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.

To Teleport or Not to Teleport: Teleporting Versus Walking in the Metaverse

Ever wish you could teleport in real life?
(Photo by Chris Briggs on Unsplash)

Earlier this week, I had a guided tour of the blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space, where I was informed by my tour guide that the virtual world had just implemented teleporting. Scattered throughout the one large, contiguous virtual landscape which comprises Somnium Space were teleporter hubs, where you could pull up a map, click on the teleporter hub you wanted to travel to, press a button, et voilà! You were instantly transported to your destination.

A teleporter hub in the central city square of Somnium Space (at night)
The red arrows indicate the location of teleporter hubs on the map

What makes Somnium Space unusual among metaverse platforms is that you cannot simply teleport from one place to another distant location; you either must make use of the provided teleporters, or walk/run/fly/swim to your destination. (Of course, you can certainly “short hop” using a limited form of teleporting, but that is only for shorter distances, not for instantly getting from one end of a large, contiguous landmass to another.)

In other words, the teleporter hubs of the Somnium Transportation System are set up much like a modern urban subway system, where you can only travel to a particular, pre-built subway station that is situated the nearest to your intended destination, and then walk the rest of the way. Many people might remember that in the very earliest days of Second Life, there were also teleporter hubs in the days before avatars could instantly teleport themselves from one location to another!

Another thing that sets Somnium Space apart from other social VR platforms is that there are only going to be so many “public” teleporter hubs. In face, some of these hubs are going to be auctioned off as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and the successful bidders with such a teleporter hub on their properties will be able to charge a cryptocurrency fee in order to use their teleporters! (In other words, they would operate much the same as a real-life toll road or highway.)

Closely intertwined with the idea of teleporting vs. walking is the layout of a metaverse platform. Is it one large contiguous landmass, like Somnium Space, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and (to a certain extent) Second Life? Or is it a collection of smaller worlds, like VRChat, Rec Room, Sansar, and Sinespace? If it is the former, then means of transportation (and ease of access to transportation) becomes more important. If it is the latter, then another tool which many of the newer social VR platforms offer is the ability to create a portal—either temporary or permanent— between two worlds. (Of course, you could consider a teleporter hub a portal.)

So, keeping all this in mind (particularly the distinction between SHORT HOP teleporting and teleporting to a DISTANT location), we can create a chart outlining the transportation affordances of the various metaverse platforms:

Name of Platform (Layout)Walk/Run? *Distance
Teleport?
**
Create Portals?
Second Life (mostly one contiguous landmass, with private islands)YESYESYES
Sinespace (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Sansar (separate worlds)YESNO (but you can create teleport hubs)YES
VRChat (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Rec Room (separate worlds)YESNOYES
AltspaceVR (separate worlds)YESNOYES
NeosVR (separate worlds)YESNOYES
Cryptovoxels (one contiguous landmass with some islands) YESNO (you can add coordinates to a URL, though)YES
Decentraland (one contiguous landmass) YESYES (/goto X,Y)NO
Somnium Space (one contiguous landmass)YESNO (but there are teleport hubs)NO (unless you count teleport hubs)
* – Can a user walk/run/fly/swim from one location to another? This includes SHORT HOP teleporting.
** – Can a user personally choose to teleport from one location to a second, DISTANT location?
† – Can a user create a temporary or permanent portal from one location to another?

Obviously, all metaverse platforms offer some form of personal locomotion for your avatar (walk, run, fly, swim, short-hop teleporting, etc.). This is standard.

It is also clear from this table that the metaverse platforms which consist of many smaller worlds (Sinespace, Sansar, VRChat, Rec Room, AltspaceVR, and NeosVR) all prefer the creation of temporary and permanent portals to allowing users to teleport great distances on their own steam. On the other hand, all the social VR platforms and virtual worlds which consist of one contiguous landmass tend to allow some form of teleportation across great distances.

You will notice that Cryptovoxels uses a rather brute-force method of “teleporting”, which consists of appending the coordinates to the end of the URL you enter into your web browser client (which are much the same as the coordinates which form part of the SLURLs used in Second Life, but not nearly as convenient in my opinion).

Transportation affordances are yet another way to classify metaverse platforms in my continuing effort to create a taxonomy of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

So, what do you think? Have I made an error in my table? Do you have an opinion about the benefits of teleporting and portals versus walking around and exploring the landscape? I’d love to hear your opinions, so please leave a comment, thank you!

Editorial: Fuelled by the NFT Boom, Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds Are Having a Moment—But Will It Last? Is It a Bubble?

A Reuters news article posted today, titled The ‘metaverse’ bet: crypto-rich investors snap up virtual real estate, which first came to my admittedly-distracted attention as a trending news item in my Twitter news feed, starts off as follows:

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.

Blockchain-based virtual worlds are definitely having a moment: the following trending news story showed up on my Twitter feed

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:

Stay tuned for further dispatches from the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms! (Yes, both Cryptovoxels and Somnium Space support VR.)

And I’d love to hear from you: Do you hold land on these four platforms? Do you think we are in a financial bubble? Feel free to sound off in the comment section!

We’d love to hear form you!

The Perks of Virtual World/Social VR Premium Memberships: Are They Worth It? What Do You Get?

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:

Second Life Premium Membership (source)

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.

My familiar “red Ryan” user icon

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

My alt Moesha Heartsong, sitting on the porch of her lovely Victorian Linden Home on the continent of Bellisseria (one of the many nice perks you get with your Second Life Premium membership)

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.

Sansar

Sansar offers three levels of premium subscriptions (unchanged from when Linden lab owned the platform), which give you:

  • A 45-day free trial of the Marvelous Designer software (used to create avatar clothing in Sansar)
  • Purchase discounts on Marvelous Designer for when you do decide to buy it
  • An increase in the number of Sansar worlds you can create (frankly, I’m not sure most people bother beyond the free Basic account, which lets you create up to 25 worlds)
  • Expedited user support options

Sinespace

The Unity-based Sinespace virtual world/social VR platform, created by Sine Wave Entertainment, offers a truly overwhelming number of Premium levels to choose from:

Premium users can create larger regions/worlds, have a larger number of regions active at one time, and get priority support and user-created content processing and approval, among other benefits.

AltspaceVR

Surprisingly, Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR doesn’t seem to offer any premium accounts (that may change in the future, though).

VRChat

VRChat Plus offers you the following perks (with more promised soon):

  • A nameplate icon: With VRChat+, you can personalize your nameplate with an icon you create! Snap a pic in VRChat or upload your own image on our website.
  • You can send a picture with an invitation to a friend to join you at your location
  • Free slots for up to 100 favourite avatars (as opposed to 25 for basic users)
  • “A limited edition VRCat Badge to display on your profile” (Really? Really?!??)
  • A higher trust ranking in VRChat’s Safety and Trust System

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

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

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)
  • 30 Neos Credits (NCR) monthly, accumulates

(Note that there is an even less expensive level, the “Agent Smith” level, at just $1 a month. Please check out the NeosVR Patreon page for more details.)

ENGAGE

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!