I know we’re all trying to better understand the metaverse — how does it work? What should your organization be doing to get involved?
The metaverse can be convoluted, and for many, it still feels more like a concept than a place you’d actually go. As part of our deep dive into the metaverse and Web3, I decided to spend a few hours exploring two of the most significant metaverse platforms to understand the differences in user interaction, activity level, and currency.
I took a deep dive into Roblox, which has over 50 million daily active users (DAU), then entered Decentraland, which has fewer than 20,000 DAUs. Roblox is a game-oriented metaverse; different brands and companies can each have their own “world” inside of Roblox. Decentraland has one “world,” where users can teleport to certain plots to participate in events and communicate with others.
What’s Needed to Spend Time in the Metaverse?
To set up Roblox, I visited its web page and downloaded the program onto my computer. From there, I could select experiences on the web page, which opened the computer application for each experience I wanted to test. (Examples of what Roblox calls an experience: Vans World or Kellogg’s Froot Loops World.) The process didn’t take long — I was ready to play in just a couple of minutes. Notably, to use Roblox, you need an email address, a username, and a password — much like most sites and apps we’re used to.
In contrast, Decentraland requires users to sign in using one of several Web3 wallets, which allow users to store their virtual assets, like NFTs, Ethereum, and Bitcoin, among other currencies. Because the premise of Decentraland is that it’s the first decentralized, user-controlled metaverse platform, it is integrated with Web3, which advocates are building out as a completely decentralized platform.
Because I didn’t previously have a Web3 wallet, I went ahead and made one. It’s possible to play in Decentraland as a guest, but it limits certain interactions and makes it impossible to acquire or spend currency, and I wanted the full experience. I created a Web3 wallet through MetaMask, which interacts with Ethereum blockchain. The wallet setup is fairly simple, and it’s your “username and password” for Decentraland. My MetaMask wallet doesn’t have an actual username and password, though. It’s only accessible using a 12-word secret recovery phrase, which nobody else has access to — so if you lose it, you’re out of luck.
First impressions really can be the key to user and consumer engagement on a platform like this — if something doesn’t feel easy, we might be less willing to spend the time on it.
Roblox greeted me with a user-friendly site that allowed me to look through different experiences, with descriptions, upvotes and downvotes by previous users, and an icon to tell me how many other users were actively in a specific experience. When I clicked play on my first experience, the site took me directly to the app on my computer. The graphics loaded quickly and easily, and I began playing almost immediately.
Unfortunately, Decentraland gave me a little bit of a hard time. The process of loading Decentraland on a computer that has standard capabilities (in my case, a MacBook Pro), is not always quick. Decentraland runs through a web browser, but is designed for high-powered or gaming computers. Having a computer that doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card makes the experience slow and laggy — the graphics don’t render as well as in Roblox. I had to try loading Decentraland several times before I could actually spend some time there, which felt inconvenient. Had I not been working on a specific project in Decentraland, it wouldn’t have been worth my time to return to the page multiple times without any results. It took me days — and hours of checking on a “Loading” screen — to even access the platform fully.
Decentraland is currently beta testing a desktop app for Windows computers, but I haven’t seen evidence of a beta test for Mac users yet.
The Landscape Itself
The major difference between Roblox and Decentraland was the physical landscape. Decentraland is one large world, where users can jump to certain plots of virtual land that are marked by coordinates. For instance, I used a digital map to find the Santander X building in Decentraland at -68, -118. You can’t actually do any transactions with the Spain-based bank there, but you can watch videos about its Santander X Challenge or interact with virtual information screens to learn more about the company. I was able to “jump” to any coordinates in Decentraland, but I could also walk around to explore different locations.
Decentraland has an “explore” option that allowed me to see locations that other users had constructed (“Franky’s Tavern,” for instance), or that brands had set up. The explore option also shows upcoming events. While I was there, Decentraland advertised an event that invited users to gather dressed in Elvis gear, in an attempt to set the Guinness World Record for most Elvis impersonators in the metaverse.
Roblox does not have one “world” that you wander around in — it’s more of a teleportation type of deal. From the web browser’s “Discover” page, users can select experiences they want to join. I visited quite a few different experiences, some branded and others not.
Who Did I Hang Out With?
The metaverse is largely meant to be a social space where users can interact with each other as avatars.
In Roblox experiences, I found lots of other avatars to pass the time with. When I visited Nikeland, I joined games with other players — both individually and in groups. There were several hundred users in the experience with me, and I joined in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. I found the same to be true of most of the Roblox experiences I visited.
What’s interesting about Roblox is that the approval rating on the experience does seem to affect people’s willingness to participate in it — I visited Vans World, which has a 92 percent positive rating, and found over 800 other players there with me. Every minigame I played, and everywhere I went inside Vans World, another player was there with me. I also visited Kellogg’s Froot Loops World, which has a 40 percent positive rating. In that world, filled with minigames to play, I came across fewer avatars. While I was there, fewer than 100 players total had joined the world.
I used the chat function in several of the experiences to see what fellow users were talking about. Sometimes, they chatted about shared interests. Other times, they focused on tips to help each other achieve objectives within the experiences, like how to get a hole-in-one in a mini golf game.
Decentraland definitely seemed less populated than Roblox, which is likely because it has only a small fraction of the active users that Roblox has. I used the map function to teleport to established locations, including the Fidelity Stack, the Santander X building, Samsung 837X, and more. I ran into another player in 837X, and we chatted and explored that world together. The same thing happened in the Santander X building — but my interactions in these locations felt a little lonely. Each time, I only ran into one user. When I walked through Decentraland outside of the established areas, I never saw another user. It was like walking through my own personal ghost town — but with really nice landscaping.
It was like walking through my own personal ghost town — but with really nice landscaping.
I found the most other players in the fun-focused areas of Decentraland, where users could gather to play poker, mini golf, or other games. That was interesting to me, because those areas reminded me more of Roblox — everything felt gamified.
Decentraland also has a Discord server, where users are able to talk about the metaverse, locations within it, LAND purchases (their term for virtual real estate), and more. That server has thousands of participants and a vast group of moderators to help handle the questions and traffic. It seems Decentraland has started building a community of interested users through this social aspect. It is, however, separate from the actual metaverse — it acts more as a supplemental tool.
Currencies in the Metaverse
Roblox has an interesting way to handle currency. In each experience, there is a different kind of currency — for instance, Vans World has Wafflecoins, and Gucci Town has gems, both of which allow users to buy things in that particular experience, but are not transferable to other experiences. The one overarching currency that tethers Roblox together is called Robux, which users can purchase with the US Dollar. Robux allow users to buy more accessories for their avatar, purchase more in-experience currencies, and unlock specific experiences. While Robux are transferable across experiences, the items that users purchase with them are not — unless they are purchased directly from Roblox’s Avatar Shop. Even when I bought Nike sneakers in that branded experience, I couldn’t wear them into Gucci Town. Are the brand police at work here, or is it just a technical hurdle?
Meanwhile, in Decentraland, there’s only one currency — and it’s called MANA. Users can purchase wearables, unique names for their avatars, and perhaps most importantly, LAND tokens. LAND tokens give users ownership of a plot of land in the Decentraland metaverse, which they can develop with a building, advertise on, or “rent” out for others to use for advertising. Yes, there are landlords even in the metaverse.
To purchase MANA, users have to go through a cryptocurrency wallet — because, again, the idea is that it’s a fully decentralized metaverse, with no big payment processors handling the transactions.
Here, I think, Decentraland has the upper hand. Since there’s only one world to interact within, one currency is king. While the urrencies in Roblox may be easier to obtain within the experiences, or to purchase, having one world with one currency ensures wearables are transferable from one part of the world to another — and that they are transferable from user to user. However, the need to understand buying crypto first, in order to buy the currency, makes MANA inaccessible to many.
Going into the metaverse felt like an exciting project — I did research to figure out where the best spots might be, who might be around, and more. I enjoyed spending time there, and found that the most engaging part of the experience was time spent interacting with other people — whether playing mini games with each other, competing against each other in competitions, or otherwise. The gamified portion of the metaverse, in my mind, still wins out for the average user.
A few of the branded experiences I visited in Roblox were well-developed and interesting, particularly Nikeland. Others, like Forever 21 Shop City still felt a little too bare bones, but could be a good foundation for future development. The branded areas in Decentraland felt boring. I just looked around the buildings, watched promotional videos, or tried to interact with one other lone user. It felt like some brands had the acquired real estate and built structures just to be able to announce that they have a presence in the metaverse. But is that really valuable, if the spaces feel distinctly “less than” we’re used to in the real world?
Roblox has its user experience down to more of a science than Decentraland does, which makes me more inclined not only to spend more time there, but also to return to that metaverse again. Decentraland still feels too inaccessible to the average user for it to be worth returning to consistently. If the platform can fix the issue users have with it not loading correctly without a high-powered laptop, that dynamic could change.
Roblox has its user experience down to more of a science than Decentraland does.
For now, though, I’m much more likely to return to Roblox — both because it has established, well-populated communities to interact with, and because it feels more user friendly.