—MILTON, Paradise Lost XII.646
If the future of humanity includes a digital “world,” distinct from what John Perry Barlow called the “meatspace” of organic life, the folks at Animoca Brands are doing their damnedest to be the first to build it. The fruits of their labor—a blockchain-based world-builder called The Sandbox that will launch later this summer—gives a tantalizing glimpse into a future lived inside virtual worlds created in the image of its users, and there is a lot to be excited about.
The Sandbox is an Ethereum-based world-building game that would look familiar to anyone aware of Minecraft. However, being built on a blockchain and populated almost entirely by NFTs, its similarities to traditional world-building games more-or-less end at the digital Lego aesthetic we’ve all come to appreciate.
Everything in The Sandbox is an NFT—characters, items, maps, levels, everything. It all exists as non-fungible tokens stored on the Ethereum blockchain. For the uninitiated, NFTs are special tokens on a blockchain that are unique and non-interchangeable with other tokens. For this reason, they are fundamentally different from cryptocurrencies, which can be exchanged with other tokens at specified ratios or with tokens of their own kind at a rate of 1:1. They are, however, like cryptocurrencies in the sense that they are units of code documenting 1) their own very existence on the blockchain, and 2) their entire transaction and ownership history. As a result, NFTs are ideal for verifying ownership of virtually any kind. This could mean something boring and deeply practical, such as real estate title records or insurance policies, or something cool and awesome, like video game avatars and their badass weapons. The Sandbox opts for the latter kind.
In fact, there are three main types of NFTs in The Sandbox, each with its own purpose:ASSETS, LAND, and GAMES. SAND, the fungible utility token of the Metaverse (as Animoca Brands styles its creation), is a familiar enough concept to even the mildly crypto curious—it facilitates transactions in the game and can be staked or traded. Basically, The Sandbox runs on SAND.
In terms of the main types of NFTs, they all serve critical functions. ASSETS refer to voxel items that populate the game world, such as avatars, NPCs, items and weapons, trees, furniture, decorative ornamentation—the possibilities are limited only by players’ imaginations. GAMES are player-designed game experiences built using ASSETS that others can participate in. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is LAND, which is virtual real estate and is the non-fungible unit of supreme value in The Sandbox.
In real life, anything that exists must exist somewhere, and so it is in The Sandbox, where players must own LAND before they can build on it. The Sandbox applies scarcity in its real estate: there is not an infinite amount of land in the world, nor is there in the Metaverse. This gives The Sandbox its shades of wonky real-estate speculation as players buy and sell the “land” on which they build their empires. And while of course this is not investment advice, it’s hard to imagine folks are buying these parcels without the expectation of appreciation in value—after all, there are only 166,464 LANDs available in this Metaverse, so those interested best get while the getting’s good.*
On the LAND are built the GAMES, and they too are created by the players, though some established brands are steering some of the content as well. For example, Animoca Brands is very excited about —owned by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman—to bring everyone’s favorite vicious, post-apocalyptic nightmare-fantasy to blockchain later this year. Players will be able to use the game’s VoxEdit tool to create voxel versions of their favorite The Walking Dead characters, weapons, items, and so on to use in the Metaverse, which will include LANDs where user-generated hellscapes of the Internet’s own ghoulish devising await players. But for those who dare not explore the LANDs of The Walking Dead, there are all kinds of environments, levels, and games to explore in The Sandbox—the game is limited only by the imagination of its users. “Age cannot wither her,” Shakespeare tells us, “nor custom stale her infinite variety.”
Perhaps the most interesting dimension of what The Sandbox is trying to accomplish is its emphasis on interoperability, whereby it will accept NFTs from other blockchain games into its own metaverse. This places emphasis on what Animoca Brands refers to as “true digital ownership” of video game items—which allows items to have portability outside of the limits of a single game. By making it possible to carry assets from game to game, The Sandbox introduces this concept of permanence to the videogame space, which blockchain is ideal for facilitating. Ownership, after all, depends on something existing in the first place. Imagine all the legendary items lost in the World of Warcraft universe once Blizzard shuts down its servers for good—alas! The very idea of a blockchain, however, is one of a permanent record. Anything minted as an NFT, once minted, can survive as long as the blockchain operates—theoretically forever, if you’re an optimist.
That makes The Sandbox—and any derivatives from it—fundamentally new in the world of gaming. If the trends in immersive gaming that have emerged over the last few decades are any indication, it’s reasonable to imagine that human beings will be spending more and more time in virtual worlds, perhaps soon augmented by VR. It wouldn’t be insane for one to want to have their own stuff in that world, especially stuff they can carry with them from game to game. Just like stuff in real life, there ought to be an economy surrounding that stuff, with the ability to buy, sell, and trade—and indeed this is made possible by the Marketplace, where players can . The Sandbox offers a blocky glimpse into what the beginnings of that future might look like and gives players the chance to help build the world they want to inhabit.
*Again, this is NOT investment advice.