CBC Radio Covers Decentraland

Decentraland is still getting the kind of mainstream press coverage that most other virtual worlds would kill for. The latest news organization to cover the blockchain-based virtual world, which is expected to launch later this year, is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, better known as the CBC.

CBC Radio’s Day 6 program reported on the Decentraland project in a report titled Welcome to Decentraland, where investors spend real-world dollars flipping virtual real estate. (In addition to the article text, there is audio of the ten-minute news report available at the above link.)

The report, which includes a warning that investors could lose their entire investment, profiles one virtual land speculator who estimates his holdings are currently worth US$150,000.

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Exploring NeosVR: An Overlooked Gem in Social VR

It’s unusual for me to write as much as I have about a social VR platform such as NeosVR without actually visiting it (I can’t remember if I visited it when it first launched or not. I think I did. An occupational hazard of doing this sort of work is that, after a while, all the virtual worlds I covered tend to blend together and I have to stop and ask myself: did I see or do that in Sansar or in Sinespace, or somewhere else?)

Regardless, I decided it was time for me to strap on my Oculus Rift headset and pay a visit to NeosVR.

My first visit was late yesterday evening, only for about 20 minutes. NeosVR starts you off (very sensibly) with a set of five tutorial videos which explain how to use the menus and controls, among other things. The first thing that you need to know about NeosVR is that it is not designed so that you can just pick it up and use it without training. There is a learning curve associated with NeosVR, and it is a fairly steep one, especially if you want to take full advantage of all the commands at your fingertips (and most of them are incorporated in your hand controllers.).

Fortunately, when I arrived at the main hub, there were a couple of experienced avatars present who helped me learn the basic movements, how to select and visit an experience from a display, and how to choose an avatar from the many default selections. One of them pulled out a camera and took a picture of me, which you can see below:

Another thing you need to know about NeosVR is that it is essentially a single-person development team, Tomas Mariancik (Frooxius), as opposed to a whole company of developers. One-person development teams have the distinct advantage of being nimble in adding new features and fixing problems, but that very flexibility can sometimes make for a confusing user experience. For example, my two guides last night were debating which of two different ways to teach me how to save this photo to my hard drive—the “old way” and the “new way”. I understand that the client software is updated daily. This means that something that once was true can change from one version to the next. Documenting the quickly-changing world of NeosVR must be a nightmare of a challenge!

So, after last night’s excursion, I decided to go back in this morning and delve a little deeper into NeosVR. I went back to the futuristic main hub, designed to look like a staellite of Earth, where there was an atlas of experiences to visit:

The first one I picked was sort of a demonstration of the graphics abilities of NeosVR, and it was quite impressive (a mere photo hardly does it justice):

Then I visited a Van Gogh art exhibit, with a 3-dimensional recreation of one of his paintings. Again, the level of graphics was impressive:

I would strongly encourage you to come visit and explore NeosVR. Tomas Mariancik has created a wonderful and innovative space for developers to build VR experiences, and all the other social VR platforms should be taking notes. This project compares very favourably in terms of features with better-known platforms such as Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace and VRChat (with the latter probably being the one product to which NeosVR will be most often compared). NeosVR is an overlooked gem, and I plan to visit it much more often in future to see how it evolves.

(Note: I have confirmed from chatting with the developer on Reddit that you do not need to purchase Neos Credits, their in-world cryptocurrency, to use and enjoy NeosVR.)

Comparing Blockchain-Based Virtual World Projects

I am still monitoring the various blockchain-based virtual world projects via their discussion forums on Telegram. In particular, there’s been a lot of chatter lately about the Mark Space project, which I still regard with a high degree of wariness. They may have made some cosmetic improvements to the spaces you can build, but I still don’t think they’re terribly appealing compared to what you can do in Sansar, High Fidelity, etc. Here, see for yourself:

However, a member of the Mark Space team posted the following table to their Telegram channel, comparing their product with other blockchain-based virtual worlds, which I did find of interest:

While I am already familiar with Decentraland, I’ve never or barely heard of some of these other projects before:

  • district0x
  • Metaverse (now there’s a poorly-chosen name!)
  • Cappasity
  • Spectiv
  • Prosense
  • Matryx

You know what that means, don’t you? It’s time for me to go do some investigating and exploring again! I’ll report back on what I find, and just how accurate this chart is.

I leave you with this vague and mystifying promotional video for Mark Space, which makes me wonder what exactly the company is spending their money on—an actual virtual world, or slick advertising to bring in more investors? This sort of thing raises all kinds of red flags for me.

Or, if you really want to see something trippy that pretty much has absolutely nothing to do with the actual product, check out this promotional video for Cappasity!

The level of insanity in this market is breathtaking.

High Fidelity Begins a Pilot Test of Trade Between Its High Fidelity Coin (HFC) and Ethereum (ETH): Will This Step Jumpstart Its Economy?

HFCtoETH.jpeg

High Fidelity is the first of what I call the “Big Five” social VR platforms (i.e., HiFi, plus Sansar, Sinespace, VRChat, and AltspaceVR)  to set up a blockchain-based in-world currency, called High Fidelity Coins (HFC). On January 8th, 2019, High Fidelity announced that it would begin testing the trade of High Fidelity Coin and Ethereum (ETH; a popular cryptocurrency):

Initially, we will allow users to purchase HFC using ETH. We will conduct trades of HFC in fixed amounts equivalent to $25 or $50 (HFC 2,500 or 5,000). Since HFC is a stablecoin pegged to the US Dollar, while Ethereum varies against the Dollar, the exchange rate between HFC and ETH will fluctuate.

We are currently allowing creators and performers that have earned in-world currency to sell their HFC for payment directly for USD. These trades are handled in-person with High Fidelity staff. As we enter the New Year (2019), we will begin offering automated tools to support selling HFC for ETH.

As we’re still learning about trades for ETH, we’ll begin by scheduling in-person (in-world) trades for users buying HFC with ETH. A High Fidelity banker will specify an Ethereum wallet to deposit your ETH to pay for the trade. You’ll receive HFC from the bank on the successful completion of your trade. You can schedule an appointment here.

If you’re new to the world of blockchain trading, you can learn more about one of the more common trading platforms (Coinbase) here. You can learn more about the steps required to set up a wallet for payment here.

Over time, we see this being our primary method for purchasing and selling HFC. It’s convenient, global, well-governed and broadly adopted. In future, we may enable trades to other cryptocurrencies or tokens, either directly or through third-party exchanges. We also hope that HFC will be used by other VR platforms or applications, making the transfer to Ethereum even more useful.

High Fidelity also published a list of Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) about this move:

Who can trade HFC and ETH?

All High Fidelity users will be able to buy and sell their HFC for ETH. An ETH wallet will be required.

What is the HFC to ETH exchange rate?

HFC is pegged to the US Dollar. US $1 = HFC 100. Since the value of ETH floats against the Dollar, the value of High Fidelity Coin floats against Ethereum in turn.

Why is HFC a stablecoin?

Speculation in High Fidelity Coin as a cryptocurrency would be counter to our goal of creating a thriving economy in High Fidelity. If the real world value of HFC changed unexpectedly for non-economic reasons, the potential rewards for creators and those working in High Fidelity would become unpredictable, discouraging users to hold and trade with the currency. We want people to know they can cash out their HFC at any time for a fixed real-world value.

Can we still trade directly for US Dollars?

Yes, but this may be discontinued in 2019.

Will you start trading HFC for Bitcoin?

In future, we may enable HFC trading for other cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin.

Why aren’t you just using ETH in the first place?

High Fidelity has developed its own cryptocurrency, HFC, since traditional blockchain currencies are not suitable for a virtual world environment. Specifically, ETH is more of an asset class than a stable trading currency. Its value varies over time, making it difficult for traders to use the currency in fair exchange for goods. Additionally, HFC trades more quickly and without built-in transaction fees. Currencies that rely on a proof of work method to generate and confirm blocks (e.g. Bitcoin) currently require too much time to be used as a real-time transactional currency.

This is uncharted territory for High Fidelity, and a step not without some risk, despite their assertion that they want HFC to be a “stablecoin”. Many other social VR and virtual world platforms will no doubt be watching closely to see how well HiFi’s economy adapts to this change. High Fidelity is still having a bit of difficulty getting its economy off the ground, and encouraging content creators to make and sell products on its Marketplace, at least compared to the relative success of the Sinespace Shop and Linden Lab’s Sansar (where the Sansar Store now boasts well over 18,000 items on sale). Linden Lab and Sinespace currently have no plans to introduce cryptocurrency on their platforms, as far as I am aware.

Could this move backfire? Given the constraints that High Fidelity has put in place, it seems doubtful that this could fail. However, many Ethereum owners will likely hesitate before exchanging their hard-earned cryptocurrency to HFC. While HFC might prove a safe haven in the current bear market, it may also prove a trap in times when ETH is soaring in value. Frankly, blockchain-based virtual worlds are just too much of a risk for me to even contemplate investing a penny, and I would urge anybody who does to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any cryptocurrency.