Imagination flows into reality. Virtual reality that is! Opportunity and capabilities in Decentraland are only limited by the users own artistry. This experienced explanation of the wonders and future of the Web 3.0 Metaverse is outstanding.
The Fantasy World of Endless Time is a picturesque landscape taken straight from a storybook, complete with a giant beanstalk, glowing crystal lake, and a quest that takes you around idyllic sites such as the Forest of Dancing Fireflies, the Blue Magic Zone, and a towering medieval castle on a hill.
I’ve just finished the quest when I immediately run straight into a giant 3D Darth Vader hovering head over what can only be described as a turkey-version of himself wielding a lightsaber as it bobs its helmeted head back and forth and spins around in circles.
But after spending some time in Decentraland, this scene no longer feels weird to me. I barely even bat an eye as I zip by toward my next destination.
Realistic Web 3.0 Cartoon Graphics
Often referred to in the context of Web3, virtual worlds like Decentraland are sometimes heralded as the next iteration of the internet for their cryptocurrency-based, decentralized economies. And despite these platforms still being in their nascence, experts like Evercore’s Mark Mahaney and analysts at Grayscale, the largest crypto-fund manager, are predicting that the metaverse will account for trillions of dollars of value creation within the next few years.
Early investors have certainly seen some value creation: Since opening to the public in February 2020, Decentraland’s in-game cryptocurrency, MANA, has soared from $0.03 to $5.90 at its height in November, and sat just below $2.00 as of April 25.
The outrageously high prices of Decentraland’s digital land parcels have also won the platform a turn under the spotlight. In November, the virtual real-estate investment company Metaverse Group scooped up a plot of land for an eye-watering $2.43 million.
But while I understood why virtual land was selling for these mind-numbing amounts from a technical value and scarcity perspective, practically, I was stupefied. To see what all the hype was about, I decided to dive straight in.
You’ve Arrived in the Metaverse …
To play in Decentraland, you can set up an in-game account by simply clicking a button to allow Decentraland access to your MetaMask wallet. Users who want to just try it out can also play as guests, but they won’t be able to get the full experience, since connecting a wallet gives you the ability to add friends and collect nonfungible tokens (NFTs), wearables, and digital event proof of attendance protocol (POAP) badges.
I was taken to an avatar-customization screen, where I could choose from a variety of features and physical characteristics. From the fairly restricted selection, I choose an outfit that comes closest to something I would wear in real life — plus a diamond and gold tiara that catches my eye — and then I’m all set to jump in.
Welcome… Enjoy Your Stay
My avatar is dropped from the sky right into a sea of bodies. Music plays as a disembodied voice invites all of the “newbies” to a party over the in-game microphone.
Perhaps due to Decentraland’s, well, decentralized nature, the in-world instructions and tutorials that usually accompany video games are missing. Compounding that with my lack of gaming and blockchain experience, I feel as though I’ve fallen into the deep end of the pond.
Instead, I fall down a portal that spits me out in Genesis Plaza, located in the exact center of the Decentraland world. A friendly non-player character, or NPC, bartender wearing an octopus on his head greets me and offers a few quick pointers about events and traveling using the map.
Following his advice, a little while later I’m running around the world, which has very whimsical graphics — all bright and neon, like a living cartoon.
Moving on, I find some delightful locales like a huge soccer stadium that lets me kick around a ball, as well as some terrifying places, like a dilapidated cottage at the literal edge of the world that greets me with “Welcome to Hell!” in big red letters.
What quickly becomes apparent is that Decentraland’s 90,000 land parcels, each measuring 52 feet by 52 feet, offer a wide variety of scenes from fairy-tale fantastical to futuristic to hyperrealistic to straight-up horrifying.
Decentraland Districts are Growing
There are also 39 major districts in the world, each catering to a specific interest, like music in Festival Land, shopping on Fashion Street, and gambling in Vegas City. In the game, little trollies roll up and down the main roads, allowing for quicker rides while taking in the sites. Players can also instantly teleport to different locations using the map.
The land near these districts or major roads — which will naturally have heavier foot traffic — costs much more than parcels in the “suburbs.” And even though all the land is owned by the community of users, Decentraland still retains control over the public plazas and some random land parcels, according to PeanutButta, a pseudonymous YouTuber whose identity is known to Insider and who works for the platform as a social-media manager.
But the finite supply of land, integral to Decentraland’s philosophy, and the subsequent implication that not every player can own land might be off-putting to some — especially those who weren’t lucky enough to buy a plot back when Decentraland first launched in 2017 and parcels sold for only $20 each.
As I explore the world, I’m continuously amazed by how breathtakingly detailed and beautiful the architecture is. Entire cities exist, like the steampunk wonderland Barter Town, which will eventually host apartments for users to live in, and futuristic Neo DCL City, which has flying yellow cabs.
I’m blown away when I exit Vegas City and bump into DCL World, an interactive amusement park with attractions such as a teacup ride, a roller coaster with crazy loops, and a massive Ferris wheel called the “Mana Eye.” It’s the first time I’ve been to an amusement park since the pandemic began, and I have more fun than I expect. As a bonus, I don’t have to wait in any lines and have all the rides to myself, unlike in real life.
Decentraland’s landscape was also the major draw for PeanutButta, who first discovered Decentraland by investing in its MANA currency in January 2021. At the time, he’d been invested in some other cryptocurrencies, including ethereum, litecoin, and chainlink.
“But nothing really quite interested me as much as Decentraland because it had a whole virtual world connected to it. The art that you could buy, the clothing, and everything like that,” PeanutButta told Insider from his home in Tallahassee, Florida. “That really just attracted me to it because there was just so much more utility to the token outside of the normal crypto.”
“Whenever you’re running across the map, you’ll be encountering so many different things that creators developed and put together,” PeanutButta said later, as his avatar, decked out in a red robot costume and neon-winged shoes, guided us along a small tour. “So it’s really, really unique in its own aspect that each plot that you travel, you’re going to be coming across something that somebody spent countless hours of time programming, developing, 3D modeling, whatever it may be to put into Decentraland.”
But despite the stunning scenery, the world also feels starkly empty and somewhat devoid of life. Encounters with other avatars are few and far between, unless I enter hotspots like the casinos, play-to-earn games, or Genesis Plaza.
Big name brands have also gotten involved in the platform, like Samsung and Sotheby’s, which broke (digital) ground on a replica of its London auction house in Decentraland’s Voltaire Art District last January. In April, Fidelity Investments launched an obstacle course experience that simultaneously taught Decentraland users about investing, as part of a promotion for the firm’s new exchange-traded fund focused on metaverse opportunities.
Games Galore with Some Hiccups
But my favorite part of the world by far is the many wacky minigames you can stumble upon.
In Koko Jones and the Temple of Eternal Bananas, I fling coconuts at evil monkeys as I ride around a multistory Egyptian pyramid in a jeep. Other minigames allow you to recover liquor bottles for an alcoholic scarecrow, navigate a flying dragon through hoops in the sky, hunt for dinosaurs in an arena, and hop across a sprawling, multilayered obstacle course to save little balls of light.
Some quests are more intensive and require substantially more time, like Back to the Past, an adventure set in the far future after an alien invasion. As humanity’s last hope, I’m sent on a mission to find a time machine, which involves solving a variety of puzzles like finding missing keys, discovering building access codes, and reaching a secret underground bunker.
But despite the addition of these fun and interactive components, the gameplay isn’t without numerous glitches and limitations.
First off, the lack of instructions on the platform means it takes me a long time to figure things out — like how to switch your avatar back to running after it randomly decides to walk (press shift). Later on, I realize that some minigames are meant to be played in first-person rather than third-person after I continuously fall off my flying dragon.
The games themselves are often buggy and have broken components, like when I wasn’t allowed to pick up an in-world item that’s required to complete a quest. Some promise a POAP or NFT upon completion but fail to deliver.
There’s also an obvious lack of capabilities from the NPCs, which certainly provides limitations for the villains in these games. They can’t really touch you or hurt you, besides sending you a few lines of warning text on the bottom of your screen.
And again, perhaps due to the decentralization, there’s no central record to track the minigames or quests you’ve completed, which seem to reset each time. Decentraland had introduced a quest log feature in the past, but it’s since been taken away, along with some of the advertised quests.
User interaction with the virtual architecture is limited too, since avatars aren’t really capable of any other actions besides running, walking, and a few emotes like dabbing. Since I can’t actually sit down on the rides, my character does an awkward walk in place while I spin around on the teacups at the amusement park. In Vegas City, there are a bunch of carnival games, but they’re all for decoration. I can’t help thinking what a waste this is, especially when there’s so much potential.
The overall gameplay can also be rather slow, with loading time between land parcels lagging up to a minute. A few times, the game randomly crashed and booted me out.
Virtual Money can Become Real Cash
Users have been successful in finding creative ways to earn real money from the game, such as 19-year-old Tobías K., a full-time content creator who makes Decentraland-focused YouTube videos and previously worked a freelance gig managing some of Decentraland’s social media. Known within the community by his online moniker, Tobik, he also creates and sells NFT wearables as a side project.
Tobías told Insider that the amount he’s earning from NFT sales each month has been more than enough to live on in his home country of Argentina, and is more than comparable salaries he could be earning.
Through freelance work, creators can offer their services in many forms. Contractors with coding or 3D-modeling skills are in high demand to develop NFTs or build properties for others. Tech-inclined users can also create play-to-earn games, which might offer additional purchases. From these play-to-earn games, winners can be rewarded with wearables, which they can then turn around and sell on the secondary market.
That’s exactly how PeanutButta obtained his light-up winged shoes, which were won by another player from the popular play-to-earn game Golfcraft, a minigolf simulator. By his own estimate, he purchased the shoes for 0.3 ether, or about $1,000 at the time. His robot costume is a rare item from the play-to-earn game Wondermine, where players click on falling asteroids to mine resources
User Interaction Offers Opportunities
Users can also host or participate in events such as treasure hunts, raffles, and free-play casino competitions. The winners of these casino competitions rack up crypto or NFT wearable prizes, sometimes to the tune of several thousands of dollars, PeanutButta said.
Just like in real life, landowners can monetize their property by renting it out to advertisers. Companies are even hiring within Decentraland for full-time jobs, such as the interactive host position at casinos.
Of course, there’s also pure speculation — people buying land, in-game cryptocurrencies, event tickets, and NFT wearables with the intention to flip them for a higher price on the secondary market at a later date.
But while investing is what initially drew both PeanutButta and Tobías to Decentraland, the community is what’s made them stick around.
“Decentraland — it’s Twitter, it’s Discord
, it’s open,” Tobías said. “If you understand the big picture of Decentraland, it’s not only played at Decentraland.org.”
At the heart of the community lies the decentralized autonomous organization, which grants full control of the game to the players and allows landowners to vote on issues such as name bans and grant proposals.
Decentralization is a major part of other elements, too, especially when comparing transaction freedom with similar virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite, Tobías said. Rather than charging an authority such as a bank or the game developers with the power of in-game currency transfer, money transfers in Decentraland occur directly between players.
An important part of the Decentraland community is the events, which vary in exclusivity, and type. I hop into a few during my virtual visits, including the Chinese New Year Carnival and the Australian Open, with both venues specially created for these events and offering a variety of minigames.
I also attend a fun tutorial and tour for new players organized by the Last Slice Collective social club, which requires me to create a Discord account so I can follow along with the livestream. Noticeably, the events draw many users together, the crowd of avatars offering a discernibly different feeling from the empty scenes I faced before.
But Decentraland’s allure to a global community becomes most apparent when I decide to go clubbing one Friday night at MetaZoo.
The venue, which includes a photo wall, multiple levels on which to dance, and flashing neon strobe lights, impresses me with how closely it mimics a real nightclub. Users all around me wear flamboyant outfits as they dance to techno music on the crowded floor. The chat box is more alive than I’ve ever seen, with everyone greeting the people they know, though there don’t seem to be any in-depth conversations occurring.
And despite the computer-screen barriers, I can almost sense the vivacious, chaotic energy buzzing through the atmosphere as avatars relentlessly speed-dance and switch through emotes.
After about 15 minutes, I decide to head out because in all honesty there’s not much to do other than click buttons to make your avatar dance. But I begin to understand the appeal Decentraland’s platform holds for users who wish to further interact with one another by gathering their avatars in a singular setting, rather than livestreaming a concert or tournament from separate devices.
Tobías said that in the future Decentraland will focus on integrating different communities through a unified metaverse. It’s already taken steps in that direction, with fellow virtual platform Cryptovoxels tweeting in January 2021 that it plans to work with Decentraland and Somnium Space to introduce portals between worlds.
“The idea is not to compete,” Tobías said. “The idea is to interoperate.”