There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
—quote popularized by Mark Twain, origin unknown
On October 7th, 2022, the CoinDesk crypto news website published an article by Cameron Thompson, titled It’s Lonely in the Metaverse: Decentraland’s 38 Daily Active Users in a $1.3B Ecosystem:
This article led to some animated discussions over on the cryptosnark subreddit on Reddit (memorably named r/Buttcoin). I would encourage you to take a look at the full discussion thread yourself, which features an interesting side discussion of Second Life, but I will pick out a few choice quotes to share here (please keep in mind that this is a community of cryptoskeptics, not necessarily fans of NFT metaverse platforms!):
[More like] Desertedland.
I’m a land owner on DCL, was super bullish on it when I bought in last year (and before Facebook renamed to Meta and there was the metaverse craze). However, I just can’t see how it can scale. The game is laggy af every single time you load it, got even worse during the craze period. How the heck can a virtual ‘world’ scale when majority of the users can’t even ‘walk around’ the ‘world’ properly?
Now it’s just a ghost town.
It’s pushed as a pet project by certain vested interests who have sunk lots into this, so they need their moneys worth (cough GRAYSCALE cough). Grayscale went full stupid on this, they even created a Trust offering for MANA similar to Grayscale BTC trust where people could hold MANA in traditional IRA accounts
My son’s Minecraft server has more active players.
Tried to use it once. Bounced after it presented me with a $250 gas fee for trying to use a virtual vending machine. That was about an entire ETH at the time. Sold what little MANA [Decentraland’s cryptocurrency] I had, a couple hundred bucks at the time… which would’ve been worth about 20 thousand at its height. I’d even started designing assets for it. Was gonna buy some land and make a go of it, but Ethereum being a terrible inefficient network killed my momentum. Can’t help but be a little bitter about it.
Tried using Decentraland on both a 2020 Microsoft Surface and an older laptop that could run World of Warcraft, [and I] couldn’t even walk around because the system demands were so high. If they are selling their ecosystem to gamers then they are going to require A LOT more development to make it actually fun (i.e. more to do than just poker and microtransactions). If they are selling to the everyday consumer then they are going to need to cut down the hardware requirements to entry for anyone without a $1000+ computer. It has potential, but still a long way to go before it sees the everyday popularity that other digital platforms enjoy.
Just to clarify, the article says an “active” user has to make an actual transaction or another smart contract interaction. So there are probably a lot more users who just log in [and] play the game without being counted.
With respect to that last comment, the CoinDesk article indeed does state:
An active user, according to DappRadar, is defined as a unique wallet address’ interaction with the platform’s smart contract. For example, logging onto The Sandbox or Decentraland to make a purchase with SAND or MANA, each platform’s respective native utility token, is counted as an “active use.”
This means that DappRadar’s compilation of daily active users doesn’t account for people who log in and mosey around a metaverse platform or drop in briefly for an event, such as a virtual fashion week. It also likely means that these spaces are not where people are making transactions, such as buying non-fungible tokens (NFT)…
The largest number of daily users ever on Decentraland was 675, according to DappRadar.
So, for example, if I visit Decentraland, wander around the virtual world, but not interact with a smart contract (e.g. buy something like arrows for a hunting game), I am not counted as a user that day. This is a good example of how statistics taken from blockchain transactions do not give the full picture of what’s going on in an NFT metaverse! So this is rather sloppy reporting, which hurts Decentraland.
Decentraland was very quick to push back on what they consider to be an inaccurate way to count usage of its platform:
Here’s part of their Twitter thread:
Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation on the number of active users of Decentraland. Some websites are tracking only specific smart contract transactions but reporting them as daily active users DAU, which is inaccurate.
Let’s have a look at some of September’s data:
56,697 MAU [monthly active users. i.e. the total number of unique visitors in one month]
1,074 Users interacting with smart contracts
1,732 minted Emotes
6,315 sold Wearables
300 Creators received royalties
161 created Community Events
148 DAO Proposals
For better data: DAO grantee DCL Metrics tracks Decentraland’s Daily Visitors looking at the catalyst server visits and provides a similar data point as DAU. https://dcl-metrics.com
The DCL Metrics website allows you to pull up charts showing statistics over the past 90 days: Unique visitors per day (the blue chart on the left) and parcels visited per day (the purple chart on the right). Over the past three months, DAU (daily active users, i.e. the total number of unique visitors to Decentraland in one day) ranges from 5,871 to 11,965 users, with a slight but noticeable downward trend. On the other hand, there is a slight upward trend in the number of parcels visited each day (perhaps as new venues are constructed?).
Also, according to another, older thread from the Decentraland subreddit, there are webpages you can check to see the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). However, please remember that these are snapshots, minute-by-minute figures, as opposed to the total count of daily active users. (At the time I checked them today, on a Canadian Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, there were approximately 530 users in all of Decentraland.)
So, watching this whole kerfuffle unfold online, here are some of my thoughts.
First: accurate metaverse usage statistics are sometimes hard to come by. They can be even harder to come by, if the metaverse company building a particular platform decides not to release them (for example, if they are so low that it would prove embarrassing to the company, which is likely working hard to encourage new users to its platform, and don’t want to share any news that makes them look bad).
Case in point, Linden Lab used to provide detailed user statistics for Second Life, then stopped, aside from the rare announcement of their MAU (monthly active user) figures. The company largely left the gathering and reporting of statistics to crafty folks who were able to scrape data from various sources. If you’re looking for some up-to-date SL statistics (as of Sept. 30th, 2022), Daniel Voyager reports:
- daily Second Life user concurrency figures (i.e. the number of avatars online at any one time) range from 27,000 to 51,000. with a peak of 55,737 on Feb. 5th, 2022
- the official Second Life website regularly gets over 10 million visits a month
- 27, 453 grid regions (more commonly known as “sims” in SL; please note that, unlike Decentraland, there is no artificial scarcity in virtual land in Second Life, since Linden Lab regularly creates and leases out new land to meet demand)
While we cannot directly compare DCL’s unique daily visitor count with SL’s user concurrency figures, we can compare the latter to the number of currently connected users on the various DCL servers (here, and here). While certainly better than the 38 figure touted in the CoinDesk article, the 530 user concurrency figure for Decentraland pales in comparison to the 27.000-to-51,000 user concurrency figures for Second Life.
Also, compare these figures with the user concurrency figures put out by Steam for VRChat, with an all-time peak user concurrency of 42,564 (and on Jan. 4th, 2022, Wagner James Au reported that VRchat hit an all-time high of 89,300 concurrent users during New Year’s Eve 2021 celebrations, citing statistics scraped by a VRChat user named Adeon). So, as you can see, even with more accurate stats, Decentraland is still not anywhere nearly as popular as Second Life or VRChat (while it certainly is more popular than, say, Sansar).
Now, let’s focus in on one of the statistics Decentraland shared in its rebuttal series of tweets. 6,315 avatar wearables sold in one month seems to me to be a relatively small number, especially when you compare it to the sales juggernaut that is Second Life (both in-world store sales and SL Marketplace online sales, the latter of which would be the most direct comparison to Decentraland’s Marketplace).
I don’t have exact stats on SL sales (again, they can be hard come by), but a January 13th, 2922 Linden Lab press release stated that “Second Life has had one of its strongest years ever, with a growing user base and booming economy including an annual GDP of $650 million USD with 345 million transactions of virtual goods, real estate, and services.” Second Life’s non-crypto economy appears to be doing well!
Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2), and I suspect that this rule would also seem to apply to social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds: the more users you meet on a metaverse platform, the more popular it becomes.
Hopefully, this becomes a virtuous circle, where more users lead to more events, more engagement, and people telling their friends, family, and colleagues about “this cool place I’ve found,” and getting them to join. But it can also lead to a vicious circle, where people eventually stop visiting a platform because every time they log in, there’s next to nobody there, almost zero events happening, and little or nothing engaging to do.
Given the resounding crash of the NFT marketplace overall, and the resulting growing antipathy towards crypto and NFTs after a series of well-publicized failures and scams, even those legitimate NFT metaverses which have actually launched a working platform (Decentraland among them) are facing unprecedented pressures. Both crypto prices and sales volumes for all these projects have crashed, leaving those who bought at the top of the market wondering when they will be able to recoup their investments.
Another thought: the 1.3 billion dollar ecosystem mentioned in the title of the CoinDesk article is a bit misleading, too; this valuation is, as far as I am aware, based on what people actually paid for their virtual lands, avatar accessories, etc. Of course, in the current crypto winter, these assets are probably worth a lot less today. However, since the investors won’t realize a loss until they sell, they can cling to the inflated value of their NFTs (or, as the cryptobros like to say, “hodl”, short for “hold on for dear life”).
O.K., let’s just wrap this editorial up with an executive summary: Decentraland is not as bad off as the CoinDesk article might suggest in this misleading article, but compared to other metaverse platforms like VRChat and Second Life, it’s lagging behind in usage, despite its billion-dollar valuation.