Democratising Social VR with Blockchain
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Why People are Excited About a Virtual Land Grab

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Blockchain Metaverse Decentraland is gearing up for its first online land auction. Tech Trends takes a look at what this means for Social VR. 

VR’s greatest allure is its potential to create entire new worlds we can collectively be immersed in. This is why there has been such interest in emerging social VR platforms like Sansar, High Fidelity and AltspaceVR, but some believe that no platform owned by a single company or entity can truly fulfill that promise. This is because we arguably need diversity and conflict to build truly convincing virtual worlds, and no environment owned and controlled by a single entity can achieve that, no matter how “hands off” their approach and intentions might be.

VR’s allure is creating entire worlds we can collectively be immersed in Share on X

In order to realize the true potential of VR, that power needs to be put directly in the hands of users, says Ariel Meilich, CEO and Founder of Decentraland, a blockchain-based Metaverse proposing to do just that.

“Currently, the companies that create the virtual worlds own all of the content built by the users. They are the ones who profit, reap the benefits from the network effects, and have the power to undo, change or censor what happens within the world itself. We believe virtual reality will flourish once users have a more prominent role in controlling their creations.”

The key difference is that Decentraland uses the Ethereum network to provide landowners with actual ownership over their land, and any creations located within it. “The content does not reside on our servers, so we do not have the power to modify or censor it. We could turn off our servers and the world would keep running. This guarantees permanency and security for anyone looking to develop their property,” explains Meilich.

“A public virtual world should be ruled by open standards, shielded from the agenda of any central organization. In Decentraland, users have full control over the content of the land they own and keep all the proceeds from the value they generate for other users,” he continues.

Decentraland started back in 2015 as an open-source initiative to build a virtual world, and remained a hobby project until recently, when its creators realized the potential tokenization existed that would allow it to retain those principles while raising the funds necessary to expand and develop the Metaverse.

“We completed our token launch in mid September, where over 5,000 members of our community contributed $26M USD to help us build the platform,” Meilich explains.

The Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to which Meilich refers was initially designed to last around eight days, but was sold out in just 35 seconds, with roughly 10,000 investors lining up for the chance to grab some of Decentraland’s native tokens – known as MANA. So it’s fair to say the community’s interest has been piqued, and competition for the prime real estate in its upcoming land auction is likely to be high.

5,000 community members contributed $26M USD to build the platform Share on X

In a nutshell, a blockchain is a digitized, decentralized public ledger of cryptocurrency transactions. Essentially each ‘block’ is like an individual bank statement. Completed ‘blocks’ (the most recent transactions) are added in chronological order allowing market participants to keep track of the transactions without the need for central record keeping.

Decentraland uses Ethereum to provide landowners with ownership Share on X

But unlike a standard blockchain transaction, when you buy a piece of Decentraland the blockchain not only logs the transaction but also gives you x and y co-ordinates to log the co-ordinates of your digital plot. It also contains a link to a torrent, which includes all the digital content of the land upon which you can build. Just like you mine in Bitcoin, here you’re staking a claim on a plot of land – and everything in it.

The platform launched in 2018 Share on X

From the beginning of October users were able to join the Decentraland Terraform auction registration, which will stay open until early December. The platform is now set to launch in early 2018 following the auction when users will be able to exchange their MANA tokens for parcels of land in “Genesis City.”

Decentraland used ICO funding to expand its engineering team Share on X

Since the ICO, Decentraland has used some of the funds raised to expand its engineering team, adding people like Ben Nolan, who created SceneVR and did some of the foundational work in WebVR. They also released an alpha version of the Decentraland Editor, which allows users to design their content collaboratively in real-time and upload their work to their land parcels.

The project has so far been broken down into 6 ‘ages’ as it grows in scope and sophistication. In June 2015 the ‘Stone Age’ the land was modeled as a simple grid and a Bitcoin-like ‘proof of work’ algorithm was used to allocate pixels to users. The Bronze Age followed in April 2017 which developed this grid into a 3D space with both Blockchain and torrent full node enabled. A MANA (ERC20 token) Contribution period followed which allowed users to claim parcels of land and interact with each other.

Blockchain is a digital, decentralised public ledger of crypto transactions Share on X

So could this prove to be the Metaverse that devotees of VR technologies, gaming and science fiction have been waiting for since the dawn of Cyberpunk? Only time will tell. With PTP networking on the horizon – ‘Iron Age’ (late 2017) boasting multiplayer support with avatars and live chat and ‘Silicon Age’ (2018) offering a fully-fledged 3D world with full VR support and customisation of the laws of physics, it does look like Decentraland is shaping up to be an interesting dark horse to watch in the social VR race.

Originally Published in the Huffington Post


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Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.