One man who shares this vision is Sebastien Borget, co-founder and COO of The Sandbox, a decentralized, community-driven platform that’s considered to be one of the most advanced metaverse platforms that exists so far.
Sandbox launched around ten years ago as a simple mobile game with a grand ambition. Today, it is partnered with celebrities, global entertainment brands, and finance industry giants as it continues its evolution into a truly persistent virtual world. Snoop Dogg has made his online home on the platform, and just this month, new collaborations were announced with Lionsgate Studios and Mastercard.
So, what does Borget – undeniably one of the pioneers of the concept – think the metaverse actually is?
“For us, metaverse is really this myriad of worlds,” he tells me during our recent webinar conversation, “that users can experience through an avatar that becomes a 3D representation of themselves.”
These avatars are the key to unlocking “all sorts of new experiences … more creative, more immersive, unlike what we’ve seen before with traditional virtual worlds, where users can already socialize … here, what’s important is the ability of users to truly own their own identity, own their own belongings, digital assets, virtual land, houses … and are able to move that identity from one world to another without being constrained.”
Avatars and NFTs
The idea of identity is central to the persistent nature of virtual worlds and is a big part of what makes them different from, for example, existing social media sites, video games, online chatrooms, or online courses. All of these “traditional” digital environments contain elements that will undoubtedly be present in the metaverse, such as the ability to socialize, play and learn collaboratively. True metaverse platforms, however, will bring all of these elements together and allow users to bring their digital identity with them as they move between activities and environments.
“There will be millions of virtual worlds, places where users can take their avatars,” Borget continues. “What’s important is this ability to move from one to another while … keeping all their content they create in one and using it in others.”
He refers to this as "interoperability of assets." This will be achieved in The Sandbox, and possibly other metaverse platforms, through the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These are blockchain-based tokens that can be assigned to assets – for example, an avatar, an item of virtual clothing, or even a virtual plot of land or house – to give them the quality of uniqueness due to the fact that no two NFTs are identical.
Virtual Land and Jobs
Just as is the case in the real world, the amount of land available in The Sandbox is limited. The virtual world is split up into thousands of parcels of land, of which around 70 percent have already been sold to 21,000 landowners. The smallest plots that are available, measuring roughly 100 meters by 100 meters, currently trade for around $1,000, but their value on the resale market varies dramatically. Larger plots and those in proximity to "prestigious" neighborhoods (such as Snoop's mansion or the Walking Dead land) fetch a premium. The most expensive piece of land sold so far went for $4.5 million.
As well as living in the metaverse and building houses there, Borget believes that in the future, we will even have jobs and earn money there – jobs that do not yet exist in the "real world."
"Being a player can be a job," he tells me.
“You don't need to be the best performing player in the world like in eSports … where only the top one percent of players will be successful and make money.
"Here, as you play, all the content you collect in-game … as you complete quests … you earn digital content … NFTs … you can choose to hold it, use it in another game, or sell it in a marketplace … people can earn income through their active engagement.”
Decentralized Digital Democracy
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are a concept that has emerged hand-in-hand with the development of web3 ecosystems. These are collectives that are governed by rules set down in smart contracts and enshrined in blockchains. Eventually, they could form the basis of regulation and government in online worlds, with all stakeholders – be that owners of cryptocurrencies like SAND (the Sandbox token), landowners, or just simply users – entitled to have their say in how a metaverse environment is run.
Borget says, "The goal and aim of The Sandbox is that within three to five years, it will be fully decentralized, meaning players will own 100 percent of the land on the map … [and] us, the platform, will just be minor actors, minor ownership … meaning we can have in place the DAO where the value stakeholders of the platform – landowners, players, SANDowners – can participate and engage with the key decisions that will make the world evolve.”
Worlds like The Sandbox will, eventually, be almost entirely built and managed by the users. The platform is currently heading into what it calls “Season 3”, which it hopes will consist of over 100 different "experiences" – most of which will be designed, developed, and run by the community members and brands that have made it their home.
“By the end of the year, the goal is that publishing will be open … so anyone can launch an experience,” says Borget.
“What I love is, we are making it global, diverse, and culturally rich. So we’re attached to bringing brands and content not just from the US but from various regions of the world … you will find a French area, Dubai, Bollywood, the [Korean] K-verse.”
The Future of the Metaverse
It can be argued that The Sandbox, along with other truly decentralized platforms like Decentraland and Somnium Space, is leading the way in creating virtual environments that will realize the true value of web3. It’s clear to see that life is becoming increasingly digital and virtual, and as time passes, we’re likely to find ourselves spending even more time in online worlds than we do today. At the same time, those words will become even more immersive, entertaining, and addictive.
This undoubtedly leaves many of us feeling uneasy at the prospect of the owners of big, centralized platforms taking even more control of our lives than they have already. The alternative vision of the digital future could provide a remedy for this – although there are clearly challenges still to be overcome around privacy, safety, and inclusiveness.