Why am I writing this?
Over the last few months I’ve been geeking out hardcore on NFTs, crypto and the ‘metaverse’.
If that mostly sounds like jargon to you, ignore/delete/why did you even open this — but if you are finding yourself curious — then read on.
I wanted to write this post because there’s a saying in neuroscience: “When you read something you learn it once. When you share it — you learn it twice, cementing new neural pathways”. So I’m doing this as much for me, as for you.
I’m also doing this because I am not selling you anything. Most people in crypto/NFTs are selling you something so how can you trust them? This post is to share what I’m learning — try to turn it into real world examples to make sense of it, and hopefully take you on a journey.
I believe some of the great next opportunities on earth are coming in this space a bit like when we moved from publishing to the internet. Being early, taking an active interest, and learning what the next wave is, is not just personally interesting, I think it’s an essential role of an entrepreneur anyway.
Let’s get to it….
First, some definitions just in case.
Crypto = Funny money. Basically looking at charts of made up fancy made up coins going up and down all the time.
NFTs = Non Fungible token. Basically digital art and ‘things’ — could be music, film, media collectibles. You buy them with the made up coins you believe in to actually buy something that looks cool (basically, yes, it’s an expensive JPEG)
DAO — Distributed Autonomous Organisation — essentially a company where members buy voting rights with your made up funny money of choice, and everything you do is voted on with your community . Imagine if you were ‘going public’ on day 1 — more funny money = more ownership = more say in what happens. More democracy, less tyranny. In theory. I think this is the future of startups, certainly the future of any community based startup.
Metaverse — A virtual online space (think Second Life or The Sims), but with more interconnectivity between it all. Basically you use your funny money to buy expensive jpegs, which might be owned by the DAO to raise capital so they can build out more tech landscape that might literally be virtual land, or buildings where you hang expensive JPEGs or race virtual horses against each other or breed pets like Pokemons (or more likely “`Axies’, more on that later,) and get paid to do it too. This last point is probably the most interesting, and exciting to me, but let’s start with the basics.
What do I know about Crypto? F*ck all, but I’ve been in it for ages.
For background — I got into crypto in 2015 cos… Burning Man. Before you imagine this probably makes me a crypto millionaire — don’t worry, it went towards what might go down as the most expensive LSD ever purchased but whatever, no regrets, life is for living, not accumulating in my view.
The upside to such mind-bending exploits in a desert is that it means I started in this space early, and whilst I’ve been a fan of Ethereum (or what I was able to understand from the techy jargon), I’ve tried and failed many times to keep up with an extremely clever Telegram group of Crypto pals (we’ve been in it since 2016 together).
I’ve always felt quite detached with statements like “Bitcoin is like gold — your store of value” and “Ethereum is the platform” and really any crypto jargon/lingo because fundamentally — I’m not a money guy.
These are quite financial terms, and I struggle to comprehend finance. For this reason — I decided it was worth trying to learn and understand crypto — a space no one understood broadly speaking, rather than try to understand traditional money, where I felt like it was an uphill struggle anyway. I might as well struggle from a low base in a totally new topic so that I’m acquiring relevant knowledge for a potentially new world.
No regrets — but ultimately, after years of ‘being in crypto’ and making some great returns (not that I’ve ever liquidated any cos I’m ‘long’ on it……and an idiot who doesnt know when enough is enough), I realise that looking at charts of theoretical earnings and graphs — does VERY little for me, and beyond that, with ‘Defi — aka decentralised finance’ and other pockets of the crypto world — everything is about money and I find it all just a bit boring.
PS: If understanding Bitcoin and Ethereum (and Blockchain) is still really complex jargon to you — don’t stress. The best podcast I ever heard on it was this Tim Ferris one — it really really really really is worth your time, and they do a great job of making sure they are sense checking the jargon too.
“Expensive JPEGs” is basically the insult everyone gives to this and I get it, it’s funny, and for a while I thought it too but a few weeks ago I decided to dive into this space and put some of my Ethereum to work by buying expensive JPEGs.
It probably took me 24 hours before I was hooked & now I borderline have a problem cos I’m already obsessed. For now most of what I’m buying is community backed projects, not pretty art. That might change, but it’s cos I’m doing it to learn, participate and ultimately for now, to have fun — you can see what I’ve bought here and yes, to the casual observer — this is a lot of shite, but to the NFT enthusiast this is actually a pretty decent starter collection that’s going up in value rapidly.
Usually if you buy an NFT from one of these projects they come with a community on discord you can only be in if you own it — and that tends to be where the smart, informed people are where you can learn best.
When I’m trying to understand new spaces I find it helpful to use analogies or references from my life experience.
So in terms of money: if dollars and pounds are for spending on things in the real world — Bitcoin and Ethereum (and other funny made up money) are the currencies for the digital online world we increasingly spend more and more time in.
If you ever want to break it down — dollars/pounds etc are made by a central bank, subject to inflation and government policies, traded during working hours in various countries and have screwed society over time and time again (quantitive easing, the Nigerian economy and 2008 all spring to mind as quick examples). Ethereum is a digital currency, traded 247, and spent on the internet for internet based things.
Why does the dollar work? Because we all believe in the dollar (even though it’s just a piece of crap paper). Why is Bitcoin/Ethereum doing well? Because people trust governments less and technology more.
So if you get your head around that concept — then it stands to reason too that art, creative expressions of artistic genius — has always been an outrageously subjective thing too.
Understanding ‘value’ and being fair
Why is the Mona Lisa so valuable? I personally think it’s shit. But who cares what I think? Enough people think it should be the single most expensive piece of art ever created, and that is all that matters. I took Art History at Uni too so I like a whole load of random stuff others think is shit. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. One thing I CAN confirm from studying Art History for 3 years — artists don’t tend to make money whilst they’re alive — and that’s bullshit.
When it comes to the real world though, artists have a TOUGH time. It’s hard to price their work and most go unnoticed their whole lives — talent gone to waste.
And what about people who create artwork, photography, imagery etc all online? So far they tend to just get ripped off, their work copied and pasted across the internet with no ownership or value given to them.
Thanks to the blockchain, and this emerging field — this is no longer! They can earn money they deserve to, fuelling their creativity (and our joy), and in many cases — the crowd decides what their work is worth — which is cool too!
A fundamental flaw is that artists usually sell their artwork for fuck all but then collectors make fortunes pumping them up and reselling them. What does the artist get from that? NOTHING.
With NFTs there’s an inherent genius with it being on the blockchain: they can pass through multiple owners over and over again throughout time with the price rising as the market rises and the original artist can take a cut every single time on royalties — like they deserve to because a secondary marketplace platform like ‘Opensea’ is basically where the real money is made.
I wont bang on about NFTs much longer but long story short — artists can get paid as they deserve. They might make a one off item, or thousands of slightly varied digital artworks like ‘Bored Ape Yacht Club’ (BAYC) and how they get rewarded or paid is baked into a ‘digital contract’ that is transparent for all to see.
Better yet — for community led projects like BAYC they can launch say 10,000 unique digital characters with a low ‘floor price’ that everyone buys in cheap (call it $100 for argument sake).
The company or artist making these therefore starts with $1M but as demand goes up — each of these starts selling for literally thousands — and because the community who own them know they can make a killing, they all shout about it as much as possible so it gets notoriety. But because the people making the NFTs get royalties forever — it works for them too.
So the fundamental psychology is pitch perfect.
You (the consumer) get in early at next to nothing price — and can accrue all the value by promoting it — like an enthusiastic community member — make a huge profit, and the next hype cycle begins, and the more hype that happens — the more the original artist makes anyway but its the community doing the marketing, not the artist.
And because ‘perceived value’ in the art world is in the eye of the beholder — there’s all sorts of weird and wacky concepts to get stuck into and a crazy tide of interest going into it.
And it’s not just random artists — in fact I first got into NFTs cos I follow Damien Hirst and I tried to get in on his launch “the Currency” — which I failed to cos it was too popular. Was a cool idea — he literally painted 10,000 paintings of dots (think Jackson Pollock-esque) and made 10,000 digital replicas. If you were successful in purchasing on the ‘drop’ day (when they were about $1200 — currently already at about $6000 minimum online in 3 weeks) — you had to pick between keeping the painting OR the NFT but not both.
Pick the NFT, and he burned the art. Pick the art for your home, don’t get an NFT. Great experiment in the concept of what the community decide is more valuable as an ongoing debate….
Oh, and then there’s the community play.
Most NFT projects have their own community — usually run on Discord — which was the home of gamers but now seems to be the home of NFTs and crypto projects.
Most are free to join and people seem happy to help you understand what projects to look out for, why etc. Never tried Discord? It’s basically slack without your co workers and a bunch of randoms instead.
The community play angle is essential.
Most of the valuable NFT projects are community led — thousands of digital images of Cool Cats (who are now doing a partnership with TIME Magazine) or pudgy penguins or crypto punks are made, and you can only be in the community with them if you own one. I got lucky, cos I love cats, I bought 2 ‘cool cats’ a few weeks before this TIME announcement.
There’s not much rhyme or reason in NFTs which is why “I like cats so I bought cool cats” was as good as any to get stuck in (that, and doing some research that showed me they were already getting popular).
Quick detour — ‘universal sign in’ = your wallet.
A quick detour. Remember how facebook nailed facebook login and ultimately a great reason to have a facebook account was the data it carried to make signing in to all sorts of sites so easy? You COULD give your facebook details to someone else if you dared, and they’d get all kinds of access — but equally it became very precious to you, as did facebook.
Well — in cryptoworld aka ‘the metaverse’ — your ‘wallet’ is really what helps you sign in and out of these places. Except in the metaverse — they dont need to know your personal identity, data, where you live etc — because that’s private and privacy is a big deal (unless you’re facebook, obvs).
So, you send your funny money to a wallet (like the incredible Metamask which blows my mind for it’s simplicity as an app or browser plugin), and that acts as your way to navigate the metaverse.
Some examples: you want to get into the “Cool Cats” discord? Well, your fake JPEG is no longer proof — because you “connect your wallet” like you connected facebook accounts, and if you aren’t owning that NFT in your wallet — you aren’t getting in. It’s a binary, tech enabled decision. Similarly how you buy, sell and prove ownership on anything is connected to your wallet. There are no fakes, maybes or frauds in the metaverse — what you own and how you play — is all recorded as a statement of fact on the blockchain.
OK, now back to how I like to think about NFTs
Like I said — I have already had Ethereum for years, so I am a niche use case perhaps. But watching it sit in a wallet growing in price is cool and all but a bit of a vanity metric to me. However investing it in an NFT is a double win for these reasons.
- Ethereum is going up and up and up anyway (you can disagree, again not financial advice, just my opinion).
- NFTs are going up cos whilst they are hockey stick booming right now — it’s early as hell. How do I know? Because I’m writing a long ass essay and if you’re reading it there’s a great chance you know fvck all about it too — and if you’re reading a post about “The Metaverse” on Medium there’s a good chance you’re an early adopter generally anyway.
So that leads me to this logic — why not use my Ethereum to buy NFTs?
That way I own art (yes you can get a digital pictureframe like this and display it like real art depending on what it is), enter certain communities I want, and get the double benefit of both ETH and the NFT going up in value at the same time, so if I choose to sell that NFT — I’ve probably compounded the value much better whilst looking at something I like.
For anyone still not quite wrapping your head around this nonsense — here’s some more childhood references for how I think about it.
When I was younger I collected Marvel Comics and Marvel Playing Cards. That was my jam, I’d go to Comicon with my dad, was obsessed with XMen, etc.
I built up a good collection, and made some pretty good money in my teens buying and selling the cards especially — probably my first entrepreneurial endeavour.
The better the condition and more I could prove they were real (usually with a certificate of authenticity), the more the value.
Blockchain solves this cos only the artist can prove that this really is the thing you think you’re buying, whereas you could always fake a certificate and a young kid like me (with a blind dad like I had, would buy it anyway and be tricked). I could then possibly resell it with a strong convincing sales pitch based on what I believed to be true etc. There’s no fraud/fakes on the blockchain (or if they are, it’s much easier to prove).
There are NFTs of virtual playing cards, that have value — and indeed people are collecting, and trading these, and making profit in the internet’s currency (Ethereum) today, instead. Literally baseball/basketball/NFL cards etc.
NFTs with ‘purpose’
An even cooler point on NFTs though is stuff like this: with “Disaster Girl”
Remember this famous photo of that kid smiling at that burning fire that went viral? Well her and her dad (the photographer) own that IP and just made $500k selling the rights to that piece of the internet — so now there’s real world value to them both for going viral.
In my view — that’s the kind of shit the internet is missing — and finally people are willing to view the internet as much as a ‘worldly space of memories and value’ as much as the real world we live in.
And if you’re wondering ‘how much value’ — google for yourself.
This is Beeple’s “Everydays, the first 5000 days” NFT — and it sold for $69 million at Christies.
These guys are “Cryptopunks” .
For clarity, this is a pixelated basic image of the ‘OG’ community in the NFT space — and some of these are on sale for $25 Million.
It is indeed the modern day Mona Lisa. I think it’s absolutely shit — but would I want to own the Mona Lisa anyway, yeah why not.
Oh and finally before you make the VERY VALID point of — well doesn’t this basically mean that all the top projects are now only accessible by the world’s elite just like the world’s most expensive paintings are hoarded by dynasty families (and if we’re lucky loaned out to museums?)
Well, no, cos cool things like Partybid exist — where you can get a group of your friends…and strangers together… to share the ownership of expensive NFT projects that you think will accrue in value massively.
For example, this ‘Cryptopunk Hookah” just sold for 61ETH (about $193,000) split across 227 members .
The % ownership you own is digitally recorded and when it sells in the future — your % increase is obviously directly related to what you owned via the smart contract (what Ethereum concept is based on) so no debate or fussing — just pure facts and opportunity.
The future, after all, is community led, this is just a great example of it in action (in the early days).
Which brings me to ‘The Metaverse’
OK hold on to your hats, shit’s about to get not very real.
The biggest companies on earth are trying to build the metaverse — facebook, microsoft, etc etc — and loads of interesting ones in between.
But what do YOU need to know about it?
Well, let’s just start simple.
We understand the internet. And games like I mentioned before — early versions like Second Life and The Sims. We understand Virtual Reality. And we might have heard that kids are playing on Fortnite or Roblox.
So one way to think about the metaverse is that it’s this online space where we exist in digital form. However you access it — via a website, a gaming console, a VR headset or a mobile app — irrelevant, the point is to connect up this idea as “The metaverse” broadly speaking.
Because people are vying for your attention (eyeballs) which = money.
And just like in the real world — what matters in the Metaverse is the same as what matters IRL — status, identity, ‘cool factor’, etc.
Where you spend your time is where advertising is valuable too. We understand digital banners on websites are more likely to get eyeballs than an out of home poster in a pandemic, so is just a version of that.
So before I start to confuse anyone still reading this far (fair play to you, you’re clearly a nerd, bored, crazy curious or have nothing better to do — or all of the above)… Let’s again relate this to stuff we understand — let’s just start with games.
Games and the Metaverse
You’ve played candycrush right? I’ve actually not, but my wife used to play all the time (and spend on it). The genius is they get you addicted to crushing candy, unlocking new levels and constantly paying to keep going.
It’s “pay to play” — and apparently anyone with kids has been horrified in the past to discover how easily they enabled this originally.
So in that scenario — King make a game, they market it to everyone who downloads for free on their phone and then endlessly pay for in game tokens non stop. More people pay, King shareprice goes up — their shareholders get rich, you get addicted, everyone’s happy cos this is just ‘how the world works’.
This point demonstrates that people are very used to spending money ‘in game’ so long as they are enjoying it.
In Roblox or Fortnite (I dont expect you to have played, and tbh I’m not a ‘gamer’ so I haven’t but I get the idea) — consumers pay for ‘skins’ and basically upgrades that make their characters cooler. Why? Because they are all online and playing in a community with thousands of other gamers where status matters and they want to look cool just like in real life.
This point demonstrates that people will pay for digital upgrades and clothes that literally do nothing but they are spending real money via their credit card to playstation or whoever, to improve status.
You with me? OK well, I’ll do a couple more examples just in case, feel free to skip if you get it by now.
Pokemon (and Pokemon Go).
In Pokemon (biggest gaming franchise of all time worth 3x of Mario at a cool $90 billion) you fight Pokemons or something and catch them or whatever, right? Dunno, again, never played it, I’m more of a FIFA guy, but totally get the culture of it.
The modern version that went gaga years ago was using augmented reality and people were going round the fucking streets catching them and getting real world value from it — a glimpse into the metaverse indeed. But what people really care about is winning — their Pokemon battles your Pokemon, and it’s fun and competitive and there are coins and a shop and you buy more Pokemon, bla bla bla.
This point demonstrates that people would literally get their unhealthy gaming arses off a sofa and on to the streets and got people outside simply to participate in a competitive and social community gaming experience (even if it was behind their phones and a bit weird).
Horses and virtual gambling
Ever been into a betting shop? There are those people who sit all day gambling on horses, and indeed digital horses. Depressing as hell, but we’re not here to judge (he says judgementally).
Guess what — in the metaverse you can own a digital horse on Zed Run but you actually have to look after it (think like a Tamagotchi for those familiar) and you race them and literally make money when they win etc. I shit you not — people are breeding digital horses and paying people to groom them, look after them and race them — for thousands of dollars (in Eth) every month. mean they are literally training a ‘stable boy’ to look after a digital horse online who is as likely to win or lose a race by how well they’re looked after, and make money. Wild. (horses). This is just the start too, they just announced a partnership with Nascar, coming soon.
This point merely demonstrates that people who like the social and weirdly competitive world of racehorse ownership can even take that digital to the metaverse. Next nascar, so how long before F1 is entirely digital in the metaverse? Who knows — but the upsides are limitless too. No more needless deaths, putting horses down and a lot better for the environment. The mind boggles.
Ok last point promise.
What about identity? Many of us quietly suffer with who we are and love a bit of escapism. Well, in the Metaverse you can be anyone you want to be. IRL I’m danmurrayserter — an entrepreneur, dad, cat lover etc.
But in the metaverse my pseudonym is ‘archiebellington’ — after my cats obvs — and I can be anyone I want to be, and create an escapist identity for myself. There are pros and cons of this for sure — but talking about pseudonymous identity would get me started on a longer thread than this — so I’ll save it…. the point is simple.
Be yourself. Or dont. You decide. ‘Cos in the Metaverse you can be anyone you want to be. That’s why one of the most interesting projects to take off are “Meebits” — they are created by the same people as the infamous Cryptopunks — a company called Larvalabs — and your Meebit is meant to be your digital identity in the Metaverse.
That’s why it was the first NFT I ever bought. I found someone who looked enough like me (and was in my price range) — these guys are now almost all getting too expensive so I just got in on time. I’ve always struggled with getting a tan despite by best efforts. In the metaverse — say goodbye to skin cancer and hello to how I like to see myself.
Similarly, I couldn’t afford a female Meebit for my wife (or daughter) but I came across the World of Women and thought they were exceptionally cool — so I bought one for my wife, and daughter, just in case they want Metaverse identities — who knows.
There are 3 ways to buy these in my point of view.
- Rarity — what the connoisseur or collector should do — the more rare the ‘features’ on something like these projects where there are ‘only’ 10,000 variations is you buy the rarest as early as you can.
- Similarity — my Meebit looks enough like me, this World of Women one looks like my wife — perfect.
- Whatever you can afford — just owning one and being part of the community/part of history is good enough so just getting in and starting to play is as good a reason as any.
So — how does this all tie up?
Well…remember the Sims example? Yes people are building virtual worlds — and people are literally buying digital land in those spaces because we are so early in the space that IF one of those takes off — the land will be valuable cos to build a virtual building or shop that you can frequent and buy digital goods in — will require the land that you will rent from the owner, just like the real world. Oh and if you think that’s weird but grew up playing Age of Empires building and conquering land — then remember that when you were young, you loved it too — you just didn’t ‘own’ that land, and now you can. Surely better for everyone — your kids can make money whilst playing — it’s called ‘play to earn’ — we’re coming to that next, dont worry.
And a HUGE difference for how people are thinking about this stuff (a lot of it is being called “Web 3”) is that it’s pretty collaborative.
The incentive structure has shifted dramatically.
I’m going to wrap up this diatribe with arguably the most successful game you’ve never heard of to demonstrate multiple points about how the Metaverse starts to have real world tangible value.
Remember Pokemon? Well sorta like that — but you have “Axies”. But you have to buy in to the game at first to get an Axie, and then you have to play the game and compete, and breed more Axies.
The Axies only continue to grow as an ecosystem if more people play but each Axie is an NFT (and has a token you can buy on crypto exchanges) as well as selling the actual NFT of the Axie should you wish to.
I am not gonna go deep on telling you how Axie works, I’ve never played it — but I did buy a bunch of “AXS” — the Axie token when I first heard about it 3 months ago cos it blew my mind. So here’s the deal:
You know how Sony/Nintendo/Sega etc all make games, market them, you pay for them and they keep all the money? That’s ‘so boomer’ (as people in NFTs would say — AKA you’re old shut the fuck up grandpa).
Web3/the Metaverse is all about giving power to the people.
So, of all the money that goes into Axie Infinity — about 80% of it is kept by… the players! That’s right — the company only take about 20% — and because they have the incentive structure SO RIGHT — they have taken off like wildfire in places where the living wage standard is really low — aka South East Asia.
So now it’s not just a case of playing a game all day and having fun — people are literally making money — MORE money than they could in their jobs before and are now better able to support their families… by playing games in the metaverse. I cant be bothered to explain it all to you — but this is the best piece on Axie I’ve read if you’re interested by Packy McCormick.
In fact, Axie just became the first game in the crypto gaming/NFT space to surpass $1billion in transactions, in July they did $200m in revenue (that’s their take home remember), this month they’ve already surpassed that a few days ago. This shit is growing like fucking madness.
And it’s just the start- happens to be the first one — but there will be SO many others popping up like this.
So, what makes this all ‘metaverse’ Dan? What’s with the weird lingo, aren’t these just games and digital jpegs with fancy terms?
It’s the interconnectedness of it all.
For clarity — you cant do any of this without Ethereum. Ethereum is connected to your digital wallet. Everything you buy and sell is recorded on the blockchain. That’s what makes this ‘web3’ so to speak. This digital identity is what you carry around with you everywhere — without it — no access. With it — endless access. And it all connects.
Now you can see why I’m “long on Ethereum”.
I can play Axie for weeks and breed them and sell them as NFTs on the Opensea marketplace (which by the way just passed $1billion of transactions this month too) if I have time and enjoy gaming and can be bothered or I could think their token AXS is a great investment cos they are a cool company, and go on Binance and just buy their token and wait for it to 10x (or die a death, again, not investment advice) — but the point is — all these things are connected.
I’m doing them all as “Archiebellington” and building up essentially a digital online footprint. Everything is recorded, interconnects and I can port tokens, games, assets, skins, coins, whatever from one place to the next — well… that’s the theory anyway.
The point is this: There’s a digital JPEG on sale of a pixelated punk for $25 million (and many more over $10 million) and a game that did $200M last month on revenues of over $1BN, on track to pretty much double that this month….
And you’ve possibly never even heard of this stuff and think it’s so fringe and token it’s barely worth your consideration.
And I would argue that actually, it’s really important to try and get our heads round this stuff — cos you don’t wanna be in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s frankly with the same fvcking disbelief of configuring an iphone like many of us might remember doing with our parents.
Technology leaps happen slowly and then all at once — and I think the reason this stuff has me so excited is really simply down to this:
Crypto always felt like it was about speculation and money. That tends to work well for super early adopters (aka techies, devs etc) and finance folks but not really for the masses.
Art is for the masses — because it’s where culture takes off — and culture is everything, whether online or IRL — it dictates the world we live in.
And where are we on the culture scale with NFTs?
Well — Louis Vuitton AND Burberry just dropped new online collections and games with NFTs so….. I think it’s fair to say it’s in fashion and soon to seem mainstream.
Ignore it all at your peril but also it’s fun, and we like fun don’t we?
I think crypto is a bit dull, but art, gaming, culture — that’s all fun — and to play, you need crypto so all this stuff ties up nicely together — and therein finally lies some of the rationale and reasoning behind why I truly now see a future in crypto.
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