#1117: Deconstructing “Voxels (formerly Cryptovoxels)”: Virtual Land Speculation & the Experiential Gap of Crypto-Based Metaverse Neighborhoods

Virtual land speculation within cryptocurrency-based Metaverse platforms has gone from boom to bust over the past couple of years. I sat down to do a deep dive with the Voxels platform (formerly Cryptovoxels) founder Ben Nolan to interrogate the premise of idea of buying and selling virtual plots of land. Nolan is not all in for all aspects of cryptocurrencies, including the carbon footprint of proof-of-work chains like Ethereum that Voxels uses, and surprisingly the buying and selling virtual plots of land as a speculative investment. Nolan says that “Voxels isn’t a way to make money. Voxels is a way to build the Metaverse and to capture the value that they create. It’s not an investment vehicle.” He’s increased the supply of virtual plots of land over the last years to keep it affordable, but to also capitalize on the NFT boom and crypto Metaverse hype to the tune of $22 million of 2021 revenue in New Zealand dollars.

Even though Nolan’s intentions are that plots of virtual lands should not be seen as speculative investments, the very nature of Cryptocurrencies and NFTs means that inevitably there are a number of parcel holders who are treating it as a speculative investment. Voxels has sold over 7,300 CVPA ERC-721 tokens since June 6, 2018 with a total supply of 7863 parcels, and they have not been able to escape the preferential attachment Crypto Whale dynamics that have been documented in Ethereum and Bitcoin as over half of the parcels are owned by 10% of the 2380 holders as of July 30, 2022. 22% of Voxels CVPA parcels are owned by the top 1% of holders (excluding unsold plots held by Cryptovoxels), 44% parcels are owned by the top 5%, 56% parcels are owned by the top 10%, 68% parcels are owned by the top 20%. There are similar numbers for Decentraland LAND holders with 20% of virtual land owned by top 1%, 41% owned by top 5%, 52% owned by top 10%, 65% owned by top 20%.


Nolan said that one of the key differentiating aspects for why you’re buying plots of virtual land is because of the neighbors that you have around you in the Voxels maps. But one of the things that I noticed in my experience of exploring around Voxels is that there are a lot of empty plots of land. After doing a feature analysis of the 7863 parcels, I estimated that there’s around 2530+ plots of land are relatively empty or completely developed. This is a rough approximation based plots of land with only 0-1 features and voxel hashes less than 200-400 characters, listed parks, and about 4 days of spot-checking empty plots of land that I came across.

Doing a comprehensive assessment of empty or undeveloped plots of land would like take a larger crowd-sourced effort of defining the parameters and validation process, but my rough estimate translates to around 1/3 of the parcels of land are empty. On average, for every 2 plots of developed land, there is 1 plot that’s empty and relatively untouched. This translates to a lot of absentee Voxel land owners who have opted to maintain ownership of the virtual Cryptovoxels Parcel (CVPA) token without improving or contributing to the virtual experience of their neighborhood in any meaningful fashion. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a portion of those holders of undeveloped virtual land are treating it as a speculative investment without any regard to the experiential aspect of that investment.

This is where I found my experience of the neighborhood aspect of Voxels to be lacking. When there are so many empty and undeveloped plots of land, it creates a disjointed and fractured experience that reads as Metaverse Blight.

There’s also been a number of critical articles & video essays about cryptocurrencies that have come out in the last year that have tipped me over to being more skeptical than optimistic including Marlinspike (2022), Kondor, et al. (2021), Olson (2022), münecat (2022), White (2021), Zhang (2022), & Bauwens & Pazaitis (2019). [Full references down below]

I also found it difficult to find compelling experiences by just roaming around neighborhoods as there seemed to be a lot more noise than signal, and there were not as many ways to search or filter recommendations built into the website. I was also able to do a more comprehensive analysis of the parcels of land via the Cryptovoxels APIs, and one indicator that seemed to help filter out interesting worlds were ones that had a high number of features or a broad range of different types of features in the parcel. As an example, The Real Vision Headquarters has 2009 features, and this one of the more elaborate worlds with a lot of experiential design considerations. Of all of the available features, the most popular feature was vox models, then images, then cubes, and then NFT images, which speaks to the popularity of NFT art galleries and images within Cryptovoxels.

In doing a survey of all of the parcels of land there were 153033 images and 41187 NFT-images, which averages out to 19.5 images per parcel and 5.2 NFT images per parcel. Many times the images are voxel textures or promotional images that you might see on a marketing brochureware website, and so many parcels of land read like 3D websites aiming to share information. Sometimes the spatial architecture creates a unique volumetric experience to amplify the message, but more often than not the voxel architecture serves as a utilitarian space to maximize how many images can be shown.

Here’s a full accounting of the total number of other types of features with how many on average on each parcel: 184325 vox-models (23.4 per parcel), 153033 images (19.5 per parcel), 92133 cubes (11.7 per parcel), 41187 nft-images (5.2 per parcel), 18503 signs (2.3 per parcel), 12376 lanterns (1.6 per parcel), 9675 groups (1.2 per parcel), 8349 collectible-models (1.1 per parcel), 7104 megavoxs (0.90 per parcel), 5464 polytexts (0.69 per parcel), 4352 videos (0.55 per parcel), 2920 youtube (0.37 per parcel), 2905 richtexts (0.37 per parcel), 1939 particles (0.25 per parcel), 1561 audios (0.20 per parcel), 1031 spawn-points (0.13 per parcel), 919 portals (0.12 per parcel), 853 guest-books (0.11 per parcel), 687 buttons (0.09 per parcel), 399 boomboxes (0.05 per parcel), 266 text-inputs (0.03 per parcel), 135 polytext-v2s (0.02 per parcel), 82 vid-screens (0.01 parcel), 44 poap-dispensers (0.006 per parcel), 23 slider-inputs (0.003 per parcel), 20 screens (0.003 per parcel), 1 discoverables (0.0001 per parcel).

The number of characters in the voxel hash also indicates how much the parcel owner has altered their piece of land. The higher that number, then the more work that they’ve put into it. The largest voxel hashes are the DERAGELAND and then ME Swing Tower. The voxel length is another indicator of how much a parcel of land has been modified. Also looking at whether or the parcel name was and/or description was added is another indicator of how much the land has been modified. 53.8% of parcels modified the name and 24.5% of parcels added a description. One of the more reliable recommendations are probably from the “womps” that are screenshots that are shared on the front page of Voxels.com. It’d be nice to be able to search and filter worlds by the number of womps, or by the number of times someone favorited it (a new feature that was added after my main evaluation period).

Getting personal recommendations of favorite worlds would likely be one of the most reliable methods, or to give more finer grained user tagging and searching. Some of the worlds Nolan recommended checking out where some of the Museum of Crypto Art worlds (searchable via the MoCA user), the Hexeosis Museum, The Rose Nexus in Gangnam in Origin City, Architect Island, Ogar Production [described as a Cannabis Cafe], and 3 Bus Estate [described as a church that’s black in Maker’s District].

Some of the worlds I enjoyed where jin’s 2 Proto Gardens hacker space and 3 Alva Fork, and the VRON Plaza by ross had some great speculative architecture with baked lighting that worked really well with a great payoff at the top. ME Lost Temple is a vast place. One of the most consistently impressive design firms is Metaverse Architecture firm Voxel Architects who built The [Jedi] Temple (Dark Junction), One BC, House of M, $WHALE Pagoda, zonted Gallery, Token Smart [Roman Colosseum], @westcoastbill 21x: glass age, and the @westcoastbill 21x: space age SpaceX installation that you see when you spawn.

One thing that I did enjoy about Voxels is the independent spirit that gives me a Geocities vibe of the early World Wide Web. These are low-fi, virtual worlds with a low barrier of entry to create and modify. Given that nearly a third of plots of land are untouched and undeveloped, it’s not too far of a stretch to say that the majority of the nearly 8000 parcels of land that are not very inspired or have a bare minimum of amount of modifications. But I also found it challenging at times to escape the mass consumerism of the crypto meme culture and trying to market and sell any number of digital goods. I was able to still come across enough weird, indie spatial art, that has some insights for what a spatialized, 3D web and Metaverse may evolve into. I did have a number of times that I spawned into a location and found something beautiful and unexpected next door to my destination, but this didn’t happen as much as I would have preferred in my weeklong deep dive, and I also had more mixed results when I went on a number of extended walks down a number of different suburbs.

I can’t claim to have seen every parcel of land, but I feel like I was able to see enough to get a representative sample where on the whole I didn’t find as many compelling experiences as I regularly do in VRChat or RecRoom. Nolan recognizes that Voxels may never be as compelling as these other higher fidelity social VR worlds, but he says that Voxels is trying to do something different and is an experimentation in data sovereignty where users take ownership of the virtual land. If there wasn’t such a disproportionate number of 10% of crypto whales owning over half of the parcels or 1/3 of the parcel owners being absentee speculative virtual land investors, then I think the idea of virtual land ownership might have more legs. This top of the broader Cryptocurrency and NFTs critiques listed below puts me firmly still in the skeptical camp when it comes to Crypto-based Metaverse platforms.

However, the technical architecture of Voxels is very impressive. There is a beauty in using a completely open web stack to build a vision of the open Metaverse that’s doing a better job of living into the interoperable values of the open web better than most projects. There are WebXR implementations, but I had mixed results of it either crashing out on the Quest 2 or not fully loading in all of the plots of land. So while I’m still not convinced by many of the underlying aspects of cryptocurrencies or NFTs, then I have to give Voxels credit for finding a way to bootstrap millions of dollars of funding without having to be beholden to VC investors. Let’s hope that they can translate more of that revenue into lessons for an open and interoperable metaverse, but also build in-world creation tools that helps democratize the process of virtual worlds and give a sneak peak of how the 2D web might start to be translated into immersive, 3D spaces.

Also, the jury is still out for me on what role cryptocurrencies, web3, and NFTs will play in the future of the open Metaverse. A lot of my more critical takes have been formed by the following articles and video essays that I’ve come across over the past year:


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So in today's episode, I do a deep dive into crypto voxels, which is now known as voxels. So I talked to the founder, Ben Nolan, about the evolution of this as a project, but also what is it about this buying and selling of virtual land that he finds compelling. And in the course of this conversation, there's a lot of ways CryptoVoxels is innovating on the open web. They're using everything on a web browser and they even have a WebXR implementation. It's a little buggy and crashes a lot and doesn't load as fast, but at least they're making the effort to build a 3D immersive virtual world on the open web. And they have plots of land that people are able to buy and they're able to build what ends up actually being a lot of NFT crypto art galleries, but there's also people that are trying to create the equivalent of like a spatialized website to share information. But there's also people that are doing different art projects and voxel art and experimenting. And there's also about a third of all the plots of land that there's nothing that's happening. It's just. bear plots that are being held by crypto speculators. Ben himself is not a fan of all aspects of crypto. In fact, he doesn't like speculative aspects of the cryptocurrency, and there's things that he's done over the years to try to keep the price of the land down. But at the same time, there's underlying dynamics of the cryptocurrency community that I think are inescapable to a certain extent. You end up having the top 10% of the people owning over half of all the different content. I talked to Ben just to get his take of what the value is of having this crypto-based metaverse and have my own experience of those different worlds as I go in to browse around and I share my direct experiences in the conversation. But then after this conversation, I actually went back and did a whole blockchain analysis and more statistical analysis, and then just trying to get a sense of what the story is and what's happening with the crypto voxels community. So I'll have all of that to share at the end of my takeaways. But there's also another aspect of voxels, which is that Nolan has taken some of the money to be able to invest in what he calls focus or Fox's, which is a module that you put on the outside of the quest in order to get stereoscopic color, augmented reality as a pass through, through the VR headset. So we'll be coming all that and more on today's episode of voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Ben happened on Thursday, May 26th, 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and.

[00:02:29.220] Ben Nolan: dive right in. My name's Ben Nolan. I've been doing virtual worlds for a super long time. And for the last four years, I've been doing voxels, which used to be called crypto voxels, which is kind of virtual world with a bat. 8,000 parcels in it and a whole bunch of people and really kind of cool thriving world. Yeah, it's really fun. I also do the focus, which is augmented reality headset where our company does. Yeah. So that's kind of my interest. I've been listening to your podcast for a really long time. Yeah. It's just saying how before I did this job, I used to do a company that made a spreadsheet for how many cows you had. And one of the columns was lost and found cows. Apparently you lose cows and you also find them. But that place was way out in the country. And so I had this two hour drive, I did it once a week. And so I used to listen to Voices VR religiously as I drove over the hill. And so, yeah, it's really buzzing hearing your voice live.

[00:03:18.282] Kent Bye: Nice. Yeah. Well, very cool to catch up with you. I know I've heard a lot about crypto voxels from folks like Jen at bank VR, who's been involved with a lot of different things with crypto voxels over the years with interoperability experiments and whatnot. But maybe before we start to dive into some of that, maybe you could just give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:03:40.388] Ben Nolan: Yeah, totally. Yeah. So I read Snow Crash a long time ago, like in 99 or something. And I was like, wow, so cool. I want to be part of building that. And so I've been building metaverses ever since. In the mid 2000s, early 2000s, I met Nick Chapman from Strata, which is another virtual world from Wellington here. He'd built something called the Digital Sunlight Project as his university master's, which was a peer-to-peer C++ OpenGL virtual world. And I was sort of really impressed by it. And I was like, Oh, I want to build a virtual world. And I'd been doing 3D stuff before, like back in the nineties. And so I went and built a virtual world that night and came in the next day to show him. I was like, look, I built a virtual world too. And he was going, how the fuck did you do that? You know, overnight. And I was like, well, I don't know. I just sort of did. And the reason I managed to do it in C++ is because I didn't know you were meant to frame memory. So I only ran the testing for like 10 seconds, but it leaked like a meg of memory a second. But if you only do it for 10 seconds on a modern computer, it doesn't matter. And so he sort of showed me how to program better and we got better and better. And then, yeah, over the time we've done lots of different metaverses. I really wanted to work in Second Life, but I don't really like that Linden script. And so I went and built a thing called SceneVR for a long time, which was a web-based 3D space that was multiplayer and consistent. So you could write JavaScript scripts that would run for everyone in the space. You'd see the other people, you could interact with them. It was really cool. I was really passionate about it and it was open source and I kind of worked on it for about two years and no one used it and no one cared. And the only outcome was that it kind of influenced Mozilla to build A-Frame. And so I just kind of got burnt from that. I was like, oh, you can build this really cool stuff and no one cares. And then Yeah, that took some time off. And then I came across pixelmap.io, which was Reddit r slash place or the million pixel homepage, but on Ethereum. And I was like, Oh, wow, you can store. The problem I had with ZenVR is I kind of got to the point where you had one big cohesive world where you could go from one to another, but those world records were just stored in my database and it just didn't feel right. There was something missing there. So I stopped and then I saw, Hey, wait, those land ownership records, the records of what's in the world, where it is and who owns what you could store that on the Ethereum blockchain. Cause I'd never really understood what you can do with smart contracts. And so Pixelmap showed me that. And so then I built that, you know, kind of a world that worked like that. And then I went to work with Decentraland for a while, and then they started to really build out their team in South America. And so I finished up at Decentraland and then after that, I started Voxels. And then I did that for about a year or two while I worked on the spreadsheet for cows and on some other company, some other like startup that I had on the side, not startup, like a contracting gig. And then after about 18 months, it got to the point where it was like $10,000 a month. And so I, I quit my contracting gig and just worked full time on voxels and woke up every day at 3am because I was terrified about how I was going to survive and what had I done. And then a year after that, we sort of got to a hundred grand a month and then everything's slowed down now. But last year we had weeks where we did like a million dollars a week. So it's been a pretty crazy ride. And now everything's slowed down with the crypto winter and we've made some questionable decisions that I have. So now we're just back to break even, but we've been really financially conservative. And I've always said, I'm really in this for the long haul. So we've got a pretty small team. I think we've got the money in the bank to pay the team for four years or something, three years, and we're still breaking even. So we're just going to kind of keep doing it and getting better. The goal for this was always I don't know that to build a really good Metaverse and one that really kind of respects the users and kind of as a rebellion against what I think will be the Metaverse is built by the large companies. So that's sort of my journey to where we are now.

[00:07:03.265] Kent Bye: Yeah. So it sounds like you came across the Decentralion before you started Voxels. Is that correct?

[00:07:08.528] Ben Nolan: Yeah, I worked with them. I worked really closely with essential and for about six months, I think. And I went to bonus series. I met with them when it was just Ari and Esteban, a really small team. Yeah. And so it would have helped them build. I think we know what's called the bronze age, but they started to localize the team in South America and the time zones were kind of hard. And then, then they fired me and then my kid was born and then I was kind of like, I really like the space. And so, um, started CryptoVoxels a while after that.

[00:07:34.155] Kent Bye: I guess one of the places that I'll start is just like when we think about the metaverse, you have the boundless potential to create as much as you want to create as much space and to basically have no limitations of any constraints. But at the same time, you have constraints of attention and focus and trying to gather people to come to certain places. So I feel like the process of buying and selling virtual land within the context of something like CryptoVoxels. has the potential to start to create some of those common metaphors that we get from the location, location, location mantra that we get within physical real estate. I guess the thing that happens in virtual real estate, though, is that you can essentially teleport to different places and you know, where you're located, there may be something about where you're spawning in, but in essence, you could kind of like be anywhere and have a virtual space, but there may be other things that are around you. But I don't know, I'd feel like I'm torn as to whether or not I see the future of the metaverse being a buying and selling of this virtual plots of land, or if we're going to abandon those constraints and just build unconstrained worlds that are not that. So I'd love to hear your take for why you think that this speculation on these virtual land plots is going to be a viable path forward.

[00:08:49.357] Ben Nolan: So we have crazy speculation in real estate in New Zealand and you can't afford to buy houses. Anyone on a normal wage just can't buy a house. It's totally messed up. So we have people here who are really well-paid contractors who would absolutely struggle to buy a house. And so I'm really against it. I'm really against rampant speculation of a public good that people need to live. And, you know, you could argue that the metaverse is an optional thing, but I don't really want there to be rampant speculation on voxels, you know, and that's really hypocritical coming from me because the prices have gone up. I sold parcels for $20, you know, when I started out and now they're worth several thousand dollars, but it's been kind of a slow ramp and we've kind of done that slowly because I do feel really funny about it. But there's two things about what you're paying for in a virtual world. You're paying for hosting, which is, you know, it could be relatively cheap, you know, hosting isn't expensive these days. The actual cost for us to host a really popular parcel in Vauxhall is pretty low, even though we do it in a really plush way with lots of CDNs and edge locations and lots of caching. But the main thing you're paying for, this is me bearing the lead, is the neighbors. Your neighbors are what you're paying for because there's virtual unlimited space, but you've only got six carters and neighbors. You've got North, South, East, West, up and down. And when you're in Vauxhall's, when you look out the window, you can build an amazing parcel. But the thing that makes it special is when you look out the window, you can see the neighbor's trash pile or the neighbor's really beautiful build or a spark park across the street or the ocean out there, or, you know, someone else's build as part of your experience because it's the neighbor and it's out there and so that comes in lots of ways. If you buy a parcel in a popular part of town then you'll get more traffic because people come to an art gallery next door which has good events or has lots of often users and they'll walk out the door after they're finished looking at the art gallery and come to your parcel. But you're really just paying for neighbors is what you're paying for. And in Voxels, we have unlimited free spaces, which are spaces you can create and host and do everything, but they don't have neighbors. And they're just not as cool because I was really into Janus VR early on, which was like an amazing 3D environment browser kind of thing, like kind of really early VR chat, but way more DIY, way more roots built by James McRae and a bunch of cool people in that team. And then Janus VR, you teleported everywhere. And in Scene VR, you teleported everywhere. And the problem with teleports is that when you're standing together with a group of people, you're like, okay, I'll go through the teleport suite, I'll go through the teleport. And then no one follows you. And everyone gets confused because they can't work out how to click on the teleport or when they go through, it doesn't load on the other side, or they get a little bit confused and they go through the other one, or they didn't hear you go through it. Then the voice chats just cut out and you can't hear them anymore. And you don't know where they are. And also just like your brain doesn't work very well with teleports between parcels. So if you have a standalone parcel with no neighbours and you teleport to the adjacent one, you very quickly lose track of where you came from because your spatial mind is used to, I went north from here and I went along the street and I followed the sun. Then I went down past that park and then I went upstairs. You can do that modelling in your head really well, but the portal based navigation system between a whole bunch of disparate, unconnected, unlocalised scenes, I find it doesn't work as well. And so, you know, a huge part of why we have to work so hard on voxels is to make you and all your neighbors render in one cohesive world without performance issues. And then also just mediating neighbor disputes, which is that generally resolve themselves, to be honest.

[00:11:59.098] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just popped on my Oculus Quest 2 and pulled up voxels.com within my Quest browser. And I wasn't able to actually go into an immersive WebXR experience of voxels.com, which I thought was kind of cool. Sometimes as I would move around, then things would not load in a way that was responsive. And so there'd be a lot of blank spaces. I'd have to stand there for a little bit to have things load in and there was actually a little thing that popped up and I tried to go there and it said, I'm sorry, you don't have an NFT. You cannot enter in this space. And so then it kind of kicked me out to the street and then I entered in anyway, and then the building didn't load in. And so I was able to kind of walk around all these avatars dancing in an empty pink space. So it was cool at least to be able to see some of these worlds immersed within VR, because a lot of these crypto-based projects only look at it through a 2D frame. So I appreciate that there are at least some ways that you can have an immersive experience into this. But at the same time, when I go into these worlds, I feel like it's sort of like being in Minecraft and seeing these voxels. And maybe it's a little bit more artistic than Minecraft because you can do a little bit more creation and put up pictures of gifts and NFTs and, you know, have a little bit more of if Minecraft had more opportunities to customize the look and feel of different voxel-based art. But essentially that's what it gave me. It was a Minecraft vibe. But I'd say there's a huge difference between some of those voxel-based worlds that I saw within CryptoVoxels and some of the different types of immersive experiences that I've seen in, say, even Rec Room, where people are creating it within VR, or in VRChat, which is basically unbounded to everything you can imagine with Unity and Blender and everything else. So I feel like the aesthetics of the place are very low poly, but it allows people to, just like Minecraft, have a low barrier to entry to create stuff. But at the end of the day, it's not something that is totally blowing me away in terms of architecture or art that I've never seen in virtual spaces. And so I'd love to hear some of your reflections on having those constrained spaces. And even though you have neighbors that you still have a very limited amount of space, and there's only so much that you can really do in those small plots of land. I mean, I love the SpaceX installation. It's really vast. But aside from that, there's not a lot of things that I came across that gave that same sense of like all in wonder that I might see in some of the other social VR worlds.

[00:14:21.152] Ben Nolan: Yeah. Um, I think the big difference from what I'm trying to do or what we're trying to do at Voxels and what some people see about the metaverse is we don't want to be the metaverse. We don't want to be that big platform that everything's built in. When I started this, I thought that if you built the best metaverse, everyone would have to use it and everyone would pour in and you'd basically own the web browser and Facebook and web servers all at once. And it would be this huge, big behemoth and everyone would be existing in your framework. And that's what Nick at Substrata thinks he's going to do, is he wants to build the best Metaverse. So it's the best Metaverse engine that does amazing VR, that does amazing 2D, that has the best graphics, that can compete with Unreal, that can compete with Unity, has easy to build tools. I think that's extremely difficult. You know, we go really hard to make voxels work just with the lo-fi aesthetic that we have. And so to build a generalized metaverse, which is I think what a lot of these projects think they're going to do, is extremely difficult. If you look at Horizon by Meta, then you look at Decentraland, you look at us, we all kind of look different. And I don't think we're trying to solve the same problem. And any one of us could try and improve our graphics and our graphics engine and our build tools and our pipeline and our light baking and techniques and all of that stuff so that you could do AAA games if you had the skills to build that kind of geometry and then make it run in the world. I don't want to do that. What I want to do is make multiple Metaverses. I don't think voxels will be ever good at displaying spheres. I think spheres are the pathological case of something that'll never look good in voxels. And I think the fact that we use One of the people we work with calls them orthogonal polytypes, which is because all the faces are orthogonal to each other, axis aligned. The thing with voxels is that we'll do voxels really, really well, but the metaverse as I see it is a metaverse of places. I know I said that portals suck, so I think exploring through voxels is cool, but once you get into a parcel you like with all your friends and you get them together, you should be able to click a portal, go through with that group of people to VR chat, you should all instantly spawn in VRChat at the destination of the portal with no load times, it should just flick over to VRChat, no login, you're just in CryptoVoxels, suddenly you're in VRChat, you're all standing next to each other, you're still wearing the same costumes that you had, the same wearables from CryptoVoxels, you should still have the same voice chat happening, you should all hang out together in that experience, then you should go through another portal through to Decentraland, it should be the same group of people with the same costumes, no load times, you should explore through that and then you should teleport back to CryptoVoxels and then you're walking down the street again because you can find where you are. That is how I think you build a metaverse in the same way that the web isn't a website. The web is all the websites together. A metaverse is all these virtual worlds together. I find that way more exciting to build. Well, not more exciting. I think building a generalized metaverse where everyone had to build on your platform would be the most exciting thing. One, it would be a total dick move because you'd have to stop all interoperability to try and capture all that value in your metaverse, in your virtual world. And two, it would be extremely, extremely difficult. So I think there are things that work really well in voxels like galleries, clubs, openings. There are things that don't work well in voxels, like you can't do that mind bending vertex shader, iterative procedural thing that runs in VR chat and looks amazing in VR. And I'm totally okay with that. I think you should do different platforms for different things. And if someone builds a platform, that is the best for all of these and runs really well, and they have really good user rights and sovereignty and really good reuse and reusability and interoperability, then sure, we'll probably all migrate to that, and we'll migrate all of the Voxel's content to run on their engine. I don't see anyone working on that. I don't see how anyone could pull that off. If someone does, we would totally embrace it. But I I don't think it's going to happen in the near term. It's like building 3D content and 3D engines to render user generated content that looks good at a high speed is a really hard problem. Either that or we suck, but I'm finding it quite challenging and we do a very small subset of it.

[00:17:49.785] Kent Bye: So maybe you could talk a little bit about the architecture of CryptoVoxels, because it sounds like that you have these ERC-721 tokens with the CryptoVoxels parcels that you are able to buy them on OpenSea. But what happens when people buy a parcel and then maybe just kind of describe, because there's ways that this is decentralized, but there's also centralized because you can go to voxels.com and see it rendered out. So in some ways you're recentralizing it through that centralized website, but the ownership of that is through a cryptocurrency token, which I guess theoretically other people could fork and go build their own versions of just looking at those Ethereum blockchain tokens and then create their own iteration or instance of that, I guess. But maybe you could describe both the centralized and decentralized aspects of what is now voxels.com and was formerly known as crypto voxels.

[00:18:43.505] Ben Nolan: Yeah, so there's an ERC721 token, which people call NFT, but it's the recommendation that's been around for a long time, just after CryptoPunks, they sort of formalized it and we used it. We're one of the really early ERC721s. Stored on the blockchain is stored the parcel ID that you own, the wallet address of you, the owner, and then six numbers, which represent the bounding box of your parcel. So the entire layout of the city, where all the islands are, where the parcels are, where the streets are, that's all stored on the blockchain, which is not common. People don't normally store much on there. So once you buy a parcel on OpenSea or if someone gifts it to you, or you buy it on a different platform, or it's the blockchain, you don't need to use OpenSea or us to do it. You can interact directly with the blockchain to transfer ownership or to sell it in a decentralized marketplace. Once that parcel is assigned to your wallet, you go to voxels.com, you log in and then you start building in worlds. So you can click and place blocks and you can import art and content and you can change colors and do bits and pieces. We store all of that in a Postgres database and we serve it all using Node.js. And it's a really kind of standard web-based platform to host it. It's really affordable the way we've designed it to host. And we also mirror all the content in the world, which is like several terabytes of traffic a week to edge locations all over the world. So when you're at voxels, I still think it's way slower than it needs to be, but all of that content's coming from four or 500 kilometers away from you, you know, maybe 20 milliseconds at the speed of light. And that's really important. And so that's why we centralize it, because it's really easy to solve all these problems and make it work really well with the data there. But it's important to me that the data in the world isn't owned by us. And so what we have is we have community projects that take our public APIs to get all the content in the world, and then they mirror onto append-only logs, like blockchains, like ARWeave. I'm not sure if there's a current IPFS mirror. We have the DatMirror running for a while, but I know the ARWeave one is running currently at the moment. So you have All the content in the world is mirrored onto a blockchain. So if you had that content of the blockchain, plus the land ownership rights, which is on the Ethereum blockchain, plus the wearables, which is on Polygon, because we've moved most of our stuff to Polygon, it's like a side chain of Ethereum that's low carbon, because we offset all our carbon usage on the Ethereum mainnet. And I kind of think offsets are slightly bullshit. So we've just been trying to reduce our actual carbon usage on Ethereum until they move to proof of stake. Between those, it's sort of decentralized. The aspect that's absolutely not decentralized is there's no renderer for voxels other than ours, which is closed source. And we do have an open source Unity renderer, and we've got little bits and pieces that we've shared over time of how to render and load the content, especially our sort of more complex file formats. But, you know, a truly decentralized distributed one would probably have an open source renderer. So you could view the content the way you want to. And so I guess like, I really believe in the user sovereignty of the blockchain. you know, that users get to control how it works. It's not at the whim of my company, whether or not you own your parcel. I can decide not to display your content if it offends me, but I can never take your parcel off you. That is an interaction between you and the blockchain. So I think user sovereignty in the blockchain is super interesting. a fully distributed system in terms of peer-to-peer connections to users, all the data being stored on IPFS and DAT and PIND and all that kind of stuff is very interesting. And I hope someone builds an amazing kind of showcase of that. And I know that there are people always working on purely decentralized metaverses, but it's harder. It's a lot harder. And everyone I've seen who's done a good job of building these things ends up somewhat centralized. So we're just trying to walk that line of what we could effectively do with a reasonable engineering time budget and moving towards full user rights, full user sovereignty and some kind of decentralization, you know, while also at the same time not destroying the economy for the people that have worked really hard to build these cool parcels that should be able to capture the value from.

[00:22:14.499] Kent Bye: So you mentioned something there that I found really interesting, which is that if you decide not to render something, then the centralized closed source renderer for voxels.com could decide not to render a parcel of land. As I've done a lot of look at the future of XR and the metaverse and ethics around it, it can imagine any number of different scenarios, like say, what if a series of white nationalists or neo-Nazis and they buy a lot of land. Does voxels.com have a code of conduct or terms of service saying that these are the things that you can or cannot do? And if you did have that type of content, then I guess it would be potentially stored on the blockchain. And then what would prevent other people to eventually, if there is an open source vendor at some point, to kind of have this situation where you have a number of different groups that would normally get banned from other organizations Because it's more decentralized, then how do you navigate those different types of situations?

[00:23:10.641] Ben Nolan: Oh man, it's like seven different questions. We do have a code of conduct for a long time. It was be awesome to each other with Keanu being like, be awesome to each other. Like a little gif. I think it's from like Bill and Ted's excellent adventure. And we kind of filled it out to be a proper code of conduct now, so it's got to be safe for work. Content can be sort of a nude if it's artistic, but no pornography, no hate, no violence, no guns, actually, no realistic guns, because I'm a big fucking left wing hippie. And so... People break those rules sometimes, and we very rarely have to remove a single piece of the content for them. And then we notify them. And mostly we just message people and say, Hey, that's a little bit over the line. Can you bring that back? And that doesn't actually happen very much. It self-governs really, really well. I think there's that whole thing of if you build a purely decentralized uncensored system, I would not want to be in there because I think censorship is really important. It's such a fucked up thing to say, but it's like. If you went into Voxels and everyone could do any content and no one reviewed it and there was no control, then there would be gore and there would be horrific porn and there would be all the kind of shit that you put on 4chan if those people decided to go and take that world. And that would not be somewhere I want to be. It wouldn't be a system I want to build. It wouldn't be somewhere I'd want to show my kids. It wouldn't be somewhere I'd want my coworkers to work in. Part of the reason that we don't allow pornography on Voxels is it's really hard to get hosting for it. But also if you do pornography, you have to pay rooms full of Filipino people to look at all the images on your platform and say, that's horrific violence. That's just porn. That's horrific violence. That's just porn. I don't want to pay someone to do that. I'd rather just say, there's nothing there. There's no line. There's no like, this is allowed and that's not allowed. It's just like, If it's not safe for work content, I'm sorry, we can't host it. You know, if you're a cam girl, you can put up pixelated pictures of yourself and then click that picture to go through to your website. That's totally fine, but we don't want it on our world. And you know, there's some fun anecdotes there. So there was a guy who had a really cool parcel for his for his favorite cam girl. And I was there with him and talking to him involved. And I was like, Hey, look, that image, there's actually pornography. Can you take that one down? And he's like, Oh yeah, you're right. That is actually. So he took that one down, let's get the other ones up. And there was someone else standing there who I didn't know in the room. I could see them, but I don't know who they were. And they were really offended. They're like, you can't do that. That's censorship. And the owner of the parcel was like, no, no, it's totally, I understand. The rules are pretty clear. And you know, that's fair enough. I'll blur that one out and link it to her site. But this other person was like, you can't censor people. And I was like, it's in the Code of Conduct, man. We totally, we totally ask you to stay within the Code of Conduct. Otherwise, we'll ask you to please remove your content. And so that person was like, but there are nipples in the world. I'm like, yes, the Code of Conduct says, you know, we're kind of European rules. You can't have guns and shoot people, but you can show nipples in art because nipples aren't illegal. So he went through the entire world and took a photo of every single nipple he could find in the world and then posted it on the front page of the site because we've got the screenshot wamp system. And other people in the company were like, what are we going to do about Nipple Guy? And I was like, I'm pretty sure he'll run out of energy eventually. Full credit to Nipple Guy. He went for like eight hours and found so many nipples in the world. The thing is, they were all artistic nipples. They were all like models or nudes or cartoon or like clay models. It was all clearly artistic. I was kind of like, I'm not exactly sure what point you're making here because we allow artistic nudes. We don't allow pornography. We don't allow violence. Also, the other cool thing about the multiple metaverses, we don't have to allow that stuff because if you want to do that, there are metaverses that are fully decentralized and have no rules and you can put your content on them. And I kind of like that. You know, if you want to go with your friends to porno VR land, I wouldn't really want to do that, but you totally could. I can see people want to, and it'd be fun and healthy for them to do that. There are metaverses, I'm sure, that would allow that. And we don't, and that's cool. And so, I don't know, I get really nervous of that whole build a decentralized system with no censorship, because it'd probably be great, but it might not be. To be honest, I was terrified when we started Voxels that we'd end up with crypto libertarians that rule hellish. But instead, we've got this huge collection of awesome artists and really wonderful women as well. that just do so much awesome art in the world. And I was, I've been so amazed and impressed and in love with all the people that build the content in the world, because they're really cool. And one of the things that we did there actually, slightly diversion, but the avatar in voxels is an age ended wooden dummy. And that's what everyone is. So you don't go there and it doesn't pop up with a big pop-up for you into the world saying, are you a dude or a guy or a woman? It's just like, you're just a thing that exists. It's kind of genderless. And then you can decorate your avatar and you can get a dress and a hat and long hair and stuff, or you can get a big sword and a stormtrooper outfit. But by default, you're kind of agendered. And then when we applied animations to it, I went to the animation library and instead of getting big staunch dude walking along, I just kind of got a nice woman, neutral walking stance. And it means that Voxels is like most of the virtual worlds. It's probably 60% dudes, but you don't know. You know, there's a few people in there that have clear gender or are clearly a refrigerator or are clearly a tree, but most people are just people in the world. And I kind of like that. You're not instantly segmenting people into different camps. And I think maybe that's part of the reason why we've got so many awesome female artists on the platform.

[00:28:00.393] Kent Bye: Yeah, so just to leverage off of one point there in terms of the avatar, as I've looked through DankVR or Jen's accounts of different interoperability experiments, you're at the frontier of the metaverse and starting to have different wearables from different avatars or NFTs to grant access into specific parties or places that are aided with NFTs. But what are your thoughts on some of the VRM open standards of having interoperable avatars to have either NFT collections or other types of VRM avatars that people could wear as their identity within the context of voxels.

[00:28:36.175] Ben Nolan: We put it out there that we're going to support VRMs and we were hoping to be the first platform to fully support VRMs. So you can buy an avatar anywhere and we're, you know, we talk a big game about interoperability, but I don't feel like we follow it up as well. It's extremely difficult because the VRM standard is reasonably well-defined, but loading generalized GLTFs, most of these VRMs aren't made properly. Most of them are on different skeletons. Most of the skeletons are upside down or inverted. The scales are all different. The animations don't apply cleanly, retargeting. It's like totally doable. and we've made it work, but making it work generalized is so hard. And I'm like, you know, we've got Marcus in Australia working on it. He's been working on it for six months with me. And I went over there with him to get it over the line and get it out. And it's just a really hard problem to solve. So yes, I really want them to work. If I could turn it on right now, I would, but it's, It's way harder than it should be. And it actually goes into that whole problem of us and Decentraland and Somnium and Substrata and Oncyber and stuff can display NFTs or two-dimensional art in the world really easily. So all of these platforms, you can put a two-dimensional animated GIF or a two-dimensional image on the wall, and that just works really well in all of us because it's really easy to, in a time-bound, reasonably secure way, load those images. None of us, there's no GLTF or Voxel content, like 3D content that you can display on all those platforms easily. It's extremely hard to make it work on all of us. And that's not because we're all fighting each other. Loading GLTF content is really hard. It's a really complicated, like it's trivial. It's one line of Babylon JS to load it. If you don't care about performance, if you don't care about security. If you try and validate that glTF to make sure that it's not too big, doesn't have too many vertices, doesn't have too many submeshes, not too many draw calls, doesn't have a shader that doesn't do anything it should, that all the textures are the right size, that you have efficiently tile it, list it, that you can render it at different speeds, that you can LOD it, that you can generate a physics model for it, that you can lightmap make it, that you can make all that work, it becomes like a multi-year research project. And we can make it better by working with everyone. Like basically saying, if you want to have content that works on all the platforms, someone should write a linter, like a very strict linter saying, will your model run well in a real time engine? You know, because Nick has this problem at Substrata, people come in and they drag and drop in a model and they're like, why does it run so slow? And he's like, well, because you inserted a sphere with 4 trillion points. So he has to write a special case in code to be like, Hey, look, your model, you accidentally told it to decimate, you know, to subdivide 12 times instead of two. And so it has way too many faces and, you know, obviously all of these are solvable problems and they will keep being sold. But if you look at somewhere like where to workshop people that did the graphics on King Kong and Lord of the Rings, they work here in Wellington. And they have a huge number of people working on what they call the pipeline, which is you have artists building content, and then it needs to come out of that artist's computer and then go through a whole big pipeline of processing before it can be rendered into the movie. And so with 3D content, user-generated content, you have the same thing. If someone's an excellent Blender artist, they can create amazing GLTFs that was rendered straight away. 95% of people would really struggle to build content to that level. Even if they did, there's no indication that content that is good enough. So yes, we will support VRMs. We will release our VRM support and we work with all collections. I think that's really important. The reason that we haven't got it out yet is it's really hard. And like, maybe it's easier than I think it is. And we've made it hard on ourselves, but our experience of loading generalized 3D content is that it's tricky.

[00:31:49.067] Kent Bye: Yeah, earlier you had mentioned Nick had been working on an open-source project. It sounds like Nick of Substrata. And when I asked Jen if he had any questions for you, he had asked about Godot and other open-source initiatives. And so I'm wondering if you could talk about this concept of open-source game engine. You've been working on your own renderer and if there's other types of integrations that you are planning with Godot and what is Substrata? Maybe just give a little bit more context for that. That sounds like maybe a separate project. and how you see this movement of the open metaverse and what is going to be needed to be able to live into that. Like we were talking about how you have to centralize to closed source renderer. But, you know, as we move forward, I would hope to see more generalized solutions that are out there. Maybe this is just the approach that you're always going to have to take, to take something as decentralized and recentralize it in some ways. Just like an OpenSea is another way of taking stuff that's a marketplace that centralizes attention. You know, that's I guess one of my critiques about the decentralization claims of the blockchain is that anything that's a functional utility has to somehow re-centralize some things, whether that's through MetaMask or whether that's through OpenSea or anything that's a functional utility has to take all those disparate parts and then basically do the spidering and scanning and put it into a centralized database to make it useful and timely. So given that you're kind of working on your own renderer, but there's all these other projects and how you see the future of all these things working together in the future.

[00:33:11.730] Ben Nolan: So it's an interesting question, like what's going to end up being the generalized program, which we can view all these metaverses in, because at the moment, the closest is the browser. And so Somnium's got basic browser support. Decentraland runs in the browser. We run in the browser. We work really hard to be browser first. Nick. I think has some renderers for Substrata that run in the browser. Oncyber runs in the browser. They do an amazing job. It loads really fast. The browser is a terrible runtime for high-performance graphics. If you think Voxels looks bad and to think the centerline doesn't look like a AAA game, it's because we're running them in the browser and also because it's hard. But I don't know. It's an interesting question. Yeah, we can open source. We will open source parts of our rendering engine. We submit stuff back to Godot and back to Babylon JS, which are our projects. And we sponsor some projects in that space. I don't know. I don't know. It's hard. We have every Thursday before we moved into this building, the old office, we'd have a thing called Art Hack, which is kind of like a computer hacking slash electronic music making plus just kind of hang out and talk about stuff. And back when I used to drink heaps before I stopped drinking, I was quite drunk there one night and this really drunk guy turned up and he was like, he's like, yeah, you're doing VoxelSay. And I was like, I'm going to open source it so that it can be everyone. And he was like, you have to open source it now because once you start making money, you'll be the man and you'll never open source it like the man in the bad way. And I was like, no, no, no, no, I'll definitely open source it. And now we make lots of money and I don't want to open source it because what if someone just forks the entire world and then cuts off our revenue stream and then we can't build it and we can't afford to host the world and we can't afford to improve the software. I don't know if that person actually exists because no one else at ArtHack remembers him being there. I've never met him before or since, so it might have just been me from the future if I can send a message back to myself. We're going to probably open source some big components of some of the projects that we do just to see whether it's terrible or not. Because I don't think it will be terrible. Decentraland is open source and no one's made a mirror of Decentraland. I think we will end up open sourcing some of our stuff. There's lots of things I'm nervous of. Like if someone uses all the voxels to build racist hate lands and it's running on the stuff that I spent hours and hours in the middle of the night while nursing my kid, fixing all the mats on. I won't feel happy about that. So, you know, that's a ridiculous thing to worry about, but that's the kind of things I do worry about beyond the financial side of it. Like we've done totally fine. Like we've sorted out as a company, but we do need to open source bits of it. I think more interesting is what's the runtime this will run on, you know, what's the platform that all of these will be able to link together. And basically it should just be an Oculus home that instantly launches into different apps should be the runtime. So they can all run natively. That's the best way for it to work. But I don't know. That actually kind of goes, if you want to talk about the focus a bit later, it's kind of my thoughts on a cohesive environment where you have lots of different sources of content coming into one world rather than the current model where you're at Oculus Home and then you launch an APK and then you're in VR chat with three spinning dots until it loads. And then you're in VR chat and you quit VR chat and then you're back in Oculus Home, Mark Zuckerberg's fucking dream house. And then you click another thing and it's the loading screen and then you go there. Yeah, I find that idea of a cohesive world, which is what the browser is. And that's why I sort of keep coming back to it. It's a bad runtime, but JavaScript's really fast. V8's really fast. The WebGL bindings are pretty quick. You know, WebGPUs can be pretty good. No one's ever going to claim that the browser is a great runtime for high performance graphics, but I suspect that's going to be the best one we have for a long time.

[00:36:27.743] Kent Bye: Yeah. It sounds like with the WebGPU replacing WebGL, that that's going to bring a lot of performance improvements, but you still suspect that it's not going to be quite as good as a native AAA games.

[00:36:38.048] Ben Nolan: AAA games look good because of the pipeline, because the artists, you know, if you bake things really, really well, you know, do lots of really good techniques. You've got pretty good fast access to the GPU, you know, JavaScript's pretty quick, really. You know, like if you're using a modern script and with vectorization and stuff, you can do a lot of stuff. It's the AAA games are really down to the artists rather than the graphics. rather than the speed of the runtime engine. Otherwise, Cyberpunk runs on a PS4 standard. That's probably about as equivalent in terms of power as my MacBook Pro here is with Chrome and NV8 and eight cores and a good GPU. So that's really down to the skill of the engine builders and the skill of the artists. Voxels will never look like a AAA game. It'll always look like... If you've ever looked at Global Illumination Minecraft, there's a guy called I can't remember, but he does amazing art. He does this amazing ray trace renderers of Minecraft in real time and it looks mind-blowingly good. It's just amazing lighting. Really, really fantastic. Seki, the Seki stuff. S-E-G-I. And I would love for voxels to look as good as that. So it'll always be made of squares, but they'll be really nicely lit squares.

[00:37:39.054] Kent Bye: Well, I'd love to get a little bit insight into the economic flow of this, because I see that there's a couple of models has happened in the social VR space. Either you get VC funding and you build something that is often based upon unity, and then you host everything. And then eventually you tack on top of that system, some sort of economy. Rekrum has their own in-game economy. VRChat is still yet to implement their economy, but yet I'd say they have some of the most vibrant culture of artists and creators and makers and experimentations of world building and avatar experimentations. It's an amazing platform that I think in terms of experience, I look to in terms of like a high bar in terms of trying to meet what's happening in VRChat. But then you have something like the crypto-based worlds, which have started with the economic exchange and trying to have landowners have economic throughput so that there's an economy in that world. But yet the experience I don't think is at the same level in terms of the types of experiences that I see in those crypto-based worlds versus what I see in, say, even Rec Room or VRChat. So I'd love to hear the argument for starting with the economy first. And how if these ERC 721 tokens, if each time they're exchanged, is there a percentage cut that goes back to you as the owner so that as the ecosystem is continuing to grow and thrive, that you have consistent revenue streams and maybe just give a little bit more insight into that. Cause you're selling these tokens that you're minting, but then if there's a secondary market that you're also getting revenue streams from.

[00:39:10.658] Ben Nolan: Yeah, so we get a 7.5% on secondary sales on OpenSea. That's not baked into the contract. It's not baked into blockchains. And so if people are transferring high value parcels, they'll normally do it direct to each other or through a third party escrow and not through OpenSea. So they don't have to pay that 7.5% fee. But if you just own a parcel and you don't want to own it anymore, you'll list it for around the price that you bought it normally. And then if it's a good time, someone will buy it off you. And because that's on an open market, we get a percentage fee of that. And when things are going well, generally we can cover most of our costs just on that 7.5% fee, which is amazing. So it means we don't have to go so hard minting, building the world bigger. Although I think building the world big is kind of really interesting. Yeah. So we do have a fee on that. There's a whole bunch of NFT metaverse projects every week, one or two comes out and I don't want to throw shade, but I'm going to throw a shade. A lot of these projects, they get artists packs from Unity. They do a bunch of glory renders. They kind of sketch out some ideas with their programmer friends and like, Hey, we can totally make this work. Then they put all those up on a website. They do a really good marketing page to raise money for their token or to do their presale or whatever. They raise all that money and then they build a community and everyone arrives super excited to do this metaverse. They get on the Discord and then the person releases the first version of it, which is the Unity app. And they realize it's really hard to build a metaverse and everyone hates it and they all shit on it. And so they try again and they can't make it better. And then they just freeze and then they do an exit scam. And their intention was never to do an exit scam. Their intention was to honestly build a really good metaverse. It got way too hyped because they marketed it too hard. Everyone had really high expectations. And then they're not game developers, they're sort of crypto heads. And so they realized it's really hard. And those people didn't mean to let everyone down, but it happens all the time. You see it every single week. And most of these projects are token raises or pre-sales, and then they will struggle to do the tech. And so I really respect the projects that have been doing tech and releasing it from the start and actually building it. We have tried to not hype things like Voxels is really weird and confusing and unfriendly. And we are moving away from that now because there's so much competition. We can't keep being like that. We have to be more accessible. But the intention there was just so that we didn't have a whole bunch of people YOLOing in or FOMOing in or whatever it's called and getting really excited about the project and trying to, because we don't have a token, for example, we do for Yofolk now, which is our little social network, but the Voxels, we don't have a token because the thing I feel uncomfortable about is that If you go to some Reddits for other projects, there'll be a lot of posts about the token from people being like, you have to use this thing. It's amazing. It's amazing. Metaverse come and use this thing. They've never used it and they don't care at all. They just bought a hundred dollars of the token. They want it to go up to $120 later today so they can sell it, make the 20 bucks and go somewhere else. So you have all these people see yelling in to hype a project who have no interest in the Metaverse and the technology. Like I'm not saying the Metaverse is a perfect place or I'm some kind of Metaverse like in savant, but it's just like, I'm passionate about the tech. And I want to avoid some of that hype and some of that crazy FOMO negative sides, some of the noise around the crypto side of it. And so it's important to me that people can capture the value. So we don't have a strong economy in the world in terms of being able to interact in the world. You can't go off and buy a wearable in the world very easily. You can't pay for experiences. It should work. We've been meaning to do it for years. We just never got around to it. But what we do have is the ability for owners to capture value. So if you buy a parcel, in the empty part of the world, they're the cheapest parcels, you know, on a new island, you might buy it for 0.7 F or 0.9 or one or something, or two F, you know, a couple of months ago. So you buy a parcel for that. And then you build something really cool there. Then when you go to sell it, someone will look at that parcel, which has a whole bunch of cool content in it. And it's got a little bit of traffic on the statistics that you've got there. And you can see the cool neighbors come along and that parcel when they sell it will be worth more, not because of rampant speculation, but because they captured the value of the effort they put into it. And that's why I've always been, kind of against renting contracts. Although, you know, we're going to try to access interesting models to it, but like if you rent, you get a parcel, you build it, you make it really cool. You build a community, you build an economy, a mini economy in your little parcel, people that come to the events and stuff like that. You don't capture any of that value. You know, maybe you can tell people, Hey, look, come to my new parcel that I could buy on this new island. You can redirect traffic or so, but you don't actually capture that value. That's where I think Blockchain and ERC-721 is really important because you own, indelibly, that content. You own that space. You own that asset. And that's what I think the important thing is. And then world economy is obviously really important so that people can make money from their parcels. But yeah, that's sort of my thoughts on it. In terms of the economy and rec room and VRChat, I can't really comment because I'm not well enough versed in how they are.

[00:43:33.345] Kent Bye: Well, yeah, they're all like centralized systems. Biotcha hasn't even actually implemented anything yet. I guess the point I was just making there was that some start with the experience first and then add the economy layer and then the other crypto based projects starting with the economy and then evolving to the point where the experience is compelling for people to come in.

[00:43:51.286] Ben Nolan: I don't know if voxels will ever be compelling, to be honest. I find it compelling, but compelling in the sense of being as compelling as VRChat. We're kind of doing a different thing. I think it's compelling for art galleries. Seeing art galleries in voxels is so accessible. Someone will say, look, I'm here. Click the link. You'll appear instantly next to them in your browser and you're in the space. So doing that in VRChat, the VRChat experience would be better, but you've got to have a VR headset, you've got to install the app, you've got to go through the 70 buttons that you have to press to log in and be a user in there. Once you're logged in, then you can go and do it. So as a new user, it's much harder to go and join there, but as an established user, VRChat's really fantastic. Like as a sticking point, we've been a existing accessible metaverse since before we started selling parcels. So we didn't start with the economy and then launch it all later. I know a lot of these other projects like Sandbox and Decentraland had big pre-sales before they released software and Sandbox isn't generally available yet anyway. We had the website online and you could explore this world, no login, no clicks, nothing required well before we started selling parcels, weeks before we started selling parcels. And we've always done it side by side. I don't know. I guess that makes me different. I don't really. I feel a bit funny saying it, but like I'm into crypto, but I'm not really a, I don't know. We haven't really done the hardcore crypto marketing, you know, shilling, presale, FOMO, blah, blah, blah. We try not to, like we do it on a week by week basis. We always do a little bit of marketing to try and get our passes to the sale, but. I don't know. I feel like we've really not gone as hard into the marketing aspect and pre-sales token raise side of crypto as other projects have done. You know, I've intentionally made the website look really ugly. So either you get it and you're like, Hey, this is really cool. I want to be part of it. Not if you're just a general person turns up and was like, wow, look at the quality of CSS and that really nice font choice. This'll be a great way to make money because this isn't a way to make money. Voxels is a way to build the metaverse and to capture the value they create. It's not an investment vehicle.

[00:45:38.516] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you kind of alluded to some other projects that are out there that I don't know if you were speaking directly about Neos VR, which is taking a fractured approach with different founders with different ideas about what they want to do with the experience. And so Fruitius is really building out the engine and the experience of Neos. And then there's the NCR token, which is the economy of that, and then there was $60 million raised and then reinvested into the token. And that kind of went up and crashed. And so, yeah, I don't fully understand everything that's happened, but I do know that within the context of the Nios VR community, that's created some fractures between the people who are into the actual experience of it. And then the people who are into the tokenomics and crypto line go up trying to use it as an investment vehicle. So that's an example of an experience where they haven't necessarily been and the same page on everything and maybe in direct conflict with each other. And maybe because of that type of energy that you're talking about with people swarming in without a lot of context of what the product actually is, and then speaking about things. And so it seems like that at least at CryptoVoxels, you've had people that are more in alignment with everything because they are on board with owning things. It's just when I go into CryptoVoxels, One of the more compelling experiences I have had is VRTO, where there was a link off into an art gallery where I was with people in a WebXR experience, went into the gallery and I was able to come back into VRTO. And so there was kind of like a interoperability type of experience. I know there's different meetups and gatherings and DAOs and communities that are within crypto voxels or now voxels, but I don't know to what extent people are going there just explicitly to explore around or to hang out. Because when I look at things, I just see these different plots that, you know, I want to see it in a really highly rendered engine that's loading in that sort of like, just really just wander around in VR without having to go through the 2D browser and just kind of be immersed in the world. And it's still, I mean, I got a lot closer today, but it still was like, Not to the point where I could feel like I can fully immerse myself into the experience.

[00:47:38.631] Ben Nolan: Our WebXR is terrible. It's absolutely terrible. We do have a Godot version, which is better and we hope to do more with it. But it's like at the moment we run the world quite well into the rendering all the content and reasonably seamlessly doing that in VR with the higher frame rate demands with the less ability to do blocking stuff. If you start to drop frames in VR and you can't do motion compensation or time warp to make it work, it just starts to get really terrible. It's a lot, lot harder as a problem. Also, like, I've kind of got this anti-VR bent myself that I've just come out of, because there's an anecdote I always tell, but I was on a call early Rec Room, I think, people, or possibly Neos or VRChat, something. It was about three years ago. Doing this really long call, I had the VR headset on. My wife said, hey, look, can I talk to you? And if I'd taken my headset off, I would have instantly gone and talked to her and dropped out of that call. But you're in VR, you're in another world. I'm like, yeah, I'll be there soon. So I'm talking to the people and they're showing me all the stuff you can do in the virtual space. I mean, it went like an hour long and I was like, guys, I really got to go. I think my wife needs help with the dishes or something. And so I took the headset. I was like, hey, honey, what's up? And she was standing there crying, holding a positive pregnancy stick. And I was just like, got a really hard anti-VR stance from that. And so I didn't do any of it to make our VR better. I just didn't chase VR at all because I hate it. I hate that aspect of someone being in the room, but it's like they're on the most insane drug where they have no sense of being present with you. And I'm getting over that now. And I realized that, you know, voxels, when you do do it in VR, it's super compelling, but I don't want to build a metaverse where you put a VR headset on at 8am and you stay in the metaverse till 6pm all day long. And we quantize your head down to a quaternion of your neck rotation, and your torso's got a yaw, and you've got an XYZ position, and then you've got a 24 kilobit voice stream, and that's all your person is. And then you send that over the world, that's all you see of other people. I'm way more passionate about augmented reality, and that's coming back into being passionate about VR, but VR is hard, but also I kind of got into it for a while. And I'm over that now. I'm really getting pro VR again. I spent a lot of time with the Quest and I got laser eyes so I can use it more easily without taking my glasses on and off. But yeah, that was kind of why I was anti it. And that's why I'm actually so pro augmented reality now is because augmented reality would pass through. You can see people in full definition, you know, you're still quantizing them to an image that you show you, but that's quite a high resolution image. You can see, are their shoulders high or low? Can you see, are they slumping or are they standing up? Can you see they're happy or sad? Can you see their clothes clean? Can you see, are they tapping their foot? You're sending someone at a much, much higher resolution. And you're seeing someone at a much higher resolution versus VRChat, which is, I think it's an amazing ability to be able to connect to people so far away, but you're sending a very low bit rate quantized version of an entire person. And I find that kind of funny. And so because of that, VR has been woefully under-invested.

[00:50:23.039] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I guess that's part of my being underwhelmed sometimes going into CryptoVoxels is because of things are built for seeing it on a 2D frame, which has a different feel when you're immersed as a VR journalist going to different places. I feel drawn to explore different things in the VR chat realms of and beyond the CryptoVoxels. But I do think that what is interesting about the CryptoVoxels that I don't see as much in other places is the potential for neighborhoods and communities to form with people that have plots of lands next to each other. Now that said, when I go into crypto voxels, I don't often casually run into people. I mean, obviously when you spawn in, there's people there. Can you speak to how many concurrent users on average you typically have within voxels across all the 8,000 or so plots of land? What's the daily or monthly active users that you're seeing?

[00:51:10.595] Ben Nolan: Boop, boop, boop, boop. thousand unique visitors in the last 24 hours on voxels.com. I'm not actually running stats from crypto voxels.com, which doesn't redirect to voxels.com at the moment. So it's probably way more. The thing is I don't really like tracking people. And so I don't actually know how many people are in the world. And I kind of do that intentionally. I always tried to do something so that you look origin didn't get fired when you went to the site and that kind of blocks all the trackers like analytics and stuff. And so I just decided I don't want to fucking track people. I don't want to know what people do. I don't really know where they go. We don't have really strong stats that we have, you know, highly web stats, how many visitors you have, how many people in the last 30 days. I don't know, 27,000 businesses to voxels.com, 135,000 page views. Like it seems tiny. Our concurrency is like hundreds of people. We're not that different in size than Decentraland, even though their project's worth, you know, a thousand times as much. I think it's tiny. If you compare our stats to anything like Roblox or Minecraft or any kind of decent sized game, probably even compared to Aega.io or something like that, they probably have way higher stats in terms of concurrency and number of users. No, I think that's remiss. That's a bad thing about voxels. We should have more users. We should have more people in the world. And I think that we're not doing a good enough job for the parcel owners by attracting lots of people to be in the world. And I think the reason lots of people aren't in the world is you don't feel any sense of enfranchisement. Like you go there and you're like, this is kind of neat and it's kind of cool. And then you get overwhelmed because you can only look at so much art before you kind of get that thing you get at the Louvre where you're just like, I need to go outside and not look at art because it's too much. And then there's nothing for it. And you leave, you don't have anything for it. You don't have any achievements, you don't have any collections, there was nothing you grinded to get. When you go back, you've made no change to the world. It's just something to look at. It's not something that you can kind of collect and build your own little version of. And I think that's a real reason why we have lots of people coming and building cool art. At events, you'll have hundreds of thousands or several thousand people turn up and go to an event. But the general people that live in the world, that are in the world always, maybe concurrency is normally about a hundred people across the entire world. And that'll peak several times a day to a thousand when there's some kind of event on. But It's a weirdly low. I think there's also the fact that I'm quite happy to explore a world that has lots of really cool content, but few people. It used to drive me nuts to the Second Life. I was like, you go to the Second Life, where is everyone? Well, there's no one in the entire world, but they would actually just be at events. It's actually the same thing with a city. I live in Wellington, which is a small city. There's lots of streets you can walk down where there's no people. So there's lots of interesting buildings and shops to go to, but there's no one on the street. And so it looks really weird in a virtual world because we're used to games where there's lots of NPCs and there's always stuff going on. So it looks like the world's full of stuff. Walking through an empty world feels like it's dead, right? There's no one in it. The thing with Voxels is we have thousands and thousands of thousands of commits being done every day to the builds, like our versioning table, which keeps track of all the builds and all the history of all the builds just goes absolutely nuts because people are constantly building a new content in it. And I think that's something we've done a little bit wrong is it's hard for people to come in and get a space and then realize that they can collect content in the world, take it back and build their own space and then have some kind of feeling of empowerment and existing in there. Was that just a really long answer to say that not many people use it?

[00:54:16.307] Kent Bye: Well, and I think that, you know, it depends on what you're looking for in these experiences. And I think you keep coming back to the art galleries and there's certain use cases where things really make sense. And I guess, you know, the thing that I wonder is the whole experiential aspect of VR for me is much more ephemeral. Like I go there and I have an experience and a lot of times there are other people there, but there's not as much of a desire for me at least to kind of want to grab on to that as a object to be able to buy, sell, and trade. Most of the experience that I have in VR is about the experiential aspect. And so that's where I guess the buying and selling of the virtual land, you would imagine that the theory would be you buy a piece of land, there's nothing on it, you build something on it, and then it presumably becomes more valuable, and then you resell it. But there was one plot that I saw for the SpaceX that sold for like 100 ETH, which has this giant installation, which they probably got folks to come in and do whole architectural builds. But at the same time, I don't know if they tried to sell that, if anybody in the world would want to have a big giant spaceship and would be willing to pay 100 ETH to have that plot of land, because it's very connected to SpaceX and what the investor of SpaceX wanted to do with it. And so I would imagine if you bought a plot of land that you just want to tear everything down and build whatever you would want to build. And if you're going to do that, why not just buy a plot of land that has nothing on it? So I guess that's the sort of reusable factor that I don't understand that that's actual use case of something that's built virtually that then is sold and transferred hands, but then it has this idea that it's increasing value over time beyond what is the baseline of crypto speculation that over time has already just been going up. But the inherent experiential aspect of that value is harder for me to connect the dots between what I'm seeing in this virtual plot of land and crypto voxels versus what I would imagine what the market would be independent of whatever's happening in the crypto world and what people are actually valuing in the experience. So yeah, I guess that's the idea of are people actually building stuff that then is increasing value and then people picking it up and carrying forth something that was built up from whatever someone else before that was able to build up.

[00:56:26.402] Ben Nolan: Well, I do remember when I used to drive over the hill and listen to you, that it was always quite full on. And I never realized that when you're on the receiving end of that, you really got to have your brain running at 120% to answer the questions. I think if you look to that as a pure investment, like if you did crypto voxels to make money, there are people that do crypto voxels or do voxels to make money. They buy parcels, build them up, sell them, you know, a cool build on there and then use that profit to buy two more parcels in the new place in the new island and then build those and then sell those and then kind of keep rinsing repeat. But I think the thing with voxels is I think NFTs are really important because if you buy an app from the app store, from Tim Cook's app store, I can't give it to you. So I can buy a really cool music app or a groove box and drum machine. And then I'm like, I don't want this drum machine anymore. I can't give it to my friend, Simon. I can't delete it. I can't sell it back. It's just like a one-time lease. And it's at Tim Cook's discretion whether I have it or not. And then if he decides the app can't be on the store anymore, he can delete it. I don't have it anymore. I don't own anything. I have no rights. I'm just renting it in perpetuity for a single one-off purchase for Tim. And I think that sucks. So the thing that I think is really important is that people own their parcels and that they own the things in the world. And I'm not into this from a crypto speculation value going up place. I did it because ERC721s and Ethereum blockchain is the easiest way for us to get paid and for you to own what you have. And so I guess saying it over and over again, doesn't really kind of hammer at home. It's like, you know, that record. If we had a Postgres database that I was paying $50 a month to host on a DigitalOcean droplet, and that had the number of your parcel and then your user ID, and that was what you had, then as soon as that database goes away, you know, I start paying $50 a month. You don't own your parcel anymore. That's just gone. But because it's on Vitalik Buterin's blockchain, If all the crypto voxels got deleted, which it won't because all of our hostings paid 10 years in advance, but if it did go away for some reason, you still have all of those records. You will have those records forever. If you have your seed phrases, your 12 word mnemonic, you have your parcel, you have all your wearables, all of that stuff that's stored on the blockchain or on Ethereum or on an Ethereum compatible sidechain like Polygon. that's yours. And that's really, really different. And so when people go to buy parcels, sure, there's a whole economic aspect to it, but there's also people like, Hey, my friend's got a cool parcel. I want the parcel next to them. And it's for sale at the moment. Cause the person doesn't want it. They never built it. It's a pretty good price. I'll buy it. I don't think it's coming from a place of, Ooh, that's a good price. I'll do that up and then make some money and then flip it. Or, you know, that'll be an investment or something. I think it comes from a, Hey, I really want to be next to my friend and I'm willing to spend a thousand dollars for that. And then, Part of the thing that we really try to do is to not destroy that value. So that if you want to sell it again, because you're like, CryptoVoxel sucks. Ben doesn't know what he's doing. They've never done a good job of it. The VR experience sucks. I want them to be able to leave again and then hopefully get most of the value back that they put into it. That's what I think is important. Not the crypto money speculation, buying, selling, wheeling, dealing kind of aspect of it. It's more, it's more just use of sovereignty and rights. You know, it's like I have vinyl at home because I own that vinyl. I can't listen to a bunch of rudimental songs on Spotify anymore because some stupid licensing change somewhere. And I never actually owned that track that was in my library. And I think NFTs are totally different to that. I think NFTs for things that you, for digital content, absolutely will destroy app stores over time.

[01:00:03.676] Kent Bye: One of the things that I really enjoyed of getting insight into the culture of crypto voxels at the time, now voxels, was Edward Saatchi's, the virtual beings and society summit, where he ended up doing a lot of his interviews in the context of crypto voxels. And he would go to different locations of people that were a part of different decentralized autonomous organizations. And they would take him on to a little bit of a guided tour. There was a whole architectural firm that was building different places and they were also going around to different big builds that they were doing. And so, but when I just land into CryptoVoxels, it's harder to know what are the hot spaces. I mean, you do have ways of tracking with people, emojis, and you can teleport around in that way. But I found that the stories that Edward Saatchi was collecting were actually really quite compelling to see the different types of. cultural manifestations that were happening with a spatial artifact of different communities that existed within the crypto space. So for you, do you have any favorite locations or communities or neighborhoods that you recommend people to go check out just to get a vibe of what the best aspects of Voxels has to offer?

[01:01:07.630] Ben Nolan: Yeah, I really liked the Museum of Crypto Art, the MOCA by Benoit. That's consistently amazing. The Hexiosis Museum, it's really old and really good. I really love their art. I really like the Rose Nexus in Gangnam. That was kind of one of the really early, interesting, really, really good builds. Architect Island is absolutely amazing. Just dropped last week. I really like Ogar's Cannabis Cafe on the Moon, which I've been looking for for six months and couldn't find, and just found it across the street from another puzzle that I teleported into the other day. So Ogar's got a bunch of bongs and beanbags, and I really like that. I really like there's a church out in Makers. It's a black church with a big neon sign inside it of color spilling out of a jar. I love all that kind of stuff. I would love to make it easier to understand and explore Critterboxes and just discover this content, but like, I don't like it. Yeah, I have conflicting feelings about it. It's like, it annoys me that it's not easy to find good content on YouTube. It just shows me the same shit over and over and over. I feel like they could do a better job of finding that content just feels like a solvable problem. Like if you like these kinds of music videos, you're probably like these kinds of music videos. With voxels, I think we could look at what you do and show you more of the same, but I kind of like that you have to dig through it. It's kind of like crate digging. I think once you find good content, it should be much easier. If you click on the whomps on the homepage, you'll find heaps of good content. It's just all there. But I think us having a list or a curated list of what's good in the world, it's kind of not what I want to be. I want it to self-organize. What I really want is I want us as an organization to disappear from public view. to shrink away so that all you're doing is interacting with the parcels and the parcel builders, and you never think of it. You never use YouTube on the TV and think, oh, wow, they're doing a really good job of tuning the H265 compression so there's not too much variance in the Luma channel. You're just like, wow, look, they've got a fucking cool new car that they're making a video about. You're interacting with the creators and you forget about the technology. I want us to be the same. I don't want people to be like, wow, Voxels is looking really good. I want to be like, look at this amazing build, but they don't even think that we're in there. Like when you're playing a Unity game, you're not thinking about Unity the company, you're thinking about the game developer. I want us to disappear and just connect you much more directly with your parcel owners. That's what I'd like to see happen.

[01:03:14.342] Kent Bye: Yeah, it feels like there could be an opportunity for individual users to create their own playlists rather than voxels being the king maker. Cause you have the algorithm that happens with all these different sites that then the algorithm starts to dictate what is or is not popular. And it could be positive feedback loops there.

[01:03:31.557] Ben Nolan: But yeah, I think I think that that algorithmic ranking of content is fraught, you know, it's really fun just to get started with, you know, and you'd be like, Oh, we'll sort everything by traffic and then we'll add a few other heuristics. And then that positive feedback loop is where it starts to get perverse really quickly.

[01:03:45.862] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. So just get some tours from people who are embedded within the community to get a sense of the places that they've enjoyed. Then that becomes a part of their memory. Do you remember what, when was the first time that you started to sell parcels? Was it in June of 2018?

[01:04:00.349] Ben Nolan: Yeah, it would have been around then. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I, I gave some parcels, those parcels at center of the world to some friends to help me test. And then they're the ones that West coast bill bought later on to build SpaceX parcel and Stonehenge and stuff like that. So that would have been around June, 2018. The contract was released in early June, 2018. I think the encrypted boxes parcels contract.

[01:04:20.366] Kent Bye: Yeah. That's a four year anniversary coming up here. So yeah, that's really crazy.

[01:04:25.370] Ben Nolan: Yeah.

[01:04:26.980] Kent Bye: So earlier you had said that for each week there was money that you were bringing in $10,000 a month and then up to a million dollars in weeks. Is that the total exchange or was that the 7% cut that you were getting on top of that?

[01:04:40.873] Ben Nolan: So the really massive weeks, I should be clear, we didn't consistently have million dollar months and weeks. What we had is last year we had the NFT boom, which I never saw coming. I thought NFTs were way too obscure. And so we really leaned onto it and then minted and sold on the primary sales as much as we could to meet demand because prices were skyrocketing and we're trying to dampen down prices a bit. So we'd sell more to try and capture that value so that we could do the project for longer while the hype was there and also supply people that wanted to be in the world. And so that was a really big boom. And so, yeah, had like, that's like New Zealand dollars too. So we had weeks where we'd sell a hundred ether a week, sort of consistently for the weeks on end. And then it started to tail off and I was like, cool, we get a big holiday, you know, last year we can have a summer and relax and stuff. And then in November, I guess it would have been last year. my Twitter blew up and it's like, you've got to watch this video from Mark Zuckerberg. He's just renamed his company to Metas. So I ran upstairs and had Mark's giant face on the TV being like, we're going to compete with CryptoVoxels effectively. And so I rang up Benji, who does our sales, and I'm like, just sell as much as people want to buy. And all our web traffic tripled that day and it never slowed down at all, just went gangbusters again. And so, you know, we really captured that again. And so that's how we ended up having such a massive year last year. And then our web traffic started to decline from the end of last year. We sort of made some questionable decisions about what we're doing and we didn't really keep an eye on it. And the sales trickled off and then the crypto winter collapse came in and all the metaverse projects fell off. And so now we've dropped to the 20th of that. So we still make enough week by week to pay all the devs and all the people in the company. And there's like 20 something of us. And so we can kind of do this indefinitely. and all that other money. We don't actually store crypto just because I'm a bit funny about speculation. Mainly because a couple of times we have held more crypto because of just various reasons. Losing crypto upsets me so much when crypto goes down in value. I don't really mind about potentially lost gains. If we'd kept all that ether, we'd probably have more money in the company treasury. But We just sell all that crypto every week, put it into New Zealand, pay taxes on it, keep it in a bank account, buy exchange-traded funds. Super boring way to run the finances of a company, but it just means that when the crypto went to happen, I was just like, okay, well, we'll make this money. If we'd had $10 million in Ether, it would have gone down to $3 million over a week or two. I would have been like, ah, this is the worst thing that's ever happened. So it still sucks that everything's slowed down. And I feel really bad for everyone who's been exposed to it hugely and the vibe in the community is so harsh for everyone at the moment. There's so many people who are really stressed and upset, even though they're probably ahead in the long term. It's just that feeling of my personal wealth or value in crypto was this, and now it's less. That must be massive people. That would be really hard. I read a book called The Psychology of Money recently, and it's really cool. And it's just like how you can't divorce yourself from those feelings. You're not a robot automaton who can say, Oh no, I'm a long-term holder. My position is to say forever, this is the right thing to do is just to keep holding. No, you're going to put your kids to sleep or go and talk to your partner at the end of a long day and think, well, fuck, I've made all these mistakes. I've lost all this money and it's so terrible. And so it's just much easier for us to deal with cash, run a normal company in New Zealand. Yeah. Yeah. It's kind of that thing, but I really believe in crypto. I think it's amazing. But rampant speculation, carbon scams, there's a lot of downsides to it. So we don't expose ourselves to all of it. We're not all in on all aspects of crypto.

[01:07:56.205] Kent Bye: Yeah, I get that vibe that there are certain aspects of crypto that you yourself are skeptical about and that you are cashing out each week. So you are not susceptible to huge crypto crashes. At the beginning of this year, there was a number of different critical essays and commentary about cryptocurrencies, everything from like Dan Olson, the foldable human did a whole YouTube documentary called line go up the problem with NFTs. And then Municat in March did a piece called Web3, a libertarian dystopia, also from the frontiers of blockchain about idea of the selective attachment, meaning the rich get richer, that the more connections, the more access to capital that you have, you have even more access to that cryptocurrency. And then reading Web3 is going great by Molly White, where she's documenting all the different scams. And then there was the whole implosion that happened with the Luna and Terra stable coin that cause this ripple effect throughout the larger cryptocurrency ecosystem. So there seems to be a lot of critiques that I became aware of that I'm more on the side of the crypto skeptic in the long term, because I think there is aspects that feel like engineering flaws in terms of if something's in the code and there's no way to reverse things, then there's just not a lot of consumer protections. There's a lot of scams and whether or not it's going to actually scale up and the rhetoric around decentralization that if it's proof of stake, then they can start to have simple attacks and overtake different projects. So how much independence do they really have if it's a proof of stake decentralized project and If it is a pyramid scheme, then eventually it does have to crash. Or maybe there's enough value that's there that gets away from that pyramid scheme aspect of cryptocurrencies. So it's hard for me to know whether or not there's something that's fundamentally flawed against some of the different engineering decisions that have been made at these blockchains, or if this is something that's going to be a part of the decentralized metaverse, but maybe a different value system that's not purely upon the libertarian values, but more about commons based resources, something that like the peer to peer foundation. Anyway, that's my own orientation is a little bit more skepticism. Love to hear any thoughts or reflections on any of those larger discussions and why you are more optimistic about the future of crypto.

[01:10:05.659] Ben Nolan: I think binary totalism, where either you believe in crypto or you hate it. And if you believe in crypto, you believe in all aspects of it. You think the speculation, the libertarianism, the fact that if you randomly bought a hundred Bitcoin for $2 11 years ago, you'd be the richest person in the country, all of that kind of stuff, that you believe in all of that. And that's absolutely okay. I think that's bullshit. Or that you're on the other side where you're just like, all of crypto is a scam. If we say NFTs, we just get banned. We were promoting the focus on the Oculus thing and people were just fucking trying to ban us because we do NFTs. I'm like having that, black or white, that crypto is either you're all in and you believe in every aspect of it and it's all amazing and there's no negatives to it, or all of crypto is a scam and bullshit and the blockchain is a terrible slow database and that it's all just corrupt and that it's all high carbon networks. It's really frustrating to me. I find that really hard that people are either end, because there are amazing technical decisions in the blockchain. There are things that work amazingly well in the distributed ledger space. The fact that everyone can interact with the blockchain without permission is amazing. If you want to do stuff on PayPal, they'll probably just let you do stuff, but if they decide they don't like it, you don't get to do it anymore. That doesn't happen on the blockchain. If I want to put things on Oculus App Lab, we've got to go to Menlo Park and I've got to email enough people so I can get the right introduction to Oculus so that they'll give me permission to put it in the store so that you can install our app on the Oculus Quest. That doesn't happen on the blockchain. It does happen on OpenSea or on these big exchanges. You've got to get listed on there and say that you're a real thing, but the fundamentals of the blockchain is permissionless. And that's amazing. That's really cool. The whole Web3 development environment, Brownie, F, Metamask, Ganache, ethers.js, the graph. There's so many cool bits of tech that just works so, so well and are really fantastic about it. So if you can't look at those bits of tech and be like, holy crap, this is so cool. I can use Brownie to write a little solidity contract, deploy it to the Polygon main net, which has no carbon and costs two cents to deploy. And then I can verify the contract and anyone can interact with that forever on Polygon Scan or on Etherscan. There's a little interface to actually interact using HTML with that blockchain stuff, with that contract. That's so freaking cool. How could you not think that is awesome tech? I love that tech. And so how does me liking that tech and me thinking that ER721 is the best way to do transferable non-fungible tokens, how does that instantly mean that you lump me in with a washed up sports star who's selling NFTs at a Discord channel as a fucking scam to a whole bunch of people. And he has no interest in it, doesn't give a shit at all. He's just going to get paid a $10,000 check. Someone else is going to run off all the crypto and then the Discord and all the NFTs will go away next year. I know that that's what you're doing, mate. It's obvious that's what you're doing. Why the hell are people... I know it's easier for people to just classify. We believe in the blockchain, so we're evil bastards. you know, or I say we believe in the blockchain, that means we believe in all the speculation, all the dark side as well. No, you know, I thought people would be really upset that we don't hold lots of ether. I really believe in the Ethereum virtual machine. I don't believe in ether because it's still a proof of work network, still uses way too much power. You know, like I don't fly very much because of the carbon, you know, ride my bike and drive EVs because the carbon, you know, we offset our usage on the main net, but like, that's not good enough. So basically we just try and do very little. I really believe in the Ethereum virtual machine. I think the ecosystem around that is amazing, but we're going to use Polygon, which isn't perfect. It's not super decentralized until Ethereum is cheaper and back onto proof of stake, which is a really hard problem. I thought I was like, why aren't you on proof of stake already? Just do it. And then I went to the Sydney meetup two or three years ago, and was explaining how hard it would be to move to Proof of Stake. I was like, it'll be easy, just do it, and thinking in my head. And then they kept going through deeper and deeper the ways of how they were going to do it and what was involved. And I just got a headache and I was just like, I have to walk out of this room. And then they just kept talking for another half an hour, going through the details of it. And I was just like, yeah, that's really hard stuff. There's just so much good in there that tiring everything with that same brush is... Ah, whatever. I don't care. I don't care. NFT people hate me. Fuck you. I don't care. Don't come and compete. I love that everyone hates NFTs because no one comes and competes with us because all programmers think it's a scam. It's a scam. Don't come in here. Don't build a metaverse. Don't build it on the blockchain. Just do it in Postgres and Unity. It'd be great. Everyone will come and use your one. Go get VC because that's not a scam. Sorry. Can you tell I got triggered?

[01:14:21.800] Kent Bye: Well, what catalyzed the change of the name of CryptoVoxels to Voxels then?

[01:14:27.539] Ben Nolan: because we've had three people, four people, five people quit because their parents hate crypto. And also Voxels became available. I think it's a way cooler name. Everyone calls us Voxels. When you type crypto Voxels into OpenSea, you just get all the other projects. And it bummed me out that obviously CryptoPunks will come up and CryptoKitties before Voxels. But we're always at the bottom of the list. Now when you press V, we come up straight away. And I know that that's very shallow of me, but I was just like... I think CryptoVoxels actually sounds cooler than Voxels. And we're still really into crypto. I wanted to make that clear when we did the rename. But Voxels, once we get used to the new name, it will be a way cooler name, I think.

[01:15:01.950] Kent Bye: Okay. Well, and since you have been cashing out of cryptocurrency, I haven't done a blockchain analysis. Are you willing to say how much money you've made from crypto voxels over the last four plus years?

[01:15:12.540] Ben Nolan: Like last year we did like 22 million in revenue. So like 19 million in profits. I think we've got like 14 million in the bank or something after costs from last year. And we've got to pay taxes and all that. So yeah, it's annoying. Cause people like as a cyclist, you don't pay road taxes, dude, I pay a million dollar income taxes that bills, you know, what the company does every other month. So get fucked. I pay way more tax in a month than you do and during your entire life. And my taxes pay for the roads. Anyway, that's fine. Sorry. Defensive all of a sudden.

[01:15:42.228] Kent Bye: Well, yeah, I mean, I saw that somebody in space just participated in a $4 million round of links, which is one of the open source mixed reality of hardware that I saw at AWE. And so you've also been starting to get into a little bit more of the hardware side. Maybe you could talk a little bit about with all the money you've been bringing in, how you've been directing it towards some of these other projects.

[01:16:02.127] Ben Nolan: Yeah. So I got laser eye surgery and the lady said, Hey, like you can't use the computer for two days or three days after your laser eye surgery. So what do I do? So we'll just lie on the couch. I was like, okay, well I'll lie on the couch and listen to records. This is a great idea. And then I was like, okay, well, can I get high? And she's like, well, it doesn't say not to. So I got super high and then just listen to records. And then I was lying there unable to read the computer or anything. And I was like, you know what would be awesome? Pass through augmented reality. You know, like you just have a headset in front of your face and the camera's on the outside and you just pass it through. I was like, such a great idea. So I used Siri to call Pete, eventually worked out how to do it cause I couldn't see my phone. And then I was like, is anyone doing this? This is such a cool idea. And then he rang me back an hour later. He's like my hardware guy and computer vision guy. He's like, yeah, the links are one and Paris France is doing exactly what you say. And I think the Cambria later on, cause this was six months ago. I think the Cambria from Facebook will do the same thing. So. stereoscopic, good quality cameras on the outside, image on the inside, just pass through at a high frame rate. And, you know, it's really good. Part of where my interest in that came from was because I started wearing AirPods, you know, and if you put AirPods on to pass through mode, you forget that you're wearing them. They pass through so transparently, like the sound transparency, whatever they call it, you can still hear the music, but you can hear the outside perfectly. And I was like, wow, you can, do a really good job of completely digitally processing and replicating a sound, and I was thinking of a visual, that you kind of forget that you're wearing it. And so I rang up Lynx, still unable to see, and I was like, hey, what's going on? Have you done a round? Can we participate in the next one? And then we talked to him for a while about it. And then I just had a sense that things were going to slow down for us. And so we decided not to participate in that round, but I talked to Arthur from Somnium and they, they're really cool. And I think what Lynx is doing amazing. I think the fact that they're building a really compelling VR and augmented reality headset, which isn't beholden to the Oculus ecosystem is just fantastic. I have so much respect for what they're doing and I really hope they succeed, you know, and so we pulled out of investing in them, but I would have liked to have done that. Yeah. So I feel a bit conflicted about that because I think what they're doing is really good, but we're so conservative that investing in a company that we're able to travel back then, so I was never actually able to go meet them. We weren't able to see the hardware. Arthur is in Prague, so they can take the train over to Paris and actually go meet them and see that they're real people. Like investing in a project on the other side of the world where I've never got to meet people, never got to see the hardware. I'm just going off people's other things. It would have been quite a substantial investment was their minimum. So we didn't do it. And Yeah. And so I felt a bit bad about it, but I did learn a whole lot on the way through. And then I bought as many headsets as I could when I suddenly realized that pasta was gonna be a thing. So there's the valve index, I think that we've got upstairs. We've got HTC Vibe Flow. We've got heaps and heaps of devices, got a bunch of reverbs, G2s, things like that, that all have cameras on the outside. And I was just like, Hey, this is all pretty good. And then Oculus started doing more with their passthrough. So they've got better passthrough on the Oculus Quest, but better passthrough on these. So most of these devices have infrared cameras on the outside that they use for tracking because that works better. So they have normal cameras that don't have an infrared, that they block visible light. They just let the infrared filter through so that it works in the dark because they're only using these cameras for surface location and mapping. So for tracking where you are in the space and then combining it with a Kalman filter, with the outputs from the gyroscopes, like those little MEMS gyroscopes and accelerometers to work at where you are in 3D space. And so they show you that infrared image. They normally don't show you stereoscopic. The lenses normally suck. They're not designed for visual stuff. And also it's infrared. So your dog looks like he's the devil. And so everyone's done passthrough like that. Everyone's turned on passthrough on their Quest and on their Rift and stuff, and it sucks and it's not compelling at all. And I was just like, I wonder how bloody cool color RGB stereoscopic passthrough will be. And like I say, we ordered the Lynx as soon as I discovered it, as soon as my eyes awoke a couple of days later, but it still hasn't arrived yet. So I still don't know what it's like, but I was like, I really want to see what stereoscopic passthrough looks like. So I found a camera module and we kind of got it rebuilt and got the one that we wanted with the right lenses built up for us custom. And then I plugged it into the Oculus Quest. And then we had some, we had some big manufacturers, like hardware manufacturers, emailing us about investing. And I was like, Hey, look, we're not taking investment in voxels because we really want to be independent, but we're doing this augmented reality stuff. And then they were pretty keen. And I was like, well, can you prototype it? So I stuck the stereo camera module on the front of a quest and I put the cable in, then we did a whole bunch of software to make it work well. And then you had stereoscopic RGB pass-through. So instead of doing the HoloLens or the Magic Leap thing, which is half-silvered mirrors and bad tracking and PlayStation 2-level graphics composited over, and you can't subtract from the light because that's not the way physics works, but you can overlay things over the top, it's all kind of ghostly, and basically it just sucks. Instead, you just have two cameras on the outside that are fast, good quality, low latency, and then a nice display on the inside. And so in doing that, I realized, Hey, wow, well, we can sell this thing. You know, we can make the software for the Oculus Quest and turn it into basically the camera. And so that's what we've done. Got the hardware built up where we need order them from Shenzhen. And then contact is this lovely lady. And then we've got the mounting hardware built up. And so we're going to start shipping it out next month and stereoscopic RGB pass through. Like, have you done it much yourself? It's amazing. It's such a compelling experience.

[01:20:54.303] Kent Bye: I had a chance to do some experiences at LoLVol virtual, which there's an offset between where the cameras are and where my eyes are. And I felt like there was a proprioceptive disconnect that I had in my body. And then I saw the Vario XR3 at AWE, but similarly, it still had that offset. And then I also had a chance to try the Lynx prototype that they had, and it was super close to my eyes. And they have these weird lenses that are able to get even extra close and then somehow magically synthesize everything together so that when I looked at it, it all came together. It's like a quad pyramidal structure that they used, but it was probably the most compelling mixed reality experience I've had because it was so seamless going from physical reality into the virtual space. And when you go in the virtual space, they had hand tracking in there. And so that we had my hands there, but they turned into virtual hands. And when you come out, the mixed reality, then I don't know if they still had like an overlay on top of my hands, but just the way that it was able to seamlessly go between there. It was really, really quite compelling. I don't know what specific use cases or applications that I would want to do in that context. If it was computing, it would need to be a lot higher resolution to be able to read text. But other than that, I think it's compelling. I just don't know what the killer app is going to be for that type of mixed reality.

[01:22:07.869] Ben Nolan: Do you know what the killer app is? It's deleting people from the room. So yeah, you run OpenCV on a low resolution version of the buffer and you can pull out everyone's faces really fast, even on a Snapdragon 865, like it was in the Quest. It's really trivial to blur out people's faces. It's really trivial to identify your ex-boyfriend and remove them from the room. It's really easy to apply LUTs and then make the entire room look like you're in a club. And then also composition and augmented reality is really interesting as well, right? Because you can render 3D content. Thing is, you're rendering 3D content on whatever renderer you're using on Snapdragon, on your Oculus Quest. And it looks crappy compared to the real world, because the real world's rendered in quite high fidelity by whatever universe simulation we're in. But then the things that you're rendering on your little Oculus Quest, even though it's pretty good for modern technology, just doesn't look as good. So what we do that's really different with the Focus is you can process the optical flow. So if you want to do 80s style VHS graphics, you just take the pass-through image, run it through a fragment shader that makes it look like 80s style VHS. Then when you composite in your crappy low-resolution 3D models, there's not such a disconnect. So it's not like the Cambria they were selling so hard, then I wouldn't watch that video of Mark and the Cambria. And it looks really cool, but it's like little Pokemon graphics jumping around in this really high-definition background. And full props that they actually did it. through the lenses, because most of these people, they just do it in After Effects, like that Magic Leap demo, where a whale jumps out of the ground and then splashes into the hardwood floor. And everyone was like, that looks amazing. It's like, yeah, if you give someone $10,000 to work in After Effects for three weeks, they'll make something that looks really compelling. So all the content we've shared this through the lenses from the focus is actually what the focus looks like. It actually looks like that. And I think that's kind of important. And so that's why we're initially starting with that composition, because if you get the focus and then you composite it in 3D content, you're going to be really underwhelmed and just, you know, it doesn't look that good. And that's not on any technical limitations in our hardware or in the Quest and stuff. It's just like doing 3D content that looks really good and compelling. Apple does a pretty good job with ARKit. It does pretty good lighting and stuff, but you know, Apple's they've got quite a lot of computer scientists, probably more than we do. So I'm just starting with a really low bar of really comfortable pass through. So we do a lot of remapping. So we get the images from the front. Like you say, there's a gap between where your eyes are with the displayers and where the cameras are on the front, especially in the quest, because we're mounting it on the front of the quest. So you end up with this quite, I don't know, maybe like 45 millimeters from where the headset is, where the display is, to where that is, and then the lenses are a bit close to your eye. So we do a lot of remapping to make that more comfortable and to make that feel right, which is part of where we spend all the time getting the maths for this stuff right. You can do a pretty good job of it. And I would love to try the Lynx R1 when they finally ship it, because yeah, they actually solve it physically. They've got those really clever pancake lenses and it's a lot closer to your face. So I think that's a really interesting way to do it. Yeah, it's funny. I don't want to sell pass-through AI too hard to everyone because I think once everyone tries it and realizes how good it is, it's just going to be amazing. This office that we're in, we've got a big lighting rig downstairs so that we can do gigs. I don't exactly know why we've got it. Upstairs is an office and downstairs we set up a club for some reason. I don't know why. It just ended up that way. We'll stand around downstairs and someone could press a button and then flood the entire room in red light. And that's what I realized you can do with pass-through AR. It's trivial for me to load a LUT on everyone's headset. We send a UDP message to everyone on the Wi-Fi that's next to you. And suddenly the entire room's red and we're all seeing the same thing at the same time. And we can all be like, Oh my God, look at these bricks over here. Hey, wow. Did you see how the plant looks in this false color thing? You've got the shared experience. You're all experiencing the same thing at the same time. And that's where AR gets really exciting. So CryptoVoxels is a shared experience. You see the other people, you can see what they're looking at, you can interact together. That in AR is the really important thing. So you should be able to bring in a piece of content and we should all see it. So like someone should be able to spawn a low poly model. It should be in front of all of us and we should all be able to look at it and look at each other and then interact and stuff like that. I think that's going to be massive. Either that or it'll be like VR. It'll be like, we'll be super excited. It'll sell heaps for the first year and then everyone will give up. That is dumb. But like, I don't know. I do really think that augmented reality, You know, and when you walk around on the street, every single person is wearing air pods in pass-through mode or in noise cancelling mode. So I think that pass-through augmented reality might be a pretty big deal. I stand out on the street sometimes out on the motorway there with the focus on my Oculus Quest headset with the focus module on the front, and then just look at everyone driving past. I get used to that shaka, that cool surfer wave because they don't realize that I can see them, but I am like, I'm watching this in real time. You're there. And then I've got this laser beam that shoots out of my hand as a debugging tool, just to see where my control is pointing. And I like pointing it at signs and at cars walking past and stuff. And I really want to change that debug pointer laser to a big virtual sword so I can stand around and wave it around outside the building. I think past augmented reality is going to be. Pretty exciting. And I really do like how you do it with people in the same room. It's a reason to get together. And then when you are together, you put this on and it accentuates that social environment rather than taking someone out to a completely different space like they do with VR. VR is really cool, but someone in the room with you in VR is not in the room with you. They're in a different space. That's the whole intention of VR.

[01:26:55.594] Kent Bye: Okay. And you're calling it the focus module because there's a vibe focus and five focus three, but it's different than your focus that you're working on. That's a module.

[01:27:03.799] Ben Nolan: Yeah. Yeah. That one's actually called the Fox's F O X U S Fox's.com. I was at the pub with Marcus and we realized the domain was available. So we bought it. It was like $8,000 a year, but it's like the focus, but we'll probably just call it the Fox's. It's like how churches, the band is actually to virtues. So I don't know, it'll either end up being the focus or the Fox's. I'm not sure.

[01:27:22.074] Kent Bye: Okay. Okay. Well, just as we start to wrap up here, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality and the metaverse might be, and what am I able to enable?

[01:27:34.058] Ben Nolan: I think it will make cities better because your city won't need to do everything. You won't need to travel as much. Like you'll still travel, like people that I work with, I don't really have a really super deep connection with them until I meet them in person, you know, fly around and go to the pub with them. But. I get to hang out with everyone in a virtual space every Thursday, shared space. I haven't been doing it for the last little while, but normally I do. The whole team gets together and they are in the shared space. Augmented reality means you've got to get together and then import content into the world, into that space. You know, like, Hey guys, let's all go stand around in this empty room and then look at content that's on the other side of the world that we can't get here. I think, yeah, and it'll just mean that you can have a really strong connection without having people physically together. I think that's what it's going to enable. And yeah, I think it could really change cities. It could mean that you could live somewhere small or a small town with your friends and something like that, but then have the ability to import or export yourself to a larger environment or to import parts of an environment to the location where you are. And I'm hoping that it will reduce the decarbonization in the world because people won't need to travel as much like. I love flying on a Dreamliner, like everyone else, you know, sitting in the lounge and all that kind of stuff. But until we can have low carbon planes, you'll always have to offset them. And I think offsetting is kind of rubbish. So if we can increase human connection, but reduce international travel, I think that would be a really good outcome of the augmented reality.

[01:28:55.993] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:29:01.847] Ben Nolan: Just, I love your show and thank you so much for being on here. I love all the people that listen to this, all the people that are working on these projects, all the people that do this stuff from a, you know, I know a lot of people discount me as doing this from the money point of view, but I'm so impressed by everyone that does this from a pure belief in the space, belief in immersive reality, belief in shared spaces and shared virtual worlds. I'm so glad there are so many people that are passionate about it. And even if you don't believe in me, I believe in you.

[01:29:27.415] Kent Bye: Well, Ben, I really enjoyed getting a chance to catch up with you. Like I said, I'm more of a skeptic at this point, but I'm not like a binary one zero. I do see that there are some things that are optimistic and the fact that you've been able to create an independent project and had millions of dollars of revenue, I think is a testament that there are alternative ways of. doing things above and beyond something like surveillance capitalism. So whether it's through crypto or whether it's through people paying subscriptions or whatever emerging business models of the metaverse that may be, I think eventually we're going to figure that out and hopefully have something that's above and beyond just a handful of big tech companies that are running and controlling everything. Cause I do think that at least at this point, the browser is that distribution platform for a lot of these projects. And as the browser becomes more and more capable of running these real-time experiences, then I think that I hope to see more and more flourishing through the entire open metaverse and open ecosystem. So I'll be in your ear saying, Hey, don't forget to open source everything and pay things back through the code that can help to cultivate this alternative ecosystem that's going to allow us to live into this open metaverse that we all want to live into. And whether that's based on the crypto or not, I don't know, but at least at this point, you've been able to help figure some stuff out and cultivate a community of users that have been able to do some really interesting experiments in the early days of NFTs and crypto. And hopefully we'll see more aspects of the open metaverse come out of that. So thanks for taking the time to share some of your story and to help unpack it all.

[01:30:53.427] Ben Nolan: Yeah, thank you, Kim. It was wonderful.

[01:30:55.368] Kent Bye: So that was Ben Nolan. He's the founder of CryptoVoxels, which is now known as Voxels. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, I'm on two frames of mind within CryptoVoxels, which is that it's an amazing technological architecture based upon the open web stack, maybe even pull off. But I had the experience of, as I was going into these different worlds, that it was hard for me to find worlds that were compelling or interesting. I wanted to get a more objective sense of some of the details. I did a whole blockchain analysis. One of the things with the blockchain is that you're able to go into something like Etherscan and download all the different transactions. When all the different plots of land were minted, there's been 7,863 total properties minted. Of those, 7,307 are owned by a variety of owners outside of CryptoVoxels. And I was able to dig into the API calls to do a full correlation to those plots of lands and what was actually happening on those plots of land, trying to assess, okay, how many different empty plots of lands are there? The best that I could approximate for every two plots of land, there's one plot of land that is just not developed at all. It's basically just a blank space. It maybe is a park. It maybe have. a very minimal voxel square that outlines how big they can build there. But other than that, it's just blight. There isn't anything that's actually there. That's one in three of the plots of land, on average, as you're going around, that are just nothing there. Some neighborhoods are better than others. Some of the newer plots of land, like the Andromeda, it was just like a wasteland of just empty, unsold plots. But there's also other neighborhoods that just are not as well-developed. Or they have people that buy the plots of land, and then they just never do anything with it. They don't develop it. That was the other thing. There was a Frontiers of Blockchain article published on August 23, 2021. It's called The Rich Still Get Richer Empirical Comparison of Preferential Attachment via Linking Statistics and Bitcoin and Ethereum. The article goes through this concept of preferential attachment, which means that you have a small handful of crypto whales that are basically driving a lot of those behaviors. So basically the people who are already pretty rich then cryptocurrency are able to take over dimensions of both Bitcoin and aetherium So that's something that's at large within the Bitcoin and aetherium network So I wanted to do a little bit of analysis to see if that type of preferential attachment is that still happening? Within some of these decentralized metaverse networks like crypto voxels are decentralized It turns out that, yes, there is a pretty steep parallel dynamic where the top 1% of owners own 22% of parcels and crypto voxels and 20% in decentralized land. The top 5% own 44% in crypto voxels and 41% in decentralized land. The top 10% own 56% of all the parcels and crypto voxels and 52% in decentralized land. The top 20% own 68% of all the parcels and 65% within decentralized land. It's pretty equivalent in terms of those two networks of how there's a handful of crypto whales that own a disproportionate amount of all the lands. What that means is that as you walk around, there's a lot of lands that are just completely undeveloped, and people that are just maybe buying this as a token and not developing it. That's not universal across all the different whales. Certainly, there's a mix amongst all the different owners, where there's some lands that are developed, but there's other lands that are just not. But I think it speaks to the different incentive structures where there are quite a lot of people that are likely buying into these different crypto-based metaverse worlds from a pure speculation perspective, and they're not really doing much to invest in advancing the larger communal benefit of what it actually feels like to be within the crypto-voxels world. The thing that I think is different than, say, crypto voxels and decentralized land from other NFT projects is that there actually are an immersive experience that's tied behind it, but I still think it's disconnected between the value that's being created versus what is being sold. There were some instances of some of the different plots of land that were selling up to like 100 ETH or 30 ETH or 20 or 10 ETH. But that's just a handful of the 7,000 plots of land. Most of them are going for somewhere between less than one or two ETH. And a lot of the plots of land that are being passed back and forth. And so that's the one thing. And when we go into crypto voxels, and if the neighbors are the most important thing, then there's statistically one in three of all the different plots of land are just not developed. And like I said, some neighborhoods are better than others. The other thing was that I was trying to discover, like, how do you find compelling content within CryptoVoxels? I was able to look through the APIs for CryptoVoxels and download all the different information and do some statistical analysis. If you look at an average plot on land, there'll be around 23 Vox models, about 19 images, 11 cubes, five NFT images, a couple of signs, a lantern, and then collectible voxels. About 90% of the lands have a mega voxel, which are these extra large size voxels, polytext, and other aspects of like audio and other things that are just filling out the different experiential aspect. But The thing that's really striking to me is that the thing that is used the most often are these 2D images, NFT images. And so you see a whole lot of art galleries within the context of CryptoVoxels. And there was a comparison between VRChat and other worlds. And one of the things that had been said is that Voxels is just doing something completely different than something like VRChat. VRChat actually is forbidding anybody using any type of crypto based projects or NFTs. On January 28th, 2022, VRChat posted their policy on NFTs and blockchain saying that, quote, we did not permit promotion, advertising, integration, or solicitation of unauthorized products or services like NFT or blockchain technology in VRChat. So in January, there was just a lot of backlash with cryptocurrencies. There was the big hype cycle that had happened throughout the course of 2021 with NFTs. And I think a lot of backlash is starting in the beginning of 2022. That's when I saw Foldable Humans SA. And then after that, MuniCat did a whole deconstruction. There's a lot of aspects of cryptocurrency that just may have engineering flaws that cannot be overcome. I found a really good paper by the Peer-to-Peer Foundation. One of the things that they were saying is that they look to the value system and the culture that's driving the technology. It's more around the communities that are driving these projects. And a libertarian-based approach is all about the individual and the sovereignty. And when you have that, how do you actually create a communal aspect when everything's driven by these individual user incentives? And so you end up having the top 10% of the people owning over half of all the different content. Now in terms of the open metaverse and the future of that, Voxels is an example of using the ERC721 token to sell those tokens and to fund the development of this project that is working a lot of these open web technologies. There hasn't been a lot of other cases of people really making a viable business out of working on the open web in this new immersive space. So it is a business model that is interesting in that sense, but I feel like I still am a little bit more skeptical about the future of the blockchain. Anything that's centralized, like the MetaMask that's functionally making something more useful, becomes a potential centralized point of failure that then can be exploited and have people's cryptocurrency be stolen. Molly White's Web3 is going just great. It's a great blog to keep track of all the different fraud or abuse or security vulnerabilities. Having all this wealth that's been consolidated within these blockchains, having different security calls, or at the end of the day, having people lose all of their assets. Because of the code-is-law nature of cryptocurrencies, and you can't really roll things back, then there's not a lot of consumer protections. You're putting this technology that's been out there for 12, 13 years now, It still has so much of these aspects that are still getting sorted out that there's a part of me that's wondering, okay, is it just a matter of the over time they're going to fix a lot of these flaws and build up a whole infrastructure and sets of services that makes it easier for people to use? Or is it just kind of rotten to the core and it's got too many issues that are wrong with it that are not going to lead into this potential that we want to go towards. which is alternatives to surveillance capitalism, you know, all the promises of Web 3.0 to get over the challenges of the centralization. But anytime you do have a decentralization, then you have to have these different centralized points that then also replicate all the different dynamics of the Web 2.0. And so when you look at the underlying economic analysis of that, then you end up kind of re-centralized things into things like MetaMask or Coinbase or other points that are still requiring those on-ramps for people to make different aspects useful. But at the same time, I see the evidence that they're able to find alternative methods of being able to sustain themselves. So anyway, I did a big deep dive into just trying to make sense of the community and to give it another shot. Cause I think by the time I talked to Ben, I was a little bit like just, ah, I don't know. But after listening to him, I wanted to see what the actual experience of it was. And my experience was that there wasn't a compelling neighborhood experience just because like I said, so many of different plots of land were just undeveloped. I think you probably need to have more of a dispersal of some of the land into more owners with the land that's already there and just encourage more of that community development if that's the goal is having those neighbors there. There's some diamonds in the rough that I was able to find throughout the course of looking at a lot of the different worlds that at least were experimenting with the form or doing something just from a pure experiential design perspective that I thought was interesting. But there's also quite a lot of stuff that you have to sift through. There was an amazing tower that was built by Ross that had brilliant baked lighting. The baked lighting world seemed to be a good signal that they had some more interesting design. Not all of the worlds have baked lighting. Jen is somebody who took me off to a lot of the stuff with CryptoVoxels. I really enjoyed some of his spaces that he had created, especially the two proto houses. And there was something about seeing all the different links to other things that are happening within the different communities. It felt like I was kind of walking into a hacker space. I just really enjoyed the design aesthetic of that. The Voxel Architects have a lot of really impressive worlds that they've been able to create. I really enjoyed exploring around. If you go to the Voxel Architects website, you can see all the different plots of land. One of the worlds that had some of the more interesting integrations of pictures and videos was the Real Vision headquarters that was in Origin City in the suburb of Babylon. They had over 2,000 features, and as you walked through, it felt like you're getting a guided tour to the whole vibe of what their company was about. You have different audio pieces and videos that were integrated throughout the world. I just thought it was a good example of trying to take what would normally be just a 2D website and making a compelling transition into a spatialized world. There were quite a lot of NFT galleries that were there. Like I said, the different worlds had on average 5.2 NFT images per world. So a total of 41,187 NFT images and then like 153,033 images. There's a variety of different ways that people use images. Sometimes it's texture. Sometimes it's just advertising it's imagine if you were to convert your website into a 3d version then all the images that you had were replicated into a spatialized context But it's a lot of those images were also NFT images that people would just screenshot ironically and just kind of include in within the context of their world. I mean, NFTs are supposed to be about owning the images. And then it's kind of a joke for people who are critical of that to just screenshot it and include it. And there were quite a lot of people who were screenshotting or including the images of NFT images, but didn't actually own those images. A lot of times there were the links to the open sea. And so it was hard to know whether or not people were just going and curating pieces of art that they liked. but there didn't seem to be any rules around what you can and cannot show in an art gallery. It seems like you could just basically pick any NFT and show it, and you didn't have to own it or not. Some of the NFTs that were being shown were actually owned by the property owner, but in other worlds, it was just random NFTs. a lot of the crypto punks, you saw a lot of bored apes, all the tropes within the crypto art. I think if that's the other takeaway that I had from just looking at crypto voxels as a world is that it's very much into the culture of cryptocurrencies. It's a cryptocurrency metaverse and so it's self-referential in that sense of like a lot of the art and art style and the jokes and the memes and the types of things that they're referencing is all about cryptocurrencies and NFTs. And if you're not into that, then it's going to be really hard to find something that you're interested in. I mean, there's a lot of artwork as well. And so if you just want to look at a whole bunch of art galleries, then, you know, after looking at something like Dali or Midjourney, it sort of changes the way that look at art. And now it's like, okay, is that something that would be easily replicable? Or is that something that has something that's artistically interesting? Or is it trying to say something interesting? There's a wide range of quality of art within the context of crypto voxels. But if you are interested in just sifting through and trying to find those diamonds in the rough Then I find it more enjoyable to go into a spatialized context like crypto voxels to look at NFT art Then I do like say just scanning through and looking at open sea or something like that But there's also I mean another thing sometimes links will break. And so it'll just kind of be a bunch of broken images or broken videos that are there that speaks to the link rot that happens in the context of NFTs in some of these projects. It happens on any web project, but just to be reminded that when people talk about things always being on the blockchain, then sometimes if what you're owning is a reference link to a URL, and if that URL is now offline, then it's difficult to know what's actually being referenced and what's being owned or not. When things are bought and sold on OpenSea, I think that CryptoVoxels does a pretty good job of tracking when things are sold. But if something is being traded or given away to another person, then I would often find that if someone didn't ever come back and engage with CryptoVoxels in any capacity, then who they accounted on their database for who the owner was different than who Etherscan or OpenSea was saying was the I felt like Etherscan was probably the authoritative source, and that as a decentralized entity, of all the different centralization that's happening in cryptovoxels, there's still work that they need to do in order to keep track of who owns what, because there were gaps between what cryptovoxels were saying, who the owner was of a property within their website, versus what the blockchain was saying, according to Etherscan. It just speaks to the fact that anything that has to actually drive utility off of the blockchain has to be re-centralized at some point. Because a lot of the data is actually stored within the context of the token itself, then unless you're doing comprehensive scanning of all that data, then it becomes difficult to know at any moment what's the authoritative source of who the owner is. For me, Etherscan is doing the more authoritative job of keeping track of their own community than CryptoVoxels is doing within the context of themselves. But like I said, the discovery is probably one of the things that could use the most help. I think Ben just reintegrated favorites. I think that would help sort through things. There's the womps that happen. So each of the different worlds have womps, and that's one discovery mechanism, but there's not an easy way to search those or to archive those over time. And yeah, finding other ways of trying to determine what is interesting to look at. If you make a lot of changes to those voxels, if you have a lot of features, if you have baked lighting, there's a number of things that help sift through trying to find some of the best worlds that are there. But I think there's larger dynamics of the ownership of having such a power law dynamic of the existing owners, then how to shift those larger dynamics as something that goes above and beyond crypto voxels. That's something that is at the Ethereum and Bitcoin layer that has been talked about in terms of that preferential attachment. So how to overcome that? I don't know. Like. It requires a more deliberate approach from the very beginning, I think, to try to create a more balanced ecosystem of the community. And even if that was happening, is that something that would combine all the different things together? So anyway, that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of supported podcasts, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com Slash voice of er. Thanks listening

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