UPDATED: Virtual Universe Has Launched Their Game Portal

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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Virtual Universe Logo

This summer I have (rather impatiently) been waiting for the beta launch of the Virtual Universe social VR/MMO platform. The company’s original plans were for a private beta launch in July 2018, and a public beta launch in January 2019, and as far as I know, they are still on schedule.

In their whitepaper, VU is described as “part game, part social network, and part social creation platform, blending elements of Minecraft, Second Life and Simcity with innovative artificial-intelligence technologies that drive engagement”, and that is an excellent description of what it tries to be. It’s an intriguing mix of virtual world and MMO/MMORPG where you can collect wood, chop it up, and start a fire, feed worms to the AI-controlled bluebirds, or just explore your surroundings and interact with other users. As I understand from their recent Letter to the Community, explorers will be able to gather resources in the countryside in order to sell them:

Outside the city is our highly immersive LivingVR world, created from the ground up to feel as immersive as possible. Teeming with virtual life, beautiful sceneries and waiting to be explored by you. Let’s say you are exploring further than you have before and suddenly you discover a cave behind a waterfall. Inside it, you find rich copper deposits. You know copper is a desired resource in the city since its an ingredient in many crafting recipes for a wide variety of building blocks. You mine the copper and haul it back to the city. Once there you list your copper on the auction house and collect the cryptocurrency once someone wins the bid on it.

And it is not just resource gathering that can be done in VU, there will be plenty of quests available for you and your friends to experience exciting adventures with plenty of loot to be had!

We do know that there will be one main city in Virtual Universe, called Uruk (named after the ancient Sumerian city considered to be the first city in the history of civilization).

Today (July 6th, 2018), Virtual Universe officially launched their game portal:

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According to this brand-new website, you will be able to do the following in VU:

  • Own Property: Buy, sell, and invest in property. Purchase a unique property and customize it.
  • Start a Business: Generate BTC, ETH and VU through in-game product and service sales.
  • Find Hidden Treasure: Explore the planet and find hidden treasure. Recover lost artifacts in ancient ruins.
  • Adventure: Explore the Virtual Universe with your friends. Hang glide, sail, dive, and explore a vast world
  • Shape the Future: Shape the entire universe with decisions you make. Make your mark in VU.

Here’s the backstory:

THE STORY

You’re awake! Good. We have some catching up to do.

Earth as you know it is gone. Global warming and endless warfare left the planet in ruins. But humanity survived! Sort of… spaceships could make the journey to new planets, but human bodies couldn’t. They can’t survive any exposure to space radiation. The solution? House human consciousness in identity crystals, or IDCs for short, After all, isn’t consciousness that what makes a human, human?

So welcome to Uruk, the first city on the planet Raetis. For the past two years, your robot counterparts have been building Uruk. The ship you arrived on now serves as the city’s power source, which sits at the city center. We call this The Core. You’re joined by the thousands of other humans who continue to live through consciousness alone. It’s all right to not feel like yourself. Your chip has been activated inside an avatar, the way all humans now exist. So what’s next for you on this new planet? That’s for you to decide.

Explore Uruk with your friends. Sell your goods and services for real cryptocurrency. Even try on a new avatar for size – your IDC is compatible with any avatar here in Uruk. You aren’t confined in the borders of Uruk, either. The city relies on rare resources for power, which need to be uncovered and mined. You can help out, or simply explore the rest of your new home planet. But remember, most of Raetis is still a mystery. We can’t be sure what creatures or dangers lie amidst the planet’s rocky and cavernous landscape. The farther you venture from Uruk, the riskier your adventure becomes, so be careful!

It’s your life, do what you’d like. Welcome to your world.

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You can already claim an apartment from the website (there are 1,000 apartments available in what they are calling Genesis Towers):

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Here’s a sneak peek of the avatars from the Gameplay page on the website, which are a definite improvement over the simple placeholder avatars we used in my initial half-hour guided tour or Virtual Universe back in April:

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There are six different types of avatars, which at first glance appear to be similar to the character classes in most MMOs/MMORPGs like World of Warcraft:

  • Starter
  • Explorer
  • Creator
  • Merchant
  • Prospector
  • Warrior

And here’s some more details on the gameplay:

Play, explore and discover

Uruk is a gigantic city with endless opportunities. Participate in exciting adventures in the entertainment district, socialize with your friends in the finest clubs of the city and enjoy big community events!

Earn crypto rewards

Yup that’s right, you can earn cryptocurrency for playing our game. Help the community doing daily quests and get rewarded for your time and effort in VU tokens.

Harvest and sell resources

While you are exploring the vast landscape of planet Raetis, you will encounter a wide variety of resources. Gather these resources, bring them back to the city and sell them on the marketplace for cryptocurrency. But be careful, Raetis is full of hostile creatures so make sure you are prepared for battle before you venture into the unknown wilderness!

Shape the world around you

Collect enough VU tokens and you will be able to purchase your own plot of land on Raetis. Once you own your own corner of the world, you can shape it just the way you like it. Plant trees, place rocks, even design and construct your own home!

Customize yourself

Player will have a wide variety of avatars to choose from, all of them are highly modular so you can customize your character to make it unique!

Run a virtual business and earn crypto

If running around the world looking for rare resources is not your cup of tea then there is another major way for you to earn cryptos while playing VU: start your own virtual business! Purchase a commercial plot, construct one of the available player run ventures and start generating cryptocurrencies.

The website says, under the Beta tab:

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I did have a question. It says the VU closed beta is “only accessible to pioneers”, and when you click through, “This section is only accessible to pioneers. You can become a pioneer by purchasing VU tokens.” So, how will Chinese, Americans, and Canadians (like me) be able to participate in the VU closed beta if we are legally forbidden from buying VU tokens?

I asked this question on the official Virtual Universe Discord server, and Jeroen Van den Bosch, VU’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder, told me:

We are working on a way that token holders (not just buyers) can upgrade to pioneer (so that would include people participating in the bounty program). But that functionality is not ready yet.

VU is going to have to find ways to include people from countries where we cannot buy the VU token. Otherwise, they will be excluding a large number of potential players.

The more details that the team at Virtual Universe reveal, the more intrigued about this project I become! I’m looking forward to setting foot on the planet Raetis!

UPDATE July 8th: Virtual Universe has announced an airdrop of VU tokens, and their Telegram server has been inundated with floods of new users! Over half of the 1,000 free apartments in Genesis Towers have already been claimed, and the rest are expected to sell out within the next 12 hours, so if you’re interested, you’d better hurry!

SECOND UPDATE July 9th: The apartments in Genesis Towers have sold out!

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A Detailed List of VR Cryptocurrencies

VRCryptocurrencies 4 July 2018.pngThere’s a new website called VRCryptocurrencies.com, which has published a list of VR cryptocurrencies. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll see a lot of familiar names on that list:

Plus a whole bunch of new ones I had never heard of before:

Now, some of these do not appear to be social VR apps, so I won’t bother covering them on this blog. But there are a few interesting ones that merit further investigation!

The VRCurrencies website has a blog as well, which looks like it could be a good place to keep abreast of news regarding virtual reality-based cryptocurrency/blockchain projects in future. As I have stated before, I am extremely wary of crypto/blockchain VR projects at this point:

…I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!

Is the Virtual Worlds Community an Echo Chamber? Is There a Hard Upper Limit to Public Interest in Virtual Worlds?

I usually check the newsfeeds of Google News for my news highlights of the day (I rarely watch TV anymore, and I check the newspapers maybe 2 or 3 times a week, max). So imagine my surprise when, on a whim, I searched Google News today for “Second Life 15th anniversary”, just to see what coverage there was of last week’s event:

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Zip. Nada. Zilch. Not a single mention of Second Life’s 15th anniversary in any of the current news media sources that Google News indexes! (I got the same results on “Second Life 15th birthday”.)

So I sat down and thought about what this might mean. Why is it that something that was a (relatively) big deal in virtual world news got so little mainstream press coverage, despite (I assume) the best efforts of Linden Lab to do PR and get the word out?

Tie into that the current difficulties that High Fidelity, Sinespace, Sansar, and other firms are having in attracting people to their social VR/virtual world platforms, and I have a theory. Hear me out.

Could it be that the virtual worlds community is so (relatively) small and insular, that it has developed into its own echo chamber? According to Wikipedia:

The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber.

When we talk about virtual worlds, are we pretty much only talking to—and listening to—each other? A closed community that is not listening to the outside world, perhaps thinking that it is more important than it really is? (I have noticed that I have tended to run into exactly the same people on every virtual world platform I have visited over the past 11 years.) Do we tend to stick to our own blogs and discussion groups (hello, Plurk!), and therefore become resistant to messages coming in from the outside? Are the metaverse companies (and their current customers) convincing themselves that virtual world platforms are a more vital and necessary service than the rest of the population believes? Maybe.

It might explain why Second Life never really broke through to the next level, even though it has pretty much kept 500,000-600,000 active user accounts over the past decade or so, despite the addition of thousands of new accounts each and every month.

And, even more ominously, it might just explain why the other, newer virtual world platforms are having some trouble breaking into the marketplace. What if that pool of less than a million people is the entire potential audience that virtual worlds—all virtual worlds—can attract? In other words, is there a hard upper limit in public interest in virtual worlds? Are all these metaverse companies fighting each other over a pie that is never going to get any bigger?

And if that is true, then what happens when most of those people are already happily settled in Second Life, prefer life in their own isolated little world with its echo chamber, and don’t feel the need to venture out any further?

What do you think of these ideas? Sound off in the comments…

A Crypto Journalist Critiques Mark Space

Cryptocurrency journalist and author Ian DeMartino has written an (unfortunately undated) detailed critique of the blockchain-based virtual world Mark Space on the AllCrypto.com website.

Mark Space 23 Jun 2018

Ian decided to do some investigation of Mark Space, and he answers a question I had had about the company’s previously-announced links to Land Rover and Jaguar:

I decided to investigate them with a critical eye, this is what I found.

I first noticed a Jaguar/Land Rover logo on their main page, claiming them as a partner. They also announced the partnership in a press release posted on Medium. I found this claim to be somewhat dubious because I couldn’t find a corresponding press release from Jaguar/Land Rover or its Russian division.

I contacted Jaguar/Land Rover’s corporate office and they told me they were not aware of any partnership with MARK.SPACE but got me into contact with their Russian division. The Russian department did say that they talked to MARK.SPACE but also confirmed that they have no such partnership.

The next day, the Jaguar/Land Rover logo was removed from MARK.SPACE’s site, though the Press Release remains unedited on Medium. I asked MARK.SPACE’s Editor and Community Manager Boris Baranov about this and he told me that they had discussions with Jaguar/Land Rover Russia and had a signed document. I am currently waiting for proof of that document to be emailed to me and will update this space if I receive it.

The second thing I wanted to look at was the concept of the project itself. MARK.SPACE foresees a future where people buy real estate in virtual reality, real estate that can only be purchased with their token.

In their vision, there will be different districts, like residential and business, and users and businesses would customize their spaces to entice virtual shoppers to their virtual stores. Customers will walk around mall-like virtual environments and purchase goods using the MARK.SPACE token, all inside the virtual space.

I have quite a few issues with this plan. First, virtual space, by its definition, should be limited only by the cost of storage. Artificially limiting it through a blockchain seems like a solution with no problem.

Ian goes on, as I had blogged about back in February, about what Mark Space calls “VR”:

In the creation section of the demo, you can pick from a few preset apartments and add flat pictures and add various objects. The problem is that there is no 3D space represented at all. You just place flat images on other flat images. If it doesn’t look natural, that’s fine. In fact, it rarely looks natural. They give you the option to “rotate” an object, but currently that just flips the image. Likewise, pulling the object closer to you simply makes the image larger, with no scaling or definition.

The entire article is well worth a read. Ian wraps up his critique by saying:

Having some dubious connection to the blockchain doesn’t change anything. I’m obviously a big believer in blockchain technology, but it isn’t just something you can slap onto any emergent technology and expect it to make everything better. There must be a use for it that other services can’t provide. Adding another layer of payment by artificially limiting virtual real estate isn’t fixing a problem, it’s creating one.

VR is cool, Blockchains are interesting. That doesn’t mean investors should throw their money at anyone who says those industry buzzwords. The MARK.SPACE demo is really bad VR and the MARK.SPACE token is a really [bad] crypto.

Stay away at all costs, or at least until they come out with a product that actually has some potential.

Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars: A Look at Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary

Alice Bonasio has written an article for The Next Web about Draxtor Despres (a.k.a. Bernhard Drax in real life) and his recently-completed documentary called Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me.

Titled Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars, the article looks at how a variety of differently abled people choose to represent themselves in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

For those that speculate about the potential of social VR, it is interesting to note how inhabiting a virtual world allows these people to form and maintain meaningful relationships and connections with others, as SL user iSkye Silverweb recounts:

I don’t think my partner and I ever would have met in the physical world, even if we were in the same city, and it is because I am deaf.  Communication IS an issue for me; I would always be concerned about it, with meeting anyone.

It’s a raw and intensely emotional investigation into the power of living vicariously through an avatar, and how this – as one user puts it – “provides her with sustenance” and helps people to cope with all manner of both mental and physical disabilities.

It’s a great article and I urge you to go over to The Next Web and read it in full.

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Cody Lascala wearing a VR headset in Sansar

Why I Am Excited About Virtual Universe

Yeah, can you tell I am excited about the upcoming beta launch of Virtual Universe?

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(Image courtesy of the Distracted Boyfriend Meme Generator)

And yes, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is because it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer. Here’s a 10-minute video which explains the partner program in a lot more detail:


I think that Linden Lab should consider such a program to pay people in Sansar dollars for promoting Sansar on their various social media.

But people have been asking me, why am I excited about VU as opposed to other blockchain-based virtual world platforms?

Well, if you haven’t seen my recent half-hour guided tour of VU, I suggest you set aside some time to watch the whole video. I have been blistering in my criticism of other blockchain-based virtual world projects which are more hype than substance (Decentraland is a classic example) because they don’t have anything that you can actually visit yet. But in Virtual Universe, they not only have a place you can visit (currently, only by appointment), but they also have a very easy in-world content creation tool that is actually fun to use! And I was impressed by the many little added touches such as AI-controlled animals like lizards, rabbits, and bluebirds, even individual insects!

Now, Virtual Universe still has a lot of work left to do. Any virtual world project is a mammoth undertaking, and they still have to polish the user avatars (the current ones are merely placeholders, from what I understand) and other features. But it’s a very promising, and very impressive, start.

So yes, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the beta version of Virtual Universe, even though Sansar is still my first love (and the reason I created this blog in the first place).

Worldopoly: Yet Another Blockchain-Based Virtual World

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(Image taken from the cover of the Worldopoly White Paper)
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(Screen capture of an artist’s representation of Worldopoly)

Worldopoly was mentioned today on the official Virtual Universe Discord server (here’s the original tweet), so I thought I’d check it out.

All the major buzzwords are present and accounted for…

  • Augmented reality? Check.
  • Artificial intelligence? Check.
  • Blockchain? Check.
  • DAG? DAG?!?? Why, Directed Acyclic Graph, of course! Check!

This hits all the buzzword buttons! I swear, the venture capitalists must have been lining up to fund this project!

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Here’s their promo video:

Worldopoly appears to be a geolocation-based game similar to Ingress or Pokémon Go. It’s based on real maps in real cities where you buy property, kind of like what Twinity used to have in the early days. In this “Meet the Team” video, the ideas behind Worldopoly are explained in more detail:

In this next video, Worldopoly is described by YouTuber and cryptocurrency promoter ActionChris as Pokémon Go, Clash of Clans, Fishbank, Cryptokitties, and SimCity all rolled into one:

Of course, there is an appeal to potential players’ greed, shilling virtual land as an investment and a money-making opportunity (just like Decentraland). One twist is that your enemies can fire-bomb the properties you own with a virtual Molotov cocktail! Of course, you can pay extra for “protection”. (rolls eyes)

I swear, the collision of so many buzzwords and so much hyperbole has the potential to create a black hole! According to this article, their initial coin offering (ICO) will end in July 2018, and Worldopoly will be available to download from the iTunes App Store and the Google Play store in November 2018.

Finally, here’s a demo of how you play the game on your mobile device (cellphone or tablet):

Frankly, the appeal of this game mystifies me. According to this last video, the developers are assuming that players are going to want to build virtual properties (and pay protection money!) in order to generate revenue from visitors…but why? Why bother? What’s the appeal? I just don’t get the concept. Maybe I’m missing something here, but to me, it just looks boring. Sorry, but I remain rather skeptical about this.

There’s already a Worldopoly app called the AirMiner that you can download for iPhone or Android, where you can collect Worldopoly tokens for later use in the game when it launches.

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When I loaded it onto my iPhone, it told me that two tokens were right nearby—in the local river! Sorry, but I’m not going swimming to retrieve them!