Here’s a simple question: what does it mean to “own land” in a virtual environment?
And here’s another one: what does it mean to “be somewhere” in a virtual environment?
Let’s get real
Owning land in the real world may seem simple. There’s some rock and dirt on our beloved blue-green planet poking out above the sea, and there’s a person or company somewhere that owns that land, as written in a ledger. Or “land registry” to use the fancy name. All thanks to the beneficence of a nation state with its laws, government, armies, and large number of citizens who respect (or are compelled to respect) the concept of “owning” land and are willing to defend (or are compelled to defend) that abstract concept.
Owning land is not simple. As I wrote in the previous paragraph, it is an abstract concept, and abstract things are never simple. Just look at abstract art — looks simple. Could have been painted by a three year old. Technically speaking, it probably was. But the thought that went into it: the cogitation, deliberation, and digestion? Disturbingly time-consuming.
Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. The organized societal concept of land ownership is probably only 12,000 years old, when we first came up with the innovation of agriculture. Since then we have added all sorts of rights, rules, and restrictions to land ownership — there are building rights, mining rights, rights of access, responsibilities for maintenance, and so on and so forth.
An utterly insignificant little blue green planet
The thing is, land has some very interesting properties to a mathematician or economist. As we perceive it, land exists in an approximation of Euclidean space. Some things are close to things, and other things are far away from them, and and so it takes time to get from the center of a city to the suburbs. As a result, land in the middle of a conurbation is generally more expensive than land in the boondocks.
The other interesting thing is that we subvert the continuous nature of Euclidean geometry through our transportation network. If you live next to an airport, then a distant city in another country may actually be closer to you in time than one in the same country that is closer in space. The physically closer city may be a four hour drive away along minor roads, because it does not have an airport, and the more distant one may be reached in just a couple of hours by plane. A similar principle applies to towns on either side of a river or bay if a bridge has not yet been built.
Location, location, location — three surprisingly complicated things.
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Having determined that real world land is not simple, it should come as no surprise that virtual land is not simple either.
Virtual land is not subject to the same restrictions of time and space as real land is. The time and effort it takes to travel from one area to another in Fortnite, Minecraft, or some other computer-instantiated world is imposed by code, not by the underlying laws of the universe. And whereas a human being doesn’t get to decide how far Athens is from Paris, in a virtual world the developers and designers do get to make that decision.
Epic Games could, on a whim, allow their players to simply summon up the island map in Fortnite, click on any point, and appear there instantaneously. They do add all sorts of portals and transportation systems that allow players to move around more quickly than just by running, but full-on teleportation would seriously damage game-play, and so it is kept under control.
The wizard of space and time
In the ongoing experiment that is the Orthoverse we’ve also used traditional two-dimensional Euclidean space for the map that we recently released (and the metaverse we’re going to release at some point will be three-dimensional, with the third dimension giving people room to build). And I don’t want to destroy the sense of “landness” that is created by giving each land NFT coordinates with a magic teleportation system that allows anyone to go anywhere at once.
But there’s a problem. Here are the calculations:
- there are going to be 10 000 tokens representing land on a map, plus another 201 lakes,
- each land occupies a 96x96 virtual meter unit area,
- in the virtual world you can walk at 4.5 meters per second.
As a result, it take 22 seconds to walk across a land. Now, that may not sound like much from a real world perspective. Living a minute away from the local store is considered close, and people happily drive for two or three hours to get to their cabin in the woods.
But in the virtual world people are less patient. And the result of these figures is that it takes at least 36 minutes to walk across the Orthoverse map, and 50 minutes along the diagonal.
Hence the henges.
Not everything can be prime real estate
What, henges? Yes, the Orthoverse contains nine henges. If you divide the map into a Tic-tac-toe board, each square has a henge at its center. I know, it’s gone a bit weird, but bear with me.
The plan is that you can decide which henge you want to enter the world in (hang on, the Orthoverse has a plan?), and further more, you can teleport from one henge to any of the other eight ones almost immediately. Those of you who know Finnish will have spotted a clue to this in the names of the henges.
The upshot of this is that there are 72 lands that are immediately reachable from a starting point, 144 that are only 22 seconds away, 244 that are a 44 second walk away, and so on. Generalizing, if you want to know how many lands are a distance of n away from a henge, the answer is 9 * 4 * 2 * n (I think). So there should be 1152 tiles that will be in the worst locations.
At the moment 1250 tokens have been placed on the map, resulting in nine squares of land, with the “worst” lands being six hops away from a central henge. As more land tokens are revealed and more land lockdowns occur, the seas around those nine islands will dry up, until the Orthoverse is one mass of land with some lakes for variety (you can already see the lakes forming).
If the Orthoverse manages to avoid doom before all the land tokens are revealed, and if I manage to get my act together and code up that 3D world representing those tokens, then there are going to be over a thousand land owners who have a six minute walk on the cards to get to their particular property. What to do about that?
Well, last week I spent a couple of days in Lisbon, during which I took several busses, the metro, and even went on a funicular railway. I also go blisters on my little toes from the amount of walking I did. Clearly, what is needed in the Orthoverse is some kind of public transport system.
You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.
— Dr Erol Ozan
I have some ideas for this, but they’re still just that — ideas. One thing is for sure: that teleportation to any given location is out. I think the Orthoverse transport system will have to tie in with land token levels, connecting the highest level lands metro stations or something like that. This has the added advantage of profitable tokenomics, in that it should encourage people to level up their tokens.
Whatever Richard and I decide on, you can be sure that we will not just explain what we’ve done, but also why we’ve done it. Other projects hide the motivation behind their decisions, but as one of the main purposes of the Orthoverse is to explain all this NFT, web3, and metaverse stuff, we expose the reasoning behind our decisions. When there is a reason.
Or perhaps I’ll just wait until people complain about sore feet.
When you are building a metaverse, some of the things you have to think about are really strange. The job is a bit like being a town planner on acid. I think that’s probably the case for game designer too though.
Do you want to know what the funny thing is though?
I was so busy coding up this Orthoverse metaverse/web3/NFT world thing, that I failed to reveal a token of my own early on. As a result, despite being one of the two project developers, I have three tokens that are next to a henge (and none next to the central Orthohenge), and my next nearest ones are four lands or more away from a henge.
Perhaps I should go and grab myself some more. As my grandfather used to say, “If you can, buy land. Except for in Holland, it’s the only thing they don’t make more of.”
To reveal your own Orthoverse token, head over to https://orthoverse.io, follow the instructions and connect your MetaMask wallet, then approve one simple transaction. At the moment a land token costs about 0.002 ETH, or 2€, so it’s never been cheaper to own virtual land.