Robert has reported for a variety of international publications including the Associated Press, The Guardian, Vice, and Decrypt. Current areas of interest include the political economy of technology, cryptocurrencies, and privacy. Robert has a Bachelor of Science from UCL, and a Master's degree from the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.
Decentraland is a videogame based around cryptocurrencies. It plays a little like a cryptocurrency-enabled version of Second Life, the alternate reality simulation video game (or “sim”) from the early 2000s, and looks a bit like Minecraft.
But the difference between conventional videogames and Decentraland is that the latter is owned by members of its community, who vote on its future using MANA, the game’s virtual currency.
This is partly because voters aren’t just players, they’re landowners. The game hosts 90,000 plots of virtual land, designated as LAND. These LAND tokens are NFTs—non-fungible tokens, which prove ownership over a single item on the blockchain. Each is exactly 256 square meters of virtual space.Buy and Sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, and over a dozen other cryptocurrencies with Wealthsimple. Sign up and Trade here.
The game was created in 2016 by a group of developers in Argentina but is now built by a global community of animators, artists, and game developers. It raised $24 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) in 2017, then launched in a closed beta in 2019 before opening its doors to the public in February 2020.
How to play Decentraland
The game runs on web browsers through Decentraland’s website. You’ll need a PC or Mac running the Chrome or Firefox browsers. At present, Decentraland doesn’t support mobile devices.
You’ll then need to get a cryptocurrency wallet that’s supported by your browser, like MetaMask. These cryptocurrency wallets work across the blockchain world, and most apps support MetaMask—consider it like adding a PayPal account to a website.
You can choose to play as a guest or create an account. Either way, the first thing you’ll have to do is create your character. Choose a gender, set of clothes, body shape, and face (or let Decentraland randomize it all for you) and then you’re good to go.
You’ll start off in Genesis City, a magical world built on top of clouds. The 3D world is filled with other players. Dive into a waterfall and you’ll get into the game’s main world.
From there, you can speak to other players, play games, or explore the world, which is full of user-generated content. Players have created wondrous houses, interactive experiences and even virtual music festivals.
How Decentraland works
The entire world is cut up into 90,000 chunks of LAND, which you can buy on Decentraland’s in-game marketplace using MANA, the game’s virtual currency. You can do whatever you want on these LAND plots, similar to Second Life.
According to the game’s docs, these plots are “permanently owned,” and give users “full control over the environments and applications that they create, which can range from anything like static 3D scenes to more interactive applications or games.”
Some plots are further grouped into districts: communities that bunch up together to further some common interest. Parcels of LAND in districts can’t be traded.
The entire game is controlled by a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, which uses MANA tokens to vote on what things should be developed next.
The DAO replaces traditional development companies, which develop video games behind closed doors. Proposed votes on Decentraland cover things as diverse as inverting the y-axis of the mouse to hiring community members and paying them a salary.
Enacted proposals include integrating Decentraland with decentralized finance protocols, banning certain users from chat and voice, and adding well-designed plots of LAND to a Points of Interest list.
Decentraland and the metaverse
One neat feature of Decentraland is that plots of LAND can integrate with other bits of blockchain culture. For instance, virtual art galleries can host famous NFT art by connecting the relevant Ethereum tokens to empty paintings. The advantage is that you can prove that the art in the galleries represents genuine NFTs.
Decentraland is thus part of what is known as the metaverse. The term, now bandied about by titans of tech like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, refers to shared virtual online spaces that persist across different websites.
Decentralized technologies like cryptocurrencies are commonly regarded as one of the ways to make this happen. The NFT art that plugs into Decentraland exists on the Ethereum blockchain. They can’t be erased or altered and the owner of that NFT is the only one who can control the tokens. So, when an art gallery in Decentraland hosts that NFT, they are simply calling a function on the Ethereum blockchain.
It is clear that Decentraland’s ambition is to be a hub for the metaverse in virtual reality. The 3D world sold out shortly after launch and is home to a variety of social events, including a music festival and a virtual shopping district.
And to make this happen, Decentraland is relying on its community. The game’s co-founders, Ariel Meilich and Esteban Ordano, have since stepped down from leading positions at the project but carry on as advisors.
How to buy LAND
You can choose plots of LAND here, on the game’s official marketplace, or on secondary NFT marketplaces like OpenSea. Each LAND parcel is already owned by someone and you’ll have to bid for it or buy it outright at a price they set.
As of September 2021, the biggest sale for a single plot of land was for $913,808, or 1,292,000 MANA. The sale concluded in June 2021 and the plot was close to the Dragon Kingdom.
As well as LAND, you can also buy collectible items for your character to wear. Up for sale are T-shirts, suits of armor, sunglasses and more. Like LAND, these items derive their value from their scarcity.
How to buy MANA
To buy LAND or any of the collectibles, you’ll have to connect your MetaMask wallet and load it up with MANA, the game’s virtual currency. As of this writing, a single MANA is worth $0.78, and the whole coin has a market cap of $1.4 billion.
You can buy MANA on cryptocurrency exchanges. The most popular pairing is for US dollar stablecoin Tether (USDT) on Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. As of September 2021, Binance’s USDT/MANA pairing vacuumed up 15% of the $400 million trading volume for MANA of the past day.
There are different versions of MANA that run on different blockchains. The cheapest is the Polygon version of MANA. Polygon is a so-called Layer 2 blockchain that sits atop the main Ethereum blockchain. It has lower transaction fees and is quicker than the Ethereum version of MANA.
Since MANA is a cryptocurrency, it is prone to volatility. On the day of this writing, for instance, the price of MANA fell by 22% as global news events shocked the markets, taking down cryptocurrencies with them. And, as the time of writing this in September 2021, MANA is about half of its all-time high set in April 17, when MANA hit $1.63. MANA’s current price is also 9,842% larger than its lowest ever price: $0.007883 in October 2017, about a month after the launch of the coin.
How to build on LAND on Decentraland
If you’ve got a plot of LAND, you can build whatever you want on it. There are two ways to build on LAND: the first is to use the in-game Builder Tool, and the second one is to import more complicated projects through the Decentraland SDK.
Building through the Builder Tool doesn’t require any coding knowledge but you can only create rectangular shapes. You can create a “Scene” for as little as one parcel and as large as 32.
The first thing to do is to choose a ground texture. Then you can add any item you like into the scene to build your creation. Once you’re happy with your creation, you can click the preview button to view your Scene in the first-person view—just as though you were playing the game. Then, hit save, name your creation, and publish it.
What’s the future of Decentraland?
The future of Decentraland will be determined by its community. Though it should be noted that Decentraland looks a little rough around the edges and is no match against more advanced videogames that you can pick up from the store.
Rival crypto videogames are also in development, although only a few rival Decentraland in terms of its scope and complexity. Its main competitor is The Sandbox, another 3D-based explorer game.
The Sandbox boasts lots of investors, and has big ticket brands on board, including The Walking Dead, Shaun the Sheep, Atari and Deadmau5. However, The Sandbox also looks pretty rough around the edges, and doesn’t hold a candle, at present, to other virtual spaces like Grand Theft Auto Online or VR Chat.
But the idea of the metaverse is certainly picking up, and developers are slowly warming up to the idea of using cryptocurrency wallets to create community-owned virtual experiences. While it might be a few years until they start to look as good as the next Call of Duty, the economics of these games are impressively complex—and their ambition is admirable.
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