Recently, there have been a lot of articles about Upland on Publish0x. When I took a first look several weeks ago my impression was rather bad. Since all articles have been pretty positive so far I've decided to have a second look at the game. Some days ago I did an article about ways to decide whether a site is scam or legit. After giving some general information about the game I'm going to check each sign and see how Upland fares in each category.
Upland branded itself as a property trading game. The core gameplay is pretty simple here. You have an explorer icon that's randomly cruising around a map of San Francisco. The whole city is segmented into individual properties of varying size. Each property has a price flag attached to it and can be bought by spending an ingame currency labeled UPX. Currently this currency can only be bought from the game at a rate of 1000 UPX = 1$ and earned playing the game. Once you've bought a property you can try to sell it to other players at an increased rate or you can keep the property to earn some rent. If you collect a combination of certain properties you can complete collections earning you a one time reward and boosting the rent earned by all properties that are part of that collection.
In addition to buying and selling properties the game is hosting treasure hunts. Each time a treasure hunt starts a treasure is hidden in a random location and the first person to find it is rewarded with some UPX. That's all there is about the gameplay. Although their roadmap is hinting on some more options the base gameplay won't change because of any of those additions. They want to add more treasure hunts, more buyable cities and allow for uprgrading of owned properties. Also they want to introduce more ways of travel for your explorer.
To be quite honest, there's not much of a game to be seen here and I'd personally even say it's misleading to call it a game in the first place. It basically is an investment system with some added gamification. If you don't care about investing money in the first place Upland will have little to offer to you. I did an article some weeks ago about whats' keeping blockchain games from being adapted by the mainstream gaming community and my first point was just that: If there's no actual game then the mainstream market will be out of reach. So Upland is not really a game, but it still can be a legit investment opportunity. So let's have a look at the key indicators.
1) Taking a look at the proposed return on investment.
Properties show a monthly rate that's being paid in small batches every few hours. This allows to quickly reinvest the earnings but to keep the calculation simple I'm going to leave compound interest out of the calculation.
As you can see the property is sold at 15,300 UPX and offers monthly earnings of 220.32 UPX. Those can be increased by adding the property to a collection. I'm going to calculate with the lowest boosted earning of 242.35 UPX. This puts us at yearly earnings of 2,902.2 UPX which equals a yearly dividend of about 19%. Other properties seem to have a similar return on invest. While this is a lot it's not outrageously high or unheard of. To invest in such a project I'd definitely want more information about what they are doing with my money and how that interest is generated (which they are not giving). Still the lower boundary is not as absurd as with most scam sites so I'm mostly fine here.
2) Checking if I can liquidate my assets.
This is where it's getting interesting. To play the game you have to first invest fiat or crypto and buy some UPX. You then get to buy properties, earn more UPX from rent or trade them to other players for their UPX. As of now though there is no way to cash out. Upland isn't taking that UPX back from you and you can't trade it with other players. So all you can do with your UPX is reinvest it which will ultimately do nothing but earn you even more UPX to reinvest. Long storry short, there currently is no way what so ever to cash out. As of now, everything you invest into the game will stay in the game permanently.
They have a high priority point in their roadmap about allowing players to sell their properties for fiat but this is yet to be implemented. As long as this isn't the case I'd strongly advise to not invest into the game as there's no knowing if it will ever be possible to sell anything outside of the games closed economy. Even if this feature is implemented things aren't looking that much better. All money spent on buying UPX would still stay in the game as players buying your properties would still have to use their own money from outside the game in order to make the purchase. Effectively, any money going into the system will stay there permanently, thus the only way to cash out will be to find someone who's willing to invest additional funds.
This is not totally unheard of and totally fine with trading card games like Splinterlands. The key difference being that those games are actually offering a game in the first place. They aren't selling investment assets but actual cards to play with. It's thus in the interest of other players to buy those cards because this will increase their fun/their chance to win. So the key question to ask yourself is: Do you consider Upland to be game? If so, is buying properties giving you access to more enjoyment of the game? Is there any point to buying it beyond increasing your potential earnings? If you answer with yes, then the above is fine. If you only look at Upland as an investment though, than this is what I'd deem shady at best.
3) Checking if I'm forced to reinvest
Well, we've already checked this by accident. I absolutely am forced to reinvest. Since you are not allowed to trade or sell UPX it always has to go to buying other properties. This has bigger implications than you might think at first. Anybody else already invested in the game will earn UPX as well. So they'll have to first invest the interest they earn before they'd even consider investing their own money. Even then there's a case to be made that buying more UPX first would be way more convenient to them. As you can see, actually cashing out won't be as easy even when it's implemented. To get anybody to buy your properties, especially if you want to sell everything at once, you'd probably have to offer quite a discount on your holdings.
The big take away has to be: In order to cash out someone else has to cash in. Usually this is referred to as finding someone who's even more stupid than yourself. You have to be aware of the fact that if no new player enters the game (read invests his money) than you'll never see any of your investment again.
4) Taking a closer look at their referral system
The above paragraph illustrates why it's so important to the game and to anybody already invested in the game to refer new people to the game. Without a steady influx of new money from new players the system can't work. Once more players want to cash out than are willing to cash in, the economy will crash and assets will only be sold at major discounts or not at all. So the most obvious way to get new players to the game is to have the active player base do the promotion and reward them for doing so.
Upland is offering to double the first investment of any new player and, at least according to what's claimed here, there's no limit to the possible purchase. Paying such a huge amount is only possible for a single reason: Upland doesn't actually have to pay anything. They just increase the UPX value in both accounts. Since there's no real value of any kind associated with UPX they could offer what ever they'd feel like without creating any actual cost.
So what's my conclusion after everything we talked about? I'm sure not everybody is going to share my sentiment here, but personally I'm leaning towards: Scam! It's not as obvious a Scam as say coin-farm though. I guess it all comes down to whether you consider Upland to be an actual game or an investment. If it's a game where you invest in order to increase your enjoyment than everything I've written above will be fine to you. If you consider it to simply be an investment, than I'd stay clear of it as far as possible. Everything in Upland is geared towards getting new people to play the game and invest their money.
There's no actual value behind anything you buy in the game. The concept of buying virtual properties based on the real world is cool. But it's just that, a concept. Owning those properties has no intrinsic value and there's nothing you can do with them other than sell them to somebody else. In case you still consider trying the game I'd ask you to do the following:
Register with the game, don't invest any money and play it once each day for at least a week. Here's what going to happen: When you register you are awarded 3000 UPX which is enough to buy a single small property. In the following 7 days you'll simply log in, claim your UPX and then there will be nothing else to do. If you still want to invest afterwards, go ahead and do it. But know this: The gameplay is not going to change at all. You'll claim more UPX daily and you'll get to buy another property sooner, but that's it. Consequently, I'm not sharing a referral link for Upland as I wouldn't recommend joining.
As always, thank you all for reading and I'm looking forward to your comments.