Earth 2: the Metaverse as crypto number-go-up

Earth 2 is a virtual world video game. The developers promise an exciting Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game — whose setting is the entire world, in detail.

The company makes all sorts of promises about Earth 2’s fabulous future potential gameplay — because right now, there is literally no gameplay. You can just trade virtual land. Earth 2 recently attached a blockchain to the project.

Anyone who follows cryptocurrency will immediately recognise all the aspects of Earth 2 that work like a crypto grift.

Earth 2 released a tech demo a couple of weeks ago that was promptly dismantled by an actual game developer, Callum Upton. Earth 2’s founder, Shane Isaac, then challenged Upton to do as well as Earth 2 had. He wasn’t happy when Upton did.


No, I don’t know why the Earth is undergoing mitosis.


2 Earth 2 Furious

Earth 2 was launched in November 2020. The idea is that Earth 2 will be a finely detailed representation of the surface of the entire globe: [Earth 2]

We aim for Earth 2® to be the beginning of the Earth’s fully immersive virtual reality similar to “The Matrix” or “Ready Player One”.

The development is being done by a small indie team called Five Studios. Five Studios’ total output is DRONE, an arena shooter game based on the Unity engine. DRONE was released as early access (an unfinished public beta), but hasn’t been updated since late 2020 — about when Earth 2 was announced. [Steam]

Earth 2 promises some excellent future gameplay, the first two parts of which sound like DRONE: [Earth 2 Draft Update 2022, PDF]

  • Create and customise DRONES for specific purposes inside the game
  • Fly DRONES to attack or defend properties inside a Battle Arena
  • Create and Manage Guilds
  • Harvest in Game, Steal, Pillage
  • Determine Vehicle Classes and Objectives
  • Control Territory / Properties
  • Work as a Gamer and earn Red Co-Op Energy / Currency
  • Master Jewel slotting on vehicles
  • Play-to-Earn

None of this exists at all. Here is what you can presently do in Earth 2:

  • You can buy virtual land.
  • Your land produces resources that you can trade with other players, but you can’t actually do anything with these resources as yet.
  • You can put a building on the land.
  • You can change the building’s colour.

But there is a trading system — and it uses your actual money!

Charles Ponzi, game developer

The only bit of Earth 2 that does anything right now is the virtual land trading system. Earth 2 is very proud of this, per the 2022 Update document:

Earth 2 experienced unprecedented growth and remains the biggest registry of virtual land holdings in the world across all metrics, including the amount of land sold and the number of unique people who own that land.

The way Earth 2 virtual land sales work is:

  • You buy the game currency with actual money.
  • You buy a tile of land from Earth 2. You can’t sell this land back to Earth 2 — only to other players.
  • You trade tiles with other players for game currency.
  • You can trade out the game currency for actual money, if you pay Earth 2 a fee.

Why would you buy the land? It’ll be worth a bundle, when the game finally exists and you can be a virtual landlord!

Putting your actual money in to buy game currency just needs a credit card. Getting actual money out requires passing full Know-Your-Customer checks. The withdrawal process is convoluted and, based on user reports, fails a lot.

Back here on Earth 1, Earth 2 has set up a negative-sum trading system where existing players can only make money if more fresh money comes in.

To get that fresh money in, Earth 2 promotes itself via affiliate marketing, where you can get 5% commission for recruiting a new user. This leads to a flood of spammy blogs and videos promoting Earth 2. The affiliate fees are paid in game currency. [Earth 2, archive]

PC called out Earth 2 at length: “Scam-MMOs: Earth 2 — Der Cashshop ohne Spiel” (The Cash Shop Without a Game). [PC, in German]

Earth 2 goes crypto

Earth 2 doesn’t seem to have started as a cryptocurrency project. That came later.

Keen to get into the richest present resource of really dedicated suckers, Earth 2 hooked up with the Polygon blockchain in December 2021, to do “decentralized” Earth 2 assets. The 2022 Update document says “Web3” a lot. The game currency will become a cryptocurrency, at some future point. [AIThority; E2News]

But the way Earth 2 is really like crypto is the community, which is thoroughly dedicated to number go up, and disclaims technical critiques as “FUD.” This company and community were already fully primed to go crypto.

The $10,000 challenge

Earth 2’s promises caught a lot of attention from gamers and game developers. But it turns out that gamers are fussy, and game developers are technically knowledgeable and can tell when someone’s blowing hot air. For the past year, gaming YouTube has been ripping the piss out of the Earth 2 project.

Earth 2 finally released a tech demo video on 17 March 2022: “World Rendering Progress — Procedurally Generated Versatility at Scale.” The video brags about Earth 2’s “high performance proprietary rendering pipeline” as their secret sauce. [YouTube]



Game developer Callum Upton dismantled the video in detail on 19 March. He focuses on Earth 2’s use of techy buzzwords and claims of proprietary secret technology that sound like exciting technical innovations … but are literally just how game development has been done for decades.

None of Earth 2’s demo was new — none of it. “This is nothing-sauce.” The incredible atmosphere effect that Earth 2 brags about? “That’s a nine-dollar plugin on the Unity store.” Upton’s takedown is 26 minutes of delight: [YouTube]



At the end of the video, Upton described the most annoying members of the Earth 2 community:

You’re just spreading FUD dude, why are you spreading FUD? Now for those who don’t know, FUD stands for “fear, uncertainty and doubt.” That’s kind of their catch-all response to anyone who is speaking critically — not even necessarily negatively, but critically of their project. Because FUD leads to other people starting to critically think about this, and they don’t want you to critically think about this.

… So if me discussing observable facts is going to be FUD or the downfall of this project, it never had a chance in the first place.

… It’s just that the people who are throwing money hand over fist at this, that don’t want to do their research on it, are the ones that will tell you to do your research on it. And then when you do your research on it, you’ve done the wrong research on it.

Told you Earth 2 was just like crypto.

Stung by the critiques, Earth 2 founder Shane Isaac put out a challenge to Upton on 23 March: if you’re so good, can you do what we did? Recreate our Earth 2 tech demo within seven days, by yourself! Isaac offered $10,000 if Upton could meet the challenge. [Twitter]

That is: the head of a game studio dared one guy to recreate in a week what he’d achieved with five developers in a year.

And two days ago, Upton did it: [YouTube]



As Upton says: “Earth 2 used a lot of technobabble and a lot of flowery language to describe the very basic things that every game developer uses.” Upton used these basic tools to recreate large swathes of the Earth 2 tech demo’s claimed technical achievement.

The general opinion from those following the saga is that Upton’s demo matches the precise technical challenges offered by Isaac.

Isaac has claimed that Upton didn’t meet the challenge — mainly on the basis that the graphics don’t look the same. Which wasn’t in the challenge — art assets are hard work, but they’re not tech. Upton could technically have met the challenge using Minecraft as the engine — but he tried to work to the spirit of the challenge.

In the end, one guy achieving even this much of Earth 2’s claimed proprietary technical excellence shows that the game is an afterthought — Earth 2 is about the fake market for fake land.

Upton expected Isaac not to come through on the $10,000. He’s offered to sell his demo to anyone who would like it — except Earth 2.

Upton talks on an Earth 2 enthusiast’s stream about Isaac’s challenge. [YouTube]

By the way — the best bit of Isaac’s challenge to Upton? That Upton’s done this before. Upton called out an MMO kickstarter called DreamWorld as incompetent nonsense, they challenged him to do better, and he promptly sketched out a parody called NightmareWorld. In fact, calling out DreamWorld is how Upton started doing videos about games. NightmareWorld is still being developed and extended by Upton and his Accidental Game Studios, and they’re releasing ongoing demos that are actually plausible. [PC Gamer; YouTube; Twitter; YouTube]


This is what a game demo that isn’t full of it looks like.

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9 Comments on “Earth 2: the Metaverse as crypto number-go-up”

  1. Fake market for fake land. If you want to make a virtual world, which I remain convinced is a game engine with very opinionated middleware, real estate is already the wrong way to go about it.

    Second Life tried that nearly 20 years ago, and ever since, players worked around the limitations (eg, inability to represent apartment blocks, or the assumption of uniform density of stuff, or the inability to create non-overworld areas in a way that isn’t equivalent to skyscrapers).

    Heck, a notion of real estate being non-fungible means you have to hack around the system to do instanced maps. Brillant.

    But it sells well to a certain kind of sucker, I guess.

    1. I was going to drop in and mention Second Life’s land market. (I used Second Life for a couple years circa 2008, and most of this is from memory, not from actually looking it up.)

      The big difference with Second Life’s land market versus Earth 2’s land market is that Second Life’s “world” is a topological plane with infinite dimensions; that is, the only premium for one piece of land versus another piece of land is proximity, and even then Second Life has teleporting, so proximity is only useful in the context of planned communities that attempt to create a vaguely urban setting.

      The way “land” works in Second Life IIRC is that there’s an initial cost for paying Linden Labs to deploy a new server instance for a “sim” (a relatively large fixed chunk of land that corresponds to that server instance), and then there is a monthly maintenance fee to keep that server instance live. Because a server instance is quite large, there is a significant market in rental subdivisions, which frequently include some amount urban planning, i.e. roads that allow avatars to walk between plots without crossing any private plots and that incidentally take up space without using much of the server “prim” (3D object) quota, so that the plots can have a higher “prim” density than the sim as a whole.

      Because Second Life’s world is an infinite plane rather than a finite sphere, the real-estate model lacks overall scarcity, so the secondary market for previously deployed sims mostly represents sellers trying to recoup the initial cost of deployment. By contrast, Earth 2, by using a spherical topology—with the excuse being that it corresponds to the actual Earth’s real-life geography—creates the deflationary market necessary for speculative investment. This is to say that Earth 2 goes out of its way to create the same perverse incentives that cause such phenomena as Manhattan’s retail blight.

      (In Manhattan, because retail rents have been increasing faster than inflation, and because retail leases are typically for 10 years, retail landlords have been demanding exorbitant speculative premiums, leading to large portions of Manhattan’s retail real estate remaining vacant. The same is true elsewhere, but the effect is particularly noticeable—and absurd—in Manhattan, due to the relatively higher viability of brick-and-mortar retail… until rent prices enter the picture. Obviously the same is true with Manhattan residential real estate, but it’s much less visible than retail blight, and also residential leases tend to be for much shorter terms, mitigating the effects of inflation hedging.)

      Interestingly, Second Life did pioneer peer-to-peer micro-transactions (albeit with centralized clearing), and Second Life did have a major intellectual-property scandal when someone created a version of the open-source client that scraped content. Oh, and Second Life even had its own Ponzi scheme with Ginko Financial! (Google it!)

      The one real similarity to cryptocurrency is that Second Life had barely viable technology, because unlike, say, VRChat, most development takes place in a real-time collaborative environment, and the server resources and internet bandwidth just weren’t there in 2008. My impression is that Second Life sucks a lot less than it used to, largely as a byproduct of technological progress, but also my impression is that the underlying engine hasn’t seen much evolution over the same period of time. (It helps that Second Life’s engine doesn’t use a resource-consumption model designed to outpace Moore’s law.)

      That said, Second Life actually has stable communities that aren’t exclusively based on cultish scamming. It turns out that when you don’t create an artificially deflationary market for the underlying computing resources, you can actually foster such wholesome communities as furry sex clubs and Gorean slave-play simulators. Somewhat usefully, the participants in these will even happily pay monthly server-maintenance fees!

      The only real problem with Second Life is that by being a mature company with a stable business model, Linden Labs has become an unattractive target for venture-capital investment, and even then VC investors would probably destroy the very things that make Second Life actually work in the first place. Fortunately, Linden Labs still have a ton of software patents they can troll on all the metaverse startups that have popped up in the past year, and even though software patents are evil, these particular software patents couldn’t be leveraged against more deserving targets, lol.

      1. I’m mostly baffled that the journalists transcribing press releases about the Metaverse appear utterly unware of the 2008 Second Life hype bubble, and never seem to point out that the state of the art in 2022 appears to be “Second Life but rubbish.”

        Here’s to Linden suing the crap out of the crypto bozos any way suitable before the patents run out in 2025. Software patents are basically evil, but for this I’ll give ’em a pass.

        1. I wasn’t really there for the 2008 bubble, but I caught enough wind of it, and used SL since, that the current “metaverse” hype is laughable. Hell, “metaverse” as a term has been coopted by the crypto people, it was in use back then already.

          It’d probably go better if anyone thought to say “we fixed Second Life’s tech debt and design mistakes”, but IMO one of the latter is having a concept of real estate at all. SL itself is very much gradual evolution of an antique core engine they’re kind of stuck with (eg, they can never pitch out their first-gen script interpreter because a bunch of old content would be unfixably broken by that), so it’s using old tech to do things that often aren’t demanding enough to need the cutting edge anyway.

          Teleporting makes proximity worth so little that hardly anyone bothers to get a private sim to be actually adjacent to another one on the world map (making it possible to walk from one to the other), even if they do own two. Frequently, teleporting is needed *within* a sim, much like how tall buildings only have stairs because of fire codes. You may have islands in the sky to represent private interiors or make room for things that need to be really spread out but don’t use many prims.

          I predict Earth 2 will either drag their heels on adding teleporting and discover everyone hates it, or add it and discover the bottom falls out of the real estate market. If they ever add any features besides “land speculation simulator #294”, anyway.

          So probably option 1, what with being more compatible with a business model of “sell NFTs”.

          1. More than anything the successor to Second Life is probably Minecraft. Or, if you like Capitalist exploitation—that doesn’t even need a blockchain!—the successor to Second Life is probably Roblox. (Yes, it’s probably ironic that both of these games/platforms use “blocks”, lol.)

            I remember enjoying Second Life as a place to play around with architecture during the time I was in architecture school, again much like kids these days do in Minecraft. I ended up getting frustrated with it because I ran up against the problem of the map not being the territory; that is, virtual reality, unlike meatspace, is fundamentally dead at the core: its only liveliness derives from what people bring into it, and at the end of the day virtual reality is a poor substitute for the real thing.

            The interesting thing with Second Life’s initial lack of teleportation is that it was designed that way seemingly just because the Metaverse was described that way in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. And the thing with Snow Crash is that while it was sort of kind of supposed to be dystopian, Neal Stephenson seems to actually sort of like the super-libertarian world he created.

  2. “similar to ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Ready Player One'”
    always a good sign when people reference dystopian fiction to describe their project

    1. In _Ready Player [N]_, the biggest clue you’re in a dystopia is that the technological center of the universe is Columbus, Ohio.

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