Google searches for the word “metaverse” soared on Oct. 29 following social media giant Facebook’s announcement that it was rebranding to “Meta” as it builds out its vision of an “embodied Internet” with immersive spaces and experiences where people can digitally connect.

Prices of metaverse tokens such as Decentraland’s MANA and The Sandbox’s SAND surged following Facebook’s Meta rebranding. SAND surged to an all-time high of US$3.33 today and was trading at US$2.73 as of publishing time, up over 7,500% since the start of 2021, according to CoinGecko data.

The Sandbox, a platform built on the Ethereum blockchain that allows users to interact in a virtual world using non-fungible tokens (NFTs), today announced that it had completed a US$93 million Series B investment round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 — the fund’s first investment in crypto assets. 

“This investment round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 will help scale up our growth strategy, operations, and player acquisition in The Sandbox ecosystem while sending a clear statement that the world’s most innovative fund believes in Web3 and decentralization as the next major trend,” said Sebastien Borget, COO and co-founder of The Sandbox, in a statement. “Adding new strategic partners such as Liberty City Ventures and Galaxy Interactive will also benefit The Sandbox’s global reach and expand the network of brands, IPs, and gaming studios interested in entering an open metaverse focused on a player-owned economy and user-generated content.”

Borget told Forkast.News in an interview that The Sandbox intends to use the fresh capital to hire more engineering talent to scale its platform, bring on more IP, brands and celebrities, expand its marketing to a global and mainstream audience as well as cover infrastructure costs.

Other investors in the round included Animoca Brands, True Global Ventures, Liberty City Ventures, Galaxy Interactive as well as Hong Kong-based alternative investment firm Sun Hung Kai & Co. The Sandbox is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based blockchain gaming and NFT unicorn Animoca Brands

“The Sandbox’s strategy is to bring in the top brands and creators with whom people would love to associate themselves,” said True Global Ventures (TGV), a Singapore-based venture capital firm, which invested US$10 million via its TGV 4 Plus Fund, in a statement. “The pivotal point came in March 2020, when we witnessed US$450,000 worth of virtual LAND NFTs being sold within four hours. From then on, many of the LAND NFT sales sold for millions of dollars and were sold out within minutes or sometimes within seconds.”

The Sandbox’s rapid growth

Founded in 2011, The Sandbox is a blockchain-based virtual world where players can create NFTs, display their NFTs on their land, explore different lands with their avatar as well as interact with other players and brands.

Alongside the rise of blockchain gaming and NFTs, The Sandbox has experienced rapid growth this year and currently has over 500,000 users. It has 166,464 pieces of land and 12,000 unique virtual land owners, with high-profile owners including cryptocurrency exchange Binance, Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post and the Winklevoss twins.

The Sandbox has also partnered with over 165 brands, including Snoop Dogg, The Walking Dead, The Smurfs, Care Bears and Atari, to create voxelized versions of their worlds and characters in The Sandbox. The platform has generated US$144 million in lifetime gross merchandise value (GMV), according to a media release.

See related article: Animoca CEO Yat Siu: Ownership economy ‘will be worth trillions’

Building an open and decentralized metaverse

“Companies are recognizing and acknowledging that there needs to be something better than what currently exists in the Web2.0 landscape to embrace fully decentralization Web3.0 and build this metaverse vision that everyone has in mind,” Borget said. “That can only be achieved by companies that embrace from the first day this idea of empowering the users and creators, [putting] the community first.”

Many brands, for now, have been mainly exploring NFTs for branding and marketing purposes. Borget said he hopes to help brands see their metaverse strategy as “not just a quick money grab opportunity for selling a few collectibles” but NFTs and the metaverse as a new medium and place for brands to engage with their communities, remove intermediaries, and add value for fans and collectors.

The brands that have partnered with The Sandbox understand the importance of having a presence in the metaverse, “having their place where they can host all sorts of activities and creating a virtual neighborhood,” Borget said.

Facebook’s Meta announcement will contribute to making the concept of the metaverse more mainstream, Borget said, but there is a danger that everyone associates the metaverse to only Facebook or Roblox when there are many more that are contributing to building a more open, decentralized metaverse for the benefit of all users, creators, players and other stakeholders.

“The metaverse shouldn’t be just a single company operating a virtual world. It should be truly a myriad of virtual worlds, interconnected, decentralized that allows users to move their identity, their avatar, their currency and their digital assets,” Borget said. “We’re using blockchain as an infrastructure to ensure that all the data, all the transactions, are transparent.”

The metaverse is also opening up alternative ways for people to socialize and engage as well as creating new economic opportunities for people. A lot of digital experiences will need to be built in the metaverse and 99% of the content will be built by users, said Borget, adding that the metaverse will need architects, artists, house creators, event creators, community managers, game designers and even virtual real estate agents. “There are a few companies within The Sandbox ecosystem that are brokers, and they’re helping buyers and sellers find the right location,” Borget said.

The play-to-earn blockchain gaming business model also means that users and players have an opportunity to monetize their time spent in the virtual world. Players can potentially win virtual goods such as tokens or NFTs, which can be traded or sold on marketplaces for fiat, Borget said. “Essentially anyone who spent time engaging in activities in the metaverse can potentially make it [their] next job and revenue source.”