Does Decentraland have a content problem? Blockbuster games launched by AAA studies usually arrive on scene with a base level of repeatable content that players can digest. Decentraland is different. Players login expecting to find a theme park full of attractions and consistent themed content. Instead many wander through large swaths of barren pixels before grasping the openness of the platform. The world thrives on the idea that users will stake their claim, build the content of their dreams, and release their masterpiece unto the world. But with the expensive cost of land, and the player base too small to justify the purchase price, the growth of the platform is restricted by the player bases ability to fill the voids with rich, lovingly crafted content.
How did Decentraland develop this content pipeline issue and what is the community doing today to create a sustainable ecosystem free of these growing pains?
There was no feasible way to have quality content in the world of Decentraland without opening the doors to the general public, which is what the development team decided to do this past January. The team held contests to successfully produce enough experiences for an entire launch day event that was highly successful and drove a large amount of traffic to the platform. It also exposed users to what has been described by MetaZone as the “Decentraland Trilemma” that results in players, developers, and land owners all having little incentive, or programmer ability, to fill the gap between grassy nothingness and juicy content. The easy path would seem to be a sizable upgrade to the Decentraland built in builder, which lacks the advanced features unlocked by utilizing the Typescript based SDK, but there is no defined timeline for that level of improvement. Using the SDK without the builder requires a large degree of technical prowess that most players simply do not have.
The non-fungible token (NFT) space is expected to encompass close to 147,000 active users in 2020 according to NonFungible’s 2019 NFT report, however the segment of those accounts interacting with metaverses is much lower, with under 7,000 active accounts in 2019. Decentraland has more parcels than the population of Miami Beach; In a perfect virtual world, all NFT users would have the chance to participate. The reality is that a little over 1,600 accounts own all of the property in DCL. More than half of the land is tied up by the development team or districts, leaving less than 45,000 parcels up for grabs. The competition for land is fierce and a good portion of land ends up being flipped without settling into the hands of a capable and willing builder.
New Player Pains
Currently, a new player or team looking to build in Decentraland is going to spend a minimum of $520 or 13,000 MANA on a single parcel of land, which encompasses the area of about 5 semitrailers. Unfortunately, you cannot fit even one semitrailer worth of items on a single parcel due to the fairly strict scene limitations of 10,000 triangles. Most teams, and even regular users, will end up purchasing more than one parcel therefore decreasing the distribution of land across the user base. Acquiring your neighbours parcel is not always easy further restricting less financially liquid players from acquiring connecting lands or building larger scenes. With the in game builder unable to provide them a means to justify the initial investment, players turn to the SDK as a means to produce revenue generating content that can produce a profit or at least a return on their initial investment. Deciding between buying a new Playstation 5 or learning to be an entrepreneur is not a normal decision for many gamers.
Part of the solution lies in Decentraland’s ability to provide users with tools that allow them access to land without paying the full price of a parcel up front. There is already a loan feature available on the DCL market and additional functionality such as rental agreements, collaboration rights, or a marketplace for scenes and objects would greatly increase the amount of content available. But none of that is directly within users control, nor is it available today. Users may need to look outside the Decentraland client into the ecosystem building around it for an answer that will work now.
For those that do snag a parcel, hiring a developer to produce a scene for you is one possible way to produce valuable content. Unfortunately, casual players do not have the resources or expertise required to hire a developer. Attempting to leverage the builder alone to turn a profit is difficult and there is no way to import scenes that you may have created by a developer back into the builder, greatly limiting the builders use case as a revenue generating tool.
Flip the Flippers
It is enticing for players to turn towards purchasing and reselling land, known as flipping as a way to generate revenue in DCL, but often this land remains undeveloped and does not help solve the content problem. According to Decentral Games the “next wave of value creation within the Decentraland ecosystem is not going to be made flipping unpopulated LAND.” Turning land flippers into content builders is a key evolution that the DCL community hopes will organically occur as the platform matures and early investors sell their property into the addresses of users who eventually put the land to good use. It is yet to be seen if flippers will naturally evolve into deeper participants in the ecosystem, or if they will will continue to only drive the value of land through their sales.
DCL has a Plan
The team behind DCL is not unaware of the issues. They recently launched the Content Creator Program offering 1-3k to award creators who produce content that is engaging, creative and makes use of the SDK to help drive adoption. This is not the first contest of this type DCL has hosted. Their launch event consisted mostly of content created through similar programs. With a large pot of MANA to reach into, the DCL team can continue to support efforts that help to lower the barriers of entry for new or experienced development teams that are eager to take the leap and submit a scene.
Education is Key
More awareness for Decentraland overall will also help. As daily active users increases, so will the overall opportunity for users to get involved outside of land ownership. More users will lead to more content servers coming online hosted by active development teams which will lead to a surplus of computing resources for DCL. Through the DCL DAO the community could vote on increases to land supply or a decrease to each parcels limitations based on how many resources are freed up by the growing participation in the platform.
Amazing education resources such as the Decentraland University and DCL Ventures, as well as the DCL provided documentation are also available to kick start a potential content builders journey. The video tutorials from HardlyDifficult provided in the documentation are an excellent way for a programmer to understand the nuances of the platform. By far the greatest resource is the community itself. Getting involved in discord, twitter, and telegram groups and helping others solve their problems is the most effective way to grow your skills and the skills of your community at the same time.
Respect the Elders
Experienced teams such as Polygonal Minds and Decentral Games produce not only engaging experiences in DCL that include Tomb Chaser and Tominoya Casino (find them on the interactive map here), they also provide tutorials and assets free to the community. These pioneers of the blockchain development frontier are a beacon for how development companies of the future can work directly with the community to produce content that is fun, engaging, and rewarding to the ecosystem. Through their example and the efforts of their teams to understand and engage the community there has been a steady expansion of knowledge for participants of all levels.
Second Layered Solutions
Outside of the base layer DCL ecosystem, a passionate effort is underway to develop a player based economy for pre-made scenes, assets, and revenue producing content. One platform leading the way is Metazone.io. Their service provides a way for users to sell advanced SDK scenes through a player driven marketplace. Content created on the site can be built to share metadata with other scenes providing an avenue for users to combine scenes into cohesive, revenue generating, experiences without learning to code via the SDK. Users of this type of third party system give up full control over the source code they deploy on their land, but gain access to the advanced features of the SDK as well as an interconnected ecosystem of scenes that can generate revenue for the user. Combining the power of scenes that can elevate normal users to entrepreneurs while also combining the features already available in the builder and in DCL today. This is the key to unlocking the potential of a decentralized platform like DCL driven by the full creativity of its users.
Decentraland may eventually build this economic layer into the game itself, perhaps even allowing users to use the built-in builder from within the game itself, limiting the use case for products like MetaZone. Providing a marketplace for models and scenes would tie together parts of the ecosystem that could begin to fork in separate directions. Players today can choose between limited features by either using the builder and getting unrestricted access to the assets it provides, learning to code in typescript, or having restricted access to the builder but with more advanced access to the SDK through third party services.
The Future is Bright
It is hard to see a future where Decentraland does not work out the kinks and realize its full potential both through advancing the tools available in the game itself and through the efforts of the community. The advantage of a fully decentralized vision is that the passion of the community is all that is needed to keep the progress moving forward. Decentraland is a unique portal through which individuals of all skill and interest levels can find a way to build the future of gaming and player driven economies. Getting content into the game will be a slow process, but through the continued drive of this bright and inspired community, a world full of wondrous, scarce, value will emerge.