We spent a week in Decentraland and here’s what we found

The metaverse’s relevance in the popular imagination is growing, and right now the ‘decentralized virtual world’ Decentraland is a top destination. Is it any good, and does its growth herald any real opportunities for brands? The Drum Network member Isobar’s head of innovation Alex Hamilton investigates.

Whenever a new trend emerges, industry watchers jump on the bandwagon to claim it’s the ‘next big thing’; outrageous forecasts are made; and LinkedIn feeds fill up with buzzwords.

This has certainly been the case over recent months with the metaverse.

I’m a fan of the vision of an open metaverse and the technologies that power it. But if virtual worlds are to become intrinsic parts of our daily lives, it’s important not to get swept up in the hype.

So, to better understand these virtual worlds where people meet, trade and build, we challenged our creatives to spend a week in the most talked-about metaverse platform – Decentraland.

Decentraland is a decentralized virtual world where plots of lands can be bought and sold. Built on the Ethereum blockchain, the platform shot to mainstream fame when Metaverse Group, the NFT-based metaverse real estate company, bought a plot for $2.43m in November 2021.

Via a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), land owners and those who have staked MANA (the foundation of Decentraland’s economy) are in control of the policies that determine how the world behaves. So in a sense, the community makes the rules.

A sense of community

There’s already a strikingly strong sense of community on the platform.

Given its size, there are of course large swathes of land where no one is present, but in high footfall areas (events and trending scenes) there are people talking, trading NFTs and playing games together.

The community is supported off-platform by socials, including Discord and Reddit, that act as gateways to virtual worlds, with people sharing coordinates of locations and promoting NFT drops.

Creative liberation

What excited our creative teams the most about the platform is the creative freedom to build experiences in these worlds (if land is owned). The builder function in the platform is straightforward, with the option to import bespoke 3D models through a software development kit (SDK).

With creator control being a founding principle of Decentraland, it’s refreshing to work in a platform with few guard rails or restrictions. Creative excellence can be rewarded commercially through MANA.

The immersion challenge

Decentraland is built on web-based 3D rendering software, allowing for interactions on the blockchain and supporting an expansive virtual web experience where your avatar can run for literally miles (yes, we’ve done it) across the plains of the virtual world.

A challenge with the overall user experience is that the interface is restricted to only Windows PC or MacOS devices. It’s not available on any existing headsets, meaning there’s a lack of true immersion.

This is the case across a host of virtual worlds, including Sandbox, Cryptovoxels and Somnium. The race to develop and launch hardware (virtual or augmented) to provide a better experience is heating up, and it may be a key factor determining success in the long run.

Brand opportunities

While roaming around Decentraland, use cases for brands become apparent. Whether it’s running events and experiential in these virtual worlds, buying virtual out-of-home (OOH) or creating bespoke worlds in worlds (as Samsung did to coincide with CES 2022), the canvas for brand opportunities is only going to grow as the platform develops.

Every day we’re uncovering new partners that can support brands in activating in Decentraland and other virtual worlds. Admix is creating NFT billboards in virtual worlds, and decentralized commerce leader Boson Protocol is helping brands sell physical products in Decentraland as NFTs (pay them a visit in Decentraland here).

Platforms such as Decentraland are the green shoots of the metaverse. After spending considerable time on the platform, it’s clear that the foundational technologies that promote ownership, deliver creative control and foster community are refreshing in a world where walled gardens often stunt digital innovation.

Brands should monitor developments around platforms including Decentraland and challenge their agency partners to find businesses that can help unlock opportunities in these spaces.