UPDATED! The Problem with NFTs: the Growing Push-Back from People Who Are Sick and Tired of the Current NFT Craze

If you’re tired of the current level of NFT hype, you’re not alone!
Photo by Dylan Calluy on Unsplash

There are fewer topics which provoke such a sharp divide of opinion as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs for short). NFT madness has reached stratospheric heights, and looks likely to rise even further. And some people have had enough.*

When Kent Bye and Molly White (who are heroes of mine, but in very different ways) both highly recommend a YouTube video, you can bet that I pay attention!

Of the two, Kent Bye is probably the better known; he is in indefatigable, intelligent host of the Voices of VR podcast, and someone whose thoughtful, philosophical insights into any and all aspects of immersive tech I value greatly (I wish I had his brain!). As for Molly, she is someone whom I first encountered because of her truly epic thread of snark about that infamous Cryptoland promo video, but she, too, is definitely someone to follow (she maintains the wonderful Web3 Is Going Just Great website, which chronicles the scandals, misdeeds, and crimes of the many crypto, blockchain, and NFT projects out there, an increasingly difficult task as the number of schemes proliferates!).

Here is the 2-hour-and-18-minute video itself, titled The Problem with NFTs, by Dan Olson, a Canadian whose YouTube channel Folding Ideas has just over half a million subscribers:

Dan starts his video by providing some historical context, discussing the financial crisis provoked by the mortgage bond crisis of 2008, and then moving on to Bitcoin, trumpeted as an end to the evil of centralized banking. Here’s a prime quote:

Rather than being a reprieve to the people harmed by the housing bubble, the people whose savings and retirements were, unknown to them, being gambled on smoke, cryptocurrency instantly became the new playground for smoke vendors. This is a really important point to stress: cryptocurrency does nothing to address 99% of the problems with the banking industry, because those problems are patterns of human behaviour.

—Dan Olson

He then talks about Ethereum, and how it was created in part to address some of the problems posed by Bitcoin. Dan provides one of the best overviews of “proof of work” versus “proof of stake” that’s I’ve encountered to date. After covering the basics of blockchain, he turns his attention to the Non-Fungible Token market, discussing the whole “code is law” premise of smart contracts at length. His highly entertaining exploratory foray into the current NFT market space is well worth the price of admission alone! Near the two-hour mark, Dan discusses Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).

Honestly, this video is so good, and so information-dense, that I would strongly encourage you to set aside two-and-a-half hours, and watch it in full, with the subtitles on. Like me, you’ll probably rewind it several times to review some of Dan’s better arguments! Molly and Kent are right; this video is *chef’s kiss* (Dan even briefly includes screencaps of Molly’s website and that infamous Cryptoland promo video!).

But it’s the final chapter of this video where Dan is on point, and on fire:

In 2008, the economy functionally collapsed. The basic chain reaction was this: bankers took mortgages and turned them into something they could gamble on. This created a bubble, and then the bubble popped.

When you drill down into it, you realize that the core of the crypto ecosystem, the core of Web3, the core of the NFT marketplace, is a turf war between the wealthy and ultra-wealthy. Technofetishists who look at people like Bill Gates and Jess Bezos, billionaires minted via tech industry doors that have now been shut by market calcification, and are looking for a do-over, looking to synthesize a new market where they can be the one to ascend from a merely wealthy programmer to a hyper-wealthy industrialist. It’s a cat fight between the 5% and the 1%.

Ultimately the driving forces underlying this entire movement are economic disparity. The wealthy and tenuously wealthy are looking for a space that they can dominate, where they can be trendsetters and tastemakers and can seemingly invent value through sheer force of will.

This is, in my opinion, the blindspot of many casual critics. The fact that tokens representing ape PFPs are useless, yet somehow still expensive, isn’t an overlooked glitch in the system, it’s half the point. It’s a digital extension of inconvenient fashion. It’s a flex and a form of myth-making.

And that’s how it draws in the bottom: people who feel their opportunities shrinking, who see the system closing around them, who have become isolated by social media and a global pandemic, who feel the future getting smaller, people pressured by the casualization of work as jobs are dissolved into the gig economy, and want to believe that escape is just that easy. All you gotta do is bet on the right Discord and you might be air-dropped the next new hotness… This is your chance to stick it to Wall Street and venture capitalists, as long as you pay no attention to the VCs behind the curtain. The line can only go up.

It’s a movement driven in no small part by rage, by people who looked at 2008, who looked at the system as it exists, but concluded that the problems with capitalism were that it didn’t provide enough opportunities to be the boot. And that’s the pitch: buy in now, buy in early, and you could be the high tech future boot.

Our systems are breaking or broken, straining under neglect and sabotage, and our leaders seem at best complacent, willing to coast out the collapse. We need something better. But a system that turns everyone into petty digital landlords, that distills all interaction into transaction, that determines the value of something by how sellable it is and whether or not it can be gambled on as a fractional token sold via micro-auction, that’s not it.

A different system does not mean a better system; we replace bad systems with worse ones all the time. We replaced a bad system of work and bosses with a terrible system of apps, gigs, and on-demand labour.

So it’s not just that I oppose NFTs because the foremost of them are aesthetically vacuous representations of the dead inner lives of the tech and finance bros behind them. It’s that they represent the vanguard of a worse system. The whole thing, from OpenSea fantasies for starving artists to the buy-in for pay-to-earn games, it’s the same hollow, exploitative pitch as MLMs. It’s Amway, but everywhere you look, people are wearing ugly-ass ape cartoons.

(UPDATE Jan. 23rd, 2022: if you have a bit more time left after watching Dan Olson’s video, you can peruse this thread of comments on the r/Documentaries community on Reddit. Be sure to sort by Best to read the best ones first!)


I leave you with another very recent YouTube commentary video I watched a couple of days ago, this one by the incomparable Josh Strife Hayes, who has sharpened his patented snark by reporting on countless questionable MMORPG projects over the past few years (a growing cottage industry).

From now on, this 22-minute video is what I am going to send to anybody who asks me what an NFT is, because Josh so mercilessly strips it down to its bare essentials, so that everybody can see just how ludicrous the whole setup is! The NFT-owner emperor is truly wearing no clothes; in fact, he’s just holding a spot in a line-up!

If, after watching Josh’s video, you have a bone to pick with it, I’d love to hear your comments (aside from his British pronunciation of the word “fungible”, which makes me wince). Where Dan Olson slays with facts, Josh Strife Hayes prefers to devastate with sarcasm, and he’s so good at it that it’s a joy to behold.

So, it would appear that there is now a determined push-back on the current silly season of NFT hyperbole, and I for one welcome this development. Too many people—particularly baby investors—are buying into the breathless hype of ill-thought-out NFT projects, which are proliferating like the Polynesian rats introduced to Easter Island. Commentators such as Dan and Josh are doing us all a service with their bracing commentary on this madness.


*FULL DISCLOSURE: I possess zero NFTs, and I only own one cryptocurrency, the Neos Credit (NCR), which I earn as a side benefit of being a monthly Patreon patron of NeosVR social VR platform. And, in that case, NeosVR is an actual, working metaverse platform for which you can create an avatar, and which you can currently visit, explore, and build in! In other words, there’s a THERE there, unlike so many currently hyped blockchain-based projects, which are essentially handwaving and hot air. Caveat emptor!

Wilder World: A Brief Introduction

Wilder World’s website features some rather disturbing imagery; a crystal skull?

Today, through a VentureBeat article about the metaverse, I learned about a blockchain-based metaverse platform called Wilder World, which I had never heard of before, so I decided to do a little investigating.

Wilder World is an Unreal-based platform using the Ethereum blockchain, with its own cryptocurrency (WILD), which appears to be catering to NFT (Non-Fungible Token) artists. According to the VentureBeat article I read:

Wilder World is a newer metaverse than The Sandbox and Decentraland. Built on Ethereum, Unreal Engine 5, and its sister company ZERO.tech, Wilder World is a metaverse based on photorealism. Wilder World’s team consists of experienced 5D artists — including founder Frank Wilder and Chad Knight who was previously at Nike — that help to create exquisite in-game graphics for Wilder World’s metaverse.

The first city built in the Wilder World metaverse is #Wiami, a 1 to 1 replica of the city Miami. Like Miami in real life, Wilder World says #Wiami is poised to become the crypto hub of the metaverse. Wilder World is powered by the token $WILD, which can be used to purchase NFTs such as wilder.kicks, wilder.wheels, and wilder.cribs. The NFTs’ value doesn’t just stop at aesthetics. NFT owners can use their items in-game or stake their NFTs to earn more rewards.

Wiami? OK, whatever, bro… 🙄

Like many similar NFT metaverse projects, Wilder World is already selling vehicles (“wheels”), sneakers (“kicks”), and condos (“cribs”). They also plan to sell virtual land NFTs. However, there is as yet—at least, as far as far as I can tell—no currently-available metaverse platform which you can visit as an avatar yet. A May 10th, 2021 article by Dean Takahashi states:

If it sounds a little fuzzy on the metaverse details, it’s a little fuzzy. The company said that the best example of what it means when they say “metaverse” is Ready Player One. The company added, “In essence, a fully immersive, 3D virtual world that can be accessed with a VR headset. Unlike normal games, Wilder World enables games and economies created in world. Given that all economic transactions and ownership in Wilder World happen on the blockchain, assets are ‘interoperable’ between different game worlds. Wilder World’s objective is to create an immersive reality that is as similar to this reality as possible.’

Wilder World also has what it calls a Guild, which it describes as follows:

Wilder.Guild is Wilder World’s first official artist DAO. Built for and by artists, the guild is curating the greatest 3D artists of our time to collaborate on the stories, characters, and environments that will ultimately become the Metaverse.

DAO stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization, a blockchain-based structure represented by rules encoded as a computer program, which is completely transparent, and controlled by the organization’s members (definition taken from Wikipedia).

One aspect of Wilder World which I found very interesting is that, in addition to using Discord and Telegram, they are using something called ZERO (a product from a sister company) as a community discussion platform, which at first glance, looks rather similar to Discord:

According to their “zine” webpage:

We are honored to officially invite you to join the Wilder World private network on ZERO, as we collectively transcend deeper into our immersive 3D Metaverse powered entirely by NFTs. We are super excited to give our audience early access to the ZERO network.

The powerful network enables communication, collaboration and commerce. This occurs directly between content-creators, developers, and members, independent of third parties or big tech. It’s where curious minds come to access unparalleled behind the scenes concepts and content from the Wilders.

The ZERO platform provides a number of useful features for our community (artists, collectors and fans) to connect, collaborate and co-create, some of those features include –

PROFILES: Curate your profile highlighting your skillset and portfolio

CHANNELS: Tailored chat channels to keep up to date with all the $WILD and Metaverse news

MESSAGE: Join town halls, AMAs or have video chats with other Wilders

VIDEO: Real-time direct messaging old and new friends

FEED: Share the latest articles, artwork, and videos with the Wilder community

ZERO is the technology infrastructure that powers Wilder World allowing our vision of a multi-levelled, photorealistic and mixed reality Metaverse to really come to life. An immersive world where our community can acquire virtual land and express themselves through unique avatars, decorative digital assets and fashionable accessories.

With all this talk of “wheels”, “kicks”, “cribs”, and “zines”, I came away from my investigations today feeling distinctly ancient and out-of-touch, and most definitely not one of the cool kids… 😉 Ryan takes a swig of Geritol, and yells at those damn kids to get off his lawn:

However, what Wilder World is doing might be just up your alley, especially if you are an NFT artist looking for a community of like-minded people!

For further information about Wilder World, please visit their website, join their Discord server, their Telegram group or their ZERO group, or follow them on social media: Twitter and Instagram. And, of course, I will duly add Wilder World to my ever-expanding popular list of metaverse platforms.

Pandemic Diary, September 17th, 2021: COVID-19 Worry and NFT Insanity

Well, folks, it’s been a week.

I delivered no less than seven different training sessions (online and remotely, either from my office at the science library or from home) to various classes of agriculture students. I have been fighting with computer hardware and software problems all week, starting on Monday when I couldn’t get my microphone to work, to yesterday when I got unceremoniously booted out of the the online class I was teaching using Cisco WebEx—TWICE. I am exhausted.

To add to my overall bad mood, the most recent data on breakthrough COVID-19 cases here in Manitoba are somewhat worrying. According to this report from CTV News, while fully vaccinated people are not being affected nearly as much as the unvaccinated, breakthrough cases are happening. And even more worrying, 16 fully vaccinated Manitobans have died of COVID-19 so far. That is not good news.

Mark my words: COVID still has the ability to throw some curveballs at us. For the love of God, if you have not already done so, GET VACCINATED! And please do everything you can—handwashing, face masks, social distancing, etc.—to stay safe and healthy. You do not want to catch this virus if you can avoid it!


However, I can still laugh at the continued silliness in the hothouse of the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) market. Everybody seems to be leaping on the get-rich-quick bandwagon.

I am currently blocking and deleting spam direct messages on Discord (people shilling for one blockchain-based scheme after another), at the rate of about one per day now. It would appear everybody and their dog has come up with some sort of harebrained NFT project to try and part you from your hard-earned dollar.

Today, I got the following spam direct message via Discord (blurred to avoid giving you his name and link addresses):

Hi. A new project Mint will begin in 7-9 days. There will be 10000 Covid themed NFT’s in total. Don’t miss your chance to get in on the start of an incredible cool project. FUCK COVID

Clicking through to the website (and no, I am not going to bother to link to it), and behold!

OMG!!! There’s only ten thousand NFT facemasks, supplies are limited so act now and get that rare collectible!

NOT.

Which reminded me of the following message I received recently via the feedback form on my blog:

Hello there, I’m David from Next Earth – we are the only blockchain and Earth map based metaverse 🙂 We’ve launched in the end of July and now only a few hours left until the end of land pack presale.. By now, more than 150.000 Dollars worth of land tiles has been sold and it’s increasing day by day, just like our community, so we are really excited about our future. It would be awesome if you could help us with spreading the word, and since you have quite a lot followers I can easily offer you a referral code with a fair amount of commission.. I’d be extremely interested in what you think and how we could collaborate, so please get back to me and let’s discuss our opportunities! Best regards, David

Image taken from the Next Earth website (no, I am NOT giving you a link)

Dear David:

NOT!!!

I wrote about what I think about Next Earth, Earth 2, and all the other “buy a virtual piece of earth” scams here.

And I swear to God: the next person who tries to get me to buy into their harebrained, lame-ass NFT scheme is gonna get bitchslapped into next Thursday.

Bacardi and Coke! Real-Life Brands Are Starting to Partner with Virtual Worlds (Again): Could This Be the Start of a New Trend?

There was a time, back in the day (ohhh, let’s say, May of 2006) when a Second Life avatar named Anshe Chung graced the cover of Businessweek magazine, which told the story of how she became the first online personality to achieve a net worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a virtual world.

It can be argued that this Businessweek article, and the resulting media attention it caused, was the spark that ignited a period of explosive population growth in Second Life, as people realized that they, too, could earn money on Second Life, and they began joining the platform in ever-increasing numbers.

In particular, between late 2006 and early 2007, dozens of real-life companies and brands decided to set up shop in Second Life: Dell, Toyota, Nissan, Sun Microsystems, IBM, even American Apparel and Playboy. Unfortunately, this corporate heyday did not last long. By the end of 2008, most real-world corporations were pulling out, not seeing the benefit (i.e. profit) in running operations on a virtual world, especially during a somewhat brutal recession.

And, for a long time, burned by their initial enthusiastic foray into Second Life, most real-world brands pretty much steered clear of virtual worlds, leaving them to the mom-and-pop stores, the individual content creators who were able to make a go of it.


Well, I am starting to notice the beginnings of a new trend lately: real-life brands are starting to enter into partnerships with social VR and virtual worlds once again. Is this the start of a new trend in marketing?

Two different news items, about two completely different types of partnerships, crossed my desk yesterday, one for Bacardi rum and the other for Coca-Cola, which tickled my fancy and made me laugh (hence the clever title of this blogpost!). Both are instructive examples of how such corporate partnerships have evolved and changed since the Anshe Chung summer of 2006 in Second Life.

Barcardi and Sansar: The Casa Bacardi Virtual Island Festival

First up is a partnership between Bacardi and Sansar, a virtual festival to be held on August 20th, 2021, to promote Bacardi products. According to the event description:

Teleport to your virtual island of Casa Bacardi

Bring home some Caribbean vibes and get grooving to your favourite beats at a music experience like never before.

Casa Bacardi is a whole new virtual world on Sansar, with an epic stage for your favourite artists to perform on, games to play with your friends, hang out with them, play cocktail games and meet new people. Enjoy all of this and more from the comfort of your home along with your favourite Bacardi Cocktails.

You can even design your own look and express yourselves through your avatar before you land on Casa Bacardi Island. Festival fashion doesn’t go away, you know?

Find liberation from the real world on a virtual Caribbean island. Teleport to Casa Bacardi this Rum Month!

Performers at this event include a mix of afrobeat, hip hop, electronica and dance music artists:

  • Tesher
  • Divine and the Gully Gang
  • MC Altaf
  • Tsumyoki with Kidd Mange
  • Natasha Diggs
  • Gauriwho

Tickets are quite inexpensive, only US$1.99 for a concert pass, and US$2.99 for a concert pass plus a limited after-party event (you can pay via credit card or PayPal).

Coca-Cola, Tafi and Decentraland: The Friendship Box NFT

In a piece of news which I somehow missed, Coca-Cola entered the ultra-trendy NFT space with a limited-edition auction, partnering with the Tafi avatar creation system and the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland (NFT, of course, stands for Non-Fungible Tokens, the concept that blockchain-based property is a unique, distinguishable, indivisible blockchain-based asset which has some sort of monetary value, usually denoted in a cryptocurrency like ETH/Ethereum).

Coca-Cola is not the first big brand name to jump into Decentraland, of course; not too long ago I wrote about how Sotheby’s set up shop. It would appear that the current unabated frenzy over blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs is bringing together some rather unlikely bedfellows!

According to the official announcement by Tafi:

Tafi announced today that it has partnered with Coca-Cola® by designing virtual wearables for Coca-Cola’s first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) collectibles offering in the “metaverse” to celebrate International Friendship Day on July 30th, Coca-Cola will be auctioning an NFT loot box on OpenSea, that contains Tafi-designed digital apparel that can be worn forever in the virtual world of Decentraland.

Tafi, a leading designer of avatars and digital wearables, is a digital strategy and development partner with Coca-Cola. Tafi worked alongside Coca-Cola to produce the NFTs, as well as Virtue, the agency by Vice, who developed the initial concept. Details of Tafi’s involvement in Coca-Cola’s NFT Lootbox can be found at https://maketafi.com/coca-cola-nft.

Coca-Cola collaborated with designers at Tafi on all the NFTs including the branded wearable apparel. Auction-goers can bid on the Coca-Cola Friendship Box, a reimagined version of Coca-Cola’s highly collectible vending machine, itself an NFT, and once opened there will be three one-of-a-kind digital assets to own: 

• A custom Coca-Cola Bubble Jacket Wearable – a futuristic jacket – is illuminated with effervescent fizz, purposely designed with subtle nods to Coke’s nostalgic delivery uniforms. It also will include an unlockable version that can be worn in the Decentraland 3D virtual reality platform. Inspired by metaverse trends and utility, the jacket features the Coca-Cola color palette, fusing the metallic red of the aluminum can and caramel brown of the delicious drink. 

The Sound Visualizer captures the experience of sharing a Coca-Cola using instantly recognizable audio cues: the pop of a bottle opening, the sound of a beverage being poured over ice, the unmistakable fizz and that first refreshing taste.

The Friendship Card reimagines the design of Coca-Cola’s famous friendship-inspired trading cards from the 1940s for the digital world. The cards bear the “Symbol of Friendship” moniker.

The first ever Coca-Cola NFT (image source)

This one-of-a-kind loot box contained some ultra-exclusive items, including a puffy jacket which can be worn by Decentraland avatars, and it sold for a whopping 217 ETH (which works out to about half a million U.S. dollars)!

Now I can tell you one thing for damn sure: no matter how luxurious and glossy that Coca-Cola puffed jacket may look on the OpenSea marketplace (and you can check out the fancy animations here), it is not going to look anywhere near as good when your avatar wears it around Decentraland! The current state of graphics in Decentraland looks like this, in case you needed a reality check:

The current state of avatar fashion in Decentraland: your glossy, expensive Coca-Cola jacket is not going to anything like what you see on the OpenSea marketplace.

Perhaps I am not the best person to explain all this, because frankly I am still mystified as to why people would want to spend outrageous sums of money on NFTs, except perhaps for bragging rights. However, it is clear that blockchain, crypto, and NFTs are not going away anytime soon (although they will not doubt continue to fluctuate wildly in value). I just report on what I see, safely from the sidelines.

And I repeat my usual warning: do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing a penny in any blockchain/cryptocurrency project.


Are we seeing a renaissance in such partnerships between real-world brands and social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Who knows. But it is fascinating to watch!