The SANDBOX Will Lead The Decentralized Storytelling Revolution by@philftw
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The SANDBOX Will Lead The Decentralized Storytelling Revolution

by PhilFTWSeptember 10th, 2021
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The Sandbox is offering up free tools for creating game experiences in the metaverse. Their platform has the potential to bring a large and diverse crowd into blockchain gaming and set up a new generation of content creators on a sustainable path in game development.

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So that’s a pretty loaded headline, right? Clickbait at its finest, but there’s actually some substance to the hyperbole.

Video gaming has historically evolved in major leaps usually driven by hardware innovation. The shift from the arcade to home, the 3D graphics revolution, LAN parties, mobile gaming, cheap storage and dedicated graphics cards have all been the lily pads in its Frogger-esque evolutions.

The flip side to these milestones are the lesser discussed drags on gaming’s progress, often unrelated to hardware. Things like the complexity of writing code, the bureaucratic nature of publishing, the technical challenges of asset optimization, the ugly underbelly of sexism and burnout in the industry, and the financial investment needed to run a sustainable studio had created insurmountable barriers for many individual creators. I say “had” because there’s a major disruption brewing in the metaverse.

The Sandbox is not a unique idea.

Blockchain gaming, monetization, a robust community, NFTs, visual scripting, asset creators, open world point and click adventures…. These all existed before The Sandbox. But what’s unique here, and I think ultimately disruptive, is the package The Sandbox is delivering them in.

This article is an introduction to my experience as a Sandbox creator. It gives a quick overview of the software available and a glimpse into future monetization scenarios. It also highlights why a low barrier to entry and the simple, intuitive tools the Sandbox has built will turn their metaverse into a robust hub of diversified voices kickstarting a storytelling revolution (ok, so that might be a little hyperbolic).

The combination of Approachable Asset Creation, Simplified Game Creation, and Financial Rewards for Creativity on a free platform will open the door to game creator’s who have been put off by the technical, financial, or publishing hurdles I mentioned and hopefully foster a new generation of game designers who can spend more time crafting compelling stories and less time debugging.

An Approachable 3D Foundation

When I first started learning 3D art I was immediately attracted to the voxel format. Minecraft’s clunky, blocky aesthetic was wildly popular and made voxel art feel relevant and legitimate. Programs like Voxel Max and Goxel made building full scenes on an iPad simple. Bringing those files into MagicaVoxel meant I could render my creations into professional looking pieces and suddenly 3D asset creation was approachable.

A scene I built and rendered in MagicaVoxel

The Sandbox took that simple approachability and distilled it into the heart of their game. Not only could you make voxel assets to use in their world, they provided a free builder and animator called VoxEdit to continue the journey. That meant with a basic computer and a few YouTube tutorials, creating animated characters that worked seamlessly in a 3D game was now possible. No extra steps to optimize a mesh or format conversions were required. You’re able to publish directly from VoxEdit into your game.

Snapshot of a building I created in VoxEdit

For those who don’t have an artistic bone in their bodies, all isn’t lost. The Sandbox subsidizes a community of makers called The Creator Fund that publishes free assets built to a strict standard for free use to anyone who wants to create an experience. This marketplace of over 10,000 game-ready characters, buildings, props, animals, and environmental materials means you have the assets available to tell your story. I’m part of this Fund and seeing the skill and creativity of the group’s output has been really inspiring. Whether it’s an Egyptian tomb to explore, a sumo match to watch, or just recreating your home office, there’s an asset set available to you.

Game Programming Simplified

While asset creation is important, the trickiest part traditionally has been turning those elements into an actual game. The Sandbox’s simple, free, intuitive game creation program (built-in Unity) called Game Maker is what ultimately removes the technical barriers to telling stories. This software allows you to import your characters, objects, and buildings then create the dialogue trees, quest tracking, stat settings, animations, and platform mechanics that turn the assets into an experience without any coding.

The same asset is now directly imported to Game Maker and dropped onto a LAND

For the creators keeping track, that means there’s an asset creation software and integrated code-free game builder within The Sandbox platform that feels like a cross between Minecraft and Roblox. You’re able to publish your games into the shared community gallery so anyone can play and all of those things are available without a subscription or fee.

This is what that asset looks like in the context of actual gameplay

The systems currently available don’t offer something for everyone but creative problem solvers will find a lot of options under the surface outside of fetch quests and brawling. I’ve built two games recently that I think highlight some of the versatility. Both were built in my free time outside of a day job in under 2 weeks and prior to this, I had never attempted to create a game on any platform.

The first was a story-driven game where an angry Grim Reaper forces you to die in silly and creative ways for his amusement and the second was a timed adventure at a music festival where you had ten minutes to find a bathroom or you peed your pants.

The latter won a 2,500 SAND prize (the proprietary Sandbox crypto) in the last and neither looked like anything like a traditional video game.

You got 10 minutes to find a bathroom or urine trouble....

This area, the SAND based monetization, is what I think will ultimately empower game creators to develop a sustainable career in storytelling.

Financial Rewards For Creativity

Video games have long been a one way financial interaction with their players. We spend money and in return we are entertained, but the games don’t pay us back for our time. The new model growing out of blockchain gaming shows that player ownership in parts of a game, via NFTs most commonly, will change that dynamic.

Their time investment into an experience can also becomes a financial investment. If you’re a creator of these blockchain assets you suddenly have a very viable path to a sustainable career in gaming. You’re given the ability to develop a product that stores value and usually that only happen at the gold bar factory.

Something that I really appreciated about The Sandbox was their investment back into the game developers. Instead of the usual 30% cut Amazon or Apple takes, The Sandbox is offering a 95/5 split in favor of their creatives. They make their revenue in other ways that aren’t without their issues (see below), but their offering of an opened ended monetization mechanism for game makers should be appealing to anyone hoping to also pay their rent from the experiences they create. They shared a handful of scenarios like charging a small crypto fee to play, in-game betting, NFT weapons or NFT requirements to access content that all could offer a steady trickle of funds back to players. I’ve personally seen NFTs minted by the SANDBOX by other creators sell for thousands already and the game hasn’t even launched yet.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

There are still exploitable areas of the model unfortunately. While anyone can create an experience and share it out with the metaverse, the ability to monetize that experience requires the acquisition of LAND. LAND is the platform your game lives on in The Sandbox and in total there are 166,464 of them.

When the game first launched, LAND was attainable for the average creator. A basic LAND could be had for around $35. The Sandbox has kept the price of LAND consistent from the beginning (1,011 SAND per basic parcel with more premium areas or larger sizes going for significantly more) but the problem that’s recently cropped up are speculators seeing these plots as investments and that’s driven up the price of SAND. As of this writing, those $35 building blocks are now going for $890 when converting SAND to USD, which is too steep for most would-be game makers.

All aboard the crypto rollercoaster!

I do think there’s still hope. Knowing how crypto prices rise and fall dramatically over the course of a year there’s reason to believe that when the current hype around NFTs dies down again, the cost of SAND in USD will also drop. We saw this after the first NFT boom fizzled in June 2021 and SAND dropped from .60 to .17 USD. Once the game launches, those investors without content who are just holding LAND, will face supply and demand realities. Thousands of LANDs will be available to buy or rent and without an experience to monetize, their value is diminished. I think the market will see a flood of LANDS for cheap at this point and those artists who have already built their experiences should be able to pick up a LAND and monetize their work. Will it be too late for The Sandbox to grow a community by then?

WILL IT SUCCEED? (Or How I Learned To Love Decentralized Storytelling)

When you take the financial burden off the artist you’re enabling the highest level of adoption from creators which in turn brings in a more diverse range of content. A broader range of content means you have a higher chance of engaging a new user since you’re more likely to have an experience that’s relevant to them.

A pretty convincing picture of this appears when you look at US graphic novel sales. The April 2021 point-of-sale data for US bookstores shows that not a single Marvel or DC title cracked the top 20. Every single book was manga, covering a wide range of topics. US comics are dominated by superheroes in tights fighting the same villains from 75 years ago. The manga space has a significantly wider range of themes and this means you’re able to appeal to a wider audience of people.

The Sandbox’s greatest strength is in the potential for storytellers of all experiences, ages, genders, and backgrounds to build something that speaks to their personal interests. You’ll have your classic D&D themed dragon battles but I also believe hyper-niched experiences will be created. Those unique areas are where you build a foundation of players that stick around despite new platforms cropping up. It’s why Reddit has done so well with such a basic interface. It’s also why Fortnite has diversified their in-game premiums with everything from the NFL to Mistborn. It’s also the reason Funko became a pop culture dynasty and not a superhero fad.

When your product targets a passion, not a demographic, that’s where long term success lives. The Sandbox, by taking down the barriers of entry to gaming, will also see that same success. These tailored experiences, stories written specifically for that narrow slice of culture, resonate the most with those consumers and will show others who watched from the sidelines that these old hurdles to being a game developer no longer prevent them from experimenting in this medium.

When your product targets a passion, not a demographic, that’s where long term success lives.


While we’ve not quite reached gaming nirvana yet (The Sandbox doesn’t open publicly until later this year) I do think an approachable and accessible platform focused as much as possible on allowing anyone to create games, not just those with the technical expertise, is a bright future. If you’re a creator, this is an opportunity for you to flex muscles in new media that may not have been possible before. Lean into it and give it hell, I look forward to playing so many of your new stories in the metaverse.

This article is part of The Gaming Metaverse Writing Contest hosted by HackerNoon in partnership with The Sandbox.

Submit your #gaming-metaverse story today for your chance to win up to $2000.