Virtual reality on the blockchainSHUTTERSTOCK
Back in 2010 when then-18-year-old Palmer Luckey created the first prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, his creation seemed poised to usher in a new era of virtual worlds. It raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter and the Oculus company sold to Facebook for a cool $3 billion in 2014.
However, so far VR has struggled to gain the wide-scale adoption that seemed inevitable when the Oculus Rift first appeared. In fact in 2018, Statista reports only 171 million active VR users compared with 2.3 billionactive gamers (if we were to assume the only use case for VR is gaming, which it’s not).
Among the reasons for the lack of adoption of VR headsets, sources point to their high cost as well as to the lack of VR content which limits the scope of investment.
A survey of 4,000 individuals at the 2018 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco showed that 29% of people believed that developing gaming content for VR isn’t a long-term, sustainable business model at this moment in time and 31% of respondents believed that VR headsets blocked further content development. They gaged it would take another 3-4 years before VR headsets become commonplace.
So, if VR adoption appears to be stuck in a vicious cycle as there is lack of content development, nobody will buy the headsets. Could it be blockchain to break this cycle? Could Blockchain and VR be a partnership made in Digital Heaven?
Among the several features of blockchain that lend themselves well to VR, the following are worth looking into:
Secure Ownership of Assets
Blockchain offers the secure and immutable ownership of digital assets. In the world of gaming, this is significantly advantageous as gamers can accrue huge stores of in-game assets and rewards, often through paid participation, yet their account is vulnerable to external attacks. Players of Fortnite, the popular video game, have been subject to hacks and attacks to rack up spending on their accounts.
Ethereum’s ERC-721 token standard provides developers with the feature of issuing non-fungible assets. This means that VR developers could use blockchain to create one-of-a-kind digital assets that can be traded in a virtual universe. It may be a weapon or armour in a game; wearables for an avatar; or even a digital music token signed by an artist in the same way as a vinyl record.
By making a digital token the currency of a virtual universe, the universe can govern the economics of that token in the same way as any other currency in real life. In this alternate economy, users can spend their currency on goods or services, which in turn determine its value.
Presently, there are various projects seeking to create virtual worlds, merging blockchain and VR in a way that could see VR finally gain the adoption it has so far failed to achieve.
Decentraland is developed on the Ethereum blockchain as a kind-of Second Life-style decentralized virtual world. Using the native MANA ERC-20 tokens, users can purchase non-fungible LAND tokens, which represent a 10m x 10m area in the Decentraland universe. On their newly-acquired land, users can build a business where they can trade their goods or services with others. The project is also releasing an SDK (Software Development Kit) so that developers can create new functionality within the Decentraland universe.
For example, imagine building your own casino on your virtual strip of land. You could lease some gambling game functionality from a developer, say a roulette wheel and a blackjack table. As users come in and stake their tokens to play your games, you take any of the house winnings, paying a commission to your game developer for their efforts. The same concept could be applied to shops, pubs, sports stadiums or concert halls.
Beachhead game stillBEACHHEAD
BeachHead develops the Decentraland concept even further, by introducing objectives for users to make the BeachHead city into a true VR, blockchain-based game. Here, users enjoy all the same entertainment and trading functionality as in Decentraland. However, in the BeachHead universe, the city is under invasion from attacking forces. Users can earn tokens by helping to defend the city against the marauders, using anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry to keep BeachHead safe from harm. These tokens can be spent on entertainment and e-commerce activities elsewhere in the universe.
This project is the brainchild of Pepe Moreno, who launched a first-person shooter game called BeachHead 2000 back in 1999. The game went on to become a cult hit, selling more than a million copies worldwide. Moreno is now anticipating that the launch of BeachHead’s new virtual world will help to launch VR into the mainstream.
Of the other projects in the blockchain/VR area worth watching, Mark.Spaceis one. This platform is more focused around the e-commerce and corporate branding opportunities within VR. For example, a brand could set up their own chain of virtual stores showcasing merchandise available in real life. While it may be less popular with the gaming crowd, Mark.Space potentially opens up VR to new audiences in fashion and retail.
Meantime, VR investors and fans alike continue to wait patiently for the tipping point of widespread adoption. Visionary projects like the ones listed above are now coming to the forefront of virtual reality innovation. Therefore, perhaps, the tipping point could arrive sooner rather than later!