I Pay a Visit to The Sandbox: My First Impressions of Alpha Season 3

I have written about The Sandbox before on this blog (here and here), and mentioned it in passing in other blogposts, but this weekend I decided to actually pay a visit to the third alpha test of this blockchain-based flatscreen virtual world, to see what all the fuss was about.

The Sandbox (a subsidary of Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based software and venture capital company) describes itself as “a community-driven platform where creators can monetize voxel assets and gaming experiences on the blockchain.” It is what I consider the fourth major blockchain-based metaverse platform, after Decentraland, Somnium Space, and Voxels (formerly known as Cryptovoxels). Please note that I am only referring to those projects which have already launched an actual platform, which you can visit and explore as an avatar! There are, of course, countless other blockchain-based metaverse projects which are still in the pre-launch stages (some of which may never launch during the current crypto winter!).

The Sandbox is currently running a series of alpha tests; the current one is called Alpha Season 3, and it is open to anybody who wishes to come kick the tires on an interim version of the product. Alpha Season 3 launched on August 24th, 2022, and will apparently run for ten weeks. According to the detailed FAQ documents:

The Sandbox Alpha Season events will allow players the opportunity to be the first to experience gameplay, social hubs and play-to-earn in The Sandbox’s metaverse.

Alpha Seasons will be multi-week events, where players can potentially earn $SAND rewards – and possibly NFTs (non-fungible tokens) – just for playing games. Players will have the opportunity to explore The Sandbox Metaverse for the first time through the experiences and social hubs available for the period that the season is running.

Note that Alpha Seasons are not the official full release of The Sandbox game. They are Alpha testing events whereby The Sandbox can collect community feedback and so on to determine if any changes or new features need to be added to The Sandbox metaverse.

All you need to do is set up an account (i.e. a username and password), connected to a crypto wallet (the four options supported are MetaMask, Coinbase, Bitsky, and Venly). According to the FAQ:

The Sandbox utilizes blockchain technology and therefore a wallet is required in order for you to be able to interact with this blockchain technology. Your wallet will securely authorise your access to the website and help you to keep track of any transactions that you perform.

It will also act as storage for any ERC-20 tokens that you have from The Sandbox, such as $SAND and GEMs, as well as any virtual goods that you own (ERC-1155), such as LAND and ASSETs. For example, you might earn some $SAND via The Sandbox’s Play2Earn features and will need a place to store it.

A cryptocurrency wallet provides you with true ownership of everything that you purchase, earn or win on The Sandbox’s platform. You will always have control and access to these virtual goods as long as you remain in control of your wallet.

Aah, yes, the famous “decentralized” aspect of NFT-based metaverse platforms! Of course, in the unlikely event that The Sandbox should ever fold, your “LAND and ASSETs” will probably not be transferable to any other blockchain-based metaverse.

Having just moved my MetaMask wallets over from my old personal computer to my new one (one for Voxels and a second one for Decentraland), I chose to link my Voxels account to MetaMask, even though I am not planning to purchase any of their cryptocurrency (called SAND), to buy NFT-based avatars, assets, or land from their Marketplace.

The Sandbox’s NFT marketplace

If you wish, instead of a generic avatar, you can choose an NFT you already own from a number of compatible NFT projects, such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club, the World of Women, Snoop Dogg, etc.:

The Sandbox has a downloadable client for both Windows and Mac users, but there’s also a web-based component (for example, the map of the Alpha Season 3 land, and the avatar customization tools):

The Sandbox map for Alpha Season 3
The (non-NFT) avatar customization screen

The first time you enter The Sandbox, you are automatically dropped off at a place called Start Here (or the Alpha Lobby), where you are given several quests to complete in order to gain Experience Points. You use your W, A, S, and D keys to move around, your spacebar to jump, and the E key to interact with NPCs and various objects, and receive quests.

The first two quests I did were to collect a series of bathroom plungers with rabbit ears (?!), and to “inspect” a collection of ten Bored Ape yacht Club NFTs in a gallery, which consisted of walking to each picture, then pressing the E key when standing in front of a pedestal placed in front of each. I found it a rather underwhelming experience.

The Sandbox style is Minecraftesque, and a bit of a mix of those of Roblox, Voxels and Decentraland. Here is my avatar standing in front of an amusement park ride in the starting lands. The lighting is good, and it gives everything a crisp, clear look.

It’s clear that a LOT of hard work has gone into the design of the worlds I visited! Here’s another look at the Start Here lands, showing a variety of fantastical animated creatures:

As I mentioned, there are Non-Playing Characters dotted through the landscape, with whom you interact using the E key, to roleplay through a pre-scripted conversation, or perhaps pick up a new quest. Here’s a selfie of me with Snoop Dogg (no, not the actual celebrity, just an NPC!).

To travel to other lands, you need to pull up the web-based map and click on a destination, which then teleports you to the new land you have selected (there is a noticeable delay in the client as the new land loads; the topmost image in this blogpost is an example of what the loading screen looks like in your client software while you wait for everything to load, before you can enter).

The South China Morning Post experience plunks you down in Hong Kong harbour (note the beggar and his dog on the right)

The Sandbox has numerous partners listed on its website, a real hodge-podge that ranges from celebrities like Snoop Dogg and the DJ deadmau5, to corporations like Adidas and Atari, to publications like the Tatler and the South China Morning Post! The Sandbox has also partnered with well-known children’s brands like the Smurfs and the Care Bears!

I found the juxtaposition of PG13 content (like the marijuana leaf above the Snoop Dogg logo) and the cartoony avatars and frankly silly quests to be a bit off-putting (the Terms of Use clearly state that The Sandbox users must be 18+, but obviously there’s nothing stopping children from lying about their age to access it).

For example, one of the lands you can visit in Alpha Season 3 is a game called You’re a Big Boy Now, where the set-up is the following: it’s 24 hours before the end of the world, and you leave behind your very pregnant girlfriend to travel to an epic end-of-the-world party you’ve heard about, in order to get blasted out of your mind on drugs and alcohol.

Not exactly on the same level as the Smurfs or the Care Bears, right? Why even bother to have those well-known children’s brands as official partners if your metaverse is restricted to those age 18 and up? It makes absolutely no sense at all. I expect that The Sandbox, given its similarity in look-and-feel to such popular children’s platforms like Roblox and Minecraft, is going to have a potential problem on its hands if they can’t find a way to keep the kids away. (Perhaps The Sandbox would be wise to take a look at the history of Second Life, where one way they dealt with the issue was to have completely separate lands for those under 18, although they later merged them with the mainland.)

Anyway, I can now honestly say that I’ve set (virtual) foot in all four of the major blockchain-based metaverse platforms released to date: Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, and The Sandbox. I will continue to write about these platforms as they evolve and grow over time, and will also keep an eye on the many other blockchain-based metaverse platforms that have not yet launched! Stay tuned.

If you are interested in The Sandbox and want to learn more, you can visit their website, read through their one-page summary of the project, peruse their detailed FAQ and their blog on Medium, or follow them on various social media: Discord, Telegram, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

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!

Everyrealm: The Multi-Million-Dollar Metaverse Company You Probably Haven’t Heard of Yet (But You Will!)

Republic CEO Kendrick Nguyen (image source)

This man is Kendrick Nguyen. Five years ago, he founded an investment firm called Republic, focused on opportunities in startups, real estate, video games, and crypto. On Oct. 19th, 2021, TechCrunch reporter Connie Loizos wrote:

Where many see regulatory murkiness, the five-year-old, New York-based investing platform Republic sees opportunity. Indeed, while many outfits grapple with whether to distance themselves from certain digital assets, Republic — whose CEO, Kendrick Nguyen, started his career in securities litigation with Goodwin Procter — has focused from the start on establishing itself as a go-to brand for what Nguyen calls “compliant tokenization.”

Just today, the company is announcing a $150 million Series B round led by Valor Equity Partners, which follows a $36 million Series A round that the company announced in March from Galaxy Interactive, Motley Fool Ventures, HOF Capital, Tribe Capital and CoinFund. (Those earlier investors just re-upped, by the way, and were joined by new backers Pillar VC, Brevan Howard, GoldenTree and Atreides.)

Altogether, says Nguyen, Republic, which employs 200 people, had raised more than $50 million in equity financing ahead of this newest round, and more than $20 million in a token sale.

The outfit is certainly busy putting it all to work. Republic already comprises several different business arms, including a popular retail investment platform that invites people to invest with as little as $10; a private capital division with almost $1 billion in assets under management that funnels accredited investors into startups; and a blockchain consultancy arm that provides technical, financing, distribution and tokenization services.

Republic also right now has two affiliated closed-end investment funds deploying capital into startups and crypto projects, along with a digital investment arm operating as Republic Realm that focuses exclusively on metaverses and NFTs.

Anita Ramaswamy wrote in a follow-up TechCrunch article on Feb. 10th, 2022 that Republic has spun off its Republic Realm arm into a separate company, helmed by CEO Janine Yorio. Republic will be a minority investor in this new company, which has been rebranded as Everyrealm:

Some statistics taken from the brand-new Everyrealm website include the following:

My avatar standing in the Metajuku shopping district in Decentraland

It’s clear that Everyrealm has serious money to spend (they’ve already raised US$60 million), and they intend to invest it in a variety of metaverse platforms! Anita reports:

Everyrealm hopes to become “the gateway to the entire metaverse ecosystem,” according to the company. It is invested in 25 different metaverses and owns 3,000+ NFTs today, Yorio said.

“We started out investing [in the metaverse], but we’ve since expanded our mandate to do a lot more than that. We see ourselves as developers of metaverse content, so we don’t just passively invest and sit back and wait for other people to build things,” Yorio said. The company has built on top of many of its virtual properties — for example, it launched a retail store concept in Decentraland two weeks ago, which it plans to expand into other metaverse platforms, Yorio said. Indeed, 10,000 virtual items in the store sold out in the span of an hour, she added.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blogpost about the then-Republic Realm’s foray into education, writing with just a smidgen of snark about something called the Republic Realm Academy:

Apparently, they have set up a virtual campus in the blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space, and Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov himself will be teaching “a class at the Academy about VR and the future of the metaverse:”

Tuition for four weeks, which includes a “limited edition Republic Realm Academy NFT Tuition Badge”, which will “be your campus ID card and unlock all Republic Realm Academy resources and initiatives at the start of the term”, six online courses, plus “limited office hours with professors, subject to availability”, costs US$1,000…

Let’s face it: it’s to Cathy’s and Artur’s and so many other people’s advantage to sell (and yes, I deliberately use the word sell) as many people as they can on this frankly blinkered perspective on the metaverse—even to the point of offering thousand-dollar certificates for things could probably be learned just as easily from others for free! The overall messaging here is that the non-blockchain-based metaverse platforms which predate this boom in artificially-scarce NFT-based real estate are simply not worth bothering with or investing in.

Well, I now publicly will eat some crow, because buried in Anita’s TechCrunch report is the following news nugget:

Everyrealm also operates a virtual educational campus called Realm Academy in the Somnium Space metaverse, where users can learn more about web3 concepts through online courses. Its inaugural class has 500 students who have paid $1,000 each to attend, Yorio said.

If Janine Yorio is to be believed (and frankly, I have zero reason to doubt her), Everyrealm cleared 500 x US1,000 = US$500,000 from the first offering of their six-course educational program. That’s right—a cool half-million dollars! I guess I was seriously wrong about people not being interested in signing up for their courses, and I am willing to admit that I was wrong. Hey, it does happen—sometimes… 😉

And, I was also wrong about something else. As it turns out, Everyrealm has not limited their investment to solely the metaverse platforms with NFT-based real estate! Today I learned that the company is involved in a major event which is taking place this week in Second Life, the Metaverse Fashion Week 2022:

As featured in Vogue today, designer Jonathan Simkhai has partnered with metaverse developer Everyrealm and metaverse production house Blueberry Entertainment to produce an exciting new Metaverse Fashion Week event inside Second Life – and you are invited!

Second Life community members can be among the first to preview all-new exclusive spring 2022 collections this week by attending any of the several runway shows scheduled throughout this week

Check out this video sneak peek of what to expect on the runway. Video Production by Vrutega.

Irritatingly, the above link to “several runway shows scheduled throughout this week” only takes you to the sim where the events are taking place, but without the details of when they were happening! Fortunately, Inara Pey has all the details in a detailed write-up on her blog:

The individual in question is New York fashion designer and 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Jonathan Simkhai. As a part of the New York Fashion Week event, he offered a special preview of some of his designs from his Autumn / Winter 2022 (AW22) collection at a special fashion show that took place in Second Life.

In all 11 pieces from the collection have been visualised for Second Life by none other than Mishi McDuff (aka Blueberryxx), founder and owner of SL’s popular Blueberry brand (and, I will admit, one of my go-to designers on the admittedly rare occasions I feel I need to spruce up my virtual wardrobe). In bringing the designs to SL, Blueberry has also given them a special “metaverse flair” – utilising the unique advantages of the digital world to offer twists to some of the items that cannot be replicated in the physical world – such as a sequined dress that gradually loses its embellishments and morphs into a bodysuit as the model walks the runway.

The items were presented to an invited audience of models, influencers, celebrities, and journalists from the fashion, technology and lifestyle industries. They had the opportunity to see the virtual items ahead of Simkhai presenting their physical world equivalents on the New York catwalk, so the guests could witness the virtual garments and their unique properties up close – and even try them on.

I think that this is a brilliant move by Everyrealm. Why? Because none of the NFT metaverse platforms they currently invest in (Decentraland, Somnium Space, Axie Infinity, etc.) have anything which compares to the mature, fully-evolved dressable avatar system which has evolved over the 18+ years of the history of Second Life! Here’s one of the pictures used in the (unfortunately paywalled) Vogue Business article:

And you can bet that Linden Lab is on board with this; how often does Second Life get mentioned in Vogue, plus fashion and tech news outlets like British GLAMOURMobile Marketing, and the Fashion Network? As Inara says:

This may sound like something straight out of 2006-2008, when many physical world brands tried to hop into SL in the belief it would magically allow them to grow their market influence, but actually it isn’t. The Simkhai / Blueberry relationship is far more symbiotic and engaging, and for two reasons.

The first is that as well as being presented to invited guests, the Second Life Simkhai collection will be the subject of a series of catwalk shows open to Second Life residents on Thursday February 17th / Friday February 18th, with shows set hourly from 13:00 through 16:00 (inclusive – see the Destination Guide link at the end of this article). Not only will these serve to show the designs to the Second Life community, they will also – according to Vogue’s Maghan McDowell –  allow SL users to purchase them at around L$1,000 per item.

So, if you missed out on today’s fashion shows, you can try to catch one tomorrow! I do have my eye on that haute couture dress illustrated in the Vogue Business article above! According to a press release posted to Reddit:

You can see the NFTs listed for sale here (scroll down the page a bit).

Yes, those are prices in U.S. dollars!

These NFTs, which cost anywhere from US$200-600 apiece, confer the following “benefits” (please note that this does not apply to sales within Second Life; as mentioned earlier, SL versions of these virtual garments, made in association with well-known womenswear designer Blueberry, will cost about L$1,000 each, a relative bargain!):

  • Limited edition Metaverse Fashion Week merchandise/apparel
  • Ability to wear Jonathan Simkhai NFT wearables as your avatar in the metaverse
  • Access to future Everyrealm digital wearables activations
  • Whitelisting for future digital wearables drops

Keep in mind that your ability to actually wear these garments on your avatar in the various NFT metaverse platforms is heavily dependent upon the ability of the various companies building those platforms to support it (I can guarantee you that the lovely Lucee dress shown above will not look nearly as sparkly on the current crop of Decentraland avatars, for example, let alone the voxel-based blockchain-based platforms like Cryptovoxels and The Sandbox!)

Therefore, many of these “benefits”, like so much for sale in this current season of blockchain, crypto, and NFT-based metaverse madness, are essentially the opportunity to flex and/or gloat to your friends…and to be first in line for the next line-up of expensive NFT-based avatar wearables!

However, I do have to hand it to Everyrealm. The company is certainly putting its money where its mouth is, and they are making a significant splash in the metaverse in a short time. I honestly cannot think of another firm which has its fingers in so many metaverse pies, all at the same time! More power to them.

As I often say on my blog, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and Everyrealm is attracting big money (and attention) to the ever-evolving and mutating metaverse! Who knows, maybe Second Life will be home to a few more fashion shows linked to real-world, big-name designers? As we can see, there’s still a valuable place for older, non-NFT-based metaverse platforms like SL in this season of the NFT metaverse!

Metaverse Fashion Week 2022

2022 is promising to be a very interesting year, I predict! Stay tuned! I leave you with this (undated) writeup by David Murphy of MobileMarketing:

Metaverse Fashion Week, an event produced by Everyrealm and Blueberry Entertainment, took place yesterday, featuring Jonathan Simkhai as the debut designer. The event occurred day prior to the physical Jonathan Simkhai 2022 presentation at New York Fashion Week, making the real-world designer the first ever to show it’s Fall/Winter 2022 digital wearables collection ahead of their physical counterparts…

Guest took their seats in the larger-than-life bespoke set made specifically for the fashion event in the Second Life metaverse. The secluded location was inspired by natural elements such as rock, water, air, and fire. Simkhai’s latest collection was showcased on the avatar models during the 8-minute presentation. Simkhai debuted 11 designs from his Fall/Winter 2022 collection, which were digitally reimagined for the Metaverse.

The garments are converted from the real-world version into 3D digital models using design software and video gaming technology. The Second Life Marketplace has been selling digital clothing and accessories from Blueberry since 2011. Wearables and clothing are among the most popular types of commerce in Second Life’s $650m dollar virtual economy.

Founded by Mishi McDuff in 2012 as a solo creator on Second Life, Blueberry has sold more than 20m on digital wearables, amassed a library of more than 10,000 digital SKUs optimized for hundreds of design attributes, and scaled an engaged community of loyal customers. Blueberry is already live on multiple metaverse platforms, and is actively expanding its brand and community to other web 2.0 and 3.0 metaverses.

Mario Gabriele Does a Deep Dive into the Start-Up History, Current Value, and Potential Future of Decentraland

Mario Gabriele (image source)

Mario Gabriele is the founder and editor of The Generalist, a self-described “free newsletter for deep thinkers, serious builders, and imaginative investors”, with over 53,000 subscribers. On January 9th, 2022, Mario wrote a long and wide-ranging article (what he calls one of his “briefings”) about one of the very first blockchain-based virtual world projects, Decentraland (which is, of course, of interest to me!).

I found what Mario had to say so interesting that I wanted to write this blogpost to bring wider attention to his article, which os titled Decentraland: The Metaverse’s Early Mover. One of things I found unique about this article is that Mario really does his homework, delving into the early history of Decentraland and interviewing many key people associated with the project in one way or another. Also, he isn’t afraid to level criticism of the project. This is not some breathless fan-boy take; I enjoyed his writing because it is a multi-faceted, critical inspection of the Decentraland project to date, combined with some analysis of what it all means, including a few educated guesses about the future. And even if you are not all that interested in Decentraland per se, he also touches on other worlds, such as The Sandbox. I learned a lot from reading this, and I suspect you will as well.

I’m going to suggest you to go over to The Generalist and read it in full, but I will pull out and comment on a few quotes which interested me. For example, Mario does a better than anybody else I know in painting a picture of what the early days of the Decentraland start-up were like:

In 2011, Manuel Araoz was a computer science student at ITBA, a university called “Argentina’s MIT.” As part of a cryptography class, he discovered Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoin whitepaper. Argentina’s past two decades had been marked by economic volatility and rapid currency devaluation, giving tangible power to Nakamoto’s words. Araoz was transfixed…

Araoz set about trying to make his dent in the new realm, launching “Proof of Existence” (POE), billed as the “first-ever non-financial blockchain application.” POE acts as a notary, allowing anyone to “prove” a document exists by adding an encrypted “digest” of it to the blockchain, where it is timestamped. As its site notes, this is the “first online service allowing you to publicly prove that you have certain information without revealing the data or yourself.”

Araoz also joined BitPay, then a bitcoin payments business. As a technical lead, his remit included opening an office in Buenos Aires. He picked a two-story house in Palermo Hollywood. 

Populated by BitPay engineers, friends from ITBA, and other early crypto obsessives, “Voltaire House” quickly became a place for deep thinkers to gather. In researching this piece, I got to speak to several former residents and visitors, including Esteban Ordano, one of Decentraland’s founders.

Voltaire House became the incubator for a number of blockchain projects. In 2015, Voltaire House’s resident purchased their first VR headset, an HTC Vive, which “opened their eyes to the potential of spatial experiences”. From this sprung the idea of Decentraland.

Mario discusses Decentraland’s crazy Initial Coin Offering (ICO), and in particular discusses how Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address in October 2021 marked a significant turning point for Decentraland and countless other projects, writing:

From one month to the next, Decentraland’s MAUs nearly tripled. The price of MANA went very nearly vertical, jolting from $0.75 to $3.56 and eventually closing in on $5.50. 

(image source)

Decentraland’s fully diluted market cap jumped from $1.6 billion to more than $7 billion in four days, effectively increasing its size from 1-800-FLOWERS to The New York Times over the equivalent of a long weekend. Since that leap, MANA has retreated, along with many other tokens, but it is still multiples higher than before Meta’s announcement. 

One of the best parts of Mario’s article is where he creates an avatar and goes exploring!

Over the past week, I’ve used Sutherland [the name of Mario’s avatar] to tour as much of Decentraland’s world as possible. We’ve fallen down the fountain in “Genesis Plaza,” hit up the casinos in Vegas City, stumbled across a Pride Parade, mined fallen asteroids in exchange for gems, gone to the stables, gawked at swirling spiral homes, browsed art at a Sotheby’s gallery, and tried to fly a dragon. We made it about ten feet before crashing into a wall. 

I have also walked around empty lots and whole neighborhoods without a soul in sight. At around noon on a Tuesday, I stood in Frankie’s Tavern, a virtual dive bar, watching a music video alone. After hearing about District X, Decentraland’s red-light district, I fruitlessly searched for brothels that apparently exist. I hoped to interview the most modern members of the world’s oldest profession. (How does this work? What do people buy? Is VR involved? Is the money good?). Though a failure, I did stumble across “Waifu HQ,” a confusing monument to female anime characters featuring a scantily clad breakdancer.

I had a good chuckle at Mario/Sutherland trying to find escorts in Decentraland! Oh, honey, if you are looking for sex in Decentraland, you are going about this all wrong! 😉

He goes on to write:

Were these outings enjoyable? Sort of, though spending time in Decentraland feels more interesting than fun, per se. Despite spending several hours in the world, I didn’t find a game or activity that captured my attention for more than a few minutes. There is no addictive dopamine vortex pulling me back in against my better judgment. 

I suspect I would feel differently if I were an enthusiastic or competent gambler. Across my various visits, Decentraland’s casinos were almost always the best-trafficked locations. Decentral Games run many, a startup that has raised a reported $5 million from investors like Digital Currency Group and operates as a DAO. Its locations include Chateau Satoshi, The Aquarium, and the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a riverboat casino. 

The result was that I experienced Decentraland similarly to Las Vegas, interesting as an anthropological study even if not a true pleasure trip. 

The comparison between Decentraland and Las Vegas is very apt!

Mario also talks about companies such as Ed Radion’s Squiggle School, which was founded to help teach people how to create content in both Decentraland and The Sandbox. Ed is quoted by Mario: “We’re all-in on The Sandbox. Their no-code game engine and design tool are easy to pick up, meaning the ecosystem will have more fun experiences than Decentraland…Decentraland struggles to engage non-landowners because their experiences have to be built in production-grade tools (Blender, Unity). Most people don’t have a clue how to do that or have the time to learn how.”

Mario also looks under the hood, talking about Decentraland’s three-layer protocol and peer-to-peer architecture in an accessible, easy-to-understand way. He also discusses the project’s Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO):

In early 2020, Decentraland completed one of its initial goals – to hand control of the project over to its community. It did so by formalizing a DAO and handing it power over the essential smart contracts controlling LAND, wearables, the marketplace, and more. If these were ever to change, it would be because the community voted for it, not because a single developer decided it was a good idea. 

Near the end of his report, Mario compares Decentraland to Roblox, talks a bit about Meta, and even namedrops a few competitor platforms already (or soon to be) in operation, mentioning The Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium Space (all of which I have written about previously). He adds:

A score more is on the rise, with some oriented explicitly as games and others going after multipurpose use. The first category includes Ember Sword by Bright Star Studios, Meilich’s Big TimeFaraway, and Defi Kingdoms. The second includes NFT OasisNFT WorldsNifty Island, and those that adhere to our real-world maps, like SuperWorld and Upland. Each new project can bring fresh ideas to the task of constructing the metaverse. 

Which means, I have a whole new bunch of blockchain-based virtual worlds to explore and write about!

In summary, Mario Gabriele has provided a well-written, insightful deep dive into the past history, current value, and potential future of Decentraland. If you want to learn more about Mario and his thoughts on a variety of tech topics, you can join his free mailing list via his website The Generalist, or follow him on Twitter (I just did!).

I do have a number of other thinkers whom I have been following on various social media in the virtual worlds, social VR, and metaverse space, and I hope to introduce you to more of these people over time (as well as any new metaverse platforms I come across in my travels!).