It’s easy to view the non-fungible token (NFT) market as a hotbed of scammers and scammers. The reality is far stranger and wilder than that.
After spending a few months hiding in Discord chats and Twitter circles where NFT folks hang out, I’ve slowly come to appreciate the constant chaos, oversized personalities, and tight-knit communities that make NFT trading so different. common stock or even bitcoin.
For most people, the very concept of an NFT – a digital work of art that uses blockchain technology to prove ownership – still seems inscrutable, and the scum of speculation surrounding them is even more off-putting. But for committed NFT traders, many of whom have adopted the “degenerate” label, the chaos is only part of the appeal.
As one owner of a Cool Cat, a collection of digital cartoon profile pictures, told me: “It’s crazy how attaching a picture to a blockchain entry can establish a connection in the brain that doesn’t didn’t exist before.”
Yes, you can lose a lot of money pretty quickly trading those generic, often unattractive images. But watching the daily dramas NFTs seem to create is almost worth the admission fee of buying an overpriced cartoon animal. It’s like a high school playground meets a major sporting event, with the constantly fluctuating price of each collection as the scoreboard.
An NFT crash for the ages happened last month in the form of Pixelmon. Promising a crypto version of Pokémon, Pixelmon made its public debut in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as traditional stock markets plunged. Two weeks earlier, thousands of excited buyers paid up to 3 eth ($10,000) for each monster egg, generating tens of millions of dollars for developers. When the eggs hatched, however, the crudely drawn, poorly animated creatures were a far cry from the developer’s previous previews. “I can’t believe I paid $10,000 for this” became a meme.
That might say something about NFT buyers that many seem to blame Pixelmon like Putin for the precipitous drop in trading activity and prices in recent weeks. Yet rather than cry foul or cash in, many NFT marketers simply inserted a gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn into their Discord group and enjoyed the fallout of another spectacular explosion.
A Pixelmon character called Kevin – a puckered green lizard that looks like a throwback from Minecraft – has become the totem of the sad affair. What started as memes soon turned into redeemable NFTs themselves and over a dozen Kevin-themed collections were launched. The price of a Kevin Punk, a green-faced variant of the popular CryptoPunks, briefly topped 3 eth (over $7,500 at the time), almost 10 times the price of a Pixelmon after it crashed on the secondary market.
The Pixelmon debacle shows that the primary currency for NFTs is not ethereum but attention. This fuels a desperate race to advertise the crowded NFT marketplace, often with hilarious results. Witness Randi Zuckerberg, NFT entrepreneur (and sister of Mark), whose video while singing and dancing – a “rallying cry for women” in this new age of the web – was so gritty it went viral.
The unholy association of artists and tech nerds to create NFTs is also creating a powder keg. A project called Weather Report was once considered one of the hottest prospects in the market devoted to cartoonish profile pictures. It fell apart when its lead artist, Dentin, argued with the rest of the Weather Report team over payment terms. He hastily launched his own NFT project, DentedFeels, with similar artwork, prompting legal threats. Fans sided with the artist: Weather Report’s launch failed, and NFT DentedFeels were trading for double their rival. This soap opera has aired publicly on Twitter and in Discord chat groups, fueling a sense of closeness and accessibility between creators and speculators.
Some NFT artists are exhausted by this chaotic spectator sport. Another highly anticipated project, WGMInterfaces, recently canceled its launch – likely leaving millions of dollars on the table – because its creators had become “overwhelmed and exhausted”. “Over the past few months the speculation and hype has really taken all the fun out of what we’ve been trying to do,” they wrote in a blog post.
For those who choose to hang on as the NFT roller coaster takes another dive, speculation and hype are the very things that keep them going.
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