Cryptocurrencies and VR, two emergent technologies poised to change the way the world works. But are they a good fit together? One company, MARK.SPACE, thinks so. But do they have the technical capabilities and foresight to make it happen? That is an open question.
MARK.SPACE first came onto the scene last year and claims to have raised over five million dollars in its pre-ICO. They had advertising all over the crypto space which is what turned my attention onto them.
The Token has also gotten generally positive reviews from sites like ICObench, but with their crowd sourced ratings, it is rare you see bad ratings on that site. Coinschedule’s Hira Saeed called it a “magical platform.”
I decided to investigate them with a critical eye, this is what I found.
I first noticed a Jaguar/Land Rover logo on their main page, claiming them as a partner. They also announced the partnership in a press release posted on Medium. I found this claim to be somewhat dubious because I couldn’t find a corresponding press release from Jaguar/Land Rover or its Russian division.
I contacted Jaguar/Land Rover’s corporate office and they told me they were not aware of any partnership with MARK.SPACE but got me into contact with their Russian division. The Russian department did say that they talked to MARK.SPACE but also confirmed that they have no such partnership.
The next day, the Jaguar/Land Rover logo was removed from MARK.SPACE’s site, though the Press Release remains unedited on Medium. I asked MARK.SPACE’s Editor and Community Manager Boris Baranov about this and he told me that they had discussions with Jaguar/Land Rover Russia and had a signed document. I am currently waiting for proof of that document to be emailed to me and will update this space if I receive it.
The second thing I wanted to look at was the concept of the project itself. MARK.SPACE foresees a future where people buy real estate in virtual reality, real estate that can only be purchased with their token.
In their vision, there will be different districts, like residential and business, and users and businesses would customize their spaces to entice virtual shoppers to their virtual stores. Customers will walk around mall-like virtual environments and purchase goods using the MARK.SPACE token, all inside the virtual space.
I have quite a few issues with this plan. First, virtual space, by its definition, should be limited only by the cost of storage. Artificially limiting it through a blockchain seems like a solution with no problem.
Ideally, from MARK.SPACE’s perspective, people will want to buy their virtual real estate because the cities contained within will be interesting enough that it will draw a lot of virtual foot traffic.
I’m not sure how much the average VR user misses physically walking through shopping centers to buy their goods. Hell, I’m not even sure if virtual reality shopping will ever be a thing. But if it is, I don’t think it will resemble the malls of the 90s like MARK.SPACE seems to think.
Which would be fine. A different view on what the future will look like doesn’t necessarily mean an incorrect view. But what is necessary is that what they do have is an enjoyable experience and is something at least comparable to what is currently available and preferably better. The problem is that what MARK.SPACE has shown off isn’t comparable to what is available today, it is much worse.
Checking out the demo available on MARK.SPACE’s website, it reminds me of running the classic game Myst. Everything takes a few seconds to load, and every time you move forward or backwards, the screen turns black before loading the new scene. This is barely acceptable on a PC in a browser, I can’t imagine how nausea inducing it would be with an actual VR headset. Locomotion is currently the weak spot of VR, why would any product focus so much on that, especially if they don’t have a novel solution for it? Currently you just “click” forward like you would on Google Street view. That isn’t going to work in VR.
Going into the demo stores, you are presented with a few generic shelves and a few flat images of products that you can pull up a slightly larger picture of.
In the creation section of the demo, you can pick from a few preset apartments and add flat pictures and add various objects. The problem is that there is no 3D space represented at all. You just place flat images on other flat images. If it doesn’t look natural, that’s fine. In fact, it rarely looks natural. They give you the option to “rotate” an object, but currently that just flips the image. Likewise, pulling the object closer to you simply makes the image larger, with no scaling or definition.
In VR Chat, you can already create a true 3D space you can run around in. Creating a store people can walk around in would be trivial. Meanwhile, Shopify has already demoed a shopping app that blows away anything MARK.SPACE is doing on the commerce side of things.
Look at that video. If virtual reality shopping is going to be a thing, Shopify is going to be there waiting for MARK.SPACE. That isn’t a prediction, they already announced it and they are much further ahead and much better funded.
Having some dubious connection to the blockchain doesn’t change anything. I’m obviously a big believer in blockchain technology, but it isn’t just something you can slap onto any emergent technology and expect it to make everything better. There must be a use for it that other services can’t provide. Adding another layer of payment by artificially limiting virtual real estate isn’t fixing a problem, it’s creating one.
The idea that miners around the world will maintain this blockchain is also questionable. Sure, people will mine the coin if it has value, but will it create a network capable of rendering 3d spaces for thousands of users at the same time? Blockchains are a lot of things but few people accuse them of being fast. Sure, they are quick compared to the processing times of traditional finance like the SWIFT system, but no one argues that they are a quick way to transfer data compared to a centralized server.
Their white paper doesn’t really address how this will be solved outside of a vague reference to miners doing the work. Without open source code to look at, that is all we have left to go on.
Which all makes me wonder how honest MARK.SPACE is being about their potential. The Jaguar/Land Rover non-partnership was one red flag, but there are others. On their main page they claim to be open source. But they have no code available to the public. They told me that they would be open sourcing “the blockchain side of things” in good time, but that doesn’t change the fact that their website says they are open-source right now. And during their ICO period they were taking money from investors who presumably took that claim at face value.
They also have a “Press About Us” section that includes a link to a Forbes article. Forbes would be the largest publication to mention MARK.SPACE, if only it were true. The Forbes article doesn’t mention MARK.SPACE at all and instead just talks about VR in general.
Their team looks impressive, but around half of them don’t have any links to social media at all. Googling many of the team members doesn’t bring up anything about their experience. The only readily available information about them online seems to relate to MARK.SPACE. I’m not sure what that means exactly but it seems a bit curious that these people who are claiming years of experience in their various fields are incredibly difficult to find online.
Regardless if their intentions are pure or not, their business plan simply lacks any substance to become a major player in either the VR or Blockchain space. Uphold tried to meld the two with its Voxels software and that fell flat on its face, though Uphold has had success elsewhere, what chance does MARK.SPACE have when its software is far behind Uphold’s and the concept much more difficult to understand?
At the end of the Shopify press release on VR commerce, they have this line “We’re really excited about how the immersion of virtual reality is starting to integrate with the power and accessibility of the web.” The accessibility of the web is the key part here. The web is infinitely accessible. Blockchains and Ethereum tokens aren’t. To disrupt a market, you need to be more accessible and more useful than what is already out there. Think of Lyft compared to traditional cabs. They made getting a ride easier, quicker and cheaper. They lowered costs by streamlining the process. What does a blockchain streamline in virtual reality shopping? How does buying virtual real estate from MARK.SPACE, rather than simply hosting it on your own website, lower costs?
VR is cool, Blockchains are interesting. That doesn’t mean investors should throw their money at anyone who says those industry buzzwords. The MARK.SPACE demo is really bad VR and the MARK.SPACE token is a really crypto.
Stay away at all costs, or at least until they come out with a product that actually has some potential.