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Blockchain game developer Uplandme has teamed up with Linden Lab’s Tilia division to enable digital payments in the Upland virtual property trading game. The companies hope to grease the skids of digital commerce in the game, so that both players and the companies can make money from a new form of monetization built around user commerce.
Linden Lab created the digital payment and wallet functions (also called Tilia) for its Second Life, which supports annual commerce of about $500 million per year. The residents of that virtual world can create digital objects and sell them to each other. Now Tilia will be implemented in the Monopoly-like Upland, which is available on iOS and Android.
The Upland game uses blockchain — the decentralized, secure, and transparent digital ledger — to verify ownership of the digital properties that its users buy in its virtual world, which is an overlay on the real world. To handle the money transactions, Uplandme turned to Linden Lab’s Tilia, which has a digital wallet and transaction system that enables players to trade virtual properties for fiat currency (real-world money, such as the U.S. dollar, as opposed to cryptocurrency).
By using fiat currency, Upland can stay in compliance with money transmission regulations in the U.S. And in this way, players can actually own the digital goods and properties they buy in Upland, said Dirk Lueth, cofounder of Uplandme, in an interview with GamesBeat. If the game ever shuts down, the players will theoretically be able to take their property and move it elsewhere, in contrast to other games where players don’t really own the objects that they build or trade.
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Available cross-platform via browser and mobile, Upland is a virtual layer mapped to real-world addresses — currently throughout San Francisco, and soon rolling out to other cities and regions. Upland’s use of unique or “non-fungible” tokens enables true ownership of the game’s properties, allowing players to sell or trade their digital purchases.
Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company developed Tilia for Second Life, only recently packaging its components to make it available for outside companies to use. Uplandme is the first customer to start using Tilia, which is headed by Aston Waldman, chief financial officer of Linden Lab.
“With Second Life, we have been running a virtual economy for a long time,” Altberg said. “We have the most flexible type of in-world game economy that there is in a game, including the ability to cash out real money. Second Life users last year cashed out over $65 million, and we have a gross domestic product of over $500 million per year inside the world.”
Tilia provides services and infrastructure in compliance with U.S. regulatory requirements, including anti-money laundering, sanctions monitoring, and fraud prevention, enabling users to profit from their digital goods. As Tilia’s first third-party customer, Upland worked closely with the Tilia and Second Life teams to provide feedback and help shape the Tilia offering.
“We realized that this would be a great opportunity for us to offer the service the services of Tilia, and so that’s the path that we’re starting here, with Upland being the first customer,” Altberg said.
Tilia Pay will be implemented in the Upland game in the coming weeks, enabling players to sell their owned virtual properties for real-world currency in the in-game marketplace.
Uplandme was founded in 2018 by serial entrepreneurs Lueth, Idan Zuckerman, and Mani Honigstein. The company launched its Upland closed beta in June 2019, and the game now has 1,000 to 2,000 daily active users. Uplandme has 22 employees and is based in Mountain View, California. The company has raised $3.3 million.
“We’re using this new service from Linden Lab to enable players to actually see real-world value in their digital goods in their in-game purchases,” Lueth said. “We sell properties which are based on real-world addresses, and right now we’re live in San Francisco. You can purchase those virtual properties and start playing Upland.”
Like in a kind of virtual Monopoly, you have to acquire three properties that are related in some way, and then you can start collecting more rent on the properties. Players cash out by selling virtual goods/properties via the marketplace to other players who purchase using fiat, or U.S. dollars. Instead of putting the property up for sale for UPX (the in-game currency), the user can decide to put it on the marketplace to be bought with fiat.
In that way, Upland distinguishes between selling UPX and selling the virtual properties. The properties are what will be sold for regular currency. UPX cannot be sold, only bought (and only in the game). If someone wants to “cash-out,” they buy properties and then sell them for U.S. dollars (or other fiat currencies). You can also earn currency in the game through treasure hunts.
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“What was the missing thing for us was the power for people to be able to extract value out of the game because we strongly believe that we are a new genre of game, where people actually can actually take their assets out of the game,” Lueth said. “We had to have a way to get fiat currency out, and that is how we started working with Tilia.”
Lueth said that it would have taken a lot of time and money for Uplandme to do what Linden Lab had already done with Tilia. Waldman said it took over three years and many millions of dollars to obtain the state licenses. Tilia handles 1.5 million transactions a day with Second Life.
“The key components that no one else has is that we have the ability to insert a wallet of stored value into a platform, which is almost like a bank account, in your game, which can hold U.S. dollars, or fiat, [as well as] as a second wallet full of virtual tokens, which is what most games have,” Waldman said. “We allow players to use their USD wallet or their virtual currency wallet to pay for products in the game, to trade with each other, and then ultimately to extract that profit, since we can send that directly to that bank account via wire, on the same day over PayPal or an escrow account as they prefer.”
Over time, Lueth wants to grow Upland from a property-trading game to a parallel world that exists in a virtual space.
“Soon, people will be able to develop their lands and develop businesses,” Lueth said. “People can make objects like virtual cars and sell them and make money. That could blur with the real world.”
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