1 Minute in the Metaverse 🌐 The Sandbox Dream
About the guest
Sébastien Borget is the Co-Founder and COO of The Sandbox — an iconic metaverse platform that revolutionized user-generated content. By opening up a virtual world where users can create, play, and monetize their experiences, Sebastien and the team are paving the way to a truly decentralized and community-owned gaming metaverse.
The Sandbox was founded 10 years ago. That is very interesting because your project is defined as a ‘metaverse’ platform — which nobody thought about back then. What have been the most important technological shifts that have enabled you to shape the platform into what it is today?
Indeed, The Sandbox franchise wasn’t the metaverse at the beginning. It was a mobile game, inspired by the idea that we could use new technology on smartphones to turn any player into a creator. Where through the magic of the touch of their finger, they could give life to the pixelated world and share it with other users.
That idea was quite popular from the start: more than 40 million downloads and 70 million creations were made over time. People were playing around with more than 500 elements as we updated the game over 60 times in his lifetime. That showed us that anyone can become a creator and user-generated content in games was key.
Despite the success in empowering the creativity of players, we also saw that over time, it was hard to keep those players engaged, regardless of how much social recognition they got from us for the quality of their work.
They needed more. They needed also to feel that they contribute to the content of the game and get revenue from it — they deserve to receive a part of it. While platforms on iOS and Android didn’t allow sharing any revenue with creators directly.
We were frustrated by this until the end of 2017 when we started to explore blockchain and found the first blockchain game Crypto Kitties. The gameplay itself was not crazy, but what was interesting was that as a player, you could buy virtual cats on an external marketplace directly from other players. That was really something new and fresh in the industry. And here we saw the potential. Maybe if we allowed our players to make their NFTs and turn anyone into an NFT creator, we could solve our problem.
And that’s how we decided: let’s combine user-generated NFTs and work on a new version of The Sandbox. Let’s start from scratch with 3D, multiplayer, and NFTs at the core of the value proposition. And that’s what we did for the past four years, to truly become this metaverse version of The Sandbox, as we have a map for the virtual world, a game maker, a marketplace, a game client, and avatars.
A metaverse — meaning, a myriad of virtual worlds that users can access through a 3D character, i.e. their digital identity, which they keep as they explore the different worlds — is what The Sandbox became progressively.
It has grown into a real community — first of creators and then brands, which came initially from entertainment but now represent many other fields.
So in a way, if these technological innovations didn’t happen The Sandbox probably wouldn’t exist anymore, or become something else entirely.
Most likely, yes. We grew progressively into our vision. And we didn’t really invent anything. It was more about iterating and assembling things that already existed — like a map. We didn’t invent the map, multiplayer gameplay, or even a creator economy. All of those existed, but putting them together in the right context at the right time, that’s been our luck in a way.
Doesn’t sound too much like luck — more like a good strategy! Speaking of which, The Sandbox has had a strong B2B momentum lately. When you think of the future of The Sandbox, in light of what you’re doing today by bringing all these brands there, what is it supposed to become for users? An economy? A theme park? A mix of all these things?
We’re trying to shape the metaverse to be a place for fun, entertainment, and experience where creativity is being pushed beyond the limit of imagination, thanks to technology. The fact that we brought a lot of brands from entertainment, whether they are music artists, lifestyle, fashion, art, architecture, or media, first and foremost, is to create, indeed, a theme park where all the content is actually owned by the users themselves — most of the time created by them as well– alongside IP premium brand content that will gather and mix up online.
Brands entering the space are opening their culture, accepting the idea that they are coming into a web3 open, community-driven environment where they are not only trying to protect their brand and restrict users to do what they want but more opening to let it all mix — take some content from one IP and another from the content they made and put it all together into an experience that they monetize when they want.
As brands continue to acquire land there, how do you make sure that that platform remains inaccessible to individuals?
We have 166,464 LANDs in total. We have sold 70% of them to date. You do not need LAND to start playing or to start creating — you start earning just by engaging the trader or player without making a single purchase. LAND is only needed when you want to publish your experience. Then, whether you have one or not, we still kept 15% of the map in reserve, scattered around. And we will give that land or lease for free to creators. So that the best projects can always can be accessible, with the idea of no barrier to entry and no purchase required.
Are you seeing new professions emerge around The Sandbox? If so, do you think people will be able to make an actual living out of those?
We’re already seeing a growing number of users who were able to turn their passion and their dream into an actual job and earn revenue that many of them say is more significant than their previous job revenue.
We had our event last week in New York — The Sandbox NYC, which had more than 2000 attendees. What amazed me was to meet a lot of the community for the first time — those creators, those artists — who showcased their work and told the story. Most of them started with Sandbox 8–12 months ago, got good at it, sold some content, and ultimately even founded businesses there and hired more people. The largest project like that grew to 120 people and got acquired by one of the largest ad networks to merge and become just one entity to create an experience for brands and events to promote in the metaverse.
The speed at which it’s happening is super exciting. In this new digital nation, where users own their land, assets, and identity, there is a whole economy in place, which starts with but is not limited to the creator economy. So yes, millions of jobs will come from creating content, virtual architecture, fashion for avatars, and rules of gameplay. At the same time, new jobs will emerge in community management, hosting people into lands through customized, premium experiences. Curation will be important too.
But also just playing, collecting rewards, and selling them can be a source of revenue, that is meaningful. And why is it valuable? Because anyway you contribute to the growth and activity of a virtual world is valuable, be it by bringing the content/ experience or the activities and the life around it. As a result, more people want to come in, participate and engage. That’s almost like a real-world economy.
Now that you mentioned the ‘open metaverse’, do you think that the web3 builders like yourself will succeed in avoiding centralization of the metaverse, where a handful of big players comes to dominate it in the end?
I think there will be a great variety of worlds. We’re not going to replicate a situation where a single winner takes it all. Otherwise, what’s the point of being decentralized, working on interoperability, and so on. I wish for a greater number of decentralized worlds, maybe differentiated based on the platform, e.g. web, VR, mobile, or based on a niche: events, gaming, concerts, and other specific categories. And always supporting the idea that users can carry their assets with them along the way. And we can allow them to either give them the same representation of those assets across all words or even go further, like Sandbox does, by giving them a new representation, a new utility for some of their NFTs, like turning 2D characters into 3D avatars — something that Sandbox was the first to introduce. I think the community really enjoyed that and we will keep pushing in that direction.
At this point, do you think users see The Sandbox more as a game or as a virtual experience?
I think it’s more than a game for them. Most Sandbox users are actually not traditional gamers. We have been bringing more and more users that never played games on console before and were not creators either.
We’re contributing to progressively enlarging the gamer population by diversifying the kind of experience and what you call a game.
It’s fun, you want to come back to it, you complete quests, there is progression, but still is not just a game — there is more. There is socialization, exploration, content creation. Sometimes it’s a virtual show, sometimes an art gallery, or a digital art experience. All of these at the same time — that’s quite unique. And that’s what I think we can call a new format of entertainment.
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