People have always been drawn to the idea of a different world to escape to. Whether that is via an engaging book with a fantasy setting, a movie with an awesome alternate sci-fi universe, or a game with a virtual world like Second Life. In these settings, people are able to see themselves as something entirely different than what they are in their day-to-day lives. And this trend doesn’t seem to subside anytime soon. If anything, we see the possibilities of immersing oneself into a virtual world explode due to new technologies like virtual reality. Furthermore, we see that blockchain technology is enhancing this experience by for the first time enabling parts of this world to be truly owned by the virtual inhabitants, creating a new world where efforts are valued and services, work, and entertainment are paid for.
Decentraland is in the forefront with actualizing this vision.
In essence, Decentraland is one big virtual marketplace where people buy and sell different plots of land. These LANDS are then theirs to do with as they please. The virtual land size per parcel is 16m x 16m (52ft x52ft), and since you can build at least 20 meters high (if you own multiple plots of LAND adjacent to each other the limit increases), the possibilities for developing the land are endless. In total the virtual world consists of 90.000 parcels, making Decentralands’ surface a whopping 23 square kilometers in total.
Decentraland grants its inhabitants tools to make the most of their parcel. The Decentraland builder enables you to create your own 3D models and objects to place unto your land, and recently it became possible to import your own custom assets as well. This ensures a certain degree of creative freedom that attracts digital artists, who in turn can gain attention and income by showcasing their designs. More on this later.
So far, it may seem that Decentraland is just another virtual world, just a game, but what makes Decentraland revolutionary – and why it got our attention – is the fact that this entire virtual world is built on top of a blockchain. Every parcel of land and every object built placed there is using Ethereums’ non-fungible ERC 721 token. In ERC-721, each token is completely unique and non-interchangeable with other tokens.
So what makes these tokens so different?
Firstly, the parcel itself is (based on) a non-fungible token. This causes every single plot of land to be scarce, and unique. Decentraland has a limited supply of LAND available and we already see investors buying up property speculating that the prices will go up in the future. And the scarcity hasn’t gone unnoticed. The most expensive plot of LAND sold for 2,000,000 MANA in March of 2018, or about $175,000 at the time, and the cheapest plot of LAND still costs close to $400 at the time of writing. Besides the LAND, all digital art found in the virtual world is also a non-fungible token or NTF. The main advantage of this is that it makes the digital art rare, enabling it far easier for the artists to monetize their art. Every piece is verifiably unique. Whereas currently everyone can copy and sell someone’s creations (for example a stolen design that can later be found on a t-shirt or as a poster) we can now tell for certain which pieces are unique and one of a kind.
This is a major shift for artists who in the past could only hope that their art wasn’t stolen. The NFTs can be used for digital art, acknowledging that it is the original, one of a kind, authentic piece of art. Another way for artists to monetize their creations is by applying smart contracts enabling reoccurring fees from subsequent sales. However this may evolve, it finally grants artists their much-needed copyright on digital items. And it’s not only for art. Players’ personal avatars and their accomplishments can also be saved as an NFT, making it possible to transfer that NFT to another world or game, finally enabling players to not see finishing a game as the end of a character, and losing all their progress in the process. Instead, they can now look at that character being one they can take with them for life, showing off accolades gained in previous games as they progress their digital journey.
Because of this extra monetary incentive, we see some of the more creative minds get attracted by Decentraland and its unique features. In particular creators of digital art, be it CGI(computer-generated imagery)-experts, animators, graphic designers, or pretty much every other kind of audio-visual designers are drawn to this virtual world to showcase their creations, with the potential of selling their art, getting (freelance) assignments or simply spreading awareness of their capabilities.
Districts and area’s of interest
The world of Decentraland boxes together the LAND of different sets of like-minded individuals, and parcel buyers into Districts. Making sure that people that might be interested in, let’s say gaming art don’t have to walk miles and miles to find pieces on display from multiple artists, but combining these parcels in a museum-like fashion. And while this is definitely convenient for the players themselves, it also heightens the worth of the parcels in the direct neighborhood. Essentially it’s an honest free market in play that, in time, will show what people with certain interests are most interested in, both in a particular niche and in Decentraland itself.
If, for example, a lot of people are interested in Decentraland AND in Pokémon art, they would probably be most interested in buying a parcel of LAND in the Pokémon neighborhood. There they can find a mix of different artists showing their cutest Pokémon digital art. But even though we use digital art as an example in this article by no means is Decentraland restricted or limited to art itself. Another way players can use their LAND is to set up a shop selling items as well. In the Pokémon example this could mean that people see that the Pokémon corner has the most visitors, making its land the most valuable and making it a prime location for a Pokémon shop, which specializes In Pokémon assorted gear, visuals, or perhaps Pokémon clothing for your avatar. The possibilities are immense and we are seeing the first glimpses of a truly free market in a virtual world with items that are valuable itself and can transfer its value to the real world. Amazing if you think about it.
And there aren’t only districts in Decentraland that are related to (digital) art. Even though the amount of inhabitants is still relatively low, we already see a wide variety of districts that have popped up. Ranging from Cyberphunk areas to shopping and education areas. Just like in the real world there are also more mature districts such as the gambling district and the red light district, and just like in every major city we see a Chinese district. In essence, you could have an entirely new experience every time you log into the game and walk to a new district.
The best way to fully immerse yourself in this world and to view the districts in Decentraland is by using a Virtual Reality goggle, but since the prices of VR are still quite high this does bring some limitations. And currently, the goggles aren’t Decentralands’ only limitations.
Decentraland still isn’t actually open to the public. Their initial deadline of Q2 2019 has not been held, and so far it isn’t yet clear when the gates will be opened. The first visitors were allowed to enter the beta version of Decentraland August second, and the first public access is expected to be available in Q4. We do see new images and videos being uploaded from a select group of people who have access to Decentrland every now and then, but for the general public, it isn’t in fact ‘playable’ yet.
A couple of months ago they did share their roadmap and for now, we have to be satisfied that open access is in the ‘next’ column. However, to be fair, we aren’t deterred about the postponing of their deadline. In general, the gaming industry has a hand into making release dates to rigid, resulting in unfinished games that have to receive multiple patches before reaching a pleasurable gaming experience. We’d rather see Decentraland take some time releasing a good, and working product instead of a buggy mess. And since they are pioneering with blockchain technology it’s understandable that they will have to solve some never before encountered problems.
And we’re happy to see the Decentraland team pumping out updates, features, and patches in a regular fashion. The team is very active both in the development and social media area. Looking at everything they have planned to deliver, it seems the end product (if they ever consider Decentraland ‘done’) will result in a very interesting experience indeed.
In the end Decentraland is pioneering in a space we believe will have a very interesting future. Blockchain and gaming look like they will have a strong relationship in the future, mix in Non-Fungible Tokens and real scarce virtual real estate upon which you can build whatever you want, and an interesting mix is developing. The strength of the concept lies in being able to create a virtual world wherein you can do, and be, whatever you want. Feel like gambling some of your mana away? You can. Feel like strolling to a chillout spot where someone is showcasing his or her music? You can. Want to buy some items for your avater, which are authentic and scarce? You can. Want to find some talent that is able to make your website design or logo? You can. It all depends on Decentralands’ inhabitants and their imagination.
But Decentraland isn’t there yet. Since the world isn’t really opened yet for the public to do as they please, a lot of it seems to be somewhat conceptual. We don’t know for sure if Decentraland will be able to host thousands, if not hundreds of thousands players at the same time, and if the network will be able to register all the transactions. Bugs might ruin the gaming experience and when some unforeseen major error happens it could result in everyone wanting to cash out and sell their property at the same time, crashing the market and your (virtual) real estate investment. Nevertheless, we are looking to buy some top-notch prime piece of land, albeit just to experience this new world. We just hope it won’t be Second Life 2.0.
If you want to be one of the first people available to get an invite to Decentraland be sure to make an avatar via their hub at https://avatars.decentraland.org/home. Every avatar will be unique with a unique name, and you will be able to customize your appearance.