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Digital land sales are booming lately following rising interest in crypto games and Facebook’s prominent push into the metaverse. But Ethereum-based metaverse games like The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Axie Infinity have been selling virtual plots for years—before metaverse hype picked up steam.
If spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on digital land parcels still seems far-fetched today, then imagine the gamble when The Sandbox first offered them up in 2019. Early adopters are now seeing the benefits with the game’s SAND token and LAND NFTs all becoming vastly more valuable of late.
In an interview with Decrypt, The Sandbox co-founder and COO Sebastien Borget said it’s validating to see his team’s idea for a community-owned, user-customizable online game world embraced by more people. And while the game isn’t fully open to the public just yet, people are buying and selling LAND parcels in anticipation of building upon them.
“Every day, the map is different. There are new landowners and new communities that come and decide to build things next to each other,” he said. “I feel like it's a digital nation—living and breathing. That's why it's exciting. It's culturally rich, it’s global, and it's accessible.”
The Sandbox looks a fair bit like Microsoft’s smash hit Minecraft at a glance: a virtual playground full of blocks to play with, akin to digital LEGO bricks. The difference comes in the form of virtual asset ownership, as users can purchase plots of land on the shared online map and build their own game experiences on them.
🛣️ Travel the roadway to the Scientists’ community of Central Town... 🧑🔬 Built by Scientists as a hub of knowledge and innovation, it has since become the gathering place for techies and hipsters!
🎮 Open to Alpha Pass holdershttps://t.co/r38RtKHd03#SandboxAlpha pic.twitter.com/RMwl19peDt
— The Sandbox (@TheSandboxGame) December 17, 2021
Each land plot is represented by an NFT, which acts as a blockchain-backed deed of ownership for a digital item. Such NFTs are owned by players and can be resold or transferred as they please.
Why might people buy virtual land, aside from the speculative investment? In The Sandbox, land owners can build on their digital space, whether it’s to design a community hangout or NFT gallery, or even to design interactive games. Those games can even be monetized, plus users can buy up land to rent out to other creators for a fee.
Celebrities and brands are buying in. Rapper Snoop Dogg, already a major NFT collector and creator, will launch interactive experiences within The Sandbox, including live concerts, NFTs, and more. And fans are paying top dollar to live next to Snoop in the metaverse, with one collector spending more than $450,000 for an adjacent plot of LAND.
Meanwhile, brands like Adidas, Atari, and The Walking Dead have all acquired LAND in The Sandbox, with plans to establish their own metaverse outposts. Borget suggested that the gradual signing of brands and celebrities over the years, including big additions like Deadmau5 and The Walking Dead, created “network effects” to entice others to join in.
From Alpha to everyone
At the end of November, The Sandbox opened up its first Alpha test period to finally let people play in its metaverse world. Players who purchased an Alpha Pass NFT could access 18 play experiences and earn token rewards, while anyone else without a pass could try out a few gameplay samples without rewards.
Borget felt apprehension about finally opening up the game following years of development—and after eager fans had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on NFTs. The broader concept of the metaverse is still so nebulous to many people, so this was an early opportunity for people to dip a toe in and see how The Sandbox works.
“It’s almost this fear of jumping into the void and getting a lot of backfire and other criticism,” he said. “Maybe people will enter it and say: ‘Oh, that's it? The metaverse—is it really that boring? It looks ugly, it's full of bugs, it’s not a lot of fun,’ maybe. And that didn't happen.”
Despite the fear of backlash from invested community members, Borget said that feedback to the initial Alpha test, which concluded on December 20, was largely positive. Granted, the game is still deep in development: there are bugs to fix and other feedback to act upon. But he’s encouraged by the overall response.
Alpha Season 2 in #TheSandbox is coming! 🙌
🔹More Alpha Passes
See you in the #Metaverse soon... pic.twitter.com/Bn0gMR2Hc9
— The Sandbox (@TheSandboxGame) December 23, 2021
Communities around NFT projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, Sup Ducks, and Gutter Cat Gang participated in the Alpha test, Borget said, suggesting the potential for The Sandbox to serve as a metaverse hub for crypto communities. It’s part of the reason why The Sandbox project itself has spent millions buying NFTs, including a $2.9 million Bored Ape in September.
Borget said that the game had tens of thousands of players during the alpha test, and that the number of unique LAND owners in the game rose above 17,000. Additional LAND NFTs will be released throughout 2022, as well, plus the secondary market is already booming.
Going forward, The Sandbox plans to launch similar playtesting periods every couple of months in 2022 to draw further feedback from LAND owners. The team will also migrate the game to Polygon, a layer-2 scaling solution for Ethereum, to minimize transaction fees and network congestion when interacting with the game. It will also launch a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) in 2022, giving LAND owners a say in the game’s future.
Ultimately, Borget said, the game will launch more widely to the public once LAND-owning creators are able to build and share their interactive experiences, and the game makes the transition to Polygon. At that point, The Sandbox may be better suited to showcase its community-owned vision to all potential players, even those that don’t buy LAND.
“The metaverse needs to be built by the people,” Borget explained. “Once they’re building with our tools and they create experiences that will be ready to be open to the public—and we’re live on layer-2 for publishing experiences on their LANDs—I think that will be a great time to start.”