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Does the NFT craze actually matter? – TechCrunch

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Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!
Last week, we talked about Apple’s subscription addiction. This week, I’m diving deep into whether there’s actually any meaning to pull out of the NFT mania of 2021.
If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Image via OpenSea

Image via OpenSea
The NFT market is still defying reason, but then again that’s kind of its thing. But one thing I’m especially unsure about lately as I see JPGs continue to sell for millions of dollars is… does any of this actually matter?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year grappling with the NFT market, at times I’ve lost sleep over it. As a reporter frequently covering this market, I don’t own or trade the little images myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from obsessing over the fluctuations in their prices and scouring Discords trying to follow the trends. I’ve tuned into countless Twitter Spaces and lurked subreddits trying to understand it all. I’ve also done my best to keep most of that out of this newsletter — it’s a weird niche interest that’s especially niche at the moment — but as Bitcoin flirts with a new all-time-high and the NFT mania persists, just consider this a timely update.
So, in the past month, investors have continued dropping billions upon billions of dollars on NFTs. OpenSea has seen more than $3 billion in transaction volume in the past 30 days, and that number is actually way down quite a bit from August, showcasing just how much off-peak money continues to flow into NFTs.
All of that money has gone to some colorful places. One of the bigger success stories of the past month has been the platform CrypToadz which investors dumped $100 million into. They look like this. In the past couple weeks, a brand new project called MekaVerse saw $130 million in transaction volume. They’re a bit prettier, but would you spend more than $8,000 on one? The platform Cryptoslam (where I pulled most of the data I reference here) is tracking 163 platforms which did more than $1 million in volume in the past 30 days, a number which doesn’t even account for individual artists selling their work on platforms like OpenSea.
NBA Top Shot creator on the NFT craze and why Ethereum still isn’t consumer friendly

Now, there are two incredibly different segments of NFT communities out there, larger-scale NFT projects like Axie Infinity and NBA Top Shot with tens and hundreds of thousands of users and smaller-scale NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Art Blocks with just a few hundred or thousand owners. Larger-scale projects can represent more traditional gaming titles with more complex in-game economies while smaller-scale projects simply look more like fine art markets teamed with exclusive social clubs. Some smaller-scale projects have the ambition to eventually become larger-scale ones, but many have capped the number of NFTs in their projects and are designed to be exclusive.
In the past 30 days, Axie Infinity did more than $500 million in sales spread across nearly 2 million transactions and over 350,000 buyers. On the flip side, CryptoPunks did $200 million in sales during that same time frame across 484 transactions and 309 buyers.
Generally, when I’m talking about some of these big sales from smaller-scale projects with friends of mine, the first thing they mention is how this is probably all just money laundering. While I’d certainly imagine some of that is happening, that’s ultimately a much more boring explanation than my best guess of what’s really going on, which is that a group of several thousand investors have separately rationalized irrational investing. They just happen to have chosen to do so through buying pixel art and drawings of animals.
While some investors might suggest that a handful of the earliest NFTs hold intrinsic value as historic objects, there are plenty of brand new NFT projects earning ten-million dollar valuations on day one with low amounts of effort and imagination.
The Cult of CryptoPunks

It’s seemingly the result of momentum from awe-struck retail investors entering a market filled with massive amounts of wealth being generated and re-invested by Ethereum millionaires who can massively overpay for deals while pushing the implied value of the objects, the projects, the entire NFT market and the price of Ethereum up concurrently. Most of these investors are also people who have held onto Ethereum through its waves and have grown fundamentally averse to cashing out, meaning they’re less likely to sell the NFTs they buy unless they’re just trying to buy another more expensive NFT or have been made an offer too good to refuse. As a result, many high-value smaller-scale projects stay liquid on the low-end while fewer sales of the rarer items underpin the massive valuations of the projects and those occasional big buys keep pushing prices higher.
All of this babbling of mine is to say, what’s happening here is strange. It’s also an incredibly large amount of noise mostly coming from a few thousand buyers.
But when most investors talk about mainstream adoption and future use cases, they’re looking at the creation of more larger-scale projects like Axie and Top Shot which embody many of the technical bells and whistles of crypto economics in more user-friendly packages that can reach the mainstream. NFTs as a concept for driving more complex virtual economies is, indeed, really fascinating, but I don’t think there are as many takeaways to draw from billions of dollars flowing into digital art and these smaller-scale projects like CrypToadz as many crypto investors and venture capitalists are trying to convince themselves.
Only three NFT platforms out there had more than 10,000 active unique buyers in their community in the past 30 days, and while the successes of platforms like Axie Infinity are definitely worth dissecting, it also seems clear we’re in the midst of a speculative frenzy and it’s not a very easy time to draw sober conclusions about what all this madness means for the future of the web.
Coinbase is launching its own NFT platform to take on OpenSea

Ali Balikci / Anadolu Agency

Ali Balikci / Anadolu Agency
Here are a few stories this week that I think you should take a closer look at:
Apple probably won’t be supporting alternate App Store payments anytime soon
Apple did their best to convince the press and public that the court’s decision in its legal fight with Epic Games was an outright win for Apple, but over the weekend they quietly announced that weeks later they’re appealing the decision and asking the courts to put the ordered changes to allow alternative payments inside iOS apps on hold.
Apple put on a cool demeanor after this ruling, but it’s apparent that there are billions on the line for Apple if this order stands. Therefore delaying its rollout means billions of dollars that aren’t going to other payment providers or staying in developer coffers. Epic had already appealed the decision as well, hoping to try for a more favorable ruling, but it’s clear that anyone hoping for a speedy resolution will be disappointed — as is often the case in corporate law.
Nintendo reshapes its SaaS ambitions
Nintendo has been and probably always will be a bit of an odd big company. They’ve been resistant to new trends in gaming and when they embrace them, they don’t necessarily do a great job capitalizing on them, and yet their mountain of beloved IP allows them chance after chance to get things right. This week, they announced more details on their new annual membership called Nintendo Switch Online+ which, for $50 per year will give gamers a deeper array of content. That’s a good deal more than the standard $20 per year for the regular Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but beyond expanded virtual console support for an unannounced array of N64 games, it’s not clear what exactly the sell is for consumers.
Interestingly, they’re launching the service with free access to a major update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a play that only works when you’re Nintendo and the penetration of your first-party titles is so incredibly high among device-owners (and especially likely subscribers). Nintendo has sold more than 3.4 million copies of the new Animal Crossing title globally.
Microsoft pulls LinkedIn from China
It’s been a particularly turbulent time for tech companies across China as government regulators crack down and the outlook clouds for big platforms there. This week, Microsoft announced that it’s pulling LinkedIn out of China, detailing that LinkedIn was now “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” LinkedIn didn’t have a huge presence in China so this won’t make major waves, but as other American tech giants are forced to make major adjustments to their China strategy, this marks yet another datapoint in the cooling of relations between China and the West.
The LinkedIn’s of the world don’t hold much sway in China, the most curious bit of this is how this regulatory upswing eventually affects Apple which does hold plenty of influence. While officials probably aren’t keen to jam them up, the past year has shown that China’s regulators have plenty of surprises up their sleeves.

Stack of woolen checked blankets

Image Credits: Manuta / Getty Images

Image Credits: Manuta / Getty Images
Some of my favorite reads from our newly-renamed TechCrunch+ subscription service this week:
Inside Plaid
“…Visa and Plaid might have chosen to go their own ways in the end, but the year wasn’t a total loss for the data connectivity startup: Plaid claims its customer count grew 60% in 2020, and company execs say it has had similar growth so far this year….”
Founders should use predictive modeling to fundraise smarter
“More capital is flooding into growth equity at earlier stages, and it’s happening faster than ever before. But even with the rampant enthusiasm for pouring bigger equity checks into startups, founders are now in a unique place in time where they can think differently about how to capitalize their companies….
How one startup boosted productivity with ‘get s*** done’ day
“…To improve our productivity, we introduced a Getting Shit Done Day (GSDD): Our employees define clear-cut goals and receive specific, usually non-trivial, tasks with little to no communication involved (we encourage our employees to avoid social media on this day, but we are not looking over their shoulder). The goal of GSDD is to increase the amount of time we spend in deep work by minimizing distractions for one day every other week…”
Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny
Lucas Matney

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Tyler Hobbs' Fidenza NFT Project Gets $1M Pump Over 48 hours – CoinDesk

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DOJ Asks Congress for Tools to Limit NFT Money-Laundering Risk – PYMNTS.com

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Down at the very bottom of the crypto crime report the Justice Department issued last week was a request that could make it a lot harder to buy and sell NFTs.
Citing examples of criminals using the sale of the popular nonfungible tokens that hold art, video, music and collectibles to launder funds, the Justice Department asked Congress to define some of all NFTs as “value that substitutes for currency” under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).
Doing so, it said in “The Role of Law Enforcement in Detecting, Investigating, and Prosecuting Criminal Activity Related to Digital Assets,” would “make clear that its key [anti-money-laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terror (CFT)] provisions — including the obligations to have customer identification programs and report suspicious transactions to regulators — apply to NFT platforms, including online auction houses and digital art galleries.”
See also: DOJ Seeks to Double Jail Time for Money Transmission Crimes
The impetus, the department said, is the “explosive growth in the demand and corresponding markets for NFTs, perhaps most notably in the area of digital art.”
Substantial Risk
This “presents substantial money-laundering risks,” it said, citing a February Treasury Department study on money laundering in the broader art market.
“NFTs can be used to conduct self-laundering, a sequence in which criminals purchase an NFT with illicit funds and then resell to a purchaser who pays for it with clean funds unconnected to a prior crime,” that report noted.
It also found that in most cases, “digital assets that are unique, rather than interchangeable, and that are used in practice as collectibles rather than as payment or investment instruments … are generally not considered to be virtual assets under [international regulations].”
The “nonfungible” part of NFT means that each is unique and cannot substitute for any other, as opposed to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin which all have the same uses and value.
NFT marketplaces “may take the view that this definition [of a ‘value that substitutes for currency’] does not apply to their activities — and that they are thus not subject to the BSA’s anti money-laundering and anti-terrorism laws, the department said.
Justice is asking Congress to amend the BSA “to make clear that its key AML/CFT provisions — including the obligations to have customer identification programs and report suspicious transactions to regulators — apply to NFT platforms, including online auction houses and digital art galleries.”
Already There
Redefining NFTs as “value that substitutes for currency” would allow the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Unit (FinCEN) to “potentially seek to regulate such activity under its money transmission regime,” a trio of lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom wrote in an April blog post.
That, according to Jamie Boucher, Eytan Fisch and Javier Urbina, would require NFT marketplaces to register as money services businesses (MSB) with FinCEN.
Some types of NFTs — notably those used to fractionalize tangible assets like physical artworks and real estate, but also other valuable art or collectible tokens — are likely securities, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has said.
See more: How Did NFTs Become SEC’s Newest Crypto Target?
In FinCEN’s view, the trio noted, those can be repurposed to fit the definition of “value that substitutes for currency” and thus may already require MSB licenses.
 
For all PYMNTS crypto coverage, subscribe to the daily Crypto Newsletter.
New PYMNTS Study: How Consumers Use Digital Banks

A PYMNTS survey of 2,124 US consumers shows that while two-thirds of consumers have used FinTechs for some aspect of banking services, just 9.3% call them their primary bank.
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FTX Talking With Investors for $1B Fundraising at $32 Billion Valuation – NFTgators

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Quick take:
Although Binance maintains its number one spot in terms of crypto transaction volume, FTX is catching up quick after rising to third, behind Coinbase. This could change soon given the steps FTX is taking in web3.
According to reports, Sam Bankman-Fried’s company is seeking $1 billion in a new round of funding at a valuation of about $32 billion. That values FTX twice the value of Coinbase— whose market cap stands at just over $14 billion, and at least 7-fold Binance’s most recent valuation of $4.5 billion.
And there is a good reason for the disparity in market share (volume-wise) and overall valuation. FTX is more than just a crypto exchange platform. 
The company has expanded its ecosystem to include stock trading, NFTs, crypto lending services and more, all forming significant operational synergies for the rapidly growing web3 company.
It explains why investors are placing such value on FTX. According to sources close to the $1 billion fundraising talks, the figure could change by the time the round is closed, CNBC reported, citing people who did not want to be named.
FTX has been one of the most active investors in the web3 space during the crypto winter. The company is in the process of acquiring the crypto lending platform Blockfi for a reported amount of $240 million.
Last year, it acquired crypto derivatives platform LedgerX allowing it to offer derivatives trading alongside traditional crypto exchange services.
Earlier this year, the company purchased Good Luck Games, the developer of the card battle game Storybook Brawl for an undisclosed amount. The acquisition added another perspective to FTX’s business pouncing on the rapidly growing web3 gaming sector.
The company also recently announced a partnership with online game retailer Gamestop to onboard the gaming community to web3.
In July, Bankman-Fried refuted claims that FTX was planning to buy retail stock brokerage platform Robinhood after Bloomberg published a report suggesting discussions were underway.
News about the new fundraising come hot on the heels of the company’s $900 million raise announced in July. FTX also raised $420 million in October 2021.
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