Many people who have accounts on the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (DCL) have received the following direct message from Discord this afternoon. It claims to be an official bot called Decentraland Announcement, informing users that there is a brand new version of the DCL client which can be downloaded. THIS IS A SCAM! DO NOT VISIT THE ASSOCIATED WEBSITE, OR INSTALL ANY SOFTWARE. Decentraland remains a web browser-based app; there is no separate client for you to download.
Here is what the scam notice looks like, so you will recognize it:
This is a prime example of how scammers use social engineering tricks to try to separate you from the cryptocurrency in your wallet. Be warned and stay safe! It took me about half a minute of reading to realize that this was a scam (the website URL, which I have blurred out in the image above, was a major red flag to me).
I leave you with the final, authoritative word on the matter from DCL employee Sam Hamilton, a.k.a. toonpunk, who posted to the official Decentraland Discord server:
Decentraland News is a scam, they have been banned but if you have a message from them do not click any links.
Please note: I have updated this blogpost with an apology (see the second update at the end).
Writing about Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and Decentraland on this blog over the past couple of years, I have found that the blockchain and cryptocurrency marketplace tends to be a bit of an echo chamber, a reality-distortion bubble, where the crypto enthusiasts are all excitedly talking to each other, but not really speaking to the average, non-crypto people outside the hype bubble that they need to reach in order to grow the space, and mature the market.
(And yes, just for the record, I still feel that blockchain is a solution that is looking for a problem to solve. I remain a cryptoskeptic, and I refuse to invest a penny in any cryptocurrency. I just blog about and am interested in blockchain-based virtual worlds from a virtual worlds standpoint.)
A good example of this is the Futurist Conference, which apparently is currently taking place today and Thursday “in” the blockchain-based virtual world, Decentraland. (You’ll see why I put “in” in quotes in a moment.)
Futurist Virtual Conference November 11-12, 2020 | Toronto, Canada Canada’s Largest Blockchain & Emerging Technologies Conference
Untraceable’s third annual Futurist Conference is the largest blockchain and emerging technologies event in Canada. It will bring together thousands of people online to discuss emerging industries that are going to disrupt our future.This year the conference will be held from the comfort of your home. We will be bringing you an immersive experience to gamify the virtual event leading up to and including the conference days. Listen and interact with the world’s leading experts that are changing the technology landscape.
So I decided to pop into Decentraland, and pay a visit to the Crypto Valley Conference Center, where the Futurist Conference takes place today and tomorrow:
Basically, you’re sitting in a movie theatre, watching the individual weekly episodes of the “Pornhub Games” on a screen. It’s boring as hell, and why you would need or want to be in Oasis just to watch a video is beyond me. Why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology to do something that can easily be done on the desktop?
And so I ask the same pertinent question: Why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology to do something that can easily be done on the desktop? As far as I can see, Decentraland is not adding anything extra to the Futurist Conference, other than bragging rights that they are “associated” with the event, in much the same way as the PornHub Games were “associated” with Oasis.
Why bother advertising a blockchain conference as taking place in Decentraland when it’s not really happening in Decentraland? What’s the advantage of holding this in a virtual world when you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, and the primary means of interaction appears to be a web-based app that is not associated with Decentraland at all (other than it mentions DCL and tells you where to teleport to get to the Crypto Valley Convention Center)?
I mean, I am pretty sure that many of the speakers participating in the YouTube livestream didn’t even know or care about Decentraland; DCL was just piggybacking on the conference, for bragging rights. (Okay, so there was also some sort of crypto game taking place in DCL before the conference event itself.)
After half an hour, bored, and surrounded by only four or five other avatars in the Crypto Valley Convention Center who were watching the same livestream broadcast, I signed out of Decentraland and just watched the damn thing on YouTube, without the slightly delayed, slightly degraded audio and video quality due to the livestream being passed through Decentraland, without having to set up a DCL account and create an avatar, and without having to set up a cryptocurrency wallet. If you are going to make people jump through all these extra hoops, just to watch a YouTube video, where is the added value that the virtual world is supposed to provide?
If you are interested in the Futurist Conference, which runs all day today and tomorrow, here is their website and their web app (which requires you to set up an account separate from your Decentraland account, if you already have one).
UPDATE 10:12 p.m.: Artur Sychov, the founder of rival blockchain-based platform Somnium Space and a speaker at the conference, confirmed that the Futurist Conference was NOT actually taking place in Decentraland, other than the livestream at the Crypto Valley Convention Center. Artur tells me that a livestream of the conference is also happening in Somnium Space (which, of course, would be easy enough to do, since it’s a public YouTube livestream; all you would need is a proper video display panel). I couldn’t find any mention of it in their events calendar, though. And, once again, I ask myself: why impose an extra layer of unnecessary technology when all you have to do is open YouTube on your desktop or mobile device? Where’s the added value to this?
UPDATE: Nov. 12th, 2020: Well, I did get some feedback on this blogpost from the community on the official DCL Discord server, and a possible explanation as to why I found the Conference Center so empty.
You got kicked to a different realm that had 3 people because the main one was full with 100. I was approached by Tracy from Futurist and we’ve been organizing it to be in DCL, it’s not exclusive but it definitely was not piggy backing. Right now, yes, mostly the appeal is the crypto crowed but as this space moves out I’m sure there will be better onboarding to the non crypto crowed. Getting there.
So, yes, Decentraland supports instancing to handle larger crowds of avatars, and yes, Decentraland worked with the Futurist Conference.
So I am going to apologize: first, to the staff and users of Decentraland for being so negative, and second to Artur Sychov (for quoting/paraphrasing what he told me on this blog without his prior consent, as I had previously promised him).
I fucked up and wrote a blogpost when I was feeling cranky yesterday, I admit it, and I’m sorry.
Taking a much-needed break from blogging has given me an opportunity to reflect a bit on my journey over the past three years, and ponder where I might go from here.
Frankly, I never expected to become a journalist covering the ever-evolving metaverse, with a growing audience; this blog started off as a tiny little niche blog, where I wrote about my (mis)adventures and explorations in Sansar. And everything that happened after that—writing about more and more social VR platforms, hosting the Metaverse Newscast show, focusing on freebies in my beloved Second Life—just kind of happened organically. I didn’t have any sort of plan; I just made choices along the way that led to this point.
But for me, the seeds for this journey were first planted in Second Life 14 years ago, which since its earliest days has been this strange and marvelous phoenix that keeps rising from the ashes, again and again, confounding and bewildering many casual observers who continue to predict (wrongly) its failure. Even a cursory glance at the official Second Life Community News feed (curated by the highly capable Strawberry Linden) reveals the absolute torrent of creativity that the platform has provided to so many people. Second Life is not going anywhere, honey.
SL is a fully-evolved, vibrant, mature virtual world which has become the model which other metaverse companies have spent countless programming hours and (in some cases) millions of dollars to try and recreate, with varying degrees of success.
I think that the ones that have been the most successful (so far) are NeosVR, ENGAGE, AltspaceVR, VRChat, Rec Room and, somewhat to my surprise, three blockchain-based worlds: Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space. And there are many other platforms slowly but surely building up their business, taking advantage of the unexpected opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic (one example is Sinespace, a company which is patiently and cannily playing the long game, and which is extremely well-poised to snatch Second Life’s mantle, if and when it is ever dropped).
And, during my break, I have been also thinking a lot about Facebook/Oculus and their impact on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. I have decided that, despite my new, personal boycott of Facebook products and services, I will continue to write about their upcoming social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, as it launches in public beta, probably before the end of this year.
I, like many other people, now absolutely refuse to have a Facebook account as a matter of moral principle. In August of 2019 I wrote (and yes, it bears repeating at length here):
In this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem…that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.
More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.
Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.
Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually VERIFY this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).
We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxers. The Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.
We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.
Of course, Facebook is well within its corporate rights to insist that, henceforth, Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift users have to use Facebook accounts. Just as I am well within my rights to avoid providing another smidgen of personal data for Facebook to strip-mine for profit. It will be very interesting to see how more the consumer-privacy-oriented First World countries (such as Canada, and those countries within the European Union) will respond to the Facebook juggernaut.
I also have absolutely zero doubt that Facebook will continue to use every single lawyer, lobbyist, tool and tactic at its disposal to fight to maintain its market dominance, even as the Facebook social network continues to foster divisiveness, bleed users and lose advertisers. Believe me, Facebook would not have taken the unprecedented step of forcing Oculus device users to set up Facebook accounts if they weren’t afraid of losing the younger generations of users who have, thus far, resisted joining the social network their parents and grandparents belong to. (Of course, most of them are already on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.)
It is relatively easy to bypass the tethered Oculus Rift VR headset and its associated Oculus Store ecosystem with competing PCVR products and services (such as the Vive headsets, the Valve Index and Steam). However, it is difficult—frankly impossible at present—to find a non-Facebook alternative to the standalone Oculus Quest VR headset. I have no doubt that the market will throw up a few capable competitors to the Quest over time, but Facebook has built up a huge lead, and it will be very difficult to unseat from its dominance in that particular market segment.
So, as you can see, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking while I have hit the pause button on this blog. I will continue to spend the rest of my summer on my self-imposed vacation from this blog, and no doubt I will have other thoughts, insights and opinions to share with you when I return, hopefully feeling more refreshed.
I feel that with this blog, after a few stumbles and setbacks, I have finally found my voice, and you will continue to hear it over the next three years, and probably far beyond that! Enjoy the rest of your summer! I will be back in September.
Watching the various blockchain-based virtual worlds evolve, and comparing and contrasting their decisions on how they wish to operate with longer-established, non-blockchain-based virtual worlds such as Second Life, has proven to be quite interesting.
Many of the eager cryptoinvestors who have bought NFTs (non-fungible tokens) such as virtual land, avatar names, and avatar wearables in places like Cryptovoxels, Decentraland and Somnium Space like to tout that their possessions cannot be taken away from them, or censored, revoked or restricted by any central authority, even by the companies running the platform.
For example, they point out that if a user runs afoul of Second Life’s Terms of Service, they can have their account suspended and lose all their virtual possessions. In contrast, the adherents of blockchain-based virtual worlds claim that they can evade such restrictions by simply selling their items on the open market (one such example is the popular OpenSea collectibles marketplace).
Limited-edition wearables (i.e., avatar clothing) which are bought and sold on the blockchain are already proving quite popular both in Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, but the two platforms are taking distinctly different approaches in their implementation. While Cryptovoxels is using the open market approach already proven as successful in places like Second Life, Decentraland seems to be opting for a more restrictive licensing approach, which at first glance seems rather at odds with its “open, decentralized” advertising.
The creation of wearables for Decentraland is a complicated process requiring a lot of support. To ensure user-generated wearables look great and function properly in Decentraland we will need to make the tools to support this process.
It will take time to develop the workflow and build the equivalent of an SDK and Builder tool for wearables so during this process we will work with small teams of developers from the community that we are confident can deliver quality products and the feedback and communication we need.
Once the workflow is in place and the quality at the high level you’d expect, we’ll implement Stage 2 of the initiative.
This involves opening up the application to create wearables to the entire community. It will take the form of licenses being granted to teams and individuals by the community, through the DAO.
The DAO (short for Decentralized Autonomous Organization) is a relatively new mechanism to allow Decentraland’s investors to vote “on the policies created to determine how the world behaves: for example, what kinds of wearable items are allowed (or disallowed) after the launch of the DAO, moderation of content, LAND policy and auctions, among others.” (More information on the DAO can be found here.)
I have seen a lot of virtual worlds come and go in my time, and one thing that I can tell you is this: imposing any kind of licensing on the creative process can lead to a creative bottleneck, and potentially drive away content creators.
One reason that Second Life continues to be the most commercially successful and popular virtual world, is that Linden Lab had, very early on, decided to create a free and open market, where creators could set up stores and sell their content to whoever was willing to buy it, retaining the rights to their creations and earning income.
Linden Lab has never licensed stores or creators in Second Life, and never will. The workload associated with such an enterprise, in a market with many millions of items for sale, would be impossible to scale upwards as the economy grew. Yes, Linden Lab will step in if a DMCA copyright complaint is received from a competitor, and they will also shut down stores which sell illegally-copied content when it is pointed out to them, but otherwise, they very wisely stand aside and let the market decide what people want.
And while stores open and fold with astounding regularity in Second Life, the fact that they have approximately 900,000 regular monthly users means that they must be doing something right (even if it was all a happy accident which to date still has not been replicated by any other platform). Those virtual worlds that look on with envy at SL’s success, and wish to snatch that mantle of success for themselves, need to pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t.
It would appear that, going forward, Decentraland will be focusing on a licensing process for all avatar wearables, letting its investors vote, instead of letting anybody who wants to, simply create and sell avatar clothing and accessories for the DCL marketplace. While some see this as a necessary effort to impose and refine a high-quality workflow, others see it as a means to restrict market access, and reward those who have the deepest pockets and the best connections. (Some commentators have complained about the opaque process by which the initial five wearables creators were chosen.) Time will tell who’s right and who’s wrong here.
As I see it, Decentraland already has some daunting obstacles which stand in the way of attracting and retaining your average, non-crypto virtual world user to their platform: the many steps required to set up a crypto wallet and purchase ETH and convert it to MANA; the need to purchase even things as basic as a username; and the prohibitively expensive virtual land, its price driven up by speculators. Placing licensing restrictions on who can create items such as avatar wearables could become another such obstacle.
Decentraland should study the history of its competitors carefully, to glean a few pertinent lessons on how to run and grow a virtual world. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, folks.