Digital Real Estate, NFT Sales, and Huge Parties

The girl beside me on the dance floor suddenly jerks back two feet, cutting herself off mid-sentence.

“I didn’t realize I was dancing so close to that guy,” she exclaims.

We both giggle at the absurdity of the situation, since it’s just past noon on a Thursday — and the dance party we’re attending is taking place in the Ethereum-powered virtual world of Cryptovoxels. 

Partying in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


Before this outing, I’d never really stopped to consider the rules of metaverse etiquette, but Kasey Robinson — the girl by my side — is teaching me my first lesson.

“It feels so real,” she explains to me as we stare at each other’s avatars through the screen. “I’m like, ‘Oh no, I have to scooch away.'”

Robinson, better known online by her moniker bitpixi, joined the Cryptovoxels team only a few months ago as a user-experience designer. She’s also my tour guide for the afternoon — and my first companion in a soon-to-be bizarre journey that ends with me partying at a beach club in Milan with One Direction’s Liam Payne, albeit digitally.

But while Liam Payne concerts are certainly a highlight of Cryptovoxels — which will be rebranded to just Voxels later this year — the platform is better known for its status as a smaller, yet still fierce, contender within the great metaverse land rush. And with Devin Finzer, CEO of NFT marketplace OpenSea, also naming Cryptovoxels as one of his favorite projects, I wanted to explore the world myself for our Guide to the Metaverse series.

Genesis

Each user spawns in the world the exact same way — as an androgynous, blank-faced, figure drawing-esque mannequin.

Users spawn in Cryptovoxels’ Origin City.

Users spawn in Cryptovoxels’ Origin City.

Lisa Han/Insider


Robinson tells me that this “blank slate” was an intentional design decision, in order to give users the complete freedom to layer shapes for outfit customization.

“Because we have this, people can create anything on top of it,” she explains. “They can be a penguin, or someone with a walking cane. They can be more feminine, more masculine.”

Robinson herself switches outfits twice during our tour. For the first half, she dons a white crop top and shorts, colorful high-tops, wings, a leather briefcase, and a doge mask. For the latter, she scraps the entire outfit in favor of a blue-skinned crying fairy carrying a beer and wearing a strawberry hat.

Starting in the world as a naked mannequin devoid of any facial expressions is slightly eerie to me. Luckily, Robinson gifts me a few wearables to try out during my time in Cryptovoxels.

But the process of actually putting on said wearables is much more arduous than expected.

It takes me a while to even locate the collectibles I own, and once I find them under my profile, I can’t figure out how to actually wear them. When I finally do spot the option to “edit costume,” I’m taken to a 3D-modeling screen which, for an inexperienced user like me, is completely unintuitive.

The dress I select to wear defaults, for some reason, around my avatar’s head. From a dropdown menu of skeleton bones with options including “LeftHandIndex3,” “RightToe_End,” and “LeftUpLeg,” I choose to place the dress on my “Spine” (the other options being “Spine1” and “Spine2”).

Getting dressed in Cryptovoxels is tougher than you'd think.

Getting dressed in Cryptovoxels is tougher than you’d think.

Lisa Han/Insider


Next, I have to use the editor tools to modify the outfit myself, which includes painstakingly stretching, rotating, and moving the dress bit by bit to cover the designated areas.

Getting dressed has never been so technical.

The process of getting dressed.

Lisa Han/Insider


The entire process is exhausting, and takes me at least ten minutes until I’m satisfied that the end result is covering my applicable anatomy from every angle. Robinson reassures me that Cryptovoxel will be soon debuting the ability to make clothing automatically appear on the correct body part. Feeling like I’ve somewhat got the hang of it, I also try my hand at donning a pair of butterfly wings.

As the self-described “first non-engineer hire” to join Cryptovoxels, Robinson was brought on to fix these kinds of user nuisances.

Thanks to Robinson, when you press the little rocket icon on the lower left of the screen, a quick-start guide pops up with some helpful keyboard controls. But before Robinson created this feature, there was no introduction at all for new users. Her longer-term plan is to rebuild the entire website, which currently “operates like it was built for developers and not for a regular, everyday person.”

“There’s a ton of things that we are going to fix this year,” Robinson continues, citing the current difficulties with in-world audio and name changes as two examples. “Every friction point that breaks immersion will be hopefully eliminated.”

Robinson, who has an extensive background in cryptocurrencies and video games, first found Cryptovoxels through a pizza NFT fundraising project, where she was tasked with building a pizzeria in the world. But she stuck with Cryptovoxels, she said, because it reminded her of metaverse predecessor Second Life, a virtual world she used extensively in the past.

With my outfit, name change, and audio problems solved, we kick off our tour at the virtual Bronx Zoo, a blissful oasis teeming with life, built by the metaverse architect Ogar. Baby penguins bounce up and down, elephants flap their ears, a gorilla beats its chest, and eagles swoop overhead in the aviary bar. Over the phone, Robinson’s 1-year-old son coos in delight over the dancing animals on the screen.

Selfies at the Bronx Zoo in Cryptovoxels

Selfies at the Bronx Zoo in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


“This was really good for two years ago,” Robinson says. “Now people are making even crazier stuff.”

Next, we hop over to the aforementioned dance party that a few of her friends are throwing. From a menu, users have a variety of moves to choose from, including ”


Floss

,” “Uprock,” “Savage,” “Backflip,” and a roundhouse “Kick.” As part of the next rollout of features, Robinson tells me that Cryptovoxels will allow users to sell custom dances.

“You might have someone get in a motion-capture suit, record themselves dancing, or record a celebrity dancing and then sell it as NFT,” she explains. “And then we could, in the future, purchase it and be dancing the same real dance imported directly from Snoop Dogg or something.”

In the game, avatars are able to fly, so we swoop over to our next destination. It’s not as easy as it sounds, since I keep flying toward the sidewalk until I figure out how to simultaneously navigate while keeping my camera pointed upward.

Our next destination turns out to be the China Red fashion show, which Robinson says has been responsible for drawing in huge parties across Asia that have crashed the platform’s servers at times. Scaling is something that the team is currently working on so that downtime isn’t as much of an issue going forward, she says.

At the show, I try on a variety of outfits, which, thankfully, the designers have configured to automatically overlay onto the appropriate body part. Unfortunately, the clothes can’t come off properly, so my avatar ends up wearing a few outfits layered on top of one another.

The China Red fashion show in Cryptovoxels.

The China Red fashion show in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


We conclude our tour at Robinson’s personal bar, which is fitted with a VIP section on the upper floor.

There, I meet her friend Zach Weiss, also known in the community as wackozacco, who — like Robinson — has found success in Cryptovoxels as a wearables designer. It’s worked out so well that Weiss, whose avatar dances in a gigantic banana suit, just gave notice at his current job appraising bicycles to concentrate full time on making wearables.

Robinson’s bar in Cryptovoxels.
Lisa Han/Insider

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Lisa Han/Insider

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It’s the same gamble that Robinson herself made a few months ago.

After building the pizzeria, Robinson slowly acquired a list of clients in Cryptovoxels for custom wearables and architecture, each time charging “a bit more” until she could afford to buy her own parcel of land on the platform.

According to Robinson, users can make money in other ways, like selling mini-game scripts and renting land for events like dances or NFT collection releases. But she believes that creating wearables is the easiest route, since they’re ubiquitously understood and the builder is fairly simple to learn.

Robinson estimates that she’s made over six figures from both flipping NFT art and selling her own creations. A user once bought 100 copies of a cheese wearable she’d created, netting her 2.5 ETH — or around $8,000 at the time.

“For a piece of cheese I made in 20 minutes,” Robinson says. “That blew my mind.”

Lo-fi landscape

In between Robinson’s tour and the Liam Payne concert, I spend some time exploring the map and hopping into a few smaller events.

As of March 2021, Cryptovoxels had 4,441 land parcels, all of which range in shape and size. Instead of one large continent, the world is divided into an archipelago of islands that surround the original map, Origin City, which is still the largest and most populated neighborhood. Oceans filled with marine life separate the islands, and some, like Far Far Away and Pluto, are so distant from the mainland that I’m unable to find my way back through the screen’s map interface.

The Cryptovoxels archipelago

The Cryptovoxels archipelago.

Lisa Han/Insider


The world itself, as Robinson puts it, is “really low fidelity, choppy, Minecraft-y.” It’s also alive, colorful, dynamic, and buzzing with energy, partially because the landscape is so crowded, with barely any breathing room between parcels. Unlike the similar open-world Decentraland, which is noted for its greenery and openness, the Cryptovoxels buildings are jammed together like Legos.

The world of Cryptovoxels is jam-packed with colorful buildings as far as the eye can see.

The world of Cryptovoxels is jam-packed with colorful buildings as far as the eye can see.

Lisa Han/Insider


Almost every building also has some form of animation, like a flying Santa Claus and reindeer or 2D people who spin around to follow your movements. Even though other avatar sightings in the world are rare, the animations and crammed landscape make me feel less alone.

Cryptovoxels Collage

Some of the many sights in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


Overall, it’s an eclectic mix and has a somewhat jarring effect, as my eyes are bombarded with colorful images coming from all directions. The aesthetic also seems to tilt more toward urban art and hyperrealism, from the posters and neon signs plastered on the walls to photos of real beverages pasted on the drink coolers.

Cryptovoxels Collage

More sights to be found in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


Cryptovoxels is stuffed to the brim with eye-catching scenery and more beautiful art galleries than I could ever explore. There are also multiple shops, like Vox Walk, a full-blown mall that showcases wearables from a variety of different artists.

Vox Walk

The Vox Walk Mall.

Lisa Han/Insider


Artists are featured predominantly in the world because, according to Robinson, Cryptovoxels’ main focus is to “really showcase the smaller creators — people just doing stuff themselves,” as opposed to negotiating huge brand partnerships like The Sandbox or finding outside investors. But this year, she tells me that the Cryptovoxels team is “more open-minded to larger corporate partnerships” — with the caveat that any business dealings be “cool, fun, and benefit everyone” in the existing community.

For some reason, the Cryptovoxels world is also abundant with shrines, like the ancient Greece-inspired Frenetik Temple and the Jedi-themed Dark Junction. But both pale in comparison to the Temple of Doge, which is fitted with adoring photos of Elon Musk and buff, naked, kneeling statues of Shiba Inu in the style of Michelangelo.

Within the Temple of Doge.
Lisa Han/Insider

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Lisa Han/Insider

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The seamless in-game connection between sites, with graphics loading almost instantaneously, impresses me from the get-go. As I meander, I realize that in a world where avatars can fly, stairs are definitely an afterthought.

Robinson says that compared to The Sandbox, Cryptovoxels is, at least for now, less “game-centered” — which is apparent as I breeze around and find that while there’s no end to the beautiful sights or shops, there’s much less to actually do, besides attend events.

That’s easier said than done, though, since the platform lacks an official, centralized events page, which makes finding events to attend almost impossible. Even the Cryptovoxels Explorer, which includes a list of community events, isn’t very accurate or up to date, which Zach attributes to excessive spam and a lack of incentive for artists to host events other than for self-promotion.

Luckily, Robinson directs me to a NEAR NFT visual-art exhibition, where the hostess meticulously greets all attendees by our usernames and thanks us for stopping by. It’s reminiscent of attending a presentation in the real world, except instead of pinning name tags to our shirts, they’re superimposed over our heads in large white letters.

It’s just a preview of what’s to come from Cryptovoxels.

A night out in the metaverse

“Dystopian mannequin rave and yet I love it?” comments an anonymous user in the chat box.

The description is short yet acutely accurate, since that’s exactly the scene unfolding across my screen. 

Bitlectro Party in Cryptovoxels

Friday night DJ set at Bitlectro Labs.

Lisa Han/Insider


It’s Friday night, and there are two major parties happening in Cryptovoxels. One is an event held at the Bitlectro Labs HQ that Zach recommended, featuring both AI and human DJs. 

And the more I stare at the crowded room, the more it seems like a setting straight from a dystopian film. Almost 120 avatars, chiefly blank-faced and anonymous, dance in midair in front of a huge


Twitch

screen.

The second party tonight, headlined by none other than Liam Payne of One Direction fame, takes place at the Imnotart Cryptovoxels Beach Club. Besides Payne, other artists like DJ Mutant Ape #27182 are also playing.

Liam Payne Party

Avatars dance to Liam Payne’s DJ set.

Lisa Han/Insider


Overall, the concertgoers are overwhelmingly friendly, with strangers striking up lengthy discussions about wearables, 3D modeling, and creation methods, the dominate topic of the night. Mere seconds after teleporting in, I receive two compliments on my “fairy fit.”

Since Cryptovoxels doesn’t allow live direct messaging between users, the conversations are all displayed in the event’s very public chat box. While some are directed at the general crowd of 50 attendees, others are distinctly more private, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m constantly invading someone’s privacy.

But the event has an amiable feel, like when users send each other their wearable creations or share tips for voxel-art techniques. Avatars also encourage each other to show off their NFT collections, including Zach, whose avatar starts the night in its emblematic banana suit. 

At one point, everybody dons their virtual blunts, an astoundingly popular wearable on the platform. Some users shift through a variety of different getups, like a pink Bored Ape in leg warmers, Rachael Rosen from “Blade Runner,” a Starbucks-sipping Super Mario Piranha Plant, and — my personal favorite — a gyrating Gene Wilder Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompa.

Outfits in Cryptovoxels

Some of the many outfits seen in Cryptovoxels.

Lisa Han/Insider


The concert venue, which contains a large dome stage with a screen, flying seaplanes, and a megayacht, reminds me of one I’d find in a real beach town. A few party-hoppers straggle behind, deeming the vibes “more chill” than the “popping” Bitlectro party.

Right before Payne takes the stage, an avatar named Paynoeth catches my attention when he proclaims “me next me next me next” in the chat. 

Liam Payne in Cryptovoxels

Paynoeth approaches the stage.

Lisa Han/Insider


“Payno, hop behind the decks if you want,” urges one of the hosts. 

I’m fairly suspicious of the user’s identity, but the name matches up with Payne’s crypto-dedicated Twitter, and the avatar goes idle while Payne performs. The other attendees are less skeptical, cheering him on as our avatars move to the beat — at a respectable distance, I note, as everyone seems to be following the unspoken dance-floor decorum. Zach sends Paynoeth some of his wearables, which gets me thinking about the eventual opportunities for influencers and brand deals in the metaverse.

While the music is nice, there’s really nothing to look at, since the screen on the stage just showcases the DJ’s static avatar. Even dancing gets a little boring after a while, but luckily, the continuous fashion show and busy chat box are enough to keep my attention. I’m almost sad when the concert ends a little later and the group disbands, with many certainly hopping back over to the other event.

A few days later, I’m scrolling through the Imnotart venue’s Twitter page when I come across a tweet from the event. Nostalgia hits when I spot my avatar waving its arms in the far right of the second photo, not unlike a tagged event photo on Facebook.

Despite the flying avatars and doge temples, Cryptovoxels has done a good job of capturing the very real feelings of community and fun you can find in the real world.