The Sandbox vs. Decentraland: A Tale Of Two Metaverses
What is the metaverse? A uniquely digital space, but at the same time completely real: the use cases are not only about entertainment and leisure, but also about study and academic research. Decentraland and The Sandbox are the two main virtual realities in the blockchain metaverse. They are digital worlds that share the security and applications, beyond just the economics, of this technology. Indeed, the tokenomics of MANA and SAND power functionalities ranging from gaming to NFT exhibitions. However, different experiences arise from the comparison between Decentraland and The Sandbox: let’s try to extract the best of the metaverse from both.
What is the metaverse: from cyberspace to VR
We already know what the metaverse is and how it works, but before we embark on an adventure and make our first steps in The Sandbox or Decentraland, let’s explore more about the origins of the concept.
The idea of a completely digital universe matured in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1982) under the name ‘Cyberspace‘, which, together with the film Blade Runner, initiated the cyberpunk literary genre and movement. However, the term ‘Metaverse’ was coined by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash (1992): a novel that proposed the post-internet reality of a video game populated by Avatars and computer daemons.
In computing, a daemon is a programme that runs automatically ‘in the background’, i.e. without direct user control, usually triggered at the start of a computer’s operating system. Recognising them is easy: their names all end in ‘d’.
Let us take a leap back to the beginning of the millennium: the metaverse existed in the form of ‘life simulation‘, i.e., video games in which one’s character lived out his or her everyday life. The Sims, from February 2000, is perhaps the best example of verisimilitude, but it was SecondLife (2003) that introduced the real ‘virtual society’ and an early form of digital currency exchangeable for the US dollar. The step is now short: the blockchain can recreate these forms of human collectivity, equipping them with solutions such as cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to replace primitive game constructs, in a new technologically advanced metaverse.
Today, anyone can experience the metaverse. Through technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), it is possible to immerse yourself in a virtual world, without the limitations of the physical one. Just think about the force of gravity, why shouldn’t we be able to fly in the metaverse? Both AR and VR have applications beyond entertainment: for example, they are being exploited in medicine, psychology, engineering and design.
In 1962, Sensorama, the first VR system, was created, which allowed one to experience another reality by involving smell, touch, sight and hearing.
The big American companies of the FAANG group (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) are already involved in the metaverse; in fact, Zuckerberg’s project went precisely in this direction, becoming Meta. However, the real innovation is native to blockchain: Decentraland (MANA) and The Sandbox (SAND) are the two main crypto metaverse, but Axie Infinity has also created its own. In particular, we will compare the metaverses of MANA and SAND and the reality of their solutions.
Decentraland: the social metaverse
The Decentraland (MANA) project, created by Esteban Ordano and Ari Meilich, was launched in 2017 via an ICO, raising almost $25 million. Created on Ethereum, the “prehistory” of the metaverse was quickly outgrown as, graphically, the game evolved from 2D (Stone Age) to the more advanced 3D setting (Bronze Age).
Later, the Iron Age reached a further level of development, allowing users themselves to create content. This initiated a true social experience where players could not only build and share applications, but also communicate directly with each other. Decentraland eventually plans to release a fourth version of its metaverse: the ‘Silicon Age‘, which will implement VR technology in the blockchain.
How does Decentraland work? The metaverse has its own economy, based on two ethereum tokens:
- MANA – is the main token of the project: based on the ERC-20 standard, it is used as an ‘exchange currency’ within the virtual world, so it is possible to pay for goods and services of any kind with MANA.
- LAND – every piece of land in the Decentraland metaverse is an ERC-721 token, or NFT. Its value varies according to the metaverse’s ‘real estate market’, where each property is regulated by a smart contract. Any form of gaming experience can be built here: for example, a virtual museum with NFT artworks, which can be accessed by paying a ticket (in MANA). NFT artworks exhibited inside NFT buildings: this is what the metaverse is.
The three-dimensional metaverse Decentraland, therefore, allows players to implement the most diverse use cases: from the construction of sports buildings, through NFT fashion shows, to virtual concerts, all hosted in the same map. In fact, the metaverse is organised into ‘districts‘, i.e. areas with specific themes: for instance, the Crypto Valley where blockchain projects meet their respective communities, the Conference Centre to attend events in the green of a natural environment, the Fashion Street for fashion, Aetheria for cyberpunk lovers, or finally the University district for education in the metaverse.
MANA token holders (holders), among other things, can contribute to the development of the project by actively participating in decisions: the name Decentraland emphasises precisely its decentralisation. In fact, through a DAO-type decision-making structure, MANA holders can vote on topics such as:
- Adding, removing or restoring a game server;
- Updating LAND tokens to add new functionality;
- Addition of new items, new accessories (clothes for avatars for example);
- Real estate auctions for the purchase and sale of LAND;
- Add or change street and road names;
- Change the members of the Security Advisory Board (SAB) who are in charge of making decisions in an emergency.
There is also a second level of DAO, the one within the various districts. It works a bit like municipal elections: each ‘inhabitant’ can vote and approve the proposals he or she prefers concerning the district in which he or she owns LAND; depending on the number of virtual plots he or she owns, his or her vote will have a different weight.
However, there are other ‘worlds’ in the blockchain metaverse, even just in the Ethereum galaxy: to fully understand Decentraland we could compare it with The Sandbox.
The Sandbox: a video game metaverse
The Sandbox was created in 2012, from an idea conceived by Sebastien Borget, with the aim of building a virtual 2D world in which to create and share gaming experiences. However, it was only in 2018 that the project was integrated with blockchain to give rise to the 3D metaverse we know today.
The Sandbox’s metaverse opens up to the wide audience of artists, content creators and anyone who wants to enjoy a new kind of entertainment, but especially Play to Earn gaming. Indeed, The Sandbox has a tokenomics system that rewards entertainment and creativity, attracting both programmers and gamers. Thus, we observe the economy, based on ethereum standards, and other important elements in The Sandbox metaverse:
- SAND – is the utility token of the entire ecosystem: it has a value independent of the dynamics of the game, but is subject to market fluctuations, mirroring the use cases implemented by the project. Through this ERC-20 token, it is therefore possible to purchase goods and services, property and NFT land.
- LAND and NFTs – LANDs are the virtual spaces in which you can build your own applications, and it is easy to see them as plots of land whose ownership is administered by the certificate of the corresponding NFT, contained in an ERC-721 smart contract (although the company has spoken of the possible implementation of other standards, such as ERC-1155 or ERC-721x). The possibilities are manifold: it is possible to create an entire video game, with its structures and objects, in a LAND of The Sandbox by tokenizing everything into NFTs. These can then be sold in the marketplace integrated in The Sandbox, or in secondary markets such as OpenSea;
- DAO – the SAND token can be used by its holders to acquire voting rights in the Sandbox project, participating in decisions and thus contributing to development and maintenance. This feature is typical of DAOs, organisations with decentralised governance.
In addition to these basic features, to stimulate and encourage creativity, the project was equipped with two other tools:
- VoxEdit – this is the graphic tool for creating game content: any user can create NFTs to play with, regardless of their programming experience, via an intuitive dashboard. A voxel is the smallest three-dimensional part of creations: by combining them together, it is possible to create plants, trees, houses, personal avatars, objects of various kinds and artistic works. The way it works is similar to the atoms that make up the universe (or rather, the metaverse): their links open up infinite possibilities;
- Game Maker – is a 3D creation software for game environments, again designed for those unfamiliar with video game programming languages.
- Avatar – this tool allows the creation and customisation, again with NFTs, of the character you play with. Unleash your imagination!
The Sandbox and Decentraland compared
The Sandbox and Decentraland are both metaverses and we have seen that they can accommodate different use cases, between entertainment, video games and events: apparently they may seem similar, but in reality they have some peculiarities on which a comparison can be made. Let us look at some of the possible comparisons:
- The world of Decentraland is currently only accessible via an Internet browser. It is also necessary to use a crypto wallet to create one’s digital identity.
- Although The Sandbox started out as a mobile game, the blockchain version of the metaverse is only accessible through web browsers. The creation of the game identity here also requires a crypto wallet, but you will have multiple methods of registration: not only via Web3 wallets (such as Metamask), or email-based, options also in Decentraland, but also through social networks. A wallet created from your Twitter account makes the metaverse much more accessible.
- Decentraland has an extremely realistic style, so the graphics are similar to video games like The Sims. Therefore, you will find detailed avatars, objects and buildings: the cartoonised appearance does not sacrifice the reality of the environments, which are comparable to concrete everyday life.
- Sandbox has a minimalist style, inspired by the famous video game Minecraft and its ‘blocks’. However, the gaming experience is extremely immersive: you get a sense of your surroundings, albeit ‘edgy’.
- Size: both metaverses have made their LANDs scarce, i.e. limited in number, yet the maps are characterised by different sizes.
- Decentraland consists of 90,061 LANDs: no more will be created, parallel to MANA’s maximum supply set at approximately 2.19 billion. Without scarcity, many spaces would be abandoned, negatively impacting the quality of the metaverse and thus the gaming experience. The size of the virtual terrain is also limited: 16×16 metres, a perfect square. However, there are other rules to be observed, such as the number of constructions per LAND (200) or the maximum file size that can be uploaded per terrain (15 MB); you can find the complete list here.
- The Sandbox, likewise, has a limited number of non-fungible LANDS, but different in supply and size. In fact, there are 166,464 virtual 96×96 metre LANDs, limited to 128m in height. We are given a further indication of size: 1 metre in The Sandbox metaverse corresponds to 32x32x32 voxels. In The Sandbox, amalgamating several LANDs will give rise to properties called SUMMER: a 3×3 square, with a total of 9 NFT lands, is small, up to the extra large 24×24. Big ideas need big spaces.
In conclusion, although both metaverses open up to all kinds of experiences, we are more likely to find NFT exhibitions and non-fungible fashion shows in the districts of Decentraland, while The Sandbox is the realm of blockchain gaming, combining leisure and Play to Earn. However, the dynamism of the DeFi world does not allow us to categorise metaverses easily: the use cases of The Sandbox and Decentraland are limited by creativity alone, so you can just build what you won’t find!