Halsey Minor Wants You To Build VR ‘Star Wars’ Games In Voxelus
The first thing I learned when talking to Halsey Minor of Voxelus and Uphold, is that I had pegged Voxelus all wrong. When I covered their crowdsale last week, I compared Voxelus to game engines like Unity and Unreal. Voxelus is not comparable to those game engines. In fact, Voxelus itself is powered by Unity, and is designed for creators without developing experience. If Voxelus has a competitor, it is probably something like Minecraft, but that comparison isn't quite right either. Voxelus is something like a Cryptocurrency and Virtual Reality powered Minecraft on steroids with a built in marketplace for content creation, and that bodes well for its future.
Since the altcoin explosion, people have talked about the possibility of altcoins filling certain niche's and making their own microeconomies. There have been a few attempts, a few have found small measures of success in gaming, like HYPER, which is aimed at competitive e-sports betting.
But by and large, most alts have yet to find their niche. Almost without exception, alts have to be converted into bitcoin before being turned into fiat and for all their claimed features, have very little actual uses over Bitcoin. The decentralized asset exchanges of CounterParty, NXT, Ethereum and the rest all have potential (with Ethereum leading after hitting some major milestones in the past few months) but how many decentralized asset exchanges do we really need? Those coins are fighting over the same space and the majority of the rest are little more than cryptocurrencies waiting to be turned into Bitcoin before being used.
Enter Voxelus and its inbuilt currency the Voxel. Voxelus is both a game creation tool and a marketplace where users can sell their content for Voxels, or use Voxels as the in-game currency. Minor called Voxelus the "most mature" VR app. That is a high claim, with the likes of EVE: Valkyrie giving gamers a look at AAA experiences in VR, but there is no doubt that the Voxelus system, if it can do everything Minor claims it can, will be among the most “advanced” programs out there.
People have created some amazing things in Minecraft. What gamers have been able to dream up with the Redstone system goes far beyond anything creator Markus "Notch" Persson could have imagined, even before you account for mods.
The problem is that despite the seemingly endless creativity of its users, Minecraft is limited. Users are limited to the blocky art style, and to creating a certain type of game (though creativity and mods have helped with both issues somewhat). Voxelus intends to be somewhere inbetween the relatively complex Unity and the relatively simple Minecraft. You can create shooter games or racing games or soccer games, and you can make them realistic or cartoony or anything in between.
The other alts trying to be the currency of a new marketplace, and there are plenty, have run into high hurdles. It isn't easy to get people who aren't already into bitcoin, into your new currency. Generally, you have to convince them to first buy bitcoin and then exchange it for your currency, and then buy whatever your marketplace holds.
Voxel is unique in its backing from Halsey's other company, Uphold. Uphold, formerly Bitreserve, has connections with European and US Banks, it is launching a debit card with free international money conversion. It lets users hold their money in Bitcoin, several commodities or over two dozen currencies. Uphold allows or will allow users buy those products with a credit card, wire transfer or bank transfer and get paid in the same way.
Essentially, through Uphold, Voxel has instant liquidity into not only Bitcoin, but fiat currencies as well. It can be used instantly as funds for an upcoming Uphold debit card which will be compatible with a most merchants and ATMs worldwide. Setting aside Voxelus for a second, the connection to Uphold alone gives Voxel more functionality than most altcoins currently on the market. I would never endorse a currency or make proclamations on its potential price, it is not my place to do those things and I am incredibly unqualified when it comes to speculative investing. Besides, there has been far too many altcoins with oodles of potential that died on the vine. But I will say that I haven't seen one with this much backing and this much functionality at launch in my entire time covering the cryptocurrency community. There seems to be some understandable apathy on the part of the community, with so many altcoins promising the moon and more, but if my conversation with Minor convinced me of one thing, it's that Voxelus is something worth paying attention to.
Minor took some time out of his schedule to sit down and talk to us about Voxelus, Uphold and the cryptocurrency community. He had a tendency to seemingly predict what my next question was going to be and answer before I get a chance to ask it, so a few answers are longer than the question would seem to necessitate, but if you read through it, I think you'll find a lot of interesting bits.
Ian DeMartino: How has the crowdsale been going? Are you guys as far as long as you hoped?
Halsey Minor: Yeah, I think it is going really well. We are in a weird time in Bitcoin with all the volatility. So it slowed down and it picked up again.
The reason I tell people I created Voxel and Uphold is because we are transitioning to a new world. We are moving from a world where there are currencies you are born in to one where you choose your currency. I was born into the dollar but I can opt-in to the Voxel.
Most currencies are restricted to their geographic location. Cryptocurrencies are really good at moving past that. The idea with Voxel was to make the first in-game currency that has a life outside of its game. So if you accrued a bunch of an in-game currency, you could actually do something with it. You could cash it in for Euros or dollars or use it on your debit card.
A lot of the crowdsales in cryptocurrency community have been all about the crowdsale, and not the coin or company itself. With us, it is all about creating a currency that drives the ecosystem of a the game and rewarding people who participate. And on the large scale, show that we can create new forms of value that are divisible into every other form of value and can be used on your debit card or move it to the European banking system, with the US banking system to follow. To be able to actually hold Voxel in your Uphold account and use it just like you would any of the other 24 currencies plus bitcoin, supported on the system today.
That is really the founding principal behind Uphold, to be able to change any form of value to any other form of value and the cloud makes that really instant and really cheap. I use the ridiculous example that if we had enough chickens we could have chicken money. Now I can replace that with in-game currency. All the people who have obtained and accrued in-game currency, can with Voxel, convert that at some rate to other forms of value.
What people are going to see once the crowdsale is over and we turn it on, is that people will be able to buy Voxel right in the game as a payment system for the game. But on Uphold, it will effectively be a 25th currency and be convertible into all the different currencies on there and the different metals like Gold and Silver and when it's not being converted into a metal, it is completely free.
So, you can put all your money on your Voxel card and move it to whatever form you want. The whole point is to let people hold value in whatever form they want and make converting that value as quick and inexpensive as possible. By making our own currency, we are going to make it possible to switch between whatever value they are most comfortable with, be it in Bitcoin, dollars, Voxels or even airline miles.
Airline miles is a good example of an alternative form of value people are willing to hold. By making the system in the cloud, we want to make it so people can hold any value in it and have it connect to any financial system in the world, be that an exchange or a bank.
That is something we are already working on, in a few weeks time you'll be able to hook up your US bank account to Uphold, and buy bitcoin at zero cost, get it within one day and be able to send it around our network at zero cost. We are actually lowering the barrier of entry for bitcoin as well. If you take it off our network, it will cost 0.5% which is lower than Coinbase, but that is only if you take it off our network, within our network it is completely free.
Voxel really shows the power that these alternative currencies have. With Voxel, we are going to open up this content marketplace that will give Voxel value in the real world.
Money comes in lots of forms, coupons, airline miles, gift cards. The idea is that the cloud is sort of a mechanism to make it convertible. Bitcoin was the first interaction of cloud money by bringing flexibility and instant transfers of money to the financial world. We are building on that.
Voxel is an opportunity to show how an alternative currency, in this case an in-game currency, will have all the same capabilities as the US Dollar and we are doing the same with Bitcoin.
When the debit cards come out, I'd advise that everyone get one, because it will be the only debit card in the world without a foreign exchange fee. So, if you are holding value in dollars and travel to Europe, we will handle all the Forex fees and it will be free for the customer.
The life of the Voxel isn't the crowdsale, it's life is in trying to make an ecosystem that rewards people for making content. Our goal is to make it so Star Wars puts their content on our platform and Disney puts their content on the platform and get paid for it and that will create an ecosystem that allows organizations to put on branded content and sell it and allow people to make content with it that they also can be paid for.
DeMartino: That does relate to something I was talking about with Gyft's Giyom Lebleu. That gift cards could be their own currency and Coke, for an example, could put out their own Coke coin that could be used similarly to a gift card but at any retailer. What do you think about that possibility or future? [Note: Giyom's statements in that interview were of his own opinion and not of Gyft's.]
Minor: I think it is plausible. Again, people today are born into a currency. I use dollars because I was born in the United States. We are trying to move into an era where we choose our currency, and that isn't much different than buying a gift card. When you buy an Apple gift card you are essentially buying Apple dollars, when you buy an Amazon gift card, it is basically Amazon dollars.
What we want to do is make it simple and easy to move in and out of these systems and give them liquidity. That was one of the founding principals of Uphold, that whatever people want to hold value in, they should be able to and they should be able to transfer that value easily and inexpensively. Going back to that Chicken example, if we had enough Chickens and enough liquidity and could buy and sell them, we could make a Chicken card.
One of the things we are still working on is the Oil card, If people could hold their value in oil, that is far more useful for a lot of people than gold because for most people that is a big cost and a variable cost. So how you hold your value becomes much more permutable. If people choose to hold coke money, it is because they fundamentally believe in coke dollars.
What we have is [Geographical]currency, and we are going to move into more domain specific currencies. If the Voxel ends up with 300 million members, which isn't implausible for a VR game in three or five years, then it will have a comparable number to the total population of the United States. If that many people trade in it, what is the difference between it in and the dollar? Right now you can buy more things with dollars but it creates a market.
[Author's note: World of Warcraft and Minecraft have 11.4 million and 10 million users respectively, according to Mojang and Blizzard via Kotaku, so 300 million users would seem like an extremely lofty goal. However, Minor's larger point about it being a large population base for a currency, I think still has merit.]
I have been one of the big proponents for the "use it or lose it" philosophy with Bitcoin, which is that if people just hoard it, it loses its utility which is its transaction abilities. The Voxel will change in value due to demand, which will depend on how many people come to the platform and want to participate in the ecosystem, but people won't hold it as much as bitcoin.
The Voxel is a great platform, I think it could be called a leading VR Platform already. There is no reason to think that as VR continues to do well, that we won't continue to grow along with it.
The world has kind of grown into the Minecraft style of gaming and you'll be able to create any kind of game with the Voxel.
DeMartino: I did want to shift gears a little bit and talk about the engine itself. Do you think this is something that could compete with Unity and Unreal and the other major gaming engines?
Minor: It is built on Unity. Unity is for developers. I think it is much easier to say that we are competitors with Minecraft. The problem with Minecraft is that there is really only one aesthetic. You can build your own world and share them, the difference is that Voxel is a completely open engine and we have different content packs. We have the zombie pack, the city pack, the village pack, you can create any kind of world. You can change the gameplay, you can have a capture the flag game or a shooter. There are all kind of things you can change, including the gravity or rules of physics and have switches that do complex things.
What we expect to see is that 20% of the people will build stuff for the other 80% and of that 20% probably 1% or 2% of them will make really fantastic things and those are the people who want to be able to make money.
There is a big difference between the people who make worlds in Minecraft and the people who use Unity. Our goal is to make a really powerful engine that an eight year old could use, and that eight year old could play with his friend in the world he created.
One of the most interesting thing I've done in my entire career, is that I built this world with this guy in Argentina, then I joined in with him and we were running around in this virtual world that we built and we had five players in it at the same time. It was insane.
We are just finishing the front-end and I think Samsung is coming out with a $99 VR device soon [Author's note: That would be the recently opened for pre-order GearVR, designed for Samsung phones] and Oculus has its headset coming soon and also there is the Vive just around the corner.
I think the create your own world type of game has been proven as a viable category thanks to Minecraft and similar games.
We allow you to build and then play, because with VR there aren't a lot of control mechanisms created that make those kind of tasks easy to accomplish, because there is a lack of good hand controls at the moment. [Author's Note: At least until the consumer versions of Oculus, Vive and PlayStation VR are released]
You build these massive worlds and Voxel will be huge and we predict there will be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of games by the end of next year, for people to play. And the content will get increasingly complex and the resolution will increase as the hardware's capabilities increase.
Our goal is that you should be able to go out and get a Star Wars pack or a Fast and the Furious pack and build your content from that. So the content is limitless. Then the people who create content will be able to get paid in Voxels and turn that into Bitcoin or dollars or whatever they want.
DeMartino: With it being built on Unity, would users be able to buy assets from the Unity Asset store and import them into Voxelus?
Minor: We already have a bunch relationships with people who have hundreds of thousands of items ready to be sold on the Voxelus store, but yes, you could. We are very close to having the system to upload assets to the marketplace being completed. But yes, there are already some marketplaces out there that have hundreds of thousands of objects themselves and you'll be able to buy objects from them and put those items into your Voxelus world. So, if you need them you can do that.
DeMartino: What platforms are you planning to support? Obviously Oculus, but what about the HTC Vive, GearVR and even Google Cardboard?
Minor: All of them. Voxelus is, by far the most mature app in VR. Right now you can build on PC and Mac, but we are working on adding iOS support, and you can use the viewer for PC and Samsung Viewer and we are supporting Google Cardboard [in the future]. Right now, you can't use a Mac for the Viewer because Oculus has stopped supporting Mac. But right now we fully support the two biggest platforms, the GearVR and the Oculus.
DeMartino: Unity probably helps with that, moving from PC to Mobile?
Minor: Absolutely, it is not seamless but Unity allows us to very quickly move from platform to platform, no doubt.
Ian DeMartino: How flexible will the program be, will more advanced creators be able to enter their own code or will it be limited to the variables of the program?
Minor: No, [you can't use your own code.] But you can already build a lot. There are a lot of different controls you can set. Gravity, triggers, all kinds of stuff.
I was thinking about this the other day, It is dependent on high resolution games but the really high res games can't be done on these platforms because the GPUs aren't fast enough. I think the real rise in the ability to build worlds will rise along with the power of these platforms.
We'll be taking market share from other games because you'll be able to create your own worlds and games and they'll get more complex as time goes on and share them with your friends. I think Minecraft was really a watershed moment in gaming because it proved that being able to create your own world in your own game and we are going to carry that into VR.
The thing is, no one is going to build a 30 million dollar VR game for a long time. They need to know, before they put a lot of money into it, that it will work. So we won't even be competing with the big studios building VR specific games because there is no money in it. Part of the strategy we have is that it would be much easier for companies like Disney to put Star Wars content out on Voxelus than spending 30 million dollars on a game. Instead of building an entire game they can let the community test it for them and they can sit back and learn rather than swinging for the fenses while the industry is so young.
I think you are going to find that a lot of the AAA content won't find its way into VR games but will instead you'll see a lot of things on our platform. Because at the very least, people will figure out what kind of games work in VR. People are going to play different kinds of games in VR, that is what we have found out in the time we have been doing this is that there are different considerations you have to have when you are running around with your friends in a world you created.
I think we will be the stop-gap -- and more -- but definitely we will at least be the stop-gap between not participating in VR and creating entirely new games.
We are trying to do the flip of what Television did. Television started with very expensive content using very expensive cameras. It was something like forty years before affordable cameras started showing up and people could only watch three channels. Then sixty years later, individuals started shooting with their phones. The long tail happened. First you had professionals then you had amatures making up that tail.
VR is different, VR is going to start with the long tail, with lots of people creating stuff and then people will figure out what works and then people will figure out the 30 million dollar titles.
We will have a lot of content for people. They will be able to race cars, play sport games, they are all content packs for us. Eventually someone will spend 30 million dollars on a soccer game but in the meantime we already have a soccer game that you can play on Voxelus.
I think it will be a couple years before we see a lot of big titles come out in VR and during that time we will see the content be filled out by the people.
DeMartino: We have seen some of that play out. Facebook [who bought Oculus in the summer of 2014] will be putting out some AAA projects but outside of a few exceptions, it has been mostly demos and indie developers so far.
Minor: We are in conversations with a lot of well known content brands. We can't announce anything right now, but I think you are going to see a lot of them on our platform next year. Because it is an easy way for them to make money and to learn without having to lay down 20 million for a title.
We will actually get really big first, and people will churn out lots of content on our platform. Then what will happen is the game developers will look at what is working on our platform and they will make a very specific version of that.
So the long tail will come first and that will help companies decide when and where to focus their development.
DeMartino: Do you see a parallel there with the early internet gaming of the early to mid 90s, with [consumer made] mods becoming legit games themselves. Sort of “Let your community make Counter-Strike and then later turn Counter-Strike into a full game.”
Minor: Exactly, and we are like mods gone crazy. Modding is part of the model, like the mods in Minecraft. With us, instead of going out and finding a mod, everything is a mod. The game is a mod. We are producing our own content but once the uploader is completed, anyone will be able to create their own objects and sell them on the store. Mods are the use case and not the exception.
Right now we are focused on getting users to create at least 25 really good worlds, because people will then be able to clone them and use them as a model for their own projects.
DeMartino: Do you think the store could also function as a quasi-crypto-powered Unity Asset Store? Will people be able to buy stuff in Voxelus and use it for other Unity Projects, maybe because that specific thing isn't available in the Unity asset store or they would prefer to buy it with cryptocurrency?
Minor: We are focused on our own ecosystem, and so someone in one part of the world will be able to create the game and someone else will be able to modify it on another part of the world through the cloud. That is what will drive the content and innovation.
DeMartino: Okay, last question, going back to Uphold, you mentioned the Oil Card, [which we had talked about in our previous CoinTelegraph interview last year] do you have any kind of timeframe on when that will be coming?
Minor: It is very hard. We are still working on it. I think it is the most crucial of all the alternative currency cards, because for a lot of people that is a major expense for them and it is variable. It is a large part fo their cost so we are still working on it. But it has proved to be about as difficult as anything I have ever done.
We would like to thank Halsey Minor for taking the time to speak to us. Voxelus' crowdsale is continuing and currently is going for the price of 800 Voxels for 1 BTC, as per the schedule. You can read more about Voxelus and the Crowdsale here. You can find the released viewers and creators here.
About Ian Demartino
Ian started writing product descriptions in 2011. He transitioned to journalism in 2012 and has been cited by media outlets large and small. He is a Co founder of Coinjournal.net and the author of the Bitcoin Guidebook. A consistent procrastinator, when he isn't writing he can usually be found doing something to avoid writing. To his own surprise, he managed to write a book, which you can purchase here: http://goo.gl/s0a4An and in local book stores.