Does the Crypto-Backed Metaverse Need a Zoning Board?

A screenshot of plot 3 Adalbertstraße, currently owned by user FA881A, who hired meta-architect Ogar to design this ranch.
Photo: FA881A / and Ogar /

A futuristic Viking themed spa hotel. A contemporary office space with a zen garden on the roof. A monastery – with a chapel and underground catacombs, including skulls – plays by jowl with an all-American ranch house.

All of these structures were recently built in the Metaverse, a galaxy of shared virtual spaces like Decentraland, Space dream, and Cryptovoxels, accessible via any browser. These worlds have something in common with older virtual spaces, such as Second Life – you get an avatar, you can socialize with other users, you can build a house – with one key difference: they’re powered by crypto. -change. While these platforms are free, users pay with crypto for virtual lands as well as avatars, wearable devices, 3D models, and enhanced artwork. Over the past few months, as crypto prices have skyrocketed and non-fungible tokens have exploded, more and more people are coming into the metaverse, ready to buy land and build a property, sometimes to actual values.

In the past 30 days, four Decentraland plots have sold for the crypto equivalent of over $ 200,000 each, and an artist recently sold a predefined virtual home which can be uploaded to the Metaverse for $ 500,000 worth of crypto. With all the new money flooding the metaverse, these experimental communities are changing. And as the designs that dot them shift from idealistic fun to potentially lucrative investments, the kinds of neighbor-to-neighbor conflict we know from the real world have followed.

Take the monastery and the ranch house next door. Both were built by Ogar, a sought-after meta-architect in the Metaverse. His real name is Alexandre Vlerick and he lives in real life in Lille, France, where he previously worked in the design and production of video games. But he made the transition just over a year ago to work full-time in cryptoart and design, making NFTs and building houses at Cryptovoxels. (Prices vary, but they start at around $ 1,000 per project.) Right after completing the monastery for a German client, he received another request: an American client asking for a ranch next door, on land he could raise. virtual chickens, horses and a goat. Once the client moved in, he got a red barn, a tractor and bales of hay.

The owner of the monastery was unhappy with the conflicting aesthetic, and a familiar owner association style conflict erupted. “The first customer was like, ‘Dude, can’t you do this somewhere else? I will be exchanging packages with you so you have a bigger space away from home, ”Ogar said. “But he said no. So, side by side in the metaverse, they came to coexist. Visitors to Cryptovoxels can practically walk around the backyard of the American breeder, imagine themselves in Wyoming, then stumble into a basement full of skulls.

A screenshot of 1 Ratiborstraße, owned by the Skulls on Eth duo, who hired meta-architect Ogar to design this monastery-slash-catacomb.
Photo: MAGALL / and Ogar /

Ogar’s designs are whimsical at times, but they are also incredibly detailed, ranging from an ancient Greek-style temple to a model of the Bronx Zoo. (“Animals are hard to make,” he says.) The variety is in part the result of the almost complete lack of zoning rules in Cryptovoxels: you’re limited to how much plot you have. purchased, which has height, width and depth restrictions. But stylistically, users have free reign, which means there is little consistency in style. The virtual world has a speculative, Wild West feel – especially amid the current crypto gold rush, which has investors influxing bitcoin (and other currencies ranging from Litecoin to Dogecoin). Some choose to sink it into opulent Metaverse buildings, betting these will appreciate it even more.

Success brings with it the usual problems of cities and suburbs: As new stores, art galleries, and homes appear in the Metaverse, land becomes increasingly scarce and expensive. In some virtual worlds, like Decentraland, there is a limited amount of land, but Cryptovoxels periodically spawns new islands for users to bid on. Of course, there are still increasingly less desirable areas: packages on the home continent in Cryptovoxels, called Origin City, are more expensive, as are those in certain neighborhoods where artists tend to congregate, such as Le Marais and Gangnam. At the moment, some of the listed plots available on Cryptovoxels have open offers of the crypto equivalent of between $ 2,000 and $ 5,000, while the second hand market continues to generate cross-sell prices.

The reasons people flock to the Metaverse vary – and can clash. Many early adopters came to space because they were excited to spend time virtually with like-minded people who believe in blockchain technology; others were digital artists excited about the new platforms. “It’s a very funny social experience, seeing the roots of everything, an entire society being built,” Ogar said. “It’s like stepping into a free world.” But for newcomers paying more than $ 100,000 worth of crypto for a package, participation in the metaverse might be related less to the liberating potential of blockchain and more to speculation with crypto on digital assets.

There is a clear tension between the idea that the metaverse is a utopian blank canvas, socially and visually, and the fact that these spaces are based on property rights guaranteed by money. You can rent your package for more crypto. In Decentraland there are even mortgages with interest rates. Perhaps in part because of their increasing value, people tend to be protected from packages; Ogar recently built a beach for someone, as part of an NFT seaside gallery, but a few pixels overflowed into the neighbor’s land. “The next day my client came back and the neighbor put up a giant billboard in the middle of the package saying basically, ‘Move your beach, you are on my plot., ‘” he said.

The value of NFTs has also changed things as people speculate on digital artwork and then wonder where they can display it. Some of the platforms that sell NFTs have even built their own galleries in the Metaverse. “A lot of collectors are very attached to VR, so we see a ton of value in it,” said Zack Yanger, of the NFT SuperRare auction platform, who has set up shop in Cryptovoxels and Decentraland with galleries where you can view and buy NFT. “If you look at all the top collectors, almost all of them collect works of art specifically to put them in these galleries that they’ve built in different worlds.”

There is also new work for Ogar, who has been busy building galleries and museums in which artists and collectors can house their collections. Some even look for pyramids, like the one he built for Finnish artist Vesa Kivinen, is full of Egyptian-style statues and blue and gold designs on the wall that resemble hieroglyphics.

Another user, who goes by Benoit C., was already thinking about how to foster an open mind and community in Cryptovoxels in 2018, when he built the Crypto Art Museum, where he exhibits works from his collection of over 200 NFT. So far it has recorded over 20,000 virtual tours, mostly in the last few months. Virtual strolling through the Museum of Crypto Art, a cavernous building that Benoit described as “Bauhaus-inspired,” has its own sensations: seeing digital works on display without any attempt at simulation.

“Art is meant to be seen, not hoarded,” he said. “Right now there’s this fad, this stream of new art coming in and going, and you can see them on the platforms for maybe a day or two before they’re gone, in someone’s wallet.

Users like Benoit C. have mixed feelings about the recent changes to the Metaverse. The NFT rush has helped raise the profile of the Museum of Crypto Art – an IRL brand recently approached it to host a virtual event there. It’s exciting to see the community grow. But there is already a kind of nostalgia taking hold among long-time users of these platforms (i.e. those who have been around for three or four years) for the time before prices increase and the larger crypto community begins to enter the metaverse. “The big money comes in,” said Benoit C. “It’s always the same. At first there is a small community, then newcomers come in and there are feelings about these newcomers, who are richer and more famous – that they are sort of changing the space.

Ogar’s first project, built last year when prices were still low, remains his favorite: a building he erected on a package given to him by an artist friend. It’s based on a cafe he loved in Amsterdam that closed a few years ago. It has a yellow and blue facade and red brick details; inside there is a pool table and a pulp Fiction displays, as well as a handful of NFT. People have been bidding on the property lately, making crypto offers. “They don’t seem to understand that this is my house, so I will never sell,” he says. I did it based on this real place that closed in the real world, and I can’t go there anymore. But I made it almost identical, so it will now exist in the Metaverse.

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