The growing interest in metaverses indicates that it is only a matter of time before we begin to witness an influx of companies vying for the chance of leading the ongoing digital revolution. Already, Facebook, now Meta, has made its intention known when it underwent a total restructure centered around the creation of a Metaverse. It is safe to say that many more companies will follow suit in the coming years.
However, before the recent massive surge in corporate interest in Metaverse-based solutions, some teams and platforms had already made progress in this field. Some of these platforms had introduced elements of blockchain technology to make the virtual experience a lot more worthwhile. One of such is Decentraland, the Ethereum-based platform that allows users to explore an evergrowing digital world powered by non-fungible tokens.
In this guide, I will explore the workings of Decentraland and why it has become a prominent blockchain game. Additionally, I will highlight its downsides, if there are any.
What is Decentraland?
Decentraland is a pixelated virtual platform or game where users can explore and build on. Think of it as a virtual world where a virtual representation of you can exist. Not only that, you can monetize your virtual experience such that your active participation yields financial rewards. Herein lies one of the core factors that set blockchain-powered virtual realms apart from those built with conventional models.
Before the advent of blockchain-powered metaverses, what we had were companies that had complete control over their in-world economy, that is if they had any. Users could explore all they want but there was a limit to the level of control they have over the infrastructures and features that make up the virtual game. Usually, you can buy in-game items but that does not translate to outright ownership. When you buy such items, they are untransferable, which makes it impossible to monetize.
In contrast, blockchain-based metaverses like Decentraland have introduced an innovative system that allows you and I to outrightly own in-game items, transfer them, and ultimately monetize them. So with Decentraland, what you will get is a decentralized platform where your purchases are finalized on the blockchain. With this, it becomes possible to track and authenticate each item. As such, this system gives no room for counterfeiting. This is thanks to the implementation of what we call non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
For those unfamiliar with this term, NFTs are crypto assets that are ideal for establishing ownership and authenticity of real-world or digital assets on the blockchain. The goal is to create a system that will enable true ownership of digital assets. Therefore, when you purchase NFTs, they are automatically registered on the blockchain as yours. This model is perfect for platforms like Decentraland that want to transfer the ownership of in-game items to their users. Bearing this in mind, we can define Decentraland as a decentralized virtual world powered by NFTs and secured by blockchain technology.
The core aim is to create a world that is fully owned by users which is why the platform focuses on delivering a lot more flexibility and control. More importantly, users are allowed to build and add new elements to the game. This functionality, in addition to the implementation of NFT-based assets, is one of the defining attributes of Decentraland. Simply put, Decentraland encourages users to contribute creatively to its virtual world. Not only that, you retain control over how your creation and content are being used. You could set it up in such a way that other players pay you when they engage with your content. Note that content in this context usually denotes virtual structures and games. For example, users can build virtual structures like a playground, a gallery, or even a race track and charge other players when they use them. However, for this to happen, you have to first acquire parcels of lands on which you can build upon.
Since lands are perhaps the most critical in-game items on Decentraland, they are tokenized as NFTs such that each piece of land is unique. What more? These lands are verifiable on the blockchain which means that it is impossible to counterfeit them. Now that you are familiar with the basic workings of Decentraland, it is time to take a deep dive into the functionalities of the platform.
What are the core features of Decentraland?
As mentioned earlier, Decentraland incorporates blockchain-based digital assets to anchor a self-sufficient economy. The two types of digital assets that you will find on Decentraland are LAND and MANA.
What is LAND?
LAND is the non-fungible token used to represent the lands on Decentraland. Therefore, when you buy a LAND token, you automatically become the owner of a corresponding piece of land in the virtual world. These digital assets were designed based on the ERC721 protocol, which means that there will always be one of each, and they all exist on the Ethereum blockchain. What makes LAND unique is its special attribute that makes it possible to build 3D constructs and applications on Decentraland. In essence, when you own LAND tokens, you can choose to create 3D spaces on them and ultimately contribute to the growth of the platform.
For example, Sotheby’s, the world's oldest auction house, launched a virtual gallery on Decentraland. This virtual space is the replica of the auction’s gallery in London, and it was designed to house and showcase NFT arts. Virtual spaces like this have begun to emerge on Decentraland. They ultimately add to the allure of the virtual realm as a whole.
Please note that each LAND token represents a 16m X 16m land parcel. All through 2021, we witnessed how valuable these virtual lands can be with one in particular selling for $1 million in June 2021. In another development that buttressed the growing appeal of Decentraland and its LAND tokens, a patch of land was bought with cryptocurrency worth $2.4 million in November 2021. It is safe to say that this is the most expensive digital real estate at the time of writing this review. So the question is: how can you get your hands on virtual lands on Decentraland?
Before I go into the technicalities involved, you should first have at the back of your mind that there are limited LAND tokens. And from basic economics, scarcity generally drives prices up. This is true in the case of LAND since a growing number of users are competing for a limited supply of the digital asset. Hence, there is a high chance that you will have to part with a considerable sum of money to purchase a virtual land parcel on Decentraland.
That said, the most popular way of getting your hands on LAND tokens is to [purchase them on Decentraland’s marketplace. Think of it as buying digital assets on the secondary market since you are likely going to buy LAND from a fellow player. To access the marketplace and bid for virtual parcels of land, you need to first connect your wallet, preferably Metamask, to the platform. Once your wallet is connected, navigate to the LAND section of the marketplace to see the status of virtual lands and confirm their availability. Here, you will discover that almost all the virtual lands on Decentraland are already owned by other players. If that is the case, you will have no other choice but to bid for them and hope for the best. If you are lucky enough to have the winning bid, you will need to make payment to stake your claim over the LAND token(s) in question. As soon as payment is made, the NFT will be transferred to your connected wallet.
Another way you can get your hands on these NFTs is through the community's timely auctions organized by the Decentraland team occasionally. In these auctions, unclaimed LAND tokens are put up for sale. Like the previous method highlighted above, you need to place the winning bid to eventually become a LAND owner.
The second type of digital asset you will find on Decentraland is MANA. This fungible ERC20 token is the native currency of the platform. All purchases made on the platform must be settled with MANA. So, without MANA, it is impossible to transact on Decentraland’s marketplace. Unlike LAND, MANA is a fungible token and it is readily available to be purchased on crypto exchanges.
Apart from these two digital assets, other in-game items exist on Decentraland. For instance, you can purchase NFT-based collectibles and accessories like kits, cloths, masks, and much more.
How to play Decentraland
Like most blockchain-based games, the first thing you need to do is connect your wallet. This will activate the possibility of owning digital assets within Decentraland. Alternatively, you can opt to start the game as a guest and explore the virtual world without connecting your wallet. In this guide, though, I will be focusing on the wallet-based option.
Once you have successfully connected your wallet, the next step is to create your avatar. This can be likened to the virtual representation of yourself on Decentraland or the character that you will play. When creating your avatar, you can choose from a variety of traits or even buy accessories, which you can use to optimize your look, from the marketplace.
After completing this step, you need to name your avatar and agree to the terms and conditions to continue. Once this is done, you will begin the game at Genesis Plaza where all the new players are first introduced to the burgeoning world of Decentraland. From here, you can access a tutorial box or have a quick scan of the map to find your way around the game. When you toggle the map, you have the option of teleporting directly to your chosen destination.
So, the whole essence of Decentraland is to give an avenue for you to explore a virtual world. Unlike the games you are used to, Decentraland does not have any special gameplay you need to master.
One more feature that makes Decentraland unique is the decision of the team to hand over control of the game to players. Thanks to blockchain implementations, Decentraland operates a decentralized governance system that allows users to actively have a say in the future of the platform. With the help of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), Decetraland runs a consensus-based governance system ideal for democratizing the processes involved in creating and implementing policies.
This governance model relies on a voting system through which each member of the community can propose and vote for policies and changes. Some of the updates that can be made include setting dates for future LAND auctions and whitelisting of NFT contracts that will be allowed to feature on the world or the marketplace. To ensure that this system runs smoothly, the DAO has control over critical smart contracts, including the LAND contract and the Estates contract. Other infrastructures that the DAO controls are the marketplace, wearables, content servers, and a substantial amount of MANA. All in all, Decentraland’s DAO prevents the concentration of power among a select few.
What are the pros and cons of Decentraland?
Pros of Decentraland
Decentraland offers an ever-expanding virtual world
Undoubtedly, one of the factors contributing to the prominence of Decentraland is the fact that there is no limit to the extent to which it can grow. It is good that new elements are constantly being added to the platform. As such, there are always new places for players to explore. Ultimately this keeps players from getting bored.
It allows users to build
One of the things I like about Decentraland is its world-building features. For instance, if you own LAND tokens, you can take advantage of the platform’s building kit to create new experiences that you and other players can enjoy. The good thing about this is that you have complete ownership of your content and scenes. Therefore, you can dictate who is permitted to utilize your 3D content. You can even monetize the content by restricting it to players that have met a financial requirement.
The platform is decentralized
From its name, it is clear that the goal of Decentraland is to create an ecosystem jointly owned by users. Hence, it is no surprise that the platform has put the right system in place to promote a decentralized system of governance. With this, policies governing the operations of Decentraland and its users are introduced and enacted jointly by the platform’s community.
Decentraland incorporated NFT
Since decentralization is the central theme of Decentraland, it made sense that NFTs are incorporated to ensure that in-game items can be outrightly owned and transferred. Hence, unlike mainstream games, Decentraland offers full autonomy to its users when it comes to asset ownership. This design decision has helped the platform establish a sustainable economy where users can effectively monetize their content and earn as they play.
The cons of Decentraland
Not particularly exceptional in terms of graphics
One thing you should have at the back of your mind is that Decentraland is pixelated. Therefore, it may not possess the type of game graphics you are used to. In other words, do not expect flawless gameplay or exceptional graphics.
It can not be played on mobile devices
At the time of writing, Decentraland does not support mobile devices. Therefore, for optimal experience, it is advisable to play the game on a desktop browser.