During the opening of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, samurai/hacker/pizza delivery driver Hiro Protagonist hooks into his computer and is presented with the Metaverse, a virtual reality world.
“The boulevard does not really exist,” the narrator explains. “It is a computer-rendered view of an imaginary place.”
A generation of coders, artists, and thinkers envisioned a version of the Metaverse during the dawn of the internet age based on Stephenson’s vision of a fully-fledged digital world where hackers could share secrets and see online celebrities.
Inspires included Ben Nolan, the creator of Cryptovoxels – an Ethereum-based virtual world.
Upon opening Cryptovoxels, you are greeted with a purple haze that stretches on and on into eternity.
With the assets loaded, you’re greeted by a virtual art gallery full of images and sound from the latest craze in cryptocurrency: non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a cryptographically-signed asset in the art world.
Cryptovoxels is full of artists competing for attention, inviting you into their personal galleries lined with limited edition artwork minted, traded and minted all over the blockchain.
As well as Cryptovoxel, there are many other NFTs that sell parcels of digital real estate, such as OpenSea.
Gold rush in the making
The surge in interest in NFTs and cryptocurrencies has seen Cryptovoxels see an increase in traffic leading to increased prices for its NFT land.
A small crisis caused by the sudden success of Cryptovoxels had just caused Nolan to speak with Information Age in March.
He said, “We were just too loaded.”. “There was an excessive growth rate.”
In the midst of the excess demand, Nolan apologized to his wife and made some coffee from his home office in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
“It took 15 pots of coffee and really loud music all day, but we got everything migrated and now it’s all running well – touch wood.”
Nolan often finds himself doing much of the technical work to keep Cryptovoxels alive and add new features on his own since The Cryptovoxels team is fairly small – only five people in total – with only three full-time employees.
However, although he enjoys being hands-on, the young entrepreneur is also aware that others in his community have expressed concern about what happens if Nolan is no longer there to maintain the platform.
Even though Nolan is still iterating on new features, he said the challenges for his blockchain business are not technical.
“It’s just about building the team now and making the team able to run by itself without me,” Nolan said.
“For a long time I had my hands on everything and now the team is getting a lot more independent which means I can concentrate on the new stuff.”
Cryptovoxels’ ‘new stuff’ represents Cryptovoxels’ transition from just being a browser-based game into mobile and, more importantly, virtual reality.
Cryptovoxels immediately makes sense as a virtual reality experience; a strange, new world filled with weird memes, bright colors, and bizarre architecture, created and designed by artists who are still waiting for mainstream recognition.
Although Nolan is the founder of a digital art movement that has its own critics, he maintains a modest antipodean attitude when it comes to Cryptovoxels.
In a virtual world, he is not running a startup chasing venture capital funds and burning through cash to get maximum exposure.
Despite the NFT gold rush critics point out, Nolan’s financial conservatism mitigates some issues regarding the future of many of these valuable crypto tokens once startups servicing them fail.
“My default position was this is all going to blow over and I’ll need to find a job and pay hosting fees for the next 20 years,” Nolan told Information Age.
“We’ve always kept a really big buffer to do that and I think we could pay for a lot longer than 20 years now.
“It’s always been about keeping the costs low and just being really conservative with what we do with our sales and use that to basically pay for hosting forever.
“So if everyone left and there was no one interested in cryptovoxels anymore, I expect the city to be still viewable fast loading.”
In addition to selling new land, the company earns royalties when secondhand land is resold by its users.
Nolan never considered blockchain to be an opportunity to get rich fast. The site will help usher in the next generation of online communication and communities, something he wants to build that will last.
“I really like old websites that are still up from, you know, 2002,” he said.
“It’s really important to me that Cryptovoxels continues to exist as well.”
He must first keep the world running as new users flood in.