Virtual Universe: What’s Going On?

virtualuniverse

Ever since I had my first guided tour of Virtual Universe back in April, I felt that this was something special. As opposed to so many other blockchain-based virtual worlds that were more hype than substance, VU felt like an actual, solid product, tantalizingly close to a release date. I was excited, and I promoted VU as often as I could on this blog.

But the cryptocurrency markets this year have been rough—absolutely brutal—lately. Many cryptocurrency tokens for various projects have lost a great deal of their initial value. Many people who jumped on board the cryptocurrency bandwagon when certain coins were riding high are now looking at their losses and cursing their bad luck. The Telegram channels I follow have been full of angry, bitter, and demoralized buyers.

Very recently, Virtual Universe decided to turn their VU token sale from public to private. Their only public message about this change was posted to Medium on Sept. 27th:

ICO Update

As the Industry continues to evolve rapidly, the VU Token team has been advised to take our sale private at this time. We want to thank our contributors and supporters for their patience as we continue to pursue private investment sources.

The Company intends that current VU Token owners will receive their tokens upon the conclusion of our token sale.

We remain excited and committed to the creation of Virtual Universe. Stay tuned to our social channels for updates.

The Virtual Universe Team

And then, silence.

In recent days, I have been approached privately by two worried people, one of whom had made a significant purchase of Virtual Universe tokens during their public ICO period, and another one who (like me) was an active participant in the VUtoken Partner Program. Both had the same question: “What’s going on?” I didn’t know what to tell them. I honestly don’t know what’s going on. But the sudden lack of communication is a very troubling sign.

There hasn’t been an “Earn & Win” task posted since early August, and I am starting to feel a little concerned. I’ve posted questions in both the Discord and Telegram channels for the Virtual Universe project, but nobody has responded to my questions.

What’s going on?

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Staramba Spaces Launches Their Shop: Act Now, There’s Only 412 Coveted Spaces Next to Paris Hilton!

Staramba Store 6 Oct 2018.png

Staramba Spaces (you remember, the social VR space/virtual world with links to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan) has launched their online shop, where you can buy… well, not much, yet. All they offer for sale right now are “bidding rights” for various sectors:

  • Celebrity Sector
  • Soccer Sector
  • Tennis Sector
  • Hulk Hogan Sector
  • Paris Hilton Sector

They explain, in the product description of the Paris Hilton Sector:

Plot Bidding Right for the Paris Hilton Sector. This early access Bidding Right enables you to bid for your own real estate plot in the Paris Hilton Sector of the celebrity cluster Primus of STARAMBA.spaces. You will have the opportunity to participate via your Staramba Tokens in the non-public Investor Phase (starting in November 2018) before any public bidding begins.

Be the first!

Bid for a real estate plot with your Staramba Tokens before the public bidding begins.

Next to YOUR star!

The plots will be in Paris Hilton Sector in the celebrity cluster Primus on our first planet, Pasyra.

Here’s a picture of what the planet Pasyra will look like, with the location of the Paris Hilton sector:

Planet Pasyra 6 Oct 2018.png

I note with amusement that these “bidding rights” are limited to one per buyer, and there are “only 412 left in stock”:

Paris HIlton Sector 6 Oct 2018.png

I’ve been trying to figure out what the bidding cost (25 STT, or Staramba tokens) works out to in US dollars, but I haven’t had much luck in finding a website that will do the conversion for me. All I can find is this rather long-winded Medium post explaining the projected lifecycle of Staramba tokens, with the following less-than-helpful timeline:

Staramba1.png

Now, I also follow the chatter on the Staramba Telegram discussion forums, where someone posted the following information:

After the ITO: restricted trade and trade of STT

In November a restricted trade will be possible depending on regulations. This trade is only possible inside the Leondrino Wallet. It is most likely, that initially trade restrictions must be followed: on a daily, monthly and yearly basis as well as per transaction. These specifications are imposed on us by the competent authority in Germany. This means that the STARAMBA.Tokens can be offered and bought once. The price can be made by the seller or the buyer but cannot be lower than 0.25 USD per STT, which was the last price during the ITO. As soon as the STARAMBA.Tokens changed the owner or wallet, the new owner cannot resell those tokens until token class A was reached.

But you can still use them to buy services and products in the STARAMBA.spaces shop.

Tokens which were not sold during the ITO will be offered by Staramba as sell orders (instant exchange) for 1.00 USD per STT, as this is the value per STT reflected in the shop offers, to give all interested parties the possibility to fill up their STT account and afford desired products and services in the STARAMBA.spaces shop.

The token class B will be the next step and an “advanced” restricted trade will be possible.

At this time trading on other exchanges (selection process has already started) will be possible. Furthermore, the possible limits defined for the restricted trade might be loosened.

That means that today, no exact date can be provided when token classes B and later A will be reached. Every step is made due to all regulations and has to be approved by the regulator in advance.

The aim is to have the STT listed on exchanges that meet all regulations. Therefore, we are in close contact with the regulator to get information about which licenses are needed. At the moment, there is no final decision on regulations regarding trading tokens on exchanges from the side of the Financial Supervisory Authority, but we know that they are setting them up and we are in close contact with them to meet all requirements with the highest precision.

Depending on the time it takes until regulations are defined, we cannot tell you when the STARAMBA.Token will be available on exchanges or which exchanges are approved by the Financial Supervisory Authority.

Our goal is to get the STT listed on established exchanges as soon as the applicable regulations are in place and to make the STT as liquid as possible by October 2019. Nevertheless, our product development team of more than 70 people is working on STARAMBA.spaces and the whole company with more than 100 employees is doing its best to have a successful STARAMBA.Token.

If you should have any further requests regarding regulations or trading of the STARAMBA.Token feel free to contact us and we try to answer all questions as good as we can in the next newsletter.

So, you got all that straight? You basically need a Ph.D. in crypto to figure this thing out.

And for what?!?? A coveted space next to Paris Hilton or Hulk Hogan?? Or rather, a possibly-animated “lifelike scan” or “lifelike 3D avatar” of Paris Hilton, or Hulk Hogan, or some soccer star, or Gene Simmons from KISS?

KISS 6 Oct 2018
Image from the Staramba website

I’m sorry, but this simply makes no sense to me at all. Caveat emptor!

VIBEHub Has Launched Their Platform

Back in March I wrote about a new, blockchain-based virtual world called VIBEHub. There has been much grumbling on the VIBEHub Telegram about the recent lack of news in terms of product development.

Well, I discovered today that they have completely redesigned their website and launched their platform:

VibeHub 6 23 Sept 2018.jpg

You can visit what they call “hubs” using a web browser on your desktop or, if you are using a WebVR-compatible browser, you can also visit them in your VR headset.

VibeHub 4 23 Sept 2018.jpg

You can create your own hub, and even charge an admission fee for entrance. Here’s a brief tutorial video from their YouTube channel:

Interestingly, there are future plans for many different kinds of experiences, everything from music to gaming to education to comedy, listed in the left-hand side panel. These are all listed as “Coming Soon”:

VibeHub 7 23 Sept 2018.jpg

There’s also a Marketplace, where you can spend VIBEHub credits (their blockchain-based in-world currency, called VIBE) on things such as avatars:

VibeHub 8 23 Sept 2018

Currently, the only way to get VIBE credits is to buy them using cryptocurrency (they support the MetaMask wallet). They say that you will be able to buy VIBE credits using your credit card in future.

You have a choice of a robot or human avatar. I must admit that I found the robot avatars to be kind of cute:

VibeHub 9 23 Sept 2018

But I found the human avatars to be, well, let’s just say “aesthetically challenged” (at least compared to other platforms such as Second Life and Sansar) and leave it at that. The oversized hands and overly-long fingers are the stuff of nightmares:

VibeHub 3 23 Sept 2018.jpg

(You have to go through the avatar selection menu every time you enter a new hub. It does not appear to remember what you saved from the previous hub.)

I found the brand-new platform to be somewhat buggy, both in desktop and in VR mode. Hubs seem to take a long time to load (and I have broad bandwidth and a fast gaming computer).  In desktop mode, either I could not move my avatar at all, or I could not get him to stop running. In VR mode, I found that I could move, but I could not turn. Rather a frustrating experience overall. But it’s early days.

The new VIBEHub website home page webpage states:

We support HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Daydream by Google, Samsung Gear VR. Don’t have a VR/AR headset? No problem we also support WebGL/WebVR on compatible modern browsers on your desktop or mobile devices. Other hardware platforms like Magic Leap and PSVR coming soon. Experiences will vary depending on device capabilities. However no one gets left out.

Magic Leap One support “coming soon”? That would make VIBEHub the first platform to support both VR and AR headsets. I’ll believe that bit of marketing hype when I see it.

VIBEHub is the second cryptocurrency-based virtual world platform to actually launch (after Mark Space, which is rather underwhelming). It will be interesting to see how the platform develops over time.

UPDATED! The BBC Covers Decentraland: Virtually Making a Fortune?

I will hand it to the folks at Decentraland: for a virtual world that you can’t even visit yet, they are certainly attracting an awful lot of press attention (mostly for their expensive land prices). Today BBC decided to cover the platform on their Trending program.

Titled Virtually Making a Fortune?, the 23-minute BBC World Service radio program offers a good overall introduction to the Decentraland project, especially if you’re new to it.

BBC Decentraland.png

I am amused to note that the BBC used a still from the rather misleading “artistic concept” promotional video for Decentraland to illustrate their radio program. (You currently can’t do anything like what is pictured in the YouTube video on the platform.)

The program also failed to mention that you can already use platforms such as Sansar and High Fidelity to build VR-capable, fully-functional, visitable experiences at a much lower cost than Decentraland. As I have said before, spending a small fortune on 10 m-by-10 m plots of virtual land makes absolutely no sense when you can now build up to twenty 4 km-by-4 km experiences for free in Sansar, to cite just one example!

The program also goes into the whole idea that the company plans to build its virtual world and then withdraw, leaving Decentraland’s governance up to the resident landowners themselves. This is a somewhat fascinating but still-untested idea, which may not work out as intended.

UPDATE Aug. 27th: If you want to see some video with your audio, the story has now been placed on the BBC News website: The virtual land selling for millions.

Here’s a direct link to the six-and-a-half-minute news video (press F11 to see it full-screen on your monitor): https://www.bbc.com/news/av/embed/p06j77zq/45275461

Money in the Newer Virtual Worlds

money-1578510_1920.jpg

Image by TheDigitalWay on Pixabay

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Your love gives me such a thrill
But your love won’t pay my bills
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Money, the Flying Lizards


In-world currency systems are an integral part of many social VR/virtual world platforms. Second Life can be seen as the perfect example of a virtual world whose popularity exploded once people realized that they could make money on the platform, inspired by a 2006 Businessweek cover story on Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung:

Anshe Chung.jpg

This blogpost is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of how the newer virtual world platforms have implemented in-world currencies and set up systems for commerce.

Sansar

Linden Lab has, of course, 15 years of experience working with Second Life‘s economy and in-game currency, and they have applied that expertise in the setup and operation of the economy for their new virtual world, Sansar. You can buy Sansar dollars in two ways, directly in bundles or via the Sansar Dollar Exchange (SandeX), a currency exchange. There are more details on the SandeX in this document:

 The SandeX is the official virtual exchange of Sansar, run by Linden Lab, where you can:

  • Buy Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit buy offers at a requested exchange rate.
  • Sell Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit sell offers at a requested exchange rate.

All SandeX transactions are subject to transaction fees.

Market buy and sell

Market buys and market sells are the quickest ways to purchase or sell Sansar dollars on the SandeX. The SandeX automatically matches your order with the best exchange rate. The quoted exchange rate includes transaction fees associated with buying and selling on the exchange.

Limit buy and sell

Limit buys and sells allow you to specify the amount of Sansar dollars and the exchange rate you are willing to accept. The SandeX automatically matches up buy and sell offers as they come in. If you are buying, you must have sufficient funds in your US$ wallet to pay for the buy order.

Creators can sell their creations on the Sansar Store, and can also receive statistics on how well their items are selling. There is as yet no in-world commerce like they have in Second Life.

Sinespace

Sinespace has two in-world currencies, called silver and gold. According to their wiki:

Gold

Gold credits can only be purchased for real money by spending users and can be converted back to real money by Sine Wave virtual goods partners.

Gold credits trade at 100 / 1 fixed ratio with USD$

Silver

Silver credits are free promotional credits given to users as rewards for participating in the community.

Silver credits cannot be converted to real money but can be used by creators to promote their content to new platform users who have not yet purchased gold.

Sinespace has a Marketplace built into its client software, and a few vendors like BlakOpal have also set up in-world stores.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has attracted a lot of recent media attention due to the fact that they have decided to set up a blockchain-based in-world currency, called High Fidelity Coins (HFC):

  • Blockchain Technology: Our new currency, High Fidelity Coins (HFC), will be a public blockchain with a consensus group of multiple parties. A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions. We are using blockchain technology to track and record transactions made using HFC. All information on a blockchain exists as a shared database, which means the records are public and verifiable. It is not centralized. We are also using the blockchain to store information about digital asset ownership in High Fidelity. This enables us to protect intellectual property by embedding certification in items in the blockchain. HFC will eventually be convertible to local currencies or other cryptocurrencies at popular exchanges.
  • Cryptographically-secured Wallet: Users will be able to participate in transactions using their Wallet, which will be an app on their tablet in High Fidelity. Your Wallet is secured using a security picture and a passphrase which includes ECDSA public-private keys pairs. These key pairs are used to sign each transaction.
  • Proof of Provenance (PoP) certificate: This certificate is generated for every transaction between a user’s Wallet and the Markeplace. This certificate’s ID is stored on the blockchain. The certificate contains static properties that can help in identifying the item and the owner. These properties cannot be altered, except by transfer of the PoP Certificate. Currently, we only support objects that contain a file type .JSON. Support for avatars and other file types will be coming soon.

Currently, the only way to get some HFC (a free one-time grant) is to go to the Bank of High Fidelity domain at their open times and meet with the banker. Here’s some more information of HFC from the High Fidelity website:

We are currently giving out the currency for anyone interested in participating in the closed beta for High Fidelity Commerce. If you want to get your inital HFC grant, you first need to set up your Wallet.

These coins are to be used as currency for any commerce transactions in the Marketplace. Since we are using blockchain technology, all transactions with HFCs will be publically recorded and stored.

Your Wallet will be secured using ECDSA public-private key pairs, security picture and passphrase. Learn more about your Wallet here.

HFC is not intended for speculators to hold and should be used in transactions in High Fidelity. HFC is intended to be a stable currency and used to support a healthy and vibrant virtual economy for digital goods and assets.\

High Fidelity has an online Marketplace where vendors can sell their products (users can also access the Marketplace listings using their tablets in-world). Avatar Island is the first domain set up in HiFi where you can try on and purchase items for your avatar in-world.

VRChat

VRChat currently does not have any sort of commerce or in-game currency, although there is a thriving real-world business for people designing and rigging custom avatars for VRChat users. It will be interesting to see what happens when/if the company decides to implement an in-world economy on the most popular of the social VR platforms.

AltspaceVR

As I recently reported, AltspaceVR seems to be gearing up for commerce, but at the moment, there is no commerce or in-game currency system in place.

OpenSim

Different OpenSim grids have different solutions to the problem of an in-world currency. Every grid has in-world stores which offer merchandise for sale. Some grids issue their own currencies; others use the Gloebit system, which has the advantage of being one standard currency which is transferable and usable across a large number of participating OpenSim grids. The Kitely Marketplace is a popular shopping mall for the many OpenSim virtual worlds:

Kitely Market can deliver items to all Kitely avatars, as well as to avatars on all other OpenSim grids that support the Hypergrid. Our marketplace also delivers items to avatars on several non-Hypergrid grids that have been set up to receive deliveries from our system.

Kitely Market has been used to deliver items to thousands of OpenSim users on more than 100 different OpenSim grids.

Virtual Universe, Decentraland and the Other Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds

Virtual Universe, Decentraland, Mark Space, Staramba Spaces, VIBEHub, Ceek, and Terra Virtua (among many other products in this increasingly crowded marketplace) are issuing their own blockchain-based cryptocurrencies or tokens for future use on their platforms. all of which are still in development. The product closest to a launch date appears to be Virtual Universe, which plans to start a closed beta sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

I’ve already strongly warned potential investors to do every. single. scrap. of their homework before investing a penny in any of these blockchain/cryptocurrency ventures (link). Caveat Emptor!

Other Social VR/Virtual World Platforms

I can’t think of any other metaverse products which have in-world currencies at the moment, besides the adult virtual worlds like Oasis and Utherverse/The Red Light Center (these links are safe for work). If I’ve missed one, please let me know in the comments, thank you!

A Detailed List of VR Cryptocurrencies

VRCryptocurrencies 4 July 2018.pngThere’s a new website called VRCryptocurrencies.com, which has published a list of VR cryptocurrencies. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll see a lot of familiar names on that list:

Plus a whole bunch of new ones I had never heard of before:

Now, some of these do not appear to be social VR apps, so I won’t bother covering them on this blog. But there are a few interesting ones that merit further investigation!

The VRCurrencies website has a blog as well, which looks like it could be a good place to keep abreast of news regarding virtual reality-based cryptocurrency/blockchain projects in future. As I have stated before, I am extremely wary of crypto/blockchain VR projects at this point:

…I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!

Editorial: Crypto/Blockchain is Becoming a Cesspool

blockchain-3357567_1920.jpg
Image by TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay
Ever since I encountered my first blockchain-based virtual world, Decentraland, back in February, I have been watching the marketplace closely. Many companies have announced social VR platforms based on the blockchain; either they are selling a cryptocurrency for use in their virtual worlds, or are using blockchain technology in some another way, such as registering ownership of virtual land. I have joined the Discord and Telegram channels for the various metaverse-building companies and avidly followed the discussions and arguments taking place. I have scanned their websites. I have read through all their white papers.

The hype surrounding blockchain technology has now reached unprecedented levels. Some of the claims made by companies (or their cheerleaders) for blockchain-based virtual worlds have been misguided at best and deluded at worst (here’s just one example). Bold promises are being made for virtual places which you cannot even visit yet, or which only exist in skeleton form.

In some cases, the use of blockchain is a solution where there wasn’t a problem in the first place, as someone else recently pointed out when commenting on one product. In other cases, companies may be feeding the impression that their blockchain-based coin/token/land will only gain in value, without making the risk clear. Investors who have not done their proper due diligence have jumped on board many recent ICOs and ITOs, hoping to score huge profits similar to those who were early investors in Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Frankly, one of the few companies I have encountered in this area that actually has some substance behind all the hype is Virtual Universe, and I have given video proof as to why I am looking forward to their product launch. But the often-misleading and sometimes-shady statements of some blockchain-based virtual world companies are tainting the entire marketplace, including VU. If I were an investor, I wouldn’t touch any of them with a ten-foot pole.

As I have stated before, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is that it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer (as a Canadian I cannot buy tokens). But I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

For example, I am currently a member of the Staramba Spaces Telegram community, and I has been watching with increasing dismay over the past week as numerous people report that scammers are trying to steal their money by impersonating Staramba staff and direct-messaging potential customers, posing as agents for the Staramba initial token offering. The entire Staramba ITO has been a shambles, with the company having to hurriedly suspend the buying of tokens by credit card until a later date. (And why would you choose to go deeper into debt to buy a blockchain token in the first place? It’s insanity.)

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!