathless fan-boy take; I enjoyed his writing because it is a multi-faceted, critical inspection of the Decentraland project to date, combined with some analysis of what it all means, including a few educated guesses about the future. And even if you are not all that interested in Decentraland per se, he also touches on other worlds, such as The Sandbox. I learned a lot from reading this, and I suspect you will as well.

I’m going to suggest you to go over to The Generalist and read it in full, but I will pull out and comment on a few quotes which interested me. For example, Mario does a better than anybody else I know in painting a picture of what the early days of the Decentraland start-up were like:

In 2011, Manuel Araoz was a computer science student at ITBA, a university called “Argentina’s MIT.” As part of a cryptography class, he discovered Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoin whitepaper. Argentina’s past two decades had been marked by economic volatility and rapid currency devaluation, giving tangible power to Nakamoto’s words. Araoz was transfixed…

Araoz set about trying to make his dent in the new realm, launching “Proof of Existence” (POE), billed as the “first-ever non-financial blockchain application.” POE acts as a notary, allowing anyone to “prove” a document exists by adding an encrypted “digest” of it to the blockchain, where it is timestamped. As its site notes, this is the “first online service allowing you to publicly prove that you have certain information without revealing the data or yourself.”

Araoz also joined BitPay, then a bitcoin payments business. As a technical lead, his remit included opening an office in Buenos Aires. He picked a two-story house in Palermo Hollywood. 

Populated by BitPay engineers, friends from ITBA, and other early crypto obsessives, “Voltaire House” quickly became a place for deep thinkers to gather. In researching this piece, I got to speak to several former residents and visitors, including Esteban Ordano, one of Decentraland’s founders.

Voltaire House became the incubator for a number of blockchain projects. In 2015, Voltaire House’s resident purchased their first VR headset, an HTC Vive, which “opened their eyes to the potential of spatial experiences”. From this sprung the idea of Decentraland.

Mario discusses Decentraland’s crazy Initial Coin Offering (ICO), and in particular discusses how Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address in October 2021 marked a significant turning point for Decentraland and countless other projects, writing:

From one month to the next, Decentraland’s MAUs nearly tripled. The price of MANA went very nearly vertical, jolting from $0.75 to $3.56 and eventually closing in on $5.50. 

(image source)

Decentraland’s fully diluted market cap jumped from $1.6 billion to more than $7 billion in four days, effectively increasing its size from 1-800-FLOWERS to The New York Times over the equivalent of a long weekend. Since that leap, MANA has retreated, along with many other tokens, but it is still multiples higher than before Meta’s announcement. 

One of the best parts of Mario’s article is where he creates an avatar and goes exploring!

Over the past week, I’ve used Sutherland [the name of Mario’s avatar] to tour as much of Decentraland’s world as possible. We’ve fallen down the fountain in “Genesis Plaza,” hit up the casinos in Vegas City, stumbled across a Pride Parade, mined fallen asteroids in exchange for gems, gone to the stables, gawked at swirling spiral homes, browsed art at a Sotheby’s gallery, and tried to fly a dragon. We made it about ten feet before crashing into a wall. 

I have also walked around empty lots and whole neighborhoods without a soul in sight. At around noon on a Tuesday, I stood in Frankie’s Tavern, a virtual dive bar, watching a music video alone. After hearing about District X, Decentraland’s red-light district, I fruitlessly searched for brothels that apparently exist. I hoped to interview the most modern members of the world’s oldest profession. (How does this work? What do people buy? Is VR involved? Is the money good?). Though a failure, I did stumble across “Waifu HQ,” a confusing monument to female anime characters featuring a scantily clad breakdancer.

I had a good chuckle at Mario/Sutherland trying to find escorts in Decentraland! Oh, honey, if you are looking for sex in Decentraland, you are going about this all wrong! 😉

He goes on to write:

Were these outings enjoyable? Sort of, though spending time in Decentraland feels more interesting than fun, per se. Despite spending several hours in the world, I didn’t find a game or activity that captured my attention for more than a few minutes. There is no addictive dopamine vortex pulling me back in against my better judgment. 

I suspect I would feel differently if I were an enthusiastic or competent gambler. Across my various visits, Decentraland’s casinos were almost always the best-trafficked locations. Decentral Games run many, a startup that has raised a reported $5 million from investors like Digital Currency Group and operates as a DAO. Its locations include Chateau Satoshi, The Aquarium, and the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a riverboat casino. 

The result was that I experienced Decentraland similarly to Las Vegas, interesting as an anthropological study even if not a true pleasure trip. 

The comparison between Decentraland and Las Vegas is very apt!

Mario also talks about companies such as Ed Radion’s Squiggle School, which was founded to help teach people how to create content in both Decentraland and The Sandbox. Ed is quoted by Mario: “We’re all-in on The Sandbox. Their no-code game engine and design tool are easy to pick up, meaning the ecosystem will have more fun experiences than Decentraland…Decentraland struggles to engage non-landowners because their experiences have to be built in production-grade tools (Blender, Unity). Most people don’t have a clue how to do that or have the time to learn how.”

Mario also looks under the hood, talking about Decentraland’s three-layer protocol and peer-to-peer architecture in an accessible, easy-to-understand way. He also discusses the project’s Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO):

In early 2020, Decentraland completed one of its initial goals – to hand control of the project over to its community. It did so by formalizing a DAO and handing it power over the essential smart contracts controlling LAND, wearables, the marketplace, and more. If these were ever to change, it would be because the community voted for it, not because a single developer decided it was a good idea. 

Near the end of his report, Mario compares Decentraland to Roblox, talks a bit about Meta, and even namedrops a few competitor platforms already (or soon to be) in operation, mentioning The Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium Space (all of which I have written about previously). He adds:

A score more is on the rise, with some oriented explicitly as games and others going after multipurpose use. The first category includes Ember Sword by Bright Star Studios, Meilich’s Big TimeFaraway, and Defi Kingdoms. The second includes NFT OasisNFT WorldsNifty Island, and those that adhere to our real-world maps, like SuperWorld and Upland. Each new project can bring fresh ideas to the task of constructing the metaverse. 

Which means, I have a whole new bunch of blockchain-based virtual worlds to explore and write about!

In summary, Mario Gabriele has provided a well-written, insightful deep dive into the past history, current value, and potential future of Decentraland. If you want to learn more about Mario and his thoughts on a variety of tech topics, you can join his free mailing list via his website The Generalist, or follow him on Twitter (I just did!).

I do have a number of other thinkers whom I have been following on various social media in the virtual worlds, social VR, and metaverse space, and I hope to introduce you to more of these people over time (as well as any new metaverse platforms I come across in my travels!).

The Sandbox: An Update

While I have mentioned The Sandbox before on this blog, I decided that it was high time to write an update about the hot new blockchain-based, voxel-themed virtual world, which has attracted such intense interest and speculation, even before the doors open to the general public!

Here’s a teaser trailer from last year, which gives an overview of what The Sandbox is all about:

According to an introductory article written in June 2020, The Sandbox started as a mobile game:

The Sandbox is best known for its two smash mobile hits The Sandbox (2011) and The Sandbox Evolution (2016), which combined generated 40 million downloads across iOS and Android. In 2018, developer/Publisher Pixowl decided to bring this successful User Generated Content gaming IP and large community of creators from mobile to the blockchain ecosystem. The goal: disrupt existing game makers like Minecraft and Roblox by providing creators with true ownership of their creations as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and reward them for their participation in the ecosystem.

The Sandbox also made deadlines in December 2021 when Republic Realm spent approximately US$4.3 million worth of land on the platform, setting a record for the most expensive land sale in the metaverse (more about Republic Realm here). In much the same way as Decentraland did before it, cryptospeculators have feverishly bid up the prices of virtual plots of land to unheard-of levels. At present, the average price of virtual plots of land in The Sandbox has hovered around US$11,000:

What’s even more eyebrow-raising is that, in the past week, almost ten million dollars (U.S.) worth of virtual property has changed hands—and all this before an official launch of The Sandbox! The previously-mentioned Republic Realm shared the following infographic in a recent blogpost, showing just how the value of recent sales in The Sandbox far, far outstrips that of other, already-launched blockchain-based competitors such as Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space:

So, what is it about The Sandbox that people are falling all over themselves in bidding wars for virtual property? Well, on their website, the company describes their product as follows:

The Sandbox is a virtual Metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences. We empower artists, creators, and players to build the platform they’ve always envisioned, providing them with the means to unleash their creativity.

The Sandbox, in addition to its NFT-based virtual land, has a cryptocurrency called (of course!) SAND, which you can use to buy and sell assets on their Marketplace, such as voxel sneakers for your avatar:

Among the partners participating in The Sandbox (and presumably selling officially branded merch you can’t get anywhere else!) are Adidas, Atari, deadmau5, Snoop Dogg, the Smurfs (?!), the Care Bears (?!?!??), and the zombie franchise The Walking Dead. Looks like somebody at the company building The Sandbox has been quite busy on the marketing, sponsorships, and partnerships front, people!

The Sandbox also seems to be positioning itself as a Roblox and Minecraft competitor, in that it boasts a Game Maker, which allows users to create their own games on the platform without needing to know how to code:

Another key component of The Sandbox is a downloadable program called VoxEdit. which “allows you to create, rig, and animate your own voxel-based NFTs” and “sell them on The Sandbox’s marketplace”:

VoxEdit appears to be a modeler, editor, and NFT minter program all in one, and the website states that VoxEdit is the only software capable of exporting assets to The Sandbox’s NFT Marketplace. So The Sandbox, while embracing blockchain-based technology, also appears to have some aspects of what Lars Doucet would call a “company town” model, similar to Roblox (somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, but that would appear to be the case here).

As I mentioned earlier, The Sandbox is not open to the general public yet. They recently concluded a first closed alpha test, with a limited group of alpha testers, and apparently, they are planning a second alpha test (“Alpha Season 2”) sometime in the near future:

All in all, The Sandbox seems to have done a masterful job of promotion and marketing. They have successfully generated a level of hype that I have not witnessed in the blockchain-based virtual world space since Decentraland raised millions of dollars in its epic ICO!

If you are intrigued and want to learn more about The Sandbox, you can visit their website, join their Discord or Telegram, ir follow them on various social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, Twitch, and YouTube.

P.S. As I expect I will be writing more about The Sandbox in future, I have decided to create a new blog category called The Sandbox, and go back and add this new category to all the older blogposts where I mentioned the platform.