A Call for More Open, Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds
Blockchain-based virtual worlds are essentially next-generation internet platforms. They are social networks, e-commerce platforms, creative platforms, and games all rolled into one package. Their most powerful trait, however, is that they are user-owned. Users have direct ownership over parts of virtual worlds because they can purchase virtual land that has been tokenized on a blockchain. This direct ownership will likely increase the time, money, and effort that users will invest in these platforms.
I am a firm believer that these next-generation platforms are the early inklings of a true metaverse: a virtual environment where people live, work, and play. Because these platforms are so important to our digital future, I believe there will be hundreds of them. Each one will likely cater to a specific niche, similar to how the traditional centralized internet has different web platforms. Some websites focus on social media (Facebook), e-commerce (Amazon), entertainment (Netflix), etc. Today there are four main blockchain-based virtual worlds:
- Cryptovoxels (launched mid-2018)
- Decentraland (launched Feb 2020)
- Somnium Space (launched Feb 2020)
- The Sandbox (not live yet)
These projects are great and I hope they all succeed, but we need more. When evaluating a platform as powerful as a user-owned internet, we need many options and ideas. One of the many benefits of having multiple blockchain-based virtual worlds is competition. These worlds will compete against each other for users and thus the teams will work harder and evolve faster. Also, the idea of user-owned platforms is simply too valuable for the internet's future for there to only be a few options.
That being said, blockchain-based virtual worlds are not all built equal. I’m not interested in any more blockchain-based virtual worlds that do not embody the ethos of an open and transparent metaverse. Similar to how the United States Bill of Rights was created to establish a better and more free society, here is a list of values that any team building a blockchain-based virtual world should embrace. New platforms should use these values as their guiding North Star.
Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list, I am missing some points and some are probably debatable.,
Blockchain-Based Virtual World Values
- The team should engage in general relationship building with the community and discuss with the users on how to improve the platform.
- The team should be transparent about their actions.
- The team should be honest. (This seems rather obvious, but in today's world where misinformation is rife, people appreciate the cold hard truth - even if they do not agree with it.)
- The team should be open about the platform’s information. (Although related to the above point about transparency, open information is more about allowing the community to see the platform’s raw data.)
- The platform should be interoperable, allowing projects and users from other virtual worlds to use their assets within it.
- The team should encourage users to build and design tools that enable them to be as creative as possible.
- Users should be allowed to freely move in and out of the world.
- Users should be allowed to add URL links to third-party websites.
Now that the foundational values have been set, let's examine the actual strategy for launching a blockchain-based virtual world.
Blockchain-Based Virtual World Strategy
- With such a small number of users in the NFT scene (roughly 20,000 as of April 2020), it’s probably best to start out small and grow as the NFT market grows. Hiring a large team could make the burn rate of your company higher than what the NFT market can support.
When raising venture capital, find a partner, not an investor.
- NFTs and virtual worlds are a small and emerging market, so a founder should find a venture capital firm (or angel investor) that is completely aligned with their mission. This type of product is a long-term investment, not a quick flip. Having investors that share your mission and values will pay dividends in the long run.
Build a community.
- The community is everything. They create the content in the virtual world and act as evangelists.
Focus on an NFT niche (gaming, crypto art, events, etc.).
- There are many different subcategories in the NFT ecosystem. Focus on a niche of hardcore users to start and expand from there.
Get the community to have in-world events.
- In-world events build the community culture, act as a marketing tool, and allow the developers to test the capacity of the platform.
Sell the land for a low cost.
- The barriers to entry should be low so that newcomers are attracted to the world. If land becomes too expensive it will push new users towards cheaper worlds.
Do not immediately sell all of the land.
- It’s better to sell your world's land gradually over a long period of time. If it sells out immediately then the market could become controlled by whales. They might make the market price for land exceedingly high, discouraging new entrants (nobody wants to spend $500 to try out a virtual world).
That’s it for the general strategic approach to building a virtual world. Now let's dive into the specific features that users want.
Blockchain-Based Virtual World Features
When constructing a blockchain-based virtual world, these features should be highly prioritized.
- Allow voice chat, text chat, and all other forms of communication.
- The world should be readily accessible on multiple devices, including mobile, console, web browser, etc.
- Building and creating things in-world should be very simple. The goal should be to make it as simple as playing Minecraft. The easier it is to build the more content people will create, thus making the world more attractive.
- Enable users to link to YouTube videos, live streams, Zoom calls, etc. Being able to see speakers would take in-world events and presentations to the next level.
- Allow users to create their own digital goods and sell them to other users. The developer’s objective should be to create a thriving economy. Fewer rules tend to lead to higher GDP growth, while strict rules often limit GDP growth.
- Make user and sales data readily available and transparent for all users. If users have detailed data they can make more informed decisions, or even create their own business. One example would be if users could tell how many people are visiting their land, they can approach advertisers and ask if they would like to construct a billboard on their land.
Cryptovoxels is the blockchain-based virtual world that is closest to embodying these values, but we are slowly seeing other worlds open up and reach their same level of transparency and accessibility. I encourage any developer working on virtual worlds to study Cryptovoxels (and the other blockchain-based virtual worlds) before embarking on their own platform because there is so much to learn.
Note that many, but not all, of the above points, were spawned from conversations with Jin and Avaer of M3 (M3 discord link). M3 is a group working towards building an open metaverse, and I highly suggest anyone who is interested in this subject checks them out.
I envision a future with thousands of thriving virtual worlds with billions of dollars worth of economic activity. Having only 5-10 open, blockchain-based virtual worlds is too dangerous because these platforms represent a paradigm shift from platform-owned to user-owned. These platforms are also hugely important for the foundations of a future metaverse so relying on just a handful is also risky. We need to encourage any and all open, blockchain-based virtual worlds to experiment, launch, and strive for these values. These virtual cities provide clear evidence that the metaverse is forming, and now we all need to support them and their growth.