Article Written By CEO of The Sandbox Arthur Madrid
Creating true value for user-generated content and virtual real estate in finite, shared worlds like The Sandbox
I believe blockchain technology can create a new space of freedom and creation, and that the future of our social expression will be digital, creative, and fun. As we approach the launch of The Sandbox, a new kind of decentralized blockchain gaming platform, I want to look back at how we arrived at this point. Why did we choose to make this style of game, how did we accomplish it, and why is this an important moment in gaming?
Why create a metaverse?
Over two years ago, we looked at the success we had created with the original The Sandbox and The Sandbox 2 games on mobile. As Pixowl, we’d crafted — with the help of millions of players and creators — one of the biggest independent user-generated content and gaming platforms, with tens of millions of downloads and over one million monthly active users. The game was popular. It was profitable. Life was good.
But all I could see were the limits of our game. Our creators, the heart of our game’s success, had no way to profit from the creations. They created little pixel worlds, game adventures, even musical works they could share with players. They could make a name for themselves, but their work didn’t help them pay their bills, no matter how many players enjoyed their work.
They created in pixels, which meant the creation process was very intuitive — but also limiting with no way to connect small, 2D worlds into a larger, shared experience. And because pixel art doesn’t come with any way to prove its ownership, one creator’s work could be copied by another with no credit given. Even if we wanted to build a system for players to sell content to each other, there was no way for us to verify who the true author was.
With these limits in mind we set about to start planning The Sandbox 3, a new title to advance our franchise. While keeping the creation process intuitive, we wanted to move to 3D. Taking a cue from the success of games like Minecraft and Roblox, we were aware that millions of creators already knew how to craft items and worlds in voxels, the square, 3D versions of pixels. But we wanted to have our own, The Sandbox-style take on voxel creations, as we spelled out in our white paper for The Sandbox:
The Sandbox franchise’s upcoming game is a 3D voxel-based ecosystem with user generated content (UGC) made by the players. In The Sandbox, creators will be able to craft, play, share, and trade their own game worlds and assets, without central control, with true full ownership, enjoying copyright security alongside the ability to earn cryptocurrency.
Once we incorporated the idea of using the blockchain to establish authorship, ownership, and to allow the transfer of value, things moved rapidly. We didn’t move in a straight line — it’s not easy establishing a new paradigm and we iterated on many, many areas to keep honing our ideas. But since starting with a very small, high level team at The Sandbox as new creative and business entity, we’ve progressed our vision, technology, and business plan for The Sandbox to the point where we have over 30 talented people working on the platform.
I cannot say enough about the importance of our team; their hard work and ideas have brought the platform to life. This includes not only The Sandbox core team, but our parent company Animoca Brands and our investors at Hashed. Our ideas have collectively evolved, and (perhaps similar to how Linden World evolved into Second Life as they tried to create a user-driven virtual world) our thinking has sharpened as we have moved forward.
We now focus on three key elements:
- True ownership and value for players and their creations
- The ability to create content with a consistent aesthetic and interoperability
- An environment that facilitates collaboration and working socially
How to create true ownership
To us, true digital ownership in a virtual world is based on the dynamics of real world products. If I buy a physical comic book, for instance, I know that I own it and I can also re-sell it to someone else if I want. In The Sandbox metaverse, it should be the same. To quote again from our white paper:
The Sandbox offers a unique way to create, assemble and share 3D voxel models. We empower Creators with intuitive, powerful content creation tools. You can make your own 3D voxel objects, animate them, and publish/sell them in our worldwide marketplace, for free! [You can] create or import their own voxel objects, work on them, and effortlessly export them to the marketplace where users can turn them into limited ERC-1155 non-fungible tokens (NFT) called ASSETS. NFTs are virtual tokens for digital scarcity, security, and authenticity. They are unique/distinct and indivisible.
Going beyond the power of NFTs to establish ownership, there is a finite amount of space in The Sandbox — just like in the real world. As with real estate and physical resources, the limits are defined and can’t be changed. Once all the land is sold, it’s gone and we can’t create any more — this builds on a model first established in Decentraland.
Both these limits and the absolute tracking and record of every object created in the world are facilitated through the blockchain. Without blockchain technology, we couldn’t make this game. But with it, every item created has a unique record identifying both the creator and the object. And when you create an object, you also specify how many copies of the object will exist. You can make one unique sword or tree and price it higher, or you can create 500 copies of a utility object and price it lower knowing you have the ability to potentially sell many copies.
Because these attributes are verified on the blockchain, control is decentralized. You as a creator can immutably prove that an object you created came from you, and you as a player can immutably prove that an object you purchased is yours. And with that, you can choose if you want to keep the object, use it, trade it to another player, or sell it for an agreed-upon price. You’re also free to use the object in any game, not just in The Sandbox, as ownership is tied to the blockchain, not on any in-game process that limits its value to a particular game world rather than being transferable.
All in-game transactions will be made in SAND, our decentralized crypto-currency. It’s designed as a utility token to facilitate exchanges of value rather than a vehicle for speculation as the first generation of crypto-currencies often were. SAND can be exchanged for other crypto-currencies or back into fiat currency as the player wishes. This means creators can be rewarded for their work, and players who purchase items have the ability to convert their purchase back into real world value if they want.
Keeping aesthetic consistency in a user-generated world
The Sandbox is based on 3D voxel graphics for several reasons. As already mentioned, millions of people (we estimate 50 million) already know how to create voxel items and this gives us a large potential user base. The voxel creator space is also quite influential, and the use of voxels as “digital legos” can be looked at in parallel to the many adult creators of Lego constructions (for which there is a vibrant second-hand marketplace).
Voxels are also the fastest tool for creating a landscape. If there was a game that allowed people to create excellent voxel worlds and game experiences, combined with the ability to safely store and trade their creations through blockchain, creators could suddenly gain greater benefits for their creativity.
Beyond that, voxels provide a consistent aesthetic that makes co-building easier. Voxel art can create quite complex objects and environments, and it’s easy to define sizes and shapes that can be used consistently. This means co-building items or environments is easier — and with straightforward collaboration comes the ability to create projects of greater scale.
Our team has created guidelines and definitions to help creators, but our task is simplified by the inherent properties of voxels. Voxel art has a look, and everyone understood this before our game came into existence. By choosing voxel technology, we make it easier to collaborate and build a world with many different experiences that look like they belong together.
How to facilitate collaboration and social interaction
We always intended The Sandbox to be a metaverse that would be built in collaboration with players. Our experience with user-generated content (UGC) in the original The Sandbox games gave us a big leg up in the areas of creating tools, giving players an appropriate amount of guidelines and freedom, etc. But for this platform we wanted to go beyond UGC to strongly enable collaboration not just between our team and players but between players themselves.
Thus, we focused on these aspects from the beginning. We’ve created system tools to facilitate collaboration and have separated systems that allow one player to create an object, another to create animations for it, and still others to create scripting behaviors. This allows artists to be artists, animators to be animators, and designers and programmers to create behaviors, each bringing out the best in the others.
This collaboration doesn’t have to happen purposefully, either. Two creators who don’t know each other can create objects and scripts that work well together — as discovered by a third player who independently obtained their items and combined them in his or her own game world.
Collaboration also extends to ownership of LAND, the individual blocks of the world that can be purchased and owned by players. A LAND can possibly be rented out to another player in the future, or an owner can invite other creators into the LAND to help create an experience collaboratively. Players can even combine LANDS into a larger shared space to create a richer, larger gaming or social experience.
This creative collaboration for items and LANDS is enabled by true ownership of each. When a complete item (an ASSET in The Sandbox parlance) is created, original ownership is established via blockchain registration, preserving its fundamental ownership and origination. Players also fully own the copyright to their ASSETS, in perpetuity. No need to argue about who created something; it’s all there in the blockchain record that’s publicly available and transparently provable!
Where do we go from here?
We recently held our first presale of LAND in The Sandbox, with the roughly three thousand LANDS offered selling out in less than four hours. Thousands of items have been created already by early-entry artists that we’ve invited to The Sandbox. Our marketplace that will allow the buying, selling, and true ownership of ASSETS will come online soon as we plan for our full launch in 2020.
Aside from the commercial potential of The Sandbox, I believe this launch is part of a revolution in gaming that will see true metaverses come to fruition. Through decentralized control, players can be independent actors in a virtual world, free to do as they like but governed by immutable rules subject to the impartial jurisdiction of the blockchain — which no one can interfere with, including us.
To offer just one small example, a creator could build tennis courts on his or her LAND and rent access to a tennis game incorporating its own physics, animation, and items. They could also sell a tennis court setup on the marketplace that could enable every LAND owner to build one on their LAND. Or they could just build a tennis court and request that visitors have a racket to be able to play — which they could conveniently buy from the player. Or they could create a tennis game, encourage other players to play it and become skilled, and then sell virtual “tickets” to allow other players to watch these tournaments. If you can imagine it, you can build it in The Sandbox.
With a new interactive universe incorporating true ownership, a unified aesthetic that allows diversity, and social collaboration, we’re at the dawn of a new age. We want to prove out the potential for this new model where players can control their destiny with a plethora of options at their fingertips. The metaverse can provide a space where Platonic ideals based on justice and virtue can be put into practice through governance and discussion — an ideal city-state existing on the blockchain.
And what destiny will the players write when they are granted full control? Since the advent of online universes, there are many examples of historical events taking place among thousands of players, with the virtual history often resembling others in the history of civilization. For example, in the Korean MMORPG, Lineage 2, low ranking players rose up in 2004 against a few powerful players who had placed a heavy tax on them. Thousands of players known as the “Underwear Fighters” for their lack of armor stormed the castle on the Batz server. After three months of struggle, the protesters seized the citadel and overthrew their oppressors. Sadly, within a year the opposition lost its solidarity and the elite players succeeded in recapturing the castle and their status and the revolution was over.
I foresee the possibility of The Sandbox becoming one of the first metaverses with a complete timeline and history, with everything driven by player actions — just as human history is driven by the actions of people. We expect many events originating from the players such as the one I described above to be the foundation of the metaverse. There will be no externally imposed narrative; everything will emerge from the use of the platform and how those events shape its history.
Someday, we may look back at the players and creators in The Sandbox as marking a technology milestone by fully putting a new philosophy of decentralized, player-driven activity into practice. For the first time, players will have the power to create an ideal republic driven by gaming. I look forward to seeing this history unfold before us!
If you want to join the adventure into a new metaverse, visit us at sandbox.game to find out more. Please also make sure to join our community so you don’t miss out: