If you’ve kept up with developments in cryptocurrency or virtual reality, you may have heard of Decentraland. Decentraland is described as a decentralized virtual world.
But given this description, it may not be obvious what exactly a decentralized virtual world is or whether it is worth contributing to. This article will explore Decentraland since it’s become one of the more popular “game” ideas out there.
What is Decentraland?
Decentraland is a virtual world similar to products like Second Life, ActiveWorlds, and Twinity.
Unlike massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), virtual worlds have no set conflict for users to overcome and no objectives.
Users are presented with a set of tools they can use to create 3D objects, and they can do whatever they want with these tools.
In a virtual world, some users may choose to create houses, cars, airplanes, clothing, mazes, or any other thing that can be depicted in a 3D world.
Others may decide to just walk around in the world and look at all of the things that have been built.
Some users may choose to sell the products they have designed to others. This is possible because creating 3D objects requires skill and creativity.
So some users may be willing to pay for the objects, even though they are not “real.” Other users may not be interested in selling their creations or buying those of others.
There are no preset goals in a virtual world, and users can do whatever they want with the tools the virtual world provides.
Virtual worlds have become very popular over the past 15 years. Second Life has over 600,000 users, and at one point had over 1 million.
However, users who participate in traditional, centralized, virtual worlds do face a financial risk by participating. A centralized virtual world is ultimately owned by the developer.
It exists only on the developer’s server. As a result, any virtual property “owned” by the user can be deleted or modified by the developer.
The developer can even go out of business, causing the entire world to be destroyed.
A Decentralized Virtual World
Decentraland is a decentralized virtual world. Unlike Second Life, Twinity, and others, Decentraland is not owned by any person or entity.
Ownership of land and property within Decentraland is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain, and there is no way for the developer to delete or modify a person’s property without his consent.
As a result, users can design whatever objects they want and charge anything they desire to distribute these objects, without fear that their virtual property will be lost because the developer goes offline.
MANA (Decentraland Coin)
Decentraland uses a cryptocurrency token called MANA. This token was created to fund the virtual world’s development.
20% of the MANA tokens in circulation are the personal property of the development team, 40% are held by investors, and 40% are held by the Decentraland foundation.
Of the 40% held by the foundation, half are being reserved for future development costs and half are being reserved to incentivize early content creators on the platform.
New mana is created at an 8% annual rate of inflation. This rate is programmed to fall over time as the economy grows. It will be below 5% ten years from now.
When land within the virtual world was auctioned off by the developer, investors paid for it using MANA. This MANA was burned (destroyed) in the process, increasing the value of the remaining MANA tokens.
The land in Decentraland is called LAND (with all caps). The developer auctioned off all of the LAND in December, 2018. The only way to currently buy LAND is to get it from other users.
Prices currently range from around 9,600 MANA (around US$340) to 1 billion MANA (around $35,400).
How it Works: the Technology Behind Decentraland
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering how a 3D virtual world can exist without a central server to run the software. So here is a brief explanation of the technology behind Decentraland.
The first layer of the Decentraland software is called the “consensus layer.” It is an Ethereum smart contract that records LAND transactions.
Each LAND consists of a set of x, y coordinates, an owner, and a piece of code that references a “content description file.”
The content description file contains the information as to what is on the LAND. For example, it contains code that can tell any computer if there is a house on the land or what color the house is.
The consensus layer does not contain this file, but it does contain a reference that will tell a computer where the file can be found.
Content Distribution Layer
The content distribution layer contains the information as to what a particular piece of land has on it and what it looks like. So if you have a red house on your land, the content distribution layer contains that information.
This layer currently relies upon BitTorrent and Kademlia DHT to store content. These are peer-to-peer networks that have proven themselves to be reliable over the years.
However, the team plans on developing an update that will allow users to employ IFPS or microtransactions to finance the cost of hosting content.
This provides a backup plan in case current peer-to-peer networks prove to not be reliable at storing LAND content.
The real-time layer of Decentraland facilitates communication between users.
In Decentraland, landowners and content creators can establish servers so that users can view each other when walking across the land. But there is no central authority that controls the whole virtual world.
If no one is willing to host a server for a particular piece of land, then users can still visit the land.
However, they cannot interact with others who are visiting the same land. This is similar to a blog reader viewing the blog on his own computer while not connected to the Internet.
He can read the posts, but he can’t comment on them and expect anyone to respond.
Because of this problem, the developers of Decentraland believe that most landowners will provide servers so that users can interact with each other on the land.
However, landowners will probably also charge fees to cover their costs.
Is Decentraland Worth Participating In?
Decentraland has not yet been publicly released. You cannot actually visit the virtual world yet.
However, you can sign up for the builder competition and start using the 3D creation tools when they are released in early March 2019.
If you like creating content in virtual worlds, you may find this competition to be fun and even profitable.
The five finalists in the contest will receive LAND in what the developer describes as “premium locations,” and 45 other contestants will receive some LAND and MANA.
If you prefer to consume content in virtual worlds instead of producing it, you may want to wait to get involved with Decentraland.
There is currently no content, and the “world” right now consists of just digital information about who owns what parcel of land.
Over time, users who are interested in building things should start producing interesting things to look at. But for now, there is nothing.
You also may want to avoid Decentraland if you just don’t like virtual worlds.
Some people prefer to play in a world where there are monsters to slay, experience to gain, and a storyline to follow. For these people, Decentraland may be boring.
But if you want the freedom to be able to create things without any preset goals, and you like the idea of selling your creations to other people, you may want to check out Decentraland.