Cryptocurrency is also known as virtual currency. And funnily enough, “virtual” is becoming an increasingly apt word to use in the context of cryptocurrency, which is showing a newfound fondness for virtual reality.
More and more cryptocurrency events and meetings are being hosted in VR rooms or platforms. Meanwhile, blockchain-based virtual worlds and platforms are being launched, which make use of their own cryptocurrencies to enable their virtual netizens to purchase in-world items.
But is such growth part of a major emerging trend? Or does it simply represent a niche segment of the crypto ecosystem, one that might even subside as soon as the coronavirus disappears and makes it possible once more to attend IRL (in real life) conferences?
Well, as is usually the case with these things, the answer can be found somewhere in the middle.
Virtual meetings, lectures, and conferences
Now that the coronavirus has effectively canceled all cryptocurrency conferences for the foreseeable future, virtual reality has stepped in as a means to attend meetings without increasing your chances of catching a nasty infection from a fellow attendee.
Since at least February, a growing number of Bitcoin (BTC) and other crypto meetups have been hosted in VR. The first seems to have taken place on VRChat on February 15, when developer Udi Wertheimer arranged a virtual social gathering also attended by other prominent Bitcoiners such as Eric Wall, Brad Mills, Hodlonaut, and Meni Rosenfeld, Chairman at Israeli Bitcoin Association.
This initial meeting was mostly social in nature, but since then virtual Bitcoin gatherings have become more education- and business-oriented. Jameson Lopp, CTO of Casa, a private key security specialist, identifies the first BTC lecture as having taken place on February 29, when fellow Bitcoin developer Adam Gibson gave a presentation on PayJoin, a special type of CoinJoin protocol (a method to increase transaction privacy by combining multiple Bitcoin payments into a single transaction).
Brace for a shaky view:
And now, with these initial forays under the crypto community’s belt, and with the coronavirus pandemic showing no sign of abating, first virtual crypto conferences are being scheduled. For example, one of the largest crypto conferences, Consensus 2020, initially scheduled to take place in May in New York, “will now be a completely virtual experience, where attendees from all over the world can participate online at no charge.” Meanwhile, crypto researcher Messari has also announced a new virtual event series called Mainnet Events. However, both teams have not specified what role VR will play in these events.
At the moment, such VR events aren’t particularly widespread, at least not compared to IRL crypto events prior to COVID-19’s outbreak. However, Blockstream‘s Samson Mow tells Cryptonews.com that they’re likely to proliferate.
“VR meetings are not that common but are likely to gain popularly now,” he says.
“There’s a group [on Telegram] led by Udi Wertheimer called Bitcoin VR Degenerates that is quite active and Udi has been regularly hosting Bitcoin VR events for the past month.”
(Wertheimer did not respond to our request for comment.)
More importantly, Mow makes the point that it’s not surprising the crypto community has taken to VR, since the community is more open to new technologies than others.
“We may actually do a Magical Crypto [Magical Crypto Friends, a group of prominent crypto industry players, known also for the Magical Crypto Conference] VR Panel with [Wertheimer] in the coming weeks,” he says. “Bitcoiners are usually early adopters for various technologies, so it’s a good match.”
Virtual blockchain worlds
It’s hard to say whether such practical adaptations towards using VR will develop into a long-lasting practice within crypto. However, Jameson Lopp thinks VR offers benefits beyond simply reducing the risk of contagion.
Posting on Twitter, he wrote, “Looking forward to the day when many Bitcoin conferences are held in virtual reality so that it’s no longer necessary to spend 2 days hurtling through the atmosphere while sealed in a metal tube to give a 30-minute talk in meatspace.”
And while there’s every chance that the new trend for cryptocurrency meetings and conferences in VR will die down once the coronavirus has, well, died down, there are other signs that virtual reality could become a more permanent fixture in crypto.
Most notably, blockchain-based virtual worlds have appeared.
The most prominent of these is Decentraland (MANA), which launched in February and which is based on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain. Essentially, imagine something akin to Second Life or Minecraft, except that everything in the virtual world you own is registered on the Ethereum blockchain via Decentraland’s native tokens.
And Decentraland isn’t the only blockchain-based virtual world.
There’s also CryptoVoxels, which is again based on the Ethereum blockchain and which enables users to trade parcels of land using non-fungible tokens. And there’s NeoWorld, which is another Ethereum-based virtual MMO (massively multiplayer online) game allowing you to trade using its native token.
Another possible VR application beyond virtual worlds and gatherings relates to VR-based media and content. In August, Live Planet launched the “world’s first” blockchain VR network, which promised to “feature in-depth and engaging VR programming” from blockchain industry influencers and media outlets.
So far, however, both VR media networks and blockchain VR worlds have a limited user base. CryptoVoxels and Decentraland register only around 100 trades per week at the moment, while the Blockchain VR Network’s range of content seems hardly to have expanded since its August launch.
Samson Mow questions just how much long-term viability such projects and platforms have.
“I think most projects exist more to justify a token rather than really delivering something of value to a user or player,” he says.
“Most of these projects are also forcing the blockchain or token onto potential users, which is a major source of friction and leads to horrid user experience.”
Still, it’s likely that VR worlds will become very popular in the future. And just maybe, one of these worlds will make use of a blockchain.