Ever watched Ready Player One and wondered what it would be like to have the same thing in real life (well you know what we mean)? Play around a virtual casino, explore online megastructures, party at a metaverse club, race digital collectible cars with friends from around the world – all from the comfort of your couch. Well there’s always Minecraft, Roblox and Second Life. So, what’s missing?
The names mentioned are run on permissioned systems and can be turned off at the flick of a switch. There is little that participants can do if that happens. In spite of the open sandbox nature of these games, players are often governed by policies in which they play no part for the decision-making process. Plus, financial transactions (or micro-transactions) in these games are neither immutable nor integrated into the gameplay with real world finance.
What we need is the assurance of an unstoppable game engine backed by decentralised governance and topped up with the immersive experience of on-chain transactions through seamless wallet interactions. So is there a permission-less Ready Player One experience with gamified finance available right now? My co-author Rohit and I set out to find out exactly this. And we found that there are some projects that are already building trust-less metaverses – Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, The Sandbox etc. The oldest and most intricate among these yet is Decentraland.
The past few weeks have been crazy in the real world with Elon Musk pumping $DOGE memes, Tesla announcing their Bitcoin investment and r/wallstreetbets one-upping Wall Street vis-à-vis $GME, $AMC et al. But Rohit and I discovered crazier experiences in the virtual world called Decentraland. Here are some of the funnest things we found in there:
One of the opening shots in Ready Player One was that of “a casino the size of a planet” in OASIS. In Decentraland, you are spoilt for choice. There are multiple casinos in the Vegas City District run by Decentral Games – the first social metaverse casino where anyone can be the house.
There are currently 3 operational venues where you can try your luck viz. Chateau Satoshi (-75, 77), Tominoya (-119, 133) and Serenity Island (-145, 115). Early disclaimer for anyone trying it out: you can play in Decentral Games only if your physical jurisdiction allows gambling.
Decentral Games is owned by its users who participate in decision-making by staking $DG, its native token. Even the treasury decisions are taken through user-voting in the DAO (decentralized autonomous organization). The DAO currently holds millions of dollars’ worth of assets in LAND parcels, NFTs and $DG in its community wallet.
The community can create and vote on proposals to build casinos, games, art galleries etc. using these funds. $DG is earned by playing games with $MANA and $DAI (also referred to as gameplay mining), through liquidity farming and from governance rewards.
Launched in 2019, the project is backed by Digital Currency Group, Cluster Capital, Hiraku etc. Currently, one can play blackjack, roulette, slots and backgammon in there. The next game to be launched is Texas hold ‘em poker, and then Baccarat later.
Apart from standalone games, the casinos also host events like NFT auctions and casino night parties. We missed attending the latest NFT auction which saw an Elon Musk-featured artwork sell for 10+ ETH. Ethereum chain bottlenecks are avoided since transactions are executed on the Matic sidechain and any gas fees are covered by Decentral Games itself. So, players don’t need to worry about gas or block confirmation delays.
We caught up with Decentral Games’ founder and project lead Miles Anthony to chat on the user metrics. He said, “On a typical event day, we have about 300 players playing both free-to-play games and also games played with $MANA and $DAI. The total bets have exceeded USD 20 million since launch and we are scaling the platform to accommodate the demands….we are definitely seeing numbers of users ramping up exponentially!”.
The platform also has USD 7+ million in TVL (total value locked) by investors currently. The crew has plans to add support for $USDT and $USDC, a new Cyberpunk-themed casino, community and private poker lounges and celebrity poker tournaments for charity.
Decentraland has something to offer for the adrenaline junkies as well. Head to district (67, -21) to experience blockchain powered arcade racing, courtesy Battle Racers. An action packed game where you can design, build and race model cars on arcade-sized tracks, Battle Racers lets you put your (virtual) driving skills to the fore.
You can customize your race cars as per your needs, even fitting it with weapons to use your combat skills and annihilate your opponents. Being the first to the finish line need not be the only way to win a race here!
Battle Racers has been developed by Altitude Games, a leading mobile and blockchain game studio based in Manila. The company was founded by veterans of the Southeast Asian game industry in 2014, and currently has 40+ developers. Some of their other popular titles include ‘Kung Fu Clicker’, ‘Holy Ship!’ and ‘Mushroom Mania’.
You can enter the Battle Racers area to join the competitive races, just drive around on your own, customize your cars in the garage, or simply hang around as a spectator and enjoy the action. The garage has a range of available parts with different stats and skills, all of which contribute to your car’s overall performance.
Battle Racers also enables users to tokenize their designed car into a Non-Fungible Token (NFT), and create a digital asset that will permanently reside on the blockchain. The win/loss history of tokenized cars is continuously tracked on the blockchain. Consequently, the stats of such cars keep on improving as they compete in more races as compared to “off-chain” cars. Players also stand to earn more points when they race with such “on-chain” cars. And if that’s not all, you can even sell (or buy) tokenized cars on the Marketplace using Decentraland’s native $MANA token.
How do netizens of Decentraland relax after a hard week of doing crypto? By hitting the Sugar Club, of course! Located in district (-1, -35), the nightclub Sugar Club is one of the most happening places and a regular meetup joint in the Decentraland metaverse.
It has already created its unique flavour and distinct style, and has proved to be an instant hit among folks looking for a good time. Unlike the other projects featured here, Sugar Club is the brainchild of a sole developer who goes by the name of Kay, and isn’t backed by any team. You can watch this YouTube interview to get more insights into his work and how he came up with this idea.
Sugar Club features a glowing purple floor and some of the best electro music in the Metaverse to help you let your hair down. If you’re tired of all the dancing and chatting, then you can stroll down to the digital art gallery, which features the latest creations from crypto-artists and visual creators.
One strange aspect of Sugar Club is that even though the dance floor might be full, you might hardly see a crowd. This is due to the way the Decentraland platform has been designed. When users enter Decentraland, they are split into multiple nodes or servers. So, even if two users enter the Club simultaneously, they can be on different servers and invisible to each other!
At the Sugar Club, you can spend your $MANA to buy crypto-drinks for yourself or for the lady at the bar. You can even use your $MANA to upgrade your seating place or access a wider pool of music to choose from.
Train Transit System
Any Metaverse requires a modern transit system to ferry around its netizens. In South Decentraland, we have the Trail Transit System designed by Polygonal Mind, a 3-D art studio and a known name in Decentraland. Polygonal Mind has been operational since 2017, and has worked on a wide range of projects, including PC and mobile games, virtual and augmented reality applications, and blockchain projects. They have been intricately involved in the development of Decentraland, and have designed multiple projects in the Metaverse. Some of their other contributions include the Momus Park, the Escape Room and the Aetherian B. Museum.
The Train Transit system (-68, -117) has been developed as a linear track, with stops for users to onboard or deboard between its line start and end. The stations are accessible through an elevator from the ground level. Two wagons going in opposite directions constitute the train, in order to avoid long waiting queues for users.
The décor of the stations and the trains has been heavily inspired by the popular PC game Bioshock. Each station has two levels of platforms, one placed at 16m and another platform placed on the 32m level. All the platforms are connected to one another such that you can easily turn around in the opposite direction in case you’ve missed your stop by mistake, just like a normal subway design.
In the words of Kourtin, one of the artists in the Polygonal Mind team, “I started defining the design of the whole elevator, based on how Bioshock portrayed art-deco steampunk elevators. I decided to follow a similar approach from scratch to the final model visuals. The design came to be open and wall-less in order to avoid a claustrophobic feeling.”
The train runs on an arid, vegetation-less landscape with a rocky environment, and the surroundings are detailed with resting areas and pipes decorating the paths. To add finishing touches, a limited number of curated art pieces have been placed along the trail. You can view and admire them on your way to your destination, or as you wait at the station for the train.
And these are just a few of the many Decentraland experiences that we could find time to explore in the last few weeks. There’s so much more to do – raise dragons Tamagotchi-style (My Little Dragon), explore island forests (Lemursiv by Eden Projects), throw pick-axes at the Viking Gym, buy merch at Barter Town, and so on. In a few days, you will also be able to play at a massive retro-style arcade being built by Atari. What are some of your favourite things to do in Decentraland? Let Rohit and me know on Telegram.
Disclosure: The authors have no vested interest in any of the projects mentioned in the article. They individually hold tiny amounts of $MANA and $DAI for testing out Decentraland-based projects and other dApps. They don't own any $DG.
About the authors: Rohit Chatterjee is an Analog Design Engineer working at Texas Instruments. Abhijoy Sarkar is a banker-turned-entrepreneur. They are high school friends who lost contact years ago. They reunited over crypto in early 2018 and have been investing through mutual research and shared knowledge.
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