While I have mentioned The Sandbox before on this blog, I decided that it was high time to write an update about the hot new blockchain-based, voxel-themed virtual world, which has attracted such intense interest and speculation, even before the doors open to the general public!
Here’s a teaser trailer from last year, which gives an overview of what The Sandbox is all about:
The Sandbox is best known for its two smash mobile hits The Sandbox (2011) and The Sandbox Evolution (2016), which combined generated 40 million downloads across iOS and Android. In 2018, developer/Publisher Pixowl decided to bring this successful User Generated Content gaming IP and large community of creators from mobile to the blockchain ecosystem. The goal: disrupt existing game makers like Minecraft and Roblox by providing creators with true ownership of their creations as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and reward them for their participation in the ecosystem.
What’s even more eyebrow-raising is that, in the past week, almost ten million dollars (U.S.) worth of virtual property has changed hands—and all this before an official launch of The Sandbox! The previously-mentioned Republic Realm shared the following infographic in a recent blogpost, showing just how the value of recent sales in The Sandbox far, far outstrips that of other, already-launched blockchain-based competitors such as Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space:
So, what is it about The Sandbox that people are falling all over themselves in bidding wars for virtual property? Well, on their website, the company describes their product as follows:
The Sandbox is a virtual Metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences. We empower artists, creators, and players to build the platform they’ve always envisioned, providing them with the means to unleash their creativity.
The Sandbox, in addition to its NFT-based virtual land, has a cryptocurrency called (of course!) SAND, which you can use to buy and sell assets on their Marketplace, such as voxel sneakers for your avatar:
Among the partners participating in The Sandbox (and presumably selling officially branded merch you can’t get anywhere else!) are Adidas, Atari, deadmau5, Snoop Dogg, the Smurfs (?!), the Care Bears (?!?!??), and the zombie franchise The Walking Dead. Looks like somebody at the company building The Sandbox has been quite busy on the marketing, sponsorships, and partnerships front, people!
The Sandbox also seems to be positioning itself as a Roblox and Minecraft competitor, in that it boasts a Game Maker, which allows users to create their own games on the platform without needing to know how to code:
Another key component of The Sandbox is a downloadable program called VoxEdit. which “allows you to create, rig, and animate your own voxel-based NFTs” and “sell them on The Sandbox’s marketplace”:
As I mentioned earlier, The Sandbox is not open to the general public yet. They recently concluded a first closed alpha test, with a limited group of alpha testers, and apparently, they are planning a second alpha test (“Alpha Season 2”) sometime in the near future:
All in all, The Sandbox seems to have done a masterful job of promotion and marketing. They have successfully generated a level of hype that I have not witnessed in the blockchain-based virtual world space since Decentraland raised millions of dollars in its epic ICO!
P.S. As I expect I will be writing more about The Sandbox in future, I have decided to create a new blog category called The Sandbox, and go back and add this new category to all the older blogposts where I mentioned the platform.
There’s a new website which examines and analyzes the various blockchain-based virtual land platforms that have been springing up, called NFT Estate. (NFT, of course, stands for Non-Fungible Tokens, the concept that blockchain-based property is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH).
As far as I am aware, the website is not tracking those platforms which have a cryptocurrency, but do not have blockchain-based virtual land for sale (for example, NeosVR). The focus here appears to be squarely on blockchain-based property.
Our mission here at NFT.estate is to help showcase and introduce our exciting new world, to the rest of the world. We believe that the NFT space has so much potential in the coming years and that the more people who join us on that journey ahead the better for the whole space. At NFT.estate we strive to introduce the best of the well established as well as the new, up and coming projects, creators and innovators of the non fungible world.
The data includes charts with seven-day trading volumes scraped from OpenSea:
Looking at this chart, I do find it interesting that Somnium Space (the green bar) has seen a surge in trading activity in the most recent week, outstripping even Decentraland (the red bar)! It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.
Today is officially the last day of the week-long land auctions for the blockchain-based virtual world Somnium Space. You can check out the status of the auctions using their up-to-date land auction map (which might take a minute or two to load on slower computers).
Red parcels were those which were claimed before the auction as an incentive for investors in their previous crowdfunding initiatives (approximately 500 parcels in total). There are 4,500 parcels up for grabs this week to the highest bidder. Yellow parcels are those which have bids in the auction. Green parcels are those which have not been bid on.
Here’s what the map looks like (in two sections, top half and bottom half), as of today around 2:00 p.m. Central Standard Time:
As you can see, there’s a veritable sea of green parcels on the Somnium Space map, and not a lot of yellow ones. Compare this to the bidding frenzy that occurred in both of Decentraland’s previous land auctions, in which almost every single parcel of land was sold.
The team over at Somnium Space must be feeling a little surprised by the (relative) lack of response from bidders, and I must admit that I am feeling somewhat surprised myself.
So, why aren’t people (yet) flocking to Somnium Space as they did to Decentraland? Why aren’t people choosing to spend their money on cheaper virtual land that offers much greater creative possibilities?
One of the issues may be timing. Decentraland started off with an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) at the height of the cryptocurrency mania, which generated a lot of money (millions of dollars) and a lot of interest because it raised so much money. Somnium Space started off with less of a bang, as a non-blockchain project which had blockchain added afterwards. At the time of Somnium Space’s land auction, the bloom has definitely come off the rose for blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which might explain the relatively sedate pace of bidding compared to the frenzy over Decentraland in their two previous LAND auctions.
Another reason might be that Somnium Space is still a relatively new and untested platform (particularly the new, contiguous version 2.0 landscape), and potential investors might be cautious, wanting to wait and see what the early pioneers are going to do with the land they bought. As someone said on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel in talking about thos week’s Somnium Space auction:
Unless the worlds become bustling with life and events and creators and MONEY, nobody will ever want to buy more land (only if they are still sick with blockchain hype). Buying an abstract piece of “land” in some obscure world that might or might not become popular is a gamble, and the only winning party here is the House, aka the creator.
Decentraland may not compare that favourably to Somnium Space in terms of technical features, but it does hum with money—the millions of dollars that MANA and LAND speculators invested ensure that DCL gets the white-hot spotlight of more attention, including mainstream news media coverage from places such as CBC Radio and the BBC. Once a project gets that level of coverage, it almost takes on a life of its own. And Somnium Space will likely need to get that kind of attention, that kind of coverage, in order to succeed. (I mean, I’m covering it, but I’m just a niche blog with 600-6,000 viewers a day! That’s peanuts.)
It will be interesting to watch as both Somnium Space and Decentraland evolve and adapt to circumstances in future. I wish both companies every success in their endeavours, and good luck! They will both need it. (Remember, Facebook is planning to launch a social VR platform and a cryptocurrency next year. Don’t think for a moment that they haven’t considered combining the two in some fashion.)
UPDATE 7:34 p.m.: I wanted to add a time-lapse video of Somnium Space’s in-world building tools in action, since not a lot of people have had an opportunity to try them out yet:
Where information differs between these two reports, I have chosen the more recently updated version, the Crypto Cities report.
Decentraland and Cryptovoxels are two virtual worlds that currently exist on the Ethereum blockchain. Both of these virtual worlds are divided into square pieces often referred to as parcels, aligned on a grid to form a city. In both virtual worlds, land parcels are a non-fungible asset maintained in Ethereum ERC-721 smart contracts.
Unlike many other social VR projects such as Sansar and High Fidelity, where the company has built the virtual world over time in anticipation of earning future income from users, Decentraland started with a well-timed, highly successful Initial Coin Offering (ICO) of their cryptocurrency token, MANA, in August 2017, raising US$24 million in less than a minute! This was followed by two successive auctions of virtual land parcels (called LAND), which were also very successful. Today, MANA has a market capitalization of approximately US$50 million. Decentraland is based in Argentina, and currently employs an estimated 45 people full time.
Contrast this with Cryptovoxels, which started in 2018 as a part-time project by a single New Zealand software developer, Ben Nolan. Cryptovoxels has been funded to a total of approximately US$140,000 worth of Ethereum (ETH) over the course of one year of virtual land parcel sales. This profit has recently enabled Ben to be able to work on the project full-time.
Project Size and Maps
In terms of overall size of the projects, Decentraland is approximately 23 times bigger than Cryptovoxels:
Decentraland itself is about half the size of Manhattan in New York City:
Jin reports on the differences between maps:
Decentraland’s atlas hasn’t changed much since the auction. The content that’s currently deployed into the world is not displayed on the marketplace map. Some wonder if this may have been a factor leading to several anomalies of parcels having sold for enormous sums of money.
We’ve analyzed the blockchain a few times since September 2018 to see how much content was deployed to Genesis City. – In September 2018 there was ~63 parcels with content deployed – In January 2019 there was ~100 parcels with content deployed – In July 2019 there were 24,000 parcels deployed*
(*see UPDATE at the end of this blogpost)
The Cryptovoxels map shows content that’s currently deployed to the city as well as analytics and other useful features. Anyone can jump into the world right now and try before they buy.
Content Creation Pipelines
In Decentraland, the content creation pipeline is asynchronous and somewhat difficult to master: publishing custom content requires users to know command-line and editing JSON files. For any custom models you will have to rely on using the SDK and setting positions of objects manually through code. Earlier this year, a simple drag-and-drop editor for novice users was created, called the Builder.
The editor for Cryptovoxels appears in-world when you press the Tab key. You can edit and publish to the content server seamlessly and in real-time, similar to games like Minecraft. You can add or remove different types of blocks to build any shape you want. You can even further decorate it with images, audio, art, texts, hyperlinks, ERC-721s, GIFs, etc. Changes to the parcel are saved automatically so that if you log out and log back in you see the changes persist.
There was no massive auction for Cryptovoxels land parcels; the project started off as a very small community that has grown bigger over time in an organic fashion, as parcels are minted slowly outwards from The Center. CV has grown by leaps and bounds within the past few months, as can be seen from this comparative illustration:
Average land sales from Cryptovoxels are beginning to catch up to the Decentraland market. However, it is worth noting that the entire market for DCL post-auction is now second hand. Cryptovoxels did not have a massive auction and instead mints new lands with procedural generation scripts for the size of each parcel and road.
Average Cost of Land Parcels
Land in Decentraland is significantly more expensive than Cryptovoxels. Currently, the lowest price for parcels in Cryptovoxels is about 20-25% that of the lowest price of parcels in Decentraland.
One significant difference between Cryptovoxels and Decentraland is that Cryptovoxels supports users in VR headsets, while Decentraland does not, and it is unlikely that the platform will do so anytime in the near future.
Some Final Figures
Current/Accessible Supply of Land
Total Supply of Land
This blogpost would have been impossible without the tireless work of CL and Jin, from whose reports I drew most of this information. Thank you!
*UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: Apparently, Decentraland (the company) is very unhappy with this blogpost, and I have been approached by a representative of the company who tells me that “your latest article contains lots of discrepancies and out of date data”.
The company feels in particular that Jin’s portrayal of Decentraland is unfairly negatively biased, but when I asked the representative for a list of concrete examples of errors made in this report, all he could give me was one figure, “In July 2019 there were 24,000 parcels deployed“, to replace one of Jin’s statements, which I have now inserted above.
I appear to have gotten myself caught in between two sides of a dispute, with Decentraland (with whom I felt I had a very good working relationship) on one side of the argument, and Jin (with whom I have worked before without incident) on the other side. I hate being caught in the middle like this, and I don’t appreciate being caught in the cross-fire.
From my perspective, the blogpost I wrote today seems to be very even, not painting either company in a bad light in any way whatsoever. I pride myself on being as accurate as possible in my reporting, especially where facts are concerned, and if a company has a serious problem with something I have written, then I will certainly address the issue, BUT I NEED A LIST OF WHAT THE FACTUAL ERRORS ARE AND WHAT THE CORRECT FACTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. And so far, I have only had one factual error pointed out to me, and not “lots of discrepancies and out of date data”, which is what I was originally told by the Decentraland representative. The company seems to be very upset about how this blogpost makes them look, when I think it makes them look pretty good. I’m very confused. What did I do wrong here? This episode has just left a bad taste in my mouth.
SECOND UPDATE Sept. 13th: I have since received an apology from the DCL representative, which I have accepted. He had been at the end of a very, very long workday, and was not at his most diplomatic in asking for corrections, and I took what he said the wrong way. We are both moving on from this unfortunate episode. This is just a bump on the road forward.
There is still much left to write about Decentraland, and (as my regular blog readers already well know) I will not shy away from reporting both the good things and the bad things as they happen, at all the companies working on the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds I cover on this blog.
Sometimes we just need to take a step back and appreciate just how far we’ve come in the development of all these projects. Both Cryptovoxels and Decentraland have come a long way in a very short time, and both are truly pioneers. I look forward to seeing how both develop and evolve over time and I wish both teams the best in their future endeavours.