For those who have been in the Web3 space for some time, the metaverse needs no introduction. However, a couple of years ago, a virtual world where you could roam around as avatars was mostly confined to the fictitious world of sci-fi movies and novels. To say the least, there was no market for the metaverse and NFTs. Yet, it did not stop Terra Virtua from dreaming of building a metaverse back in 2017.
Terra Virtua is a fully immersive platform to buy, trade, exhibit, and interact with digital collectibles. It offers 2D and 3D (animated collectibles) digital assets based on IPs from art, sports, music, movies, games, and comics. What’s more, it is available across mobile, and both augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR).
NFT Evening spoke to Jawad Ashraf, CEO and Co-Founder of Terra Virtua, to learn all about the platform and its visions.
Terra Virtua: A platform born out of a love for gaming and comics
Ashraf has always been a gaming enthusiast—he has been playing games since he was a kid. Therefore, his love for all things metaverse and Web3 comes as no surprise. Moreover, he has been actively innovating in the emerging technology space. Over the years, he has worked with numerous companies in a range of industries. Before founding Terra Virtua, he was the Director of Technical Strategy at The Entertainer, an eCommerce business.
To be sure, it was his love for gaming that got Ashraf into the NFT space. According to him, all the games that he had been playing from the early days had one thing in common—you could earn various assets over time. However, he explained, “when the game became depreciated or redundant, you lost every asset you have earned.”
Most of these assets also had no commercial value. Meaning, there was no way you could monetise them in real life. Furthermore, as games like World of Warcraft came up, there were more and more people spending a significant amount of time in gaming worlds.
“Then a gray market started to appear,” Ashraf told NFT Evening. “People were actually contracting people to level up their characters and earn assets, and then buy them on the gray market, which game companies didn’t really like. So, an economy was being created outside.”*
Eventually, Fortnite came up, and with it, the increasing demand for personalisation. So, games started innovating by offering items like skins. Some, like The Sims, started giving out season passes. “But, ultimately, if you can’t own them and they only exist within the game system, they’re completely useless.”
This is where NFTs came into the picture—these are “digital assets with permanence”. To explain, NFTs exist outside games as well and you can hold or sell them as you please.
Making assets usable, valuable, and collectible
Apart from being a gamer, Ashraf is also an avid comics fan and collector. But, when he first moved to Dubai, he could no longer collect comics as the city then had no comic stores. The only solution was to buy comics digitally.
“When comics moved to digital, they became mostly subscription-based—you don’t really own them or collect them,” he added.
This experience, combined with that of gaming assets, got him thinking. “I was really interested in seeing how assets can be usable, have value, have the provenance, and still be very collectible and worthwhile, with all the convenience that digital brings.”
Here too, NFTs fit the bill. Thus, Ashraf set out to build Terra Virtua, a platform that would cater to NFTs, the metaverse, and more.
Building Terra Virtua
What Ashraf was trying to build, in his own words, was a “bleeding edge” product. In other words, it was something new that had never been properly tested before. There were so many unknowns and so much to learn. And he needed just the right team, who understood the sector, to make this work.
After all, as he explained, “One of the things that I realized over the years, running multiple companies, doing multiple exits, is that the team is everything”.
But, how do you find experts in a domain that isn’t exactly cutting-edge? Ashraf’s solution was to find people who had previously done “elements of what they needed”. At the same time, they had to be “great to work with”.
So, to get ahead of the developments in the VR space, Ashraf first set up a VR gaming studio. Ultimately, his aim was to grow Terra Virtua as a brand. But, he knew he couldn’t do this alone. It was at this crucial juncture that Ashraf decided to team up with Gary Bracey, a BAFTA-nominated tech pioneer who he had contacted to join his studio.
Admittedly, while Bracey wasn’t “easy to get hold of”, he loved the idea of building a metaverse. They leveraged both their contacts to find the rest of the team, each with a wealth of experience. Together, they eventually founded Terra Virtua in 2017.
A metaverse idea born too soon
When Ashraf and his team started building Terra Virtua, they wanted to build a metaverse, NFTs, and interactive experiences with VR. They dreamt big, which was indeed reflected in Terra Virtua’s launch. Interestingly, during the launch, they got an advanced screening of Ready Player One and played it at the BAFTA Film Institute.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is an American sci-fi movie based on Ernest Cline’s novel. Set in a dystopian future where the planet is on the brink of collapse, the characters find solace in OASIS, a virtual reality world.
This is where Terra Virtua heavily draws its inspiration from. In fact, during the movie’s screening, Bracey said, “Let me show you a two-hour preview of what Terra Virtua is going to be.”
However, there was a problem. They weren’t able to raise enough interest. “We realized it was going to be hard to get funded and the market wasn’t ready,” Ashraf said. “No one understood what an NFT was let alone a metaverse concept.”
Therefore, the Terra Virtua team was unable to launch the metaverse at the early stage. But, in hindsight, Ashraf believes this was a good thing as it “was too early”.
Then, instead of focusing on the metaverse, the team built a platform around NFTs. Besides, they modified some of the metaverse spaces they had created into 3D spaces. The ultimate result when they launched was a mobile application, an NFT marketplace, and 3D spaces. This in itself is an incredible feat, because, remember, we are talking about 2017 when NFTs were not nearly as prevalent as they are today.
It was important for Terra Virtua to appeal to the mass market
“We spent the first one and a half years learning about the market, understanding what works, and what doesn’t,” Ashraf said. From day one, the team was particular about doing things differently. The existing NFT platforms, he said, were “interested in very low rarity”, with a focus on “crypto fans”.
As opposed, Terra Virtua wanted to appeal to “mass market fans” as well. For this reason, they partnered with some of the biggest names in the entertainment space. Besides, while most NFT platforms emphasised art, Terra Virtua focused on creating assets based on 3D models.
“If you look at Terra Virtua, we’re the only people that have wanted high fidelity 3D models from the beginning,” he claimed. “Because the intention was always to go into the metaverse. We weren’t ever going to just add it on as a narrative. These models were built to exist in AR, exist as a collectible, be applicable to the mass market, and then move into the metaverse.”
“And that’s how we’re different,” Ashraf argued. “Because other people have metaverse only in its building blocks or the mobile. Or they’re pandering to the complete mass market and not crypto at all…But, we are also trying to create a wider spectrum of collectibles and toys.”
Terra Virtua: “A journey of evolution” not without mistakes
That said, Ashraf admits that they made “one big mistake”. Most NFT marketplaces today, like OpenSea, are “open”. In other words, there are no restrictions and anyone can freely trade on the platform. However, Terra Virtua was initially a “closed ecosystem”.
“In the early days, IP holders just didn’t understand NFTs,” Ashraf explained. Therefore, while they were okay with Terra Virtua making NFTs, they were adamant that people should be able to sell it only on Terra Virtua.
“So, we had to create walls around our system that then took us six months to tear down afterwards,” he added. “Now brands don’t care. But, back then they did.”
Cut to 2022, Terra Virtua has come a long way. Today, it boasts partnerships with a range of brands and is home to several IP assets. This includes Hero Indian Super League, digital artist John Taylor Dismukes’ Death Merchant paintings, Paramount Legendary Pictures, and Godzilla vs. Kong, to name a few.
“It’s been a journey of evolution, of taking the platform and making it more usable,” Ashraf said.
Terra Virtua will launch its metaverse soon
Over the years, Terra Virtua has made many developments and has many more lined up for this year. For instance, it recently launched Terra Virtua Studios to create immersive games featuring the platform’s exclusive VFLECT characters.
Then, it will soon launch Terra Virtua V2, a web platform “completely rebuilt from the ground up”. Besides, a new mobile application will follow suit. Partnerships with some of the biggest Bollywood movies as well as play-to-earn games are also in the pipeline.
But, what the team is most excited about is reinstating the metaverse, which they have been working on for the last ten months. The fully immersive 3D metaverse will enable players to have their own fully customizable spaces. They can bring friends, create social groups of like-minded individuals, take part in playable experiences, and more.
Besides, Terra Virtua will also build “interesting applications” within the spaces, such as those focusing on education and wellness. Apart from this, they will provide “planets” to play-to-earn games to create their own environments.
“We’re giving our technology and fully customizable metaverse spaces to other domains so they can use the technology to create their own spaces,” Ashraf explained. “But it all exists in our universe. So it’s allowing other industries to also create things because they haven’t built the tech up. But we have.”
This is possible because of Terra Virtua’s APIs. With the APIs, a play-to-earn game can run their game in the metaverse or someone can host a music concert in the metaverse—to give a few examples. And all of these have been “VR compatible from day one”. Ultimately, Terra Virtua is working towards the virtual world of Ready Player One, he added.
Terra Virtua wants to position itself as a metaverse company
Ashraf envisions a future where Terra Virtua will be known as the metaverse company. “For us, the metaverse is not new. We’ve been thinking about this for five years. So now we’re in the execution phase.”
“I want us to be fully cemented into the metaverse…to be viewed as the metaverse company,” he added. “Everything we do is going to go through this funnel, as opposed to just being something that we associate with now, which is an NFT platform with extra bells and whistles. We want to be firmly positioned as a metaverse company with metaverse, brands, and IPs and be the bridge between traditional brands and new brands.”
The metaverse sector has evolved much since 2017. While the market is now ready for virtual worlds, competition is also growing every day. Amid this, Terra Virtua has some tall promises to keep. How it delivers on those and fares against its many competitors remains to be seen.
*Quotes are condensed and edited for clarity.
All images courtesy of Terra Virtua.