A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Get Started in Decentraland (and Some Caveats for New Users)

So today, February 20th, 2020 was the day that Decentraland (DCL for short) opened the doors to the general public to its blockchain-based virtual world, and I wanted to provide some step-by-step instructions on how to get started, as well as talk about a few issues that I encountered, and give you my overall impressions. 

First, let’s talk about the issues. Then we’ll get to the instructions.

I am truly impressed at the amount of content already up and running in Decentraland. When I first set foot on the grid last July as part of the closed beta, there were still lots of empty spaces, but over time (and with some help from a couple of contests for content creators), that empty space has started to be filled with some interesting and innovative content, including many games and puzzles. It’s wonderful to see, and it does remind me of the early days of Second Life.

However, the problems I had getting set up today illustrate just how user unfriendly blockchain-based virtual worlds can be to crypto newbies. I, who know a bit more about crypto than the average user, was ready to tear my hair out in frustration at some points. Simply put, this is still way, waaay too complicated for the average, non-crypto users that Decentraland will need to appeal to and attract in order to be a lasting success. 

Let’s start with wallets. New users will need to set up a cryptocurrency wallet in order to use Decentraland, even if you do not want to purchase any in-world currency and just want to wander around. In my case, I took advantage of a limited-time offer late last year to get a free custom avatar name, which normally retails for 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (approximately US$6.00).

But the offer required me to set up a Trust wallet app on my iPhone, whereas when I signed into Decentraland on my Windows desktop computer, I used the MetaMask wallet I had set up as a plug-in on my Chrome web browser. This worked just fine during the closed beta, but on launch day I discovered to my dismay that my custom avatar name, as well as some custom avatar wearables I had won during platform testing, were stuck on my Trust wallet instead of my MetaMask wallet, and therefore inaccessible to me.

You would think that transferring my assets from one wallet to another would be straightforward. You would be wrong. I did not even know anything was wrong until I tried to log in on launch day, only to find a randomly-generated avatar appearance and a randomly-generated guest name associated with my account. Eventually, DCL support told me that my avatar user name and appearance were associated with a different wallet. 

Then followed another couple of hours of frustration, as I pored through the Trust wallet and MetaMask wallet documentation, trying in vain to figure out how to export assets from one and import them into another. Finally, a couple of kind souls on the official Decentraland Discord server led me to a website tool where I could enter my 12-word seed phrase from my Trust account to generate a private key that would allow me to import my wallet into MetaMask so I could access my avatar name and appearance when signed in Decentraland. 

Also, as a promotion to encourage new users to visit the platform, Decentraland is running a hunt for treasure chests filled with various prizes, including awards of MANA (the in-world currency, LAND (virtual land), and limited-edition avatar wearables. After finally getting my account set up properly, I went hunting.

Eventually, I found a treasure chest, and clicking on it, I was informed that I had won 10 MANA and a custom launch-day T-shirt for my avatar. Great! That was when I learned that I still needed to have a small amount of Ethereum (ETH) as a transaction “gas” fee in order to actually receive my prizes, separate from the MANA I already had in my wallet. I landed up forfeiting my prizes due to a lack of ETH, a concept that would be somewhat difficult to explain to a novice crypto user, to whom DCL would be their very first blockchain-based experience. 

Close, but no cigar: prizes I had to forfeit due to a lack of “gas”

Between the wallet follies and the lack of gas money, it was the kind of experience that would send most novice users screaming into the night. Your average virtual worlds consumer does not want to fuss with crypto wallets and transaction gas fees and seed phrases and private keys. They just want things to work. These are some serious obstacles to getting started that I definitely think need to be addressed at some future point. 

So, given these initial caveats, here are some instructions (courtesy of DCL evangelist Carl Fravel) on how to get started with Decentraland:


Getting Started in Decentraland (by Carl Fravel)

Decentraland and the Ethereum Blockchain

Decentraland’s land and economy are built on a blockchain, in particular, the “Ethereum” blockchain. This allows people to securely identify themselves, and, when desired, sign things securely, and conduct financial transactions, including in Decentraland. It also allows Decentraland to be permanent, not depending on any particular company’s destiny.   It also, when used properly, provides a high degree of security and user control.

To operate on the Ethereum blockchain, and for example to create a Decentraland account, you will need to have a suitable Ethereum “wallet” app. On the blockchain, you can have one or more “accounts”. A wallet app allows you to create and use your accounts. Think of the account as your bank account number, and your wallet as your debit card.

For Decentraland, the wallet app must be of a certain kind, that can work through a web browser. The recommended wallet for Decentraland is MetaMask. MetaMask is a browser extension. You can get MetaMask through the extensions catalog of your browser.

For example, to install MetaMask in Chrome:

  • Open Chrome
  • Be sure you are logged into your Chrome/Google account
  • Click on the little 3 dot menu in the upper right corner
  • Select “More tools” and then “Extensions”
  • Click on the 3-line menu in the upper left
  • At the bottom of the popup, select “Open Chrome Web Store”
  • Search the store for “MetaMask”
  • The MetaMask logo is an orange fox’s head
  • Install it.  It will show up among your Chrome extensions icons
  • You will need to set up your wallet and create your first Ethereum account.
  • Click on the extension if it hasn’t already opened, and carefully follow the instructions.
    • MetaMask setup: you’ll get a 12-word passphrase (keep that in a permanent, secret and safe place, it is like the key to your safe deposit box or your bank login).  Do not put your passphrase in the cloud unless you store it in a password-protected file, like a zip or Word file that has a password.
    • You will also create a regular password in MetaMask.  Keep that safe, too 
    • Then, once you have your first MetaMask wallet “account” and are signed into it, you can proceed to Decentraland setup

Getting a Decentraland Passport and Avatar

In Decentraland, you create a “Password” (which is your identity and account in Decentraland). You will use MetaMask to do so. On your first visit to the Decentraland world, you will be guided on their website to create a Passport and an Avatar.  

You will also be given an option to claim a permanent and unique avatar name (which requires paying a small fee using MetaMask — this fee was created to keep someone from freely grabbing all the possibly interesting names to hold for ransom).  You do not have to own a name to visit Decentraland, but eventually you may want to get one so that you don’t show up just as a guest.

  • In your MetaMask-equipped browser, go to https://decentraland.org/ 
  • Press the Start Exploring button in the top right
  • If this is your first visit to the Decentraland world, you will be guided to create a Passport and design your Avatar (you can change it later, so don’t worry too much about perfection initially). You must create or have a wallet account (MetaMask recommended) to serve as the passport ID for Decentraland. 
  • You will have the option to “Claim a Name” for your avatar.  For this you will need to get 100 Mana (Decentraland’s currency) and at least a small amount of Ethereum Ethers (ETH) into your MetaMask wallet account.  You can skip claiming a name for as long as you wish, and visit the world as an anonymous guest.
  • Once you have a MetaMask wallet, click the “Explore the World” button on the Decentraland page.
  • On your first visit you will enter a beginners tutorial, where you can learn basic skills like how to walk, jump and chew gum at the same time.
  • You will also be shown instructions on how to chat, use the minimap, etc. 
  • Once you leave the tutorial through the portal arch, you will really be “in the world”
  • If you press the Enter key, you can type into the Chat area in the lower left corner of your screen, to converse with others, or to enter Decentraland commands
  • One of the commands enables you to teleport to another place in Decentraland
  • For example to go to the main entrance to the Decentraland Conference Center, type into the chat area, very carefully and exactly the following, with the indicated space
    /goto 11,94

If you have problems, ask questions of an experienced friend, or join the Decentraland Discord chat server, available from the Decentraland website.

Claiming a Name and Participating in the Economy

Although you may wish to skip this part just to visit the world, eventually you may wish to pay the small fee to claim a personal identity name, or to buy land in Decentraland or accessories for your Avatar.

A full coverage of cryptocurrencies is way beyond the scope of this getting started guide, but here is the basic workflow 

  1. Overview:
    1. You go to an exchange and buy some ETH and MANA cryptocurrency
    2. You transfer that into your MetaMask Wallet
    3. You go to Decentrland, and use you MANA to Claim a Name, buy land, or buy accessories
    4. Purchases will consume a small amount of ETH as a transaction fee
  2. Go to an exchange like Coinbase https://coinbase.com  where you can set up an account, with your bank account or debit card and purchase Cryptocurrencies.
    1. Some exchanges, like Coinbase, allow you to use national currencies, like dollars, to buy certain cryptocurrencies
    2. Other exchanges, like Bittrex or Binance (there are many) allow you to bring in one cryptocurrency and change it to another, and will handle Decentraland Mana, but don’t work with national currencies
    3. ‘A few exchanges (like Coinbase Pro https://pro.coinbase.com ) allow you to bring in a national currency (like dollars) and use it to directly buy a wide range of cryptocurrencies, including Decentraland Mana
  3. A Example of recommended steps
    1. Sign up for Coinbase.com  (it will take some time and steps)
    2. That also gives you access to Coinbase Pro
    3. In Coinbase Pro, purchase a few dollars of Ethereum Ethers (ETH) and maybe $10-20 of Decentraland MANA
    4. Transfer those both the ETH and the MANA to your MetaMask Wallet
    5. Go to avatars.decentraland.com, and Claim a Name
      1. It costs 100 MANA  (when Mana is around $0.06, this would be about $6.00
      2. Ethereum transactions usually use a little bit of ETH to pay the Ethereum network “miners” (operators).  Most transactions seem to be around $0.50 to $1.00
    6. You can buy land and other accessories for Decentraland at:
      https://market.decentraland.org 

Other Resources for Learning


Thanks, Carl!

Again, I would counsel new users, especially those brand new to cryptocurrencies and blockchain, to take things a step at a time—and not to try and find treasure chests, because you won’t be able to claim your prizes unless you have purchased some ETH ahead of time!

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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!

Decentraland Will Open to the General Public on February 20th, 2020

Image from the Decentraland website

Those of you who have been waiting on the sidelines while Decentraland develops will not have to wait much longer to pay a visit. In a blogpost on their official blog, the developers have announced:

On 20.02.2020, our dream of creating a unique, fully decentralized shared virtual world becomes a reality.

Decentraland, the first ever blockchain-based virtual world, is going live to the public.

The launch includes the establishment of the Decentraland DAO, full decentralization of the world’s infrastructure (communications between users and the serving of content), and, most importantly, public access to the very best the Metaverse has to offer. From now on, no single agent will have the power to modify the rules of the software, curate LAND content, modify the economics of MANA, upgrade the LAND smart contract unilaterally, or prevent others from accessing the world, among other decentralization features.

You should be aware that if you want a custom avatar name, that you will have to pay for it, which means setting up a crypto wallet and buying some cryptocurrency (ETH or MANA) on an exchange. The cost is 100 MANA, which works out to about US$3.50 at the current exchange rate.

It remains to be seen just how popular Decentraland will be among the non-crypto, average consumer, but it looks like we will find out this year! I wish the company good luck on their public launch.

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)