‘We're Doing it, We Believe in it’: The Sandbox’s Nicola Sebastiani on Bringing Gaming to the Metaverse

The Chief Content Officer, who is speaking at Consensus this month, says 280,000 Sandbox users are now generating creating games and experiences on the platform.

AccessTimeIconMay 13, 2024 at 4:36 p.m. UTC
Updated May 16, 2024 at 4:51 p.m. UTC
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Since at least 2021, you could trace the arc of crypto by following the word “metaverse.” It was once filled with buzz and hype and potential to be The Next Big Thing — even Facebook changed its name to Meta — and then lost its luster during Crypto Winter, as prices plunged and excitement cooled.

But look closer. It’s now a cliche that many in the Web3 space “kept building” during the bear market, but it’s a cliche that has the ring of truth. And people kept building in the metaverse. “It’s thriving,” says Nicola Sebastiani, Chief Content Officer of The Sandbox. He calls this the “Year of the Creators,” as 280,000 Sandbox users are actively creating games and experiences.

Nicola Sebastiani is a speaker at this year’s Consensus festival, in Austin, Texas, May 29-31.

A big focus of The Sandbox is user-generated content, and another is partnerships with blue chip IP. The Sandbox now has 484 partnerships that range from The Walking Dead to Care Bears to Snoop Dogg to a splashy new deal with “The Voice.”

In the run-up to Consensus, Sebastiani shares what users can soon expect from The Sandbox, his predictions for the future of the metaverse, and why he shrugs off the ups and downs of the hype cycle, as “We're doing it, we believe in it. It's what we stand for.”

Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Bring us up to speed on what’s happening in The Sandbox. How many users do you have? What are people doing in the world?

Nicola Sebastiani: So, the current environment is great. The Sandbox has had about 5.8 million, almost 6 million accounts created. This year, for us, is the Year of the Creators. And that is really the focus for the company.

About 280,000 users have experimented and used our Game Maker tool, which is the engine that creators use for experiences, and our VoxEdit tool, which is the engine that users use to create assets. [Note: For a much deeper dive into these tools, you can check out my profile of The Sandbox from 2021.]

We ran a variety of initiatives for creators, where they can find new ways to create new experiences and win Sand and other rewards like Land. Often those experiences are tied to IP like Avenged Sevenfold or Care Bears or Gordon Ramsay. And we continue to host a variety of events based on music or specific franchises, like the Smurfs. There’s a big focus on user-generated content.

(The Sandbox)

What are some of your favorite experiences or games being built?

Recently we ran this Game Jam themed around cooking, and “Hell's Kitchen.” It was amazing to see a cooking simulators game built with such ingenuity. And there are incredible UGC [User Generated Content] studios around the world, such as VauxMachina Studios in Southeast Asia, that are really pushing the boundaries in terms of what can be made with no-coding. I like what our own proprietary studios are capable of making with some of our biggest franchises. Like Snoop Dogg experiences, and a lot that we do in music — We worked with Perry Seleton, Steve Aoki, and several other DJs.

You can find literally something for every flavor. You can go in and explore a museum. And you don’t even really need to play; you can just explore and lose yourself in the metaverse.

You said that this is the Year of the Creators. What’s the next chapter for The Sandbox? What can people look forward to?

Well, I think there's a lot coming up this year. It's not going to be just about creators. And, in fact, towards the second part of the year, we will have a couple of very meaningful moments dedicated to the player, the user. Although we're not ready to announce the details, I think people have been eagerly waiting for those.

There's a continuous advancement in our Game Maker and the new features it can bring, and how it can make experiences stronger and stronger. And over the next, I'd say, a couple of months, we're going to keep announcing partnerships because we’re lucky to have a lot of established brands and IP wanting to work with us.

You have literally hundreds of partnerships. What’s one you’re especially excited about?

Well, today we announced our partnership with "The Voice." That's something that our production teams have been hard at work on. We did an experience where you essentially go through the journey of "The Voice" with judges, with deciding your style, deciding the winner, and all that. I encourage you to test that.

I’m sure you know better than anyone that the word “metaverse” has had something of a roller-coaster in the past three years. First there was lots of hype, then it cooled off during crypto winter, and for some the word became almost a punchline. How have you and The Sandbox navigated all that, and how has this change in reputation impacted you?

I think the metaverse remains the vision behind the company, the foundation behind why we're doing what we're doing, first and foremost for our founders. And that cascades down into everybody at the company. So, we see it as a long-term goal. We see it as a group of companies of today and of tomorrow that are building together.

Yes, the metaverse buzz diminished for the public. However, in the broader gaming aspect, we really entered the world of user-generated content with some of the biggest gaming platforms, including, for example, Fortnite. We're doing it, we believe in it. It's what we stand for. And it is probably one of the biggest trends in interactive media today.

Give us a prediction for what the metaverse will be like in five years.

[Laughs.] In five years, you’ll check in on me about the prediction?

No no no, you’re off the hook! The Prediction Police won’t come after you.

Okay, no worries. I think it will be multi-platform and will include a strong AR and VR element as well. Interoperability of avatars. Purchases. And most features will be done in a seamless way with other metaverses from partner companies. I think it will have an even stronger economic impact on creators, where people will be learning guitar on it, or teaching languages. Or who knows, even doing corporate jobs.

It will have a strong virtual tourism side, where if you want to learn about the museum, or a financial institution, or a cultural event, you can go in interactively. And the beauty is that it’s going to be extremely decentralized. A lot of this will be owned by users all around the world, and not by the Sandbox. So much of the innovation will happen from that.

Love it. What are you most looking forward to at Consensus?

Many of the panels. I’m blown away by the quality of the speakers that are there. In fact, I wonder what I'm doing there compared to them.

I think you’re in the right place. See you in Austin!

Edited by Benjamin Schiller.


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Jeff  Wilser

Jeff Wilser is the author of 7 books including Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month in both Non-Fiction and Humor.

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