Crypto NFTs and the meme message
The Super Bowl in the U.S. took place recently, and many people in the crypto space were wondering if they’d get to see a Bored Ape feature during the halftime show.
While neither Eminem nor Snoop Dogg incorporated their Apes into their performance, the Super Bowl was definitely crypto-heavy.
There were a record number of crypto-based ads this year. Coinbase, FTX, crypto.com, and eToro (this list is not exhaustive) all had ad placements in this year’s game. (P.S. Bored Apes did end up making it to the Super Bowl with a feature in eToro’s ad, see below — can you spot it?).
The biggest winner in the NFT market recently, and the inspiration for today’s piece, is a collection known as ‘mfers.’ Their floor price is up roughly 3 times over the last week. Let me give a brief introduction to the collection and then we can talk about why.
mfers is a collection of 10,020 cartoon characters. If you’re well versed in popular memes, you will recognize the stick figure as the “Are ya winning, son?” poster child. People have substituted a number of different responses in for the son’s reply (this is where the memes are created), each being a description of a very complex event that is not at all as simple as a video game. For example, when asked if he’s winning by his father, one famous iteration of the meme is the son replying, “I’m in the middle of rewriting the entire global financial system with the blockchain, Dad.” See a blank template below:
Understanding the meme is not as important as understanding its message; the differences in technological literacy and ability between generations is immense.
The artist behind mfers, Sartoshi, clearly resonated with this idea, and thus a collection was born.
Representative of the eclectic youth who are building the path for crypto to reach the world, mfers (in name and design) also highlight some of the carefree naivete that comes with that youth. mfers are pieces of art designed to function as profile pictures on sites such as Twitter or Discord. If you've read any of my other articles on NFYs hopefully you have a better understanding as to why someone would want to own and display a mfer — the meme is the message.
What Makes Mfers Different?
Now that you understand the collection’s genesis, let’s get into the nitty-gritty about the mechanics of it — notice how I have intentionally not called mfers a “project” once throughout this article.
The first mention of mfers by Sartoshi on Twitter was just a day before their launch on November 30, 2021. All he did was tweet a link to the mint site. At a price of 0.069 ETH per mint, they sold out in minutes.
So why are we talking about mfers today? Sure, they’ve got a funny backstory, but they seem like any other digital avatar. Well, that’s because I haven’t told you about one particular structural decision Sartoshi made in his creation of the collection.
mfers is an NFT collection released under the CC0 Creative Commons License, otherwise known as “no copyright reserved.”
What does this mean and why is it important?
I discussed previously how projects such as Bored Apes, World of Women, Doodles, and Cool Cats (to name but a few) give full commercial and intellectual property rights to each NFT in their collection to the owner of said NFT. (To refresh your memory, what this means is that I can do anything I want with my Bored Ape, I own all the rights to it — commercialize it, build derivative artwork of it, anything)
Well, CC0 collections take this a step further. In a CC0 collection, anybody can do whatever they want with any of the NFTs, regardless of whether or not they own it. For example, I can choose the rarest mfer of the collection and build an entire brand around it if I want to; theoretically, absolutely nothing stops me when a collection is registered as a CC0.
The obvious next question is, how is this structure in any way valuable to the holders of the NFTs?
The bet is that because there is maximum freedom of use surrounding a CC0 NFT collection, if a lot of people begin to use it however they please (casually, monetarily, passionately, etc.) the value of the collection will actually go up as a result of its increased popularity.
As a result of this no-holds-barred approach, CC0 collections are almost never actively developed by their founders and rarely have road maps. This is why it would be misleading to call mfers a project, because it isn’t — it’s a collection of artworks released onto the world, with the freedom for anybody to do with it what they want.
Here’s a quote from Sartoshi himself on mfers:
“The world of mfers I envisioned would epitomize the simple idea that “we all mfers.” There is no king, ruler, or defined road map — and mfers can build whatever they can think of with these mfers. I didn’t know what that would ultimately look like — and that was the point… nobody does. There’s also no official Discord. mfers then created an ‘officially unofficial Discord’ that now has thousands of members doing remarkable things, so I hear. I am not in it — this is by design. mfers don’t need Sartoshi’s approval or looking over their shoulder as they experiment and build.
“My view of what is most valuable for me to offer to mfer holders is to amplify the best of their ideas and creations to reach vastly greater audiences… and add value for holders when the opportunities strike, including linking with artists who might create other NFTs for mfer holders to claim.”
Not the First CC0 Rodeo
mfers are not the first to try this CC0 strategy. In fact, CC0s have a well-documented history of achieving soaring prices before crashing and burning.
The first major CC0 we witnessed was “Loot (for Adventurers)” in August 2021. Where most NFT projects at the time were releasing their avatars as ready-made pieces of art (and still are), Loot flipped the switch by providing the traits of the avatar as the NFT, and then allowing the community to build the art around it. Here’s an example of a Loot NFT:
Yep, that’s it, that’s the entire NFT. The idea was thought-provoking, as not only did the list of characteristics allow the community to design the avatars from scratch, but they also hinted at the potential for other products to be built around the NFT, namely a video game in the case of Loot.
People were enthralled by the vision of Loot. Within a week from its launch, the Loot floor went from a mint of under 0.1 ETH to a floor of 20 ETH. Those who minted (if they sold the top) realized a 200x return on investment in 7 days.
But soon after, the proverbial music stopped. The floor came tumbling down as the NFT market at large experienced a downturn in September 2021. Today, the Loot floor trades at around 2 ETH.
Another example of a CC0 that overtook the market with hype was CrypToadz by Gremplin. Not marked by any particular innovation, Toadz were carried by the vibes of their community and support by some of the most respected names in NFTs.
The opportunity for CrypToadz to become the first CC0 blue-chip NFT consumed the market as their floor ballooned from 2 ETH to 16 ETH in a matter of days. As was the case with Loot, it all eventually came down as quickly as it went up. Toadz are presently trading at a 2.8 ETH floor.
The Dream of CC0 Collections: They are the most decentralized iteration of an NFT project possible. With no outright developer or owner, the community itself gets to dictate the direction of the project, and this philosophy aligns well with the hopes of the creator and ownership economy that can be fully built-out with the proliferation of blockchain technology.
The Problem with CC0 Collections: By shifting the responsibility of the progression and development of the NFT to the community, you are shifting it to nobody. A community is made up of thousands of holders, and the fact is that a CC0 does not act as a strong value incentive for people to build around.
Does it offer the most expansive vision possible, where creativity can know no bounds? Yes. The reality, though, is that it isn’t currently worth a community member’s time to drop what they’re doing and financialize this collection of NFTs. The likelihood that the financial payout of this strategy would be equal to the time and effort required to execute on it is very, very low.
The High School Issue
Plus, the delegation of duties amongst a CC0 community becomes akin to a group project in high school. If someone doesn’t have to do something, they’re less likely to do it.
Although non-CC0 NFT projects sacrifice maximal decentralization in the sense that the future of the collection is almost always in the hands of the founders, these founders are incentivized to produce due to the royalties they recoup on secondary sales of the project. That’s why projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club have done so well — their founders are motivated to build the highest amount of demand possible for their NFTs.
Not all CC0 projects have become absolute failures. Take Nouns DAO, for instance. A Noun is a 32 x 32 pixelated character, and a new one is auctioned off every day. Proceeds from the sale go directly to the Nouns DAO treasury, where the community gets to vote on what to do with the funds. Blink and you would’ve missed it, but Nouns were actually featured in Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial.
(The infamous Nouns glasses in Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial)
But back to where we started — mfers. As you can see, mfers have not experienced the stratospheric price action that popular CC0s before it have, but we’re also yet to see any strong developments on top of the collection by the community.
Currently, hype is being driven not only as a result of its CC0 status but also by what we discussed earlier — what the mfers represent. In this case, the meme is the message. This is one of the most tribal patterns we see across NFTs and even crypto at large (just look at the laser eyes on the Bitcoin maximalist community of Twitter).
Will the mfers community take advantage of its CC0 structure? Will the floor keep going up? Nobody knows — and these aren’t the big questions of today’s piece.
The question I think you should be leaving with today is this: Can NFT projects ever successfully exist as entirely decentralized products, or will they always require a financially incentivized team at their helm?