Mona's aim has always been to empower creating, collecting, and sharing virtual experiences at the intersection of the metaverse, extended reality, and blockchain. Nina Knaack speaks to co-founder Justin Melillo about the evolution his platform and why virtual experiences are worth getting excited about.
Justin Melillo’s world-building platform had simple beginnings. Initially contrived as a virtual gallery platform, Mona has evolved to take on far broader ambitions. “My co-founder Matt Hoerl and I went to art school together,” he begins. “We saw a decline of artists working in a studio setting and wanted to provide an immersive space for them and their visitors in which everyone could participate.”
What started as a platform catered specifically for users who wanted to make and view virtual art, Justin and Matt soon noticed this was insufficient for creators who wished to go beyond the walls of a digital gallery. “We saw that they craved to build worlds without limits, full of interactive experiences.”
Both co-founders come from a deep background in extended reality: augmented or fully virtual experiences which, like blockchain, represent an emerging technology with an increasing number of applications.
“Mona places the creator first.”
— Justin Melillo
Despite feeling unsatisfied with the current options for digital world-building, they both envision a future in which people spend more time interacting with virtual experiences. Justin explains that today's tools are “very limited for builders, who become trapped in a predetermined aesthetic, with too many restrictions for artists who want to create high quality work.” A 3D artist himself, Justin saw an opportunity to create something better.
Mona’s mission is to empower people around the world to create, collect, and share high quality virtual experiences on the blockchain. “Other metaverse platforms capitalise on artificial scarcity, selling virtual plots of land. They often have a high barrier to entry as a creator,” Justin says. By contrast, any artist can monetise their 3D digital collectibles and immersive experiences on Mona, where creativity is free and made accessible via a web browser. “We created a multiplayer interface to enter any virtual experience with a single click.”
As we spend more time connecting with others in virtual environments, Justin feels that “these experiences need to be rich, immersive, and interactive.” To achieve this high standard, creators need to have the best tools, and Justin hopes that they’ll choose to use Mona. “All of our current and future digital experiences are built by creators. Naturally, Mona places the creator first.”
As a result, Mona has grown quickly amongst artistic and creative communities. “Mona has become the platform of choice for creators and artists who want to build high quality metaverse experiences,” Justin claims, before giving the evidence: “creators on our platform comprise AAA game designers behind titles like Cyberpunk 2049 and some of the most prolific artists in web3, like XCOPY and Coldie.”
In total, Mona is home to 4,500 creators, but Justin and Matt did not initially anticipate becoming a platform of choice for thousands after launching in the second half of last year. “We are really grateful for all the amazing people who we are collaborating with in web3. It's amazing how supportive and helpful everyone is. If you send an artist a DM, you get a response and immediately connect. The decentralised system and the power of smart contracts is incredible and so valuable.”
As hardware evolves to enable more immersive experiences, Justin anticipates Mona becoming the infrastructure layer upon which those high quality experiences are built, experienced, and shared. “We feel Mona evolving to become the medium of the metaverse,” says Justin. “We are striving to foster the largest creative community: one that is safe, supportive, and inclusive, and built around an appreciation for best-in-class design for 3D architecture, art, and gaming.”
Mona also allows collectors to invest directly in creators of experiential virtual worlds, mitigating the financial limitations that prevent creators from developing their art freely. “Creators can list their virtual worlds for sale on the Mona marketplace for easy access to NFT collectors. That way, creators can focus on what they do best: build fantastic things in the metaverse.”
“The power of smart contracts is incredible and so valuable.”
— Justin Melillo
Justin notes that the future of the metaverse is entwined as much with extended reality as it is with blockchain. “We are focusing on the future – helping creators build experiences that will merge seamlessly with the world around us, via augmented and virtual reality.”
Justin is visibly thrilled that Mona is playing host to artists of such variety and quality. "The metaverse is all about compelling experiences," he says. One of the early advocates of Mona’s software is Daniel Arsham, the renowned contemporary artist whose metaverse architecture debuts at Art Basel in Miami this December at an exhibition called The Row.
“We are striving to foster the largest creative community. One that is safe, supportive and inclusive.”
— Justin Melillo
Stitching together the physical and digital worlds, the Art Basel display adds 3D projection mapping to showcase the American’s digital structure, Ares House – a monument that better befits an ancient civilisation than the digital world it inhabits. “The metaverse has no limitations other than human ingenuity,” adds Janine Yorio, CEO of Everyrealm, the metaverse infrastructure company that developed The Row.
“The metaverse has no limitations other than human ingenuity.”
— Janine Yorio, CEO of Everyrealm
It is no coincidence that Mona’s name refers to the world’s most famous work of art, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. An allusion to the skill and expertise behind the Renaissance masterpiece, Justin suggests that “we are entering a new type of technological and artistic renaissance at the heart of web3.”
He explains that Mona is an effort to define and support how the next five centuries of human creativity is built. “We want to pay homage to the next generation of master world builders – the 3D designers and architects of our community, creating remarkable virtual experiences of the highest quality.”