Editorial: New Year, New Directions, Part II—How I Plan to Cover Blockchain Metaverse Platforms Going Forward

Photo by Pierre Borthiry – Peiobty on Unsplash

There is simply no better place to watch as the dominoes fall in the beleaguered world of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) than the cryptosnark subreddit, r/Buttcoin (tagline: “ButtCoin. It’s a scam. At least we’re honest about it!”).

And it was there where I learned that the latest domino had fallen—Genesis Trading, a crypto lender forming part of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group (DCG), filed for bankruptcy:

Crypto lender Genesis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late Thursday night in Manhattan federal court, the latest casualty in the industry contagion caused by the collapse of FTX and a crippling blow to a business once at the heart of Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group.

The company listed over 100,000 creditors in a “mega” bankruptcy filing, with aggregate liabilities ranging from $1.2 billion to $11 billion dollars, according to bankruptcy documents.

A list of the 50 largest unsecured creditors was leaked, and it turns out that both of the co-founders and the current Chief Financial Officer of blockchain metaverse Decentraland are owed an eye-watering US$55 million. Crypto news website The Block reports:

Virtual world platform Decentraland has not one but three of its executives and founders listed among the 50 largest non-insider unsecured claims against Genesis Global, the crypto lender that filed for bankruptcy protection on Thursday.

Decentraland CFO Santiago Esponda drew attention after his Decentraland email address was listed in court filings as the contact for Heliva International, a Panama-based company owed $55 million by Genesis. But a closer look reveals that Decentraland’s two co-founders are also listed in the documents with non-Decentraland email addresses.

Esteban Ordano, a Decentraland co-founder who now acts as an adviser, is listed as the contact for an entity called Winah Securities. Genesis owes Winah, which is located on the same floor in the same building as Heliva, almost $27 million. Ordano told The Block that Winah has no relationship with Decentraland.

Gaming company Big Time Studios is owed $20 million. It’s run by Ari Meilich, Decentraland’s other co-founder. He started Big Time in 2020 but also remains a Decentraland adviser. Meilich declined to comment. 

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point of this particular editorial: how I will be covering blockchain-based metaverse platforms going forward on this blog.

In a previous editorial, I explained that I was substantially cutting back on my coverage of Second Life, to refocus my blog on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. Likewise, I have also decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain-based metaverse platform unless it incorporates virtual reality. According to my comprehensive and reasonably up-to-date list of virtual worlds and social VR, the only platforms which incorporate blockchain technology (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs) and support virtual reality are three:

  • NeosVR (a social VR platform with an associated cryptocurrency called NCR, which was planned to be the in-world currency but has not been incorporated; please note that Neos does not have NFT-based virtual real estate, or use NFTs at all)
  • Sensorium Galaxy (this ultra-high-end social VR platform uses the SENSO cryptocurrency to purchase avatars in their online store; as far as I am aware, Sensorium Galaxy does not use NFTs)
  • Somnium Space (a blockchain-based virtual world that supports VR, with a cryptocurrency and NFT-based real estate)

All the other blockchain metaverse platforms I have written about on this blog (including the one that first attracted my attention, Decentraland) are either flatscreen virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality, or they have not yet launched (and, in the current crypto nuclear winter, are increasingly unlikely to do so; the only exception being The Sandbox, which is still in extended alpha testing).

And (as illustrated by my initial anecdote about the Decentraland co-founders and executive entangled in the Celsius bankruptcy case), those platforms which had the great good fortune to launch well before the current crypto carnage, are possibly still entangled in the web of interconnected crypto companies lending and borrowing from each other, in highly speculative cryptocurrencies whose actual value is based only on what the next greater fool is willing to pay for them. In particular, those who purchased overpriced NFT-based real estate on such platforms as The Sandbox, Somnium Space, and yes, even pioneering Decentraland, are going to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to make any sort of profit off their investments.

And one only has to observe the travails which NeosVR has gone through, after a cyncial pump-and-dump instigated by cryptobros, to see how a social VR project with such technical promise can be hamstrung by attaching a cryptocurrency to it. There has, to my knowledge, been no active development on the platform in over a year, and it is unclear what 2023 holds for NeosVR. It breaks my heart and it angers me.

While I will continue to follow the current crypto winter shenanigans as an interested (and bemused) observer, I have decided that I will no longer be writing about any blockchain metaverse unless it has launched, and it supports virtual reality. In particular, I will no longer waste my time (and your patience) writing about all the blockchain metaverse projects which consist of little more than an .io website, a Telegram or Discord channel, and a white paper long on hand-waving, but short on actual technical details. Enough with the bafflegab and bullshit.

If you happen to actually launch a product which incorporates blockchain in some way (cryptocurrencies and/or NFTs), and it supports users in a VR headset, then I will gladly write about it. Otherwise, I’m no longer interested.

Stick a fork in it; it’s DONE. (Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

UPDATE 4:43 p.m.: Well, well, well…another news nugget I gleaned from the r/Buttcoin subreddit: AsiaMarkets.com is reporting this evening that the mighty SWIFT global financial network will, as of Feburary 1st, 2023, no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, if they are worth less than US$100,000:

The SWIFT payments network has made an extraordinary decision that will have widespread implications on cryptocurrencies.

Asia Markets can reveal SWIFT will no longer process fiat currency transfers from bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a value of less than US$100,000, effective from February 1, 2023.

The move will thwart cryptocurrency access to tens of millions of people worldwide.

One of the first crypto giants to notify users of the development this weekend, has been the world’s largest exchange, Binance.

“The banking partner that services your account has advised that they are no longer able to process SWIFT fiat (USD) transaction for individuals of less than $100,000 USD as of February 1, 2023. This is the case for all their crypto exchange clients,” said Binance.

“Please be advised that until we are able to find an alternative solution, you may not be able to use your bank account to buy and sell crypto with USD via SWIFT with a value of less than $100,000 USD.”

Time to go get more popcorn; this three-ring circus is just getting started!

UPDATE Jan. 25th, 2023: It turns out that my previous update is not as all-encompassing as it first was reported! Amy Castor and David Gerard write in David’s blog, Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain, today:

Binance sent a notice to customers that starting February 1, their banking partner, Signature, would not be processing SWIFT transfers of less than $100,000.

Retail customers of Binance have until the end of the month to get their US dollars off the exchange. After that, their money is stuck.

Rumors are swirling around this — not helped by an early news report (rapidly corrected) claiming that the SWIFT system itself was cutting off all crypto exchanges. Here are the facts that we know so far:

  • Binance is cut off from Signature for transactions below $100,000.
  • Signature’s other exchange customers have not said they’re affected, and we haven’t seen their customers saying so either.
  • We haven’t heard of other banks putting such a condition on Binance or another exchange.

So it’s so far just Binance, via Signature.

Still, it is significant that Binance, the biggest cryptobroker still standing, is facing such a stringent sanction by one of its banks. (By the way, Attack of the 50=Foot Blockchain is well worth following, for its expert analysis of the ongoing crisis in crypto!)

Editorial: A Kerfuffle Over Decentraland Usage Statistics

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

—quote popularized by Mark Twain, origin unknown

On October 7th, 2022, the CoinDesk crypto news website published an article by Cameron Thompson, titled It’s Lonely in the Metaverse: Decentraland’s 38 Daily Active Users in a $1.3B Ecosystem:

screen capture of the CoinDesk article

This article led to some animated discussions over on the cryptosnark subreddit on Reddit (memorably named r/Buttcoin). I would encourage you to take a look at the full discussion thread yourself, which features an interesting side discussion of Second Life, but I will pick out a few choice quotes to share here (please keep in mind that this is a community of cryptoskeptics, not necessarily fans of NFT metaverse platforms!):

[More like] Desertedland.

I’m a land owner on DCL, was super bullish on it when I bought in last year (and before Facebook renamed to Meta and there was the metaverse craze). However, I just can’t see how it can scale. The game is laggy as f*** every single time you load it, got even worse during the craze period. How the heck can a virtual ‘world’ scale when majority of the users can’t even ‘walk around’ the ‘world’ properly?

Now it’s just a ghost town.

It’s pushed as a pet project by certain vested interests who have sunk lots into this, so they need their money’s worth (cough GRAYSCALE cough). Grayscale went full stupid on this, they even created a Trust offering for MANA similar to Grayscale BTC trust where people could hold MANA in traditional IRA accounts

My son’s Minecraft server has more active players.

Tried to use it once. Bounced after it presented me with a $250 gas fee for trying to use a virtual vending machine. That was about an entire ETH at the time. Sold what little MANA [Decentraland’s cryptocurrency] I had, a couple hundred bucks at the time… which would’ve been worth about 20 thousand at its height. I’d even started designing assets for it. Was gonna buy some land and make a go of it, but Ethereum being a terrible inefficient network killed my momentum. Can’t help but be a little bitter about it.

Tried using Decentraland on both a 2020 Microsoft Surface and an older laptop that could run World of Warcraft, [and I] couldn’t even walk around because the system demands were so high. If they are selling their ecosystem to gamers then they are going to require A LOT more development to make it actually fun (i.e. more to do than just poker and microtransactions). If they are selling to the everyday consumer then they are going to need to cut down the hardware requirements to entry for anyone without a $1000+ computer. It has potential, but still a long way to go before it sees the everyday popularity that other digital platforms enjoy.

Just to clarify, the article says an “active” user has to make an actual transaction or another smart contract interaction. So there are probably a lot more users who just log in [and] play the game without being counted.

With respect to that last comment, the CoinDesk article indeed does state:

An active user, according to DappRadar, is defined as a unique wallet address’ interaction with the platform’s smart contract. For example, logging onto The Sandbox or Decentraland to make a purchase with SAND or MANA, each platform’s respective native utility token, is counted as an “active use.”

This means that DappRadar’s compilation of daily active users doesn’t account for people who log in and mosey around a metaverse platform or drop in briefly for an event, such as a virtual fashion week. It also likely means that these spaces are not where people are making transactions, such as buying non-fungible tokens (NFT)…

The largest number of daily users ever on Decentraland was 675, according to DappRadar.

So, for example, if I visit Decentraland, wander around the virtual world, but not interact with a smart contract (e.g. buy something like arrows for a hunting game), I am not counted as a user that day. This is a good example of how statistics taken from blockchain transactions do not give the full picture of what’s going on in an NFT metaverse! So this is rather sloppy reporting, which hurts Decentraland.

Decentraland was very quick to push back on what they consider to be an inaccurate way to count usage of its platform:

Here’s part of their Twitter thread:

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation on the number of active users of Decentraland. Some websites are tracking only specific smart contract transactions but reporting them as daily active users DAU, which is inaccurate.

Let’s have a look at some of September’s data:

56,697 MAU [monthly active users. i.e. the total number of unique visitors in one month]
1,074 Users interacting with smart contracts
1,732 minted Emotes
6,315 sold Wearables
300 Creators received royalties
161 created Community Events
148 DAO Proposals

For better data: DAO grantee DCL Metrics tracks Decentraland’s Daily Visitors looking at the catalyst server visits and provides a similar data point as DAU. https://dcl-metrics.com

The DCL Metrics website allows you to pull up charts showing statistics over the past 90 days: Unique visitors per day (the blue chart on the left) and parcels visited per day (the purple chart on the right). Over the past three months, DAU (daily active users, i.e. the total number of unique visitors to Decentraland in one day) ranges from 5,871 to 11,965 users, with a slight but noticeable downward trend. On the other hand, there is a slight upward trend in the number of parcels visited each day (perhaps as new venues are constructed?).

Also, according to another, older thread from the Decentraland subreddit, there are webpages you can check to see the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). However, please remember that these are snapshots, minute-by-minute figures, as opposed to the total count of daily active users. (At the time I checked them today, on a Canadian Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, there were approximately 530 users in all of Decentraland.)

So, watching this whole kerfuffle unfold online, here are some of my thoughts.

First: accurate metaverse usage statistics are sometimes hard to come by. They can be even harder to come by, if the metaverse company building a particular platform decides not to release them (for example, if they are so low that it would prove embarrassing to the company, which is likely working hard to encourage new users to its platform, and don’t want to share any news that makes them look bad).

Case in point, Linden Lab used to provide detailed user statistics for Second Life, then stopped, aside from the rare announcement of their MAU (monthly active user) figures. The company largely left the gathering and reporting of statistics to crafty folks who were able to scrape data from various sources. If you’re looking for some up-to-date SL statistics (as of Sept. 30th, 2022), Daniel Voyager reports:

  • daily Second Life user concurrency figures (i.e. the number of avatars online at any one time) range from 27,000 to 51,000. with a peak of 55,737 on Feb. 5th, 2022
  • the official Second Life website regularly gets over 10 million visits a month
  • 27, 453 grid regions (more commonly known as “sims” in SL; please note that, unlike Decentraland, there is no artificial scarcity in virtual land in Second Life, since Linden Lab regularly creates and leases out new land to meet demand)

While we cannot directly compare DCL’s unique daily visitor count with SL’s user concurrency figures, we can compare the latter to the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). While certainly better than the 38 figure touted in the CoinDesk article, the 530 user concurrency figure for Decentraland pales in comparison to the 27.000-to-51,000 user concurrency figures for Second Life.

Also, compare these figures with the user concurrency figures put out by Steam for VRChat, with an all-time peak user concurrency of 42,564 (and on Jan. 4th, 2022, Wagner James Au reported that VRchat hit an all-time high of 89,300 concurrent users during New Year’s Eve 2021 celebrations, citing statistics scraped by a VRChat user named Adeon). So, as you can see, even with more accurate stats, Decentraland is still not anywhere nearly as popular as Second Life or VRChat (while it certainly is more popular than, say, Sansar).

Now, let’s focus in on one of the statistics Decentraland shared in its rebuttal series of tweets. 6,315 avatar wearables sold in one month seems to me to be a relatively small number, especially when you compare it to the sales juggernaut that is Second Life (both in-world store sales and SL Marketplace online sales, the latter of which would be the most direct comparison to Decentraland’s Marketplace).

I don’t have exact stats on SL sales (again, they can be hard come by), but a January 13th, 2022 Linden Lab press release stated that “Second Life has had one of its strongest years ever, with a growing user base and booming economy including an annual GDP of $650 million USD with 345 million transactions of virtual goods, real estate, and services.” Second Life’s non-crypto economy appears to be doing well!

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2), and I suspect that this rule would also seem to apply to social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds: the more users you meet on a metaverse platform, the more popular it becomes.

Hopefully, this becomes a virtuous circle, where more users lead to more events, more engagement, and people telling their friends, family, and colleagues about “this cool place I’ve found,” and getting them to join. But it can also lead to a vicious circle, where people eventually stop visiting a platform because every time they log in, there’s next to nobody there, almost zero events happening, and little or nothing engaging to do.

Given the resounding crash of the NFT marketplace overall, and the resulting growing antipathy towards crypto and NFTs after a series of well-publicized failures and scams, even those legitimate NFT metaverses which have actually launched a working platform (Decentraland among them) are facing unprecedented pressures. Both crypto prices and sales volumes for all these projects have crashed, leaving those who bought at the top of the market wondering when they will be able to recoup their investments.

Another thought: the 1.3 billion dollar ecosystem mentioned in the title of the CoinDesk article is a bit misleading, too; this valuation is, as far as I am aware, based on what people actually paid for their virtual lands, avatar accessories, etc. Of course, in the current crypto winter, these assets are probably worth a lot less today. However, since the investors won’t realize a loss until they sell, they can cling to the inflated value of their NFTs (or, as the cryptobros like to say, “hodl”, short for “hold on for dear life”).

Molly White, the creator of the sarcastically-named website Web3 is going just great, has written an excellent article on cryptocurrency “market caps” and notional value, which I recommend you read to get a better picture of what’s going on in this space. It’s all too easy to blindly accept what promoters are telling you is the “value” of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Molly outlines some of the shenanigans used to artificially inflate these “values”, such as wash trading. (And check out her website!)

O.K., let’s just wrap this editorial up with an executive summary: Decentraland is not as bad off as the CoinDesk article might suggest in this misleading article, but compared to other metaverse platforms like VRChat and Second Life, it’s lagging behind in usage, despite its billion-dollar valuation.

UPDATE Oct. 12th, 2022: From Futurism: $1.2 Billion Metaverse Horrified by Report It Only Had 38 Active Users. Here’s a choice quote from that article:

Of course, even 8,000 users on a given day is dismal for something that’s supposed to be the future of online communities. And if blockchain is the underlying economic mechanism of the endeavor, it’s outright embarrassing if only a few dozen transactions are happening per day.

In short, it’s a perfect example of the kind of massive disparity between market value and actual users that has been plaguing the Web3 world for years, and could also be indicative of a serious slowdown in appetite for virtual real estate and other blockchain-related assets, including cryptocurrencies and NFTs

Decentraland’s Twitter account also attempted to do some damage control, writing that the platform saw “1,074 users interacting with smart contracts” in all of September.

All told, though, none of these numbers really amount to much, given the amount of money being poured into metaverse platforms like Decentraland.

And that doesn’t bode well for the future of the metaverse.

UPDATED! Editorial: How the Crypto Crash—and Meta’s Missteps—Are Souring the General Public on the Metaverse

As somebody who writes about social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds on this blog, with a popular Discord server packed with metaverse fanatics and a front-row seat on pretty much everything that has been happening in this space, let me tell you, the past twelve months have been a wild ride. You can even see it in my blog statistics of the number of visitors and views the RyanSchultz.com blog has attracted over the past year:

See that surge from October through March? In October, Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Connect 2021 keynote that Facebook would rebrand as Meta, and would focus on realizing his vision of the metaverse. This also coincided with a crypto speculation boom, where people and companies were frantically bidding for artificially scarce NFT-based plots of land in various blockchain metaverse platforms.

Together, these events sparked a greater awareness among the general public of the metaverse (as indicated by a corresponding increase in traffic to my blog). However, it would appear that the ongoing crypto crash, combined with Meta’s recent woes and missteps, are causing people to sour on the concept. (And by “people”, I mean the general public, not the metaverse fanatics, content creators and world builders whom I tend to hang out with!)

As an illustration of this, I would like to focus on a recent announcement made by Mark Zuckerberg, about the expansion of their flagship consumer social VR platform, Horizon Worlds, from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. into two new countries, France and Spain:

The first thing I think of when I look at this picture is: hoo boy, somebody working in Meta’s PR department is gonna get fired! You’re trying to sell people on Horizon Worlds with this unappealing, uninspiring, and frankly ugly image on Twitter?


The response to this on two different subreddit communities on Reddit, r/technology and r/Buttcoin, proves to be quite illuminating. (By the way, r/Buttcoin is the blockchain, crypto, and NFTs snark community, where we cryptoskeptics and critics love to discuss and dissect the latest shenanigans, antics, and scams in that world!)

Here are some of the better comments on the r/technology post, sparked by Paul Tessi’s biting August 17th, 2022 Fortune article, Does Mark Zuckerberg Not Understand How Bad His Metaverse Looks?

It looks like Mark Zuckerberg watched Ready Player One and thought he would be able to recreate that universe with MS Paint.

“Looking forward to seeing people explore and build immersive worlds!” :: “Work in my content mill, peasants.”

The more money they dump into this dumpster fire, the better chance Facebook finally collapses into the abyss. So keep doing it Zuck.

One much-upvoted comment reads as follows:

No one is building a $1500-2500 PC with [a] dedicated GPU to add a Facebook $600 VR headset to attend work meetings in a virtual space that looks like a kids CGI series from 2004 at a mass adoption level, where the majority of the public would use it daily for 8 hours at work then again for another 4-6 hours “for fun” at home, as the Meta dystopian dream suggests.

Meta has already been subsidizing the costs of their currently meh headset, which they just increased the prices of, as they were losing too much money.

For this to work, the hardware has to be good enough for grandma to be able to buy it on a pension, put it on out of the box and it just works, and it does not make her sick to her stomach in 5-20 minutes due to the low frame rates and quality.

That’s the barrier of entry to the space you need to be able to target… if that old guy at your office struggles with getting their mic to work on MS Teams for a video call every day, as the manager he is not going to order $100,000 worth of gear for your department that is hard to setup and use to meet in the metaverse.

This thing is dead on arrival, but Facebook is also dying/dead in it’s current form, so this Hail Mary [pass] is all they have.

In the August 17th Fortune article which spawned these responses, reporter Paul Tassi writes:

The thing is, this happens all the time with Zuckerberg and his metaverse because Horizon Worlds has looked terrible since its inception and has barely gotten any better over the years, where its avatars still look like Miis from 2012 and they still don’t have legs.

Granted, I understand that showing 2D screenshots of VR is difficult, and that VR generally lags behind traditional console and PC gaming in terms of graphics. And yet that doesn’t change the fact that even within VR, Horizon Worlds is one of the worst-looking offerings I have seen, and that Meta has spent something like $10 billion chasing its Horizon, VR-centric version of the metaverse, even embarrassingly changing their company name to reflect that. And…this is the result.


Meanwhile, here are some of the opinions of the cryptosnarkers over on r/Buttcoin:

If I was a Meta stockholder I would be selling the minute I saw that screenshot.

He (and many others) are hoping that nobody remembers Second Life ever existed, let alone that it still does. It has a dedicated audience of somewhere between half to one million users and that’s kinda it. I suspect the future for “the metaverse” is similar.

One r/Buttcoin member posted the following detailed comment:

This is the part I don’t understand. Any “meta” style environment will be incredibly limited in terms of graphics and gameplay due to the need to have a high number of players at once. So who is the target audience?

• Someone looking to play a game is going to go with something like Grand Theft Auto V (and continue to move on to the next biggest thing when they come out).
• The live concerts! aspect of the website seems equally absurd given the graphical limitations and that this would be less entertaining than watching a concert on TV.
• Your casual Farmville-style person isn’t shelling out hundreds of dollars for a VR headset.
• For their “practical” concepts like virtual stores, it seems to invalidate the concept of buying metaverse land as either the system will allow for fast travel style movement (making “premium” land a joke), or not allow for this travelling and completely turn off their customer base for this.

I just don’t see where the interest comes from.

And I chuckled at this wag’s opinion:

Second Life managed to survive because it fostered a community of weirdo people who fetishized the environment. I think the only person who fetishizes Facebook’s metaverse is Zuckerberg.

Absolutely SAVAGE! I live. Somebody else posted this gem to the r/Buttcoin subreddit:


Even worse, the cryptobros are starting to dunk on the metaverse, notably Shark Tank billionaire investor Mark Cuban. According to an August 8th, 2022 report in Fortune:

Mark Cuban, the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and avid crypto enthusiast, is not sold on the metaverse.

“The worst part is that people are buying real estate in these places. That’s just the dumbest shit ever,” he told the crypto-themed YouTube channel Altcoin Daily this past weekend.

I’m quite sure that the various blockchain-based metaverses like Voxels (formerly known as Cryptovoxels), Decentraland, Somnium Space, and The Sandbox, all of whom have seen the value and the trading volume of their NFT-based real estate decline during this crypto winter, were not expecting the ridicule and disdain of crypto influencers themselves! After all, the crypto crowd are main target audience of these platforms, not your average non-crypto user. You know things are getting weird when the cryptobros start to turn on each other!


So, what does all this mean? Well, it looks as though the concept of the metaverse, at least among the general public, is going to sustain some reputational damage, at least in the short term (12 to 24 months). Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be such a swing from irrational metaverse exuberance to equally irrational metaverse distaste, even disgust.

I am reminded of the Gartner technology consulting group’s well-known Hype Cycle, where we appear to be rapidly moving from the peak of inflated expectations, to the trough of disillusionment:

The five steps of the Gartner Hype Cycle (source: Wikipedia)

Also, this “trough of disillusionment” means that it’s going to be harder to sell consumers and businesses on the metaverse. This will apply both to behemoth corporations like Meta, Apple, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), as well as to much smaller metaverse-building companies. As I have said before, not all platforms currently being worked on will survive this rough period.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that only a handful will achieve dominance in this ever-evolving market, leaving the other firms to fight over the leftover scraps. Of course, some companies will be savvy enough to focus on a profitable niche market, such as the surgical training platform FundamentalVR, which recently received another venture capital infusion of US$20 million.

So, as Bette Davis once memorably said in the movie All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

UPDATE August 19th, 2022: As further evidence of the antipathy towards Mark Zuckerberg’s latest announcement, Zack Zwiezen wrote this scathing report for Kotaku, titled Mark Zuckerberg’s Soulless Metaverse Avatar Has Me Worried About Our Digital Future:

Earlier this week, the alien-wearing-a-human-skin-suit known to us as Mark Zuckerberg posted a VR selfie from inside his company’s metaverse project, Horizon Worlds. The selfie showed off the Eiffel Tower and was meant to announce that his metaverse is expanding to more countries. Instead, however, people immediately began dunking on the terrible picture, the ugly avatar, and how it all looked like it fell out of a 2005 edutainment game

And that brings us to 2022, where Zuckerberg’s avatar is a legless knock-off of a Nintendo Mii with some really weird buttons and the eyes of a corpse. And this isn’t just how Zuckerberg looks, this is the way all avatars appear in Horizon Worlds. I’ve played enough Horizon Worlds to tell you that the missing legs quickly cease to matter. But the lack of style and the cold, dead aesthetic never goes away.

Sure, part of the reason these avatars and worlds look simple and ugly compared to modern video games comes down to the limited VR hardware in Quest 2 and Facebook’s desire to make VR content that can run on as many devices as possible.

On the other hand, I can find Nintendo DS and Sony PS Vita games with better, nicer-looking art and models than what we’ve been shown so far in Facebook’s metaverse. I also don’t think you can blame the people making this stuff, as I assume they are more than capable of doing better and more vibrant things. But more and more, it seems that isn’t what Meta and Zucklehead want. Instead, they are focused on making a product that can be consumed by the masses and which lacks any defining characteristics in an attempt to get more people to dive in.

This is the exact opposite approach we see in more community-driven VR metaverses like VR Chat, which looks better and feels warmer and more inviting. In comparison, Horizon Worlds looks like an animated video I’d walk by in some fancy hospital while I look for the bathroom.

And if this bland and ugly metaverse is the future Mark Zuckerberg wants and is investing billions of dollars into, I’m worried that it could end up winning out over other, better alternatives simply because he has the money and resources to squash or buy up competitors. Well, if it does win out, at least I’ll be able to skip it and not buy a new VR headset.

Yee-OUCH!!!

Also, as further evidence of the distress in the entire cryptosphere, Bloomberg reports that ad spending by the crypto firms has absolutely cratered:

Spending by major crypto firms, including the trading platforms Crypto.com, Coinbase Global Inc. and FTX, fell to $36,000 in July in the US, according to ISpot. That’s the lowest monthly total since January 2021 and is down from a high of $84.5 million in February, when the industry flooded the airwaves around the Super Bowl.

Again, Yeee-OUCH!!! And it looks like things are not going to get better anytime soon, as inflation roars and recession looms. People have more important things to worry about (like keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads) than buying virtual real estate on the blockchain!

In December 2021, Republic Realm spent approximately US$4.3 million worth of land in The Sandbox, setting a record for the most expensive land sale in the metaverse (more about Republic Realm here). It would appear to be highly unlikely that Republic Realm, or any of the other investors who bought NFT-based plots of virtual land at the height of the boom market, are going to be able to earn a profit anytime soon.

Has the bottom fallen out of the NFT-based metaverse market? And what does this mean for the concept of the metaverse in general? Stay tuned!

I Was Interviewed by a Business Reporter for The Globe and Mail for an Article About the Metaverse

On March 10th, 2022, I was contacted by Joe Castaldo, a business reporter for The Globe and Mail (which bills itself as “Canada’s National Newspaper”). He was writing up a story about businesses entering the metaverse, and the current metaverse hype cycle, and he asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed.

After checking in with my union representatives at the university, who gave me the all-clear to go ahead, I was interviewed for an hour via telephone. The Globe and Mail had given Joe a Meta Quest 2 wireless VR headset, so a couple of weeks later, I gave him a guided tour of two popular social VR platforms, VRChat and AltspaceVR.

Well, Joe’s article was published in The Globe and Mail today, titled Is the metaverse the future of the internet? A Globe journalist steps inside to find out (if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version).

I’m not going to reproduce the entire newspaper article here; I was mentioned in the final few paragraphs:

For Ryan Schultz, the widespread interest in the metaverse is a little weird. “My obscure, niche hobby has suddenly gone mainstream,” he told me. A reference librarian with the University of Manitoba, he spends a few hours every week strapped into a headset or exploring desktop-based worlds, and has been blogging about it for years.

Mr. Schultz finds the speculative nature of the digital land rush in some worlds off-putting. “People are investing in this basically as a flex and as a boast to their friends that they can afford these artificially limited items,” he said. Businesses with virtual office space, meanwhile, are likely spending money on a “really fancy three-dimensional brochure.”

He’s seen much of it before. Corporations flocked to Second Life when it took off in the 2000s. Coca-Cola installed soft drink machines, Toyota set up a car dealership, American Apparel built a clothing store, and IBM established an island for employee recruitment and training.

It wasn’t long before the corporate enthusiasm died. “Nobody came to visit these locations, because the people who were already in Second Life didn’t care,” Mr. Schultz said.

He understands the appeal of virtual worlds, though. When he first discovered Second Life, he spent hours there each day. Away from the computer, he has jokingly called himself an “overweight, divorced, gay librarian with diabetes.” At 58, he feels his body growing older, and he’s struggled with depression so bad he’s taken leaves from work. “I kinda suck at this whole reality business,” he wrote on his blog.

In Second Life, Mr. Schultz loved building avatars – angels, supermodels and a Na’vi from, well, Avatar. There was solace in becoming someone else. During the pandemic, he’s met his social needs through virtual reality, and a mental-health app became a lifeline. “I can put on my headset, join a group, and use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to work through issues and problems, and it’s extremely powerful,” he said. “You feel like you’re really present.”

For those of us who are not already immersed, such moments are likely a long way off. I searched high and low for meaning and connection in the metaverse, but mostly found empty branding experiences, a speculative frenzy around digital assets, and people who were just as curious as I was to find out what this was all about, and were still searching for answers.

But given the relentless enthusiasm of those trying to turn the metaverse into some kind of reality, there will be plenty of chances to try again, for better or worse.

I think that Joe did a good job of describing the metaverse in a way that newspaper readers could easily understand, and there are a couple of videos included in the digital version of the article which made me laugh at certain points, as Joe and his producer Patrick Dell navigated Decentraland and Horizon Worlds!

I also appreciated that the online article linked out to my ever-popular list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. I’m not really expecting a spike in traffic to my blog (I didn’t get one when I was interviewed by a writer for New Yorker magazine in 2019), but it was an interesting experience, nonetheless.

(By the way, I do receive more and more requests to be interviewed lately, because of my blog. I turn most of them down, but I said yes to this one, because The Globe and Mail is a major Canadian newspaper, and one which I read often.)

The Globe and Mail newspaper interviewed me for an article on the metaverse

P.S. The mental health app mentioned in the quote above is called Help Club; here’s the blogpost which I wrote about this self-help social VR app for mental health.