At Plexus, we don’t always like to talk about the downsides of the crypto world. WAGMI, after all – crypto is here to stay!
That said, we should probably all sit down for a hard conversation about NFTs.
Maybe you remember them? You know, collectable digital art? Jpegs, as enthusiastic investors often referred to them. Non-Fungible Tokens; totally unique digital tokens, fully tradable on the blockchain.
You’d be forgiven for having forgotten about them. While the downturn in the crypto market is well-known at this point, NFTs did a particularly impressive job of collapsing – and in the process, calling into question the whole future of the NFT sector.
So what happened to NFTs, and where did all those blue-chip collections go? We’ll dive into more detail in this article, plus we’ll discuss what it means for the sector more broadly.
The Life and Death of NFTs
At its lowest point (so far), the crypto sector collapsed to roughly $1 trillion total market cap, from a height of over $3 trillion. Two-thirds of total market value, gone in a matter of months.
That’s bad; but somehow, NFTs did even worse.
According to data from Defillama, NFT marketplaces peaked at over 250k ETH trading volume, back in April 2022. Volume declined from then on, slowly at first, then all at once. About a year later, in spring 2023, there was a brief resurgence of interest (and correspondingly, a boost in trading volume).
But even that quickly died out. For most of 2023, trading volume has stayed well under 50k ETH daily.
Crypto, as a whole, declined by two-thirds; NFTs lost four-fifths of its total volume.
The picture gets even worse – somehow – when you look at it more closely.
Much of the trading volume that is still happening is awash in controversy. Yes, that’s a pun – wash trading has been around for years in the stock market, but is becoming a well-known problem in the sector. The idea is that large collectors purchase their own NFTs, essentially swapping the digital assets between wallets they own.
On the surface, these look like legitimate purchases, and the NFT marketplaces record them as such. But in reality, nothing changes hands; wash trading simply gives the appearance of intense activity, but without any indication of genuine underlying value. The purpose of wash trading is, of course, to drive legitimate sales by inflating the value of an NFT collection.
It’s difficult to tell exactly how much volume, on a given day, is wash trading. But what is evident is that nominal trading volumes are almost certainly inflated.
The upshot? Total NFT sector volumes are likely even lower than they appear.
3 Collections in Trouble
Ok, so the sector as a whole is down. But isn’t this the same as crypto more broadly? Or web3? Or DeFi? Some projects are down, but certain blue-chip projects are leading the way forward.
Perhaps. But what stands out about NFTs is the extent of the collapse. Even notable blue-chip projects have been impacted. In turn, that has raised important questions about the future for the sector as a whole.
Time for some specific examples. We’ve stuck with collections that aren’t fully dead; there’s a huge list of NFT projects that are functionally extinct, with zero trading volume and few (if any) collectors. In fact, a damning recent report from the folks over at dappgambl says that up to 95% of all NFT collections are worthless.
But rather than kicking a dead horse (.jpeg), let’s look at collections with signs of life, but a much darker future than once imagined.
Bored Apes/Mutant Apes
Another crypto/NFT comparison. Since the dark days of early 2023, Bitcoin has rebounded to over $30k. It’s currently trading at a little over 50% of its 2021 peak ($66,000). That’s down drastically, obviously, but let’s compare it to two of the leading NFT collections:
- Bored Apes Yacht Club (BAYC): Price floor dropped from 128 ETH to 26 ETH
- Mutant Apes Yacht Club (MAYC): Price floor dropped from 35 ETH to 5TH
That’s a decline of 80% for BAYC and 76% for MAYC.
That’s… not great, especially for two collections well-regarded as NFT royalty. In fact, we’ve previously covered Yuga Labs, the studio behind both collections, here on the blog. Yuga Labs has big ambitions, from a related cryptocurrency to a metaverse project, all tied into the BAYC empire.
The collapse of the underlying BAYC price has, in turn, impacted Yuga’s plans. They recently announced a restructuring of the company – although the full details for that move are still a bit unclear.
What is clear is that sailing has gotten a bit rough for the Yacht Club.
Frank DeGods is a bit of an NFT legend; the collection that bears his name is a definite blue-chip amongst NFT aficionados.
But the collection itself has fallen on some hard times. The price floor dropped from 10 ETH to a little over three from June ‘23 to October the same year. And unlike BAYC, DeGods didn’t launch until well after the market downturn. That drop in price came entirely after the market crashed.
DeGods (the man) is still active and a regular on various NFT-related X Spaces. DeGods (the project) illustrates the strength of the headwinds still facing NFT projects.
The key to Azuki’s decline sits plainly in its description: a brand for the metaverse. As went the metaverse, so went Azuki, which declined from 21 ETH to just over 4 ETH. In real-world dollars, that’s a decline of roughly $56k.
Azuki was supposed to be an owner’s ticket to a world that blended the physical and the virtual worlds, with a dedicated space in the metaverse for Azuki holders. The metaverse isn’t dead yet, and neither is Azuki – but there’s much less interest in both.
What’s Next For NFTs?
Each of the collections above illustrates a different use case for NFTs. Yuga Labs positioned their collections as gateways to a crypto-based ecosystem. DeGods went big on the exclusivity and art-related aspects, while Azuki and numerous other collections built their use cases on the metaverse.
The fact that each collection declined so rapidly indicates underlying weaknesses with the use cases themselves. In short, NFTs still don’t know what, exactly, they want to do with themselves.
Are NFTs simply another form of art? If so, adoption will always be limited to artists and art fans.
Are NFTS tied inextricably to the metaverse? If yes, then NFTs will only find success when the metaverse does – if it does.
Maybe NFTs work as the foundation for an integrated ecosystem? Perhaps, but if front-runner, blue-chip collections like BAYC struggle to build a firm foundation, smaller projects are going to find it nearly impossible.
Is there a way forward? Only time will tell. At Plexus, we see a growing use case for NFTs as tools to integrate real-world assets with digital platforms. The authors of the dappgambl report agree: going forward,
NFTs need to either be historically relevant (akin to first-edition Pokémon cards), true art, or provide genuine utility.
What happened to those NFTs? The same thing that happened to the rest of the crypto sector; they fell down.
Now let’s see if NFTs can get back up.
Interested in any NFT-related jobs? Reach out to our recruiters to see what’s available.