Web3 projects have finally found a shortcut to making "the metaverse" a reality: Minecraft, a video game that launched in 2011 and is owned by Microsoft.
So far, attempts at building the blockchain-integrated metaverse, an idea that has existed as dystopian sci-fi since the 90s but which NFT-hawkers and flailing tech CEOs have suddenly decided absolutely must happen right now, have been faltering. Metaverse standard-bearers The Sandbox and Decentraland are widely derided as being bare-bones, largely empty, janky, and yet still overrun with corporate promotions. Thankfully, though, Web3 builders have hit upon an easy way to create functional "metaverse" worlds and content, and it's literally just Minecraft.
NFT Worlds is an NFT collection of 10,000 unique Minecraft worlds that describes itself as "a fully decentralized, fully customizable, community-driven, play to earn gaming platform." According to the whitepaper, each NFT contains a world seed, which is a code that generates a Minecraft world. Once NFTs are purchased, owners can call their seed from the token contract and input it into Minecraft—you have to buy the game for $27—to create and enter their very own world. If you want your world to be a metaverse destination, you can host your own server, and the project claims to have "verified" builders on tap to help NFT holders build up their metaverse experiences, which is to say Minecraft experiences. To get verified, teams of builders must purchase a world at the floor price (currently $45,000) to show they're serious, according to a sign-up page.
The basic mechanics of how NFT Worlds works—generating a seed, using it in the official game, and paying for your own server—have long been available to anyone who wants to play Minecraft online, with or without NFTs. However, NFT Worlds bolts Web3 onto this concept by turning the Minecraft worlds into resellable tokens, and layering its own cryptocurrency called $WRLD on top of everything. The idea is for $WRLD to be the plug-and-play currency for all NFT Worlds, which players can earn in bespoke "play-to-earn" games built in Minecraft and pay to world owners for various things.
According to the team, Minecraft was the obvious choice to build the "metaverse" on top of because it works, and because it already has a “thriving ecosystem” of mods, user-generated game modes, cosmetic items, and maps. "We didn’t want to have to 'reinvent the wheel' by creating our own unproven game from scratch, while also having to innovate on the NFT integration & decentralized metaverse side of the platform we envisioned," the project's documentation states. "This would take far too long to deliver on."
On OpenSea, the NFT Worlds collection has amassed just over 30,000 ETH in trade volume, or nearly $90 million. NFT Worlds' pseudonymous co-founder ArkDev told Motherboard in a chat that the project gave all 10,000 NFTs away for free, and it is only making money on royalties from secondary sales.
According to NFT Worlds, about 100 other NFT projects are building worlds in Minecraft using its NFTs. These include MetaCollar ("focused on the Working Class"), Neckville (they have long necks), and Creepy Creams DAO (too scared to look up what this is).
In a statement, ArkDev said that crypto meaningfully builds on Minecraft to turn it into a "metaverse." He said the blockchain could enable interconnected communities with server connection details stored on-chain, currency transactions without a central authority, and ownership of digital items across servers.
"One thing that people get confused about is 'NFT Worlds are just seeds.' This is so far from the truth," ArkDev wrote. "Yes, the absolute BASE layer of an NFT World is a randomized integer that maps back to a Minecraft world that you start with, but the value an NFT World really gives you is access to all the decentralized layers and technology we’ve built on top that only NFT Worlds themselves have access to—everything mentioned above relating to bringing the idea of a 'Metaverse' to minecraft."
One wonders what the folks over at Microsoft, the owner of Minecraft, think about all this. When an NFT project planned to tack blockchain tokens onto Magic: The Gathering, MTG's owners were reportedly none too happy with the scheme even though the project stated that players must own the base game. At the bottom of its website, NFT Worlds features the disclaimer: "NFT Worlds is in no way associated with, endorsed by, or a partner of Minecraft, Mojang, Microsoft or any related parties." The whitepaper adds that the team believes NFT Worlds falls under "transformative fair use."
When asked if NFT Worlds was in contact with Microsoft, ArkDev said, "Absolutely, we’ve been in touch with Minecraft’s IP enforcement team since October," and linked to a YouTube video where he said that the company is watching what they're doing and wants them to enforce the Minecraft brand guidelines for creators.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NFT Worlds isn't alone in seeing Minecraft as an easy shortcut to the metaverse. Critterz is an NFT project where token ownership lets users buy plots of land in an "exclusive" Minecraft server and earn more tokens for in-game time. A project called "Survival Game NFT" invites players to purchase unique tokens in order to participate in play-to-earn games in "our private, masterfully-crafted Minecraft Server," according to a Medium post.
Seeing buzzy Web3 projects loop all the way back around to Minecraft is no doubt more ammo for critics who see the industry as unnecessarily and painfully reinventing the wheel. But hey, at least it works.
Update: An earlier version of this article stated that NFT Worlds had 30 ETH trade volume, when it is 30k ETH. Motherboard regrets the error.