Decentraland: A Project Update

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Decentraland (DCL for short) is making progress!

The company is slowly letting more and more users onto the closed beta test platform (around 50 to 75 new people per week since July, last week they raised it to 150, and this week they raised it again to 400). DCL is also running weekly stress tests to see how well Decentraland performs under maximum avatar load. I have been participating in the stress tests when I can.

A quaint little lowpoly cottage I visited during today’s Decentraland stress test
Another picture taken during today’s stress testing
A closer look at the variety of avatar customization options

There are several new features in their web-based Decentraland Explorer client: a mini map in the upper-left corner so you can see where you are (a much-needed feature!), and a small user profile icon in the upper-right corner which, when clicked, displays information about your avatar. Also, they have finally integrated the avatar customization system on their website, so that your avatar now looks the way you designed and clothed him, and has the name you selected for him.

Prior to this, your avatar just had a randomly-generated appearance, and had a name of the form Guest ####, even if you had paid 100 MANA to register a custom avatar name. At current exchange rates, 100 MANA works out to about US$3.00. I still believe that charging for a custom username is a tactical mistake, and a potential roadblock to the average, non-crypto consumer that DCL will need to market to. On the other hand, it might cut down on the number of alts, which tend to be abused by the griefers who plague other virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Overall, I do get the strong impression that Decentraland is going to be the epitome of free-market capitalism in virtual worlds, charging people left and right for things that other virtual worlds offer for free. Want to play boar hunt? You gotta pay for them arrows, bud. Ten arrows cost 10 MANA (approx. US$0.40). Living and playing in Decentraland could get rather expensive! Decentraland developers and investors may want to take a close look at the 16-year history of Second Life to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t in a virtual world economy.

Many people are busy building wonderful scenes on their virtual parcels of LAND, and there is already much to see. There’s even a spreadsheet making the rounds, listing all the places the DCL sightseer can visit!

Life on the Blockchain (a tower with scenes of everyday life),
a Decentraland scene built by Interweaver

Don’t forget to join the Decentraland SDK Hackathon (which seems to have been renamed as the SDK Game Jam), running from Sept. 16th to 30th, 2019, where you can win a share of 2,500,000 MANA and/or 200 LANDs (with a total cash value of over US$250,000)! Just click the link above for more details on the contest, and how to apply. Good luck to all the contestants!

However, one of the things that I do find a little troubling about this virtual world project is that there seem to be a lot of people who have piled onto the cryptocurrency bandwagon, and rather blindly invested in MANA (Decentraland’s cryptocurrency) or LAND (Decentraland’s virtual land) without doing a lot of proper research into the project. Some people still think (wrongly) that DCL supports virtual reality, for example. I find that people are asking the same newbie questions over and over again. It’s not hard to scroll through and find comments like the following over on the official Decentraland Discord channels:

A: Can I explore without an invitation? I set up an avatar etc.

B: Does anyone know how to get early access to DCL?

C: So can we build things & bring them into Genesis city, for example?

D: hi all. i am new. i dont know how this works. what is the first step i should take here?

E: Hello I have one parcel. Can I rent it ?

I almost get the feeling of the Yukon Klondike Gold Rush, where everybody and their dog headed north, eagerly in search of gold, fueled by greed and tales of the few people who became millionaires. It will be fascinating to watch Decentraland’s economy evolve over time.

Image of one of Decentraland’s plazas

UPDATED! A Look at the 2019 VR Industry Landscape: Are All These Companies Actually Generating Revenue?

Peter Graham, a senior staff writer for the popular VR news website VRFocus, reports on an infographic published annually by the San Francisco-based venture capital firm The Venture Reality Fund, in an article titled The Venture Reality Fund’s 2019 VR Landscape Highlights 550+ Companies Generating Revenue:

Image from VRFocus (full-size version available here)

He writes:

Every year San Francisco-based venture capital firm The Venture Reality Fund (The VR Fund) releases a report on the industry as a whole, detailing the major or most influential players across a range of categories. The new 2019 VR Landscape has just been released, this time based on those who have revenue only, with over 550 companies making the cut.

So, of course, I used my handy image editor to zoom in to take a closer look at the companies listed in the Social box on this graphic (see image on the right). I do see that all of the usual suspects are represented 😉 (for example, Against Gravity is the maker of Rec Room). But I must agree with a commenter on Peter Graham’s article, who said:

Glad to see the updated version of this graphic, but many of the companies in this list are no longer active or totally defunct.

For example, underneath Orbus is the steampunk-themed logo for Surreal, a social VR platform I blogged about before. A company that has revenue? I doubt Surreal has earned a dime in profit for this busted product. Surreal (still) completely fails to work with my Oculus Touch hand controllers, despite reporting on their Steam page that version 3.0 of the software has Oculus Touch support. The fact that Surreal is even listed here on this infographic makes me seriously doubt how thoroughly all these listed companies were vetted.

By the way, according to their Wikipedia page, Against Gravity is now known as Rec Room Inc., and is now using the orange Rec Room logo instead of that stylized A. Also, that VRChat logo looks very dated to me. All of this information could have been easily checked before publishing this infographic by doing a few Google searches.

Another thing that sticks out like a sore thumb to me is the Decentraland logo (to the right of the Salin logo near the bottom of the box). That’s also an outdated logo, and even worse, Decentraland does not even support VR, and it is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future! Another mistake that makes me question the validity of the rest of the information presented in this graphic. Somebody did a really sloppy job in checking this infographic for accuracy.

I see High Fidelity listed in this box, too. They are relying on the US$72.9 million they raised in venture capital, and I’m quite sure they are feeling some pressure from their financial backers to turn a profit, but I rather doubt that they have generated any actual revenue from customers. As someone once memorably said on the Discord server (and I am sorry, but can’t find the exact quote, so this is a paraphrase), “You can’t make it difficult to give the company money.” And High Fidelity’s over-complicated Marketplace submission process, with their originally ambitious plan to screen every single submission for quality, and to ensure it was not someone else’s intellectual property, was a classic textbook example of making it very hard to give them money.

UPDATE Aug. 29th: I now remember who first voiced the idea that High Fidelity was making it difficult to give them money—it was Dale Glass! If you’re interested, Dale has written a guest editorial on what he thinks is wrong with High Fidelity.

There are also a few companies listed here I have never heard of before: Cluster, Salin, Teemew, and Normal. Which of course means I get to do more exploring! Yay! 🙂 I’ll keep you posted as to what I find.

DCLBlocks: A New In-World Building Tool in Decentraland

Decentraland is inviting participants from its June Hackathon to post to their official blog about their achievements. This week’s guest blogger is Interweaver (a.k.a. Noah), who shared his experiment with in-world building blocks in Decentraland:

In this blog post I’ll be talking about how I designed and implemented my Decentrablocks project. The idea for this scene was simple: I wanted to be able to intuitively build things while actually standing in the scene, not in a separate Builder or with an external text editor and modeling software (as one does with the SDK). Also, I’m not a 3D artist, so it had to be made entirely of primitive shapes.

As you can see, this is a tool very similar to the prim-building tools offered by Second Life, as well as High Fidelity’s in-world building tools.

You can read Interweaver’s blogpost in full to get all the details on how he did this. He’s placed all his code for this project up on GitHub.

Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Decentraland SDK Hackathon. There’s still time to enter the contest, which runs from Sept. 16th-30th, and you could win your share of over US$275,000 worth of prizes, in either MANA (DCL’s cryptocurrency) or LAND (DCL’s 16 m by 16 m square plots of virtual land). Enter today!

Decentraland: An Update

Decentraland has published an update on their blockchain-based virtual world project on their official blog. Apparently, I was lucky enough to be one of the first 200 people invited to visit and explore the platform!

The first of Decentraland’s World Explorers – 200 pioneers including district leaders, moderators and content creators – have been sharing their first impressions. In short, they’re loving their time in Decentraland.

While we continue working to fix performance, iron out bugs and stability issues, we’re letting in 50 more people a week, with a goal to increase this to 2000 weekly active users by the end of September. By this time, we hope to have the user-facing features in place that will make World Explorer the complete experience – like being able to create and edit your Avatars inside the client, wear NFT items from your inventory and crucially – so you know where you are in the world – access a navigation map.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the open public beta has been pushed back until October 2019 at the earliest:

As we round into Q4, we’ll be ready to open World Explorer to the entire community. Once we’re satisfied with the stability, scalability and performance, we’ll then turn our attention to the fun and social sides of the experience. Users will:
– Get proper on-boarding
– Experience better content
– Express themselves with Avatar animations
– Travel to popular and trending places thanks to an advanced World Map; and
– Enjoy a set of social features

While the delays are disappointing, I can understand why they are necessary. Decentraland is up and running, but in my opinion it still needs a lot of work and polish before they can open the doors to everybody! If you missed the photos and videos from my first in-world tour, you can see them here. It looks as though thousands of eager DCL investors are going to have to rely on second-hand reports for at least the next couple of months.

In addition to my blogging about Decentraland, the platform is also capably covered by the dedicated blogs DCL Blogger and DCL Plazas. Matty from the DCL Blogger (another one of the first 200 allowed in) has even posted a couple of videos of his visits to Decentraland:

As you can see from Matty’s videos, there is still a lot of empty space in Decentraland. Hopefully, that will start to fill up as more people deploy their creations! There should be some interesting contributions as a result of the upcoming Decentraland SDK Hackathon. There’s still time to enter the contest, and you could win MANA (DCL’s cryptocurrency) and LAND (DCL’s 16 m by 16 m square plots of virtual land) as prizes.

And I will continue to report on developments as the project moves forward. Stay tuned!