The metaverse is the word on everyone’s lips right now, as the persistent, shared virtual world has exploded into the popular consciousness.

A virtual land grab is underway, as parcels of digital real estate, represented by non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are being snapped up for millions of dollars.

Unsurprisingly, big corporate players are making moves in the metaverse; Facebook has rebranded as “metaverse first” company Meta, Microsoft has bought games company Activision in a $69 billion metaverse play, and brands from Walmart to Samsung have ventured into the digital realm.

But decentralized metaverse platforms are pushing back against efforts by legacy tech players to muscle in on the virtual world.

"We believe that the metaverse has to be something different than Web 2.0," Gábor Rétfalvi, co-founder and CEO of decentralized metaverse platform Next Earth, told Decrypt. "A metaverse that’s not monetized by these companies, but monetized by the users themselves."

The fast-growing Next Earth offers a stark alternative to corporate-controlled metaverses: a decentralized metaverse infrastructure based on a digital twin of the Earth. That means that unlike other popular virtual land projects, Next Earth’s land tiles aren’t based on an arbitrarily scarce virtual territory; each tile represents a 10m x 10m plot of virtual land, corresponding to a real-world location that can be purchased and built on by members of the community.

“We're developing the metaverse itself,” Rétfalvi told Decrypt. “It’s a democratized, peer-peer-peer and decentralized metaverse, which I think is especially important since Facebook and other major centralized companies announced their entry to the metaverse.”

Since its launch in August 2021, Next Earth has seen more than 395,000 NFTs minted, with around $895,000 commission earned by users. NFT copies of Manhattan, the most valuable land on the planet, were the first to sell out in Next Earth’s virtual land. The biggest sale so far is the MET New York, resold for $32k with an original mint price of $100. Popular real-world landmarks like the Egyptian pyramids, the Colosseum, and football stadiums also trade like hotcakes. But there’s still plenty more to grab.

"We believe that the metaverse has to be something different than Web 2.0."

Gábor Rétfalvi

Next Earth is intentionally versatile, with use-cases ranging from commercial activity to monetizable artwork and entertainment, and it’s not about a mint rush for particular tiles. “The platform is all about giving an economic incentive,” Rétfalvi said. “And the way to do that starts with owning land. But it doesn't really matter if you have those tiles in the middle of London, or if you have those tiles in the middle of the desert, because those tiles will be the key to using different features.”

Settling Next Earth

The early settlers of Next Earth, about 30,000 landowners, have already begun populating the tiles with pixelated arts, advertisements, and more. And they aren’t just farming the land tiles; in fact, one of the emerging art spaces is built on the water, right around the harbor of a popular location.

Rétfalvi is no stranger to the concepts underpinning the metaverse: he’s a serial entrepreneur whose ventures in gaming and VR technologies long predate their integration with crypto and NFTs. VR integration is on Next Earth’s future roadmap, and there’s plenty more on the horizon, including NFT skins, play-to-earn features, a direct fiat on-ramp, and staking.

The project creatively combines different aspects of crypto, like NFTs, DAOs, and decentralized finance (DeFi), to offer users an infrastructure on which value can be generated and maximized in a wide array of ways. “For instance, I can imagine a future where you have your land and you can basically get a loan on that land,” said Rétfalvi. “You have a physical location, and you can render that location virtually and create your own business inside there.”

Next Earth is in its inception phase at the moment, with a land sale and bottom-up community-building efforts. Up next on the agenda is the Next Earth Token, or NXTT. The project is built on the low-cost Ethereum layer 2 solution Polygon because Next Earth is betting on the long-term sustainability of Ethereum, Rétfalvi said.

NXTT is the native currency of the Next Earth metaverse, which will launch in earnest on January 27; community members can secure whitelist spots for the presale through the Next Earth Launchpad from January 22. The presale has a fair distribution mechanism with five tiers (see below).

Image: Next Earth

To participate in the presale, community members need to hold Next Earth NFT land tiles worth at least $100, a measure aimed at excluding token flippers without real conviction in the long-term value of the project.

After the token launch, NXTT will be available for purchase on decentralized exchange (DEX) Uniswap.

Already, 35% of landowners who are eligible for token presales have gone through on completion of KYC, while 10% of buyers have already committed 410,000 MATIC (valued at over $540,000 at current prices).

As well as leading the charge for a fair metaverse, Next Earth is also aiming to effect change in the real world; a portion of revenue from every NFT trade goes to environmentally-conscious causes, determined by the community members. So far the community has voted to send $800,000 of the charity budget to charities including The Ocean Cleanup, Amazon Watch, Kiss the Ground, and SEE Turtles.

The future of Next Earth remains in the hands of its community members, powered by NFTs and governance token NXTT, Rétfalvi said; the community can come together and decide to shape the direction in any way they deem fit. While the team will continue to deliver on the roadmap, as a steering body for the decentralized metaverse, the real masters will be the community members—especially those who joined early and have comfortably established their presence.

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