Decentraland and Somnium Space Launch Day is Today: So Far, An Exercise in Frustration

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

I am still on vacation from work, and I slept in super late this morning, dragging myself out of bed at 11:30 a.m. (hey! I am on. holidays.)…

While I was asleep, two major events happened on two different blockchain-based social VR/virtual world platforms:

Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting either event to happen first thing in the morning in my time zone, so I was caught flatfooted and unprepared. (Bad, BAD blogger!)

And so far, my day has been an exercise in frustration:

  • When I log into Decentraland, it doesn’t remember my custom avatar name (which I paid 100 MANA for), and my avatar appearance, generating a random newbie name and appearance instead.
  • I am having problems downloading the latest update of the client software for Somnium Space 2.0 (apparently, their server is down).

Both platforms are swarming with new users (there’s a treasure chest hunt going on at Decentraland), and their support teams are (understandably) swamped with requests for assistance. So I am just going to have to be patient.

Expect blogposts about both platforms once I sort out all my technical problems! As a social VR and virtual worlds blogger, I should have been on top of this, and I wasn’t. I’m so sorry!


UPDATED! Cryptovoxels and Decentraland: More Money Is Being Exchanged for Blockchain-Based Assets Than You Might Suspect

You’d be surprised by the amount of cryptocurrency changing hands for blockchain-based digital assets like virtual land and avatar wearables
(image by WorldSpectrum from Pixabay)

I have been observing the goings-on of what I consider to be the top three blockchain-based virtual worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space) for quite some time now. I find it endlessly fascinating.

You might not be aware that all three worlds have assets for sale via OpenSea, which is the world’s largest marketplace for digital goods, including collectibles, gaming items, digital art, and other digital assets that are backed by a blockchain like Ethereum (ETH for short). According to their FAQ, there are over four million items on the OpenSea market, but according to one of my sources, it’s closer to 10 million now.

When discussing these worlds, you will hear the term Non-Fungible Token (NFT) thrown around a lot. An NFT is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH.

The classic example of an NFT is Cryptokitties, a passionate phenomenon which utterly baffles me. (Then again, I have never understood why breedables became a thing in Second Life, which is the closest non-crypto analogy I can give for NFTs.) The information contained within a non-fungible token is unique to that token, like the colour and design of the stripes on a Cryptokitty, or the location coordinates for a parcel of LAND in Decentraland. This means that one non-fungible token can never be simply swapped, or exchanged, for any other token. Each is unique.

Cryptokitties for sale on the OpenSea website
(and no, I still don’t get the appeal)

All three of Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space have both virtual land and virtual items as non-fungible tokens. And you might be as surprised as I was today when, out of idle curiosity, I investigated and discovered just how much money is trading hands per week in these virtual worlds!

Here is a screen capture of the trading volume of the past seven days for both Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, two virtual worlds which have consistently appeared in the OpenSea top 5 list by trading volume:

US$54,000 trading hands in a week is nothing to sniff at (although I suspect significantly more money is still being exchanged in Second Life on a weekly basis). I can now begin to understand how Cryptovoxels’ lead developer, Ben Nolan, can work full-time and be supported financially by his platform! There’s some money to be had here.

In fact, the distributed nature of blockchain ledger-keeping allows anyone to see at a glance how well (or poorly) sales are doing on any blockchain-based platform. Unlike Second Life sales volumes, which are considered confidential, proprietary corporate information by Linden Lab (aside from the occasional statistic tossed out on anniversaries), you can’t hide the information; it is available to anybody who wants to look at it!

(You might be interested to know that the 7-day trading volume in the third blockchain-based platform I mentioned up top, Somnium Space, is about 7.9 ETH, which works out to US$1,134. I am willing to predict that investment in Somnium Space will increase during 2020 to a level comparable with Cryptovoxels and Decentraland. They simply have too much potential to be overlooked, given their planned feature set.)

So do not be tempted to dismiss the blockchain-based social VR platforms and virtual worlds so lightly. People are already avidly buying and selling virtual land, and virtual items such as avatar wearables!

Cryptovoxels wearables (including a sword, a cellphone, a baseball cap, and a boombox) for sale on the OpenSea website

Am I tempted to participate in these markets? Absolutely not. Blockchain/crypto still seems like voodoo medicine to me. My major achievement last month was to successfully transfer a minuscule amount of ETH from one crypto wallet to another, to cover the transaction fee (or “gas”) in order to set up a custom username on Cryptovoxels! (Yes, like Decentraland, you gotta pay. But not as much.)

But it is fascinating to watch all this from the sidelines, nonetheless.

UPDATE Jan. 11th, 2020: Jin has alerted me to a brand-new resource by OpenSea, called The NFT Bible: Everything you need to know about non-fungible tokens, which is an excellent starting place for the newbie to learn all about non-fungible tokens in much more detail than I have covered here.

There is also a bar chart in this section of the report that shows you the top non-fungible tokens by trading volume over the past six months:

The market for non-fungible tokens is still quite small, and somewhat harder to measure than the cryptocurrency market given the lack of spot prices for assets. For the purpose of this analysis, we focus on secondary trading volume (i.e., peer to peer sales of non-fungible tokens) as an indicator of market size. Using this metric, we estimate the current secondary market to be roughly $2 – $3 million USD in volume per month. In the last six months, the following projects led the charge:

In this “top ten”, the red arrows point out the trading volume for:

  • Decentraland (roughly US$1.5 million in trading volume)
  • Decentraland Estates (i.e. parcels larger than a single piece of LAND; about a quarter of a million dollars in trading volume)
  • Somnium Space (approximately US$250,000)
  • Cryptovoxels (also approximately US$250,000)

Somnium Space Will Be Moving to Version 2 of Their Client Software, and Celebrated the End of Version 1 with a Party!

On December 30th, 2019, blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space held a farewell party, both for both the year 2019 and for the first version of their client software. They are planning to launch version 2.0 of their software sometime early this year, which will feature full-body avatars, as opposed to the head-and-shoulders avatars currently available. (I had reported in October 2019 that they had already released version 2.0, but that would appear to be referring only to the virtual land, not the client software itself. I find it rather confusing!)

If you missed the party, there is video of the proceedings. Vivian Chazen (of The Hive VR) was the host of the event, which featured a live performance by the talented singer Luke Reynolds, and a speech by Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov.

You can see me merrily throwing virtual snowballs at the start of this video!

Also, Artur says that Somnium Space will be releasing an Oculus Quest version of their client to landowners sometime in January 2020. I assume that this will eventually be rolled out to all users of the platform over the course of the year. Artur also tweeted:

Native MetaMask wallet integration [is] coming into [the] Somnium 2.0 PC client. Connect your wallet to Somnium account and browse your NFTs [Non-Fungible Tokens] including [the] latest contract and price details from OpenSea, and insert them directly into the Builder.

Looking forward to all these new developments!

UPDATED! Editorial: Decentraland Is Paying for Contest Entries (And Why This May Backfire)

On Nov. 8th, I wrote about the Decentraland Builder Contest, which is currently underway and runs until Dec. 15th, 2019. You can refer to my previous blogpost for all the details on the contest, or you can check the Decentraland website.

One thing that I did not know about the contest is that each accepted entry will receive 200 MANA, which works out to about US$5.00 at the current exchange rates. I understand that you can submit up to 20 entries per person, which means that a user who submits the maximum number of entries earns 4,000 MANA, worth about US$100. (This information comes from a recent blogpost on the DCLPlazas blog, which is a good source of news about Decentraland.)

This reminds me of how High Fidelity was offering US$300 per accepted entry to an avatar contest at one of its final big events (this was before its abrupt pivot earlier this year to promote business use of HiFi for remote workteams, and an attempt to rein in runaway costs). For a while there, High Fidelity was spending money like a drunken sailor, and I am starting to wonder if the same thing is starting to happen over at Decentraland, which has been extremely generous with its contest prizes this year.

I have absolutely no problem with large cash prizes for contest winners, and I know that contests encourage the creation of good content, which drives usage of the platform. But in my opinion, paying for every single contest entry is only going to encourage a flood of people gaming the system with the maximum number of contest entries, just to collect the most money they can and then cash it out.

This is essentially bribing people to use your platform, which means that as soon as the money stops flowing, fickle users, who were there only because they were paid, will abandon the platform (which is exactly what happened to High Fidelity).

One of the things that is starting to concern me about blockchain-based virtual worlds like Decentraland is how they seem to encourage a rather mercenary approach to their in-world economy. It doesn’t help matters that land is such an expensive commodity in DCL, which almost makes it imperative to be able to use it to generate revenue. (A year ago, DCL even launched virtual land mortgages, for those who could not afford to pay for their LAND up front.)

Want to play a hunting game? You’ve got to pay for the arrows. Want your choice of avatar username? You’ve got to buy one. One person on the official Decentraland Discord server recently asked whether they would be allowed to erect a paywall in front of a constructed scene, so you couldn’t even look at it without paying. Everybody seems out to make a buck.

The blockchain/cryptocurrency community is a world apart, and most current Decentraland users and investors do not see this sort of setup as strange. But I wonder how well this will play out with the casual, non-crypto visitors which DCL needs to attract in order to survive and thrive long-term. Will potential users be put off by having to pay for everything, even buying their username? I guess we’ll find out once the doors open to the general public.

UPDATE Dec. 6th, 2019: Ari Meilich, the Project Lead at Decentraland, says:

The idea behind subsidizing content creation is trying to crack the chicken and egg problem. A lot of people have been building in the absence of incentives, but other are more likely to create better scenes provided they receive tokens, particularly before we have launched and there isn’t an immediate flux of users. In the previous contests it has worked out great. This contest will be the last one before launch, Ryan. And it’s looking like there’ll be enough interactive content to put us in a good position to open the world publicly soon 🙂

Thanks, Ari!