Having launched in February 2020, Decentraland represents the very first generation of metaverse projects, the real pioneers of this concept. Has its mission evolved since then?
The core values remain the same — in the sense that it is a social experiment. But also, in the last year, we’ve observed clearly that there was a boom in entertainment on the platform. Maybe that wasn’t exactly planned this way. The original thought was more associated with gamified experiences, but always with a big social value behind it. From the beginning, it was a place for people to meet, build communities, and create things together.
After working in the fashion event we had [Metaverse Fashion Week, or MVFW], I can tell that there is a huge creator economy in Decentraland, in which brands are reaching out to 3D studios, to 3D creators, and they are completely independent in creating those experiences for brands.
So if in the beginning, maybe it was more of a social experiment, today it’s a social experience experiment, but with very strong economic ties and return to the community.
It’s really shaping into a creative hub. That’s why the brands come. They want to find creative teams that could bring to life their thoughts and ideas. It’s beyond just gamifying a 3D world — it’s a portal connecting physical and digital through creative communities.
Speaking of MVFW, which you helped to organize recently, how can you explain the commercial success of new events like that despite the current technical limitations that exist? How do brands respond to the lack of hyper-realistic graphics, for instance?
Definitely, we have hardware limitations, and tech limitations right now. Before Decentraland, I used to work for a studio that was based on the Unreal engine, so we used to do extremely realistic, almost digital twin projects. When I started at Decentraland, I actually felt relieved! (laughs)
Sometimes we’re so focused on mimicking the real world that we lock the creative process. When working with certain limitations of graphics, which bring you out of your comfort zone, you actually create things that are really marvelous.
Virtual worlds don’t always have to be a replica of the physical world. Do we want to build exactly the same world, but digitally? Is that the intention? So that’s a question for all of us to answer in the next few years.
For fashion, I do feel that the reason why brands came is exactly that those are spaces for creation and extension of what they already have.
Metaverse is a great space for you to extend your narrative as a creator, as a designer, so you can go beyond what you can do in the physical space.
That’s why I feel that even though the event was somewhat limited in terms of particularities of fabric or tiny details, they were still able to cross boundaries that they would not be able to do in the physical space. Like the Dolce Gabbana catwalk with cats — such good humor and a very tasteful way to play with that idea of non-human models.
That’s what the metaverse is about — identity being reviewed. For brands, it was important to do that experiment as an exercise of marketing and branding strategy in the metaverse, which is really powerful. To try some new ‘phygital’ solutions, like Tommy Hilfiger selling physical items through NFTs.
This is going to be the future of trading and purchasing things. Right now it’s the very beginning. We now have a desktop client, and that version should be better in terms of graphics, so it will give us a lot more freedom to improve quality. Let’s hope the brands can now feel more and more satisfied in the next years to come.
And do you feel like for fashion brands it’s also a way of becoming more accessible?
I think so. This idea to make everyone a VIP that could be in a catwalk show is really a beautiful thing. I also think that brands are now realizing that the new generations of consumers want to feel a sense of belonging. The reason why a brand is validated today is not just because it’s hype and expensive, but because it carries a message. That’s one of the opportunities being in the metaverse gives to those brands: to create a fan base, reward fans, and create real connections.
How do you actually onboard brands to Decentraland, to make sure they have the tools and know-how to realize these projects?
How it works is a little bit different than the majority of the other platforms. Decentraland is ruled by a DAO — so it’s the community that owns the platform. They vote on the platform, they roll the platform, but then they decided that they needed an organization to take care of onboarding brands, and creating content — like a Ministry of Culture! That is now the Decentraland Foundation, that I work for, which is a nonprofit organization that has the mission to create content, lead by example, and support the community.
When a brand wants to come to Decentraland, we understand their case, what they want to do what they need, and then we connect them with a creator in their community. We’re not paid in any way, we are a hub. We understand what they need, sometimes we’ll give some production support.
The goal is to feed the community with clients, so that community can grow independently from us.
One day, our desire is that the foundation will not even be needed anymore. Because this will be organic brands will know who to contact, and they will go directly to the community. And they will build things directly with the users of the platform, they will not need us to mediate.
For the Fashion Week, particularly we had a combination of spaces that we as a foundation built to lead by example and show what is possible, and other initiatives from the community. But in all cases, all the brands that came to the event were working side by side with 3D creators from our community anyways. They are the ones building and crafting Dolce Gabbana outfits, an Etro catwalk, and so on.
And what have been the main insights from Decetraland’s “social experiment” regarding how people inhabit the metaverse on a daily basis?
There’s a lot going on! I feel that relationships get stronger because people will stay the whole day connected in the central and while they’re doing other things. In fact, a lot of people that are in Decentraland may not be so connected on other social media besides Twitter.
There seems to be a movement of people that are not so interested anymore in posting photos of themselves on Instagram — they’re more interested in sharing their identity in web3, with their avatars, what they do and what they create there.
Even in the social realm, it feels like creativity is part of this new social practice where people organize parties together, design collections of garments and wearables together, and even get married!
We’ve had so many weddings actually! I feel like that’s a great business (laughs) — organizing ceremonies in the metaverse, especially for couples that met inside the metaverse! And that’s super interesting, because who hasn’t fallen in love with somebody in an online chat, right?
The idea of expanding your creative and social identities in the metaverse is indeed powerful. But isn’t a lot of it just about people shielding themselves in an illusion?
One of my colleagues uses the term ‘escapism’ all the time. I don’t know if that’s really a term I’d use. For me, escapism is a bad thing, in the sense that you are trying to blur the reality and be something else. But I think there are two ways of looking at it. One is: people trying to run away from who they are and how they behave in the physical world. The virtual world gives them a new alternative self.
At the same time, there are a lot of people that expand who they are in a better way. For example, I used to cosplay a lot when I was younger. It was me ‘enhanced’ through a character connected to my particular personality. In Decentraland, I can do things like that more frequently. That could be a very positive extension of reality, not necessarily a ‘replacement’ of it.
As to those who do replace their reality, web3 is actually giving more opportunities to people who’re not 100% happy with whatever the physical world is for them. They have a second chance. That could be healthy for some. It’s just about finding a balance.
We’ve been referring a lot to the community. Web3 is seen by many as the new frontier for community building. Why is that, what’s the new trend there?
Web3 communities are very collaborative. There’s a big sense of a collective creation process. Even if the projects are independent, they’re always open to collaborating and building something with others. And that way, generally everybody wins. There’s not as much greed, as we generally see in the traditional web where you have very extractive systems that exploit data, and tell you what to do. So I think there is this eagerness in the new communities to build something incredible — and to get something back from it.
Another thing that I feel is that people on the web3 are very political in a good way. They want to be part of the voting process of creating and shaping this world. They don’t accept you telling them what to do and how to do it, they will always be there to show their ideas and to really stand by their values. That’s another reason why web3 could be a new stage of how we view the internet — as the internet built by people for people. That’s something that we really didn’t exercise much in the last 20 years.
During your talk at NFC in Lisbon, you mentioned that XR tech will play a key role in connecting the different metaverse experiences. How do you see it evolving exactly?
Having worked a lot with VR tech too, I have a bigger sympathy for AR and mixed reality, which are not available yet. So AR is the closest we can get today. VR will be important for specific things, like professional training or even video games. But we won’t be wearing a headset 100% of our time, where suddenly our world would be totally replaced by a synthetic world. I think it’s going to be the opposite. We’re going to ‘unframe’ virtual worlds.
Metaverse is going to come out of this screen.
We’ll be wearing digital clothes that will be seen with mixed reality or augmented reality on top of physical clothes that we like; we will have fragments of our avatars on our bodies if we want, and a hybrid architecture that maybe bring elements from Decentraland to New York, you know, or from The Sandbox to Central Park.
I think that there is not much value, in my opinion, to replace physical reality with a virtual reality in which we’ll be isolated. The ideal scenario for me would be seeing those two worlds become one, which I already see as one, from a technical point of view. To format this space enhanced by digital elements that we create together, or we have the freedom to create the way we want by challenging the traditional laws of the physical space. That’s how I hope to see the evolution.
What’s next for Decentraland in particular?
The VR extension for our platform. Mobile is going to be a focus at some point too. Personally, my efforts will go towards doing physical interventions connected to the platform: how can we have an event running inside Decentraland and maybe have that physically somewhere; how we can have physical inputs — like digital garments that you touch — and then you interfere in a digital piece. I want to start making that happen. My personal mission is removing the boundaries between physical and digital and trying to really do experiments that connect both engineering-wise VR for sure, and mobile eventually and improve the experience overall.
About the guest:
Giovanna Graziosi Casimiro is an XR researcher and creative. Her experience in producing immersive projects spans art, fashion, and entertainment. Currently a Metaverse Producer at Decentraland, she’s on a mission to empower its creative virtual communities and, eventually, remove the boundaries between physical and digital worlds for a unique metaverse experience.
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