A Complete Newbie Explores NFT Utility
With art and game collections under her belt, Jazz sets off to explore the weird, wacky and wonderful world of NFT utility.
The first time my partner told me about NFTs, he kindly peppered the conversation with the term ‘digital art’ – a familiar concept that my uninitiated brain was able to latch onto in lieu of any tech know-how.
I didn’t really get what a token was, and I certainly didn’t get blockchain technology, but art I understand – insofar as I like to look at pretty things. It was a useful comparison, one that dredged the term NFT out of the mire of the obscure, and into the realm of the vaguely comprehensible.
Art was my gateway drug into the world of NFTs.
What I discovered was a burgeoning hub of artists, both digital and traditional, finding a platform for their work and, with it, new audiences, new creative outlets, and, of course, new ways to pay their rent.
I’m a creative myself, and I’ve learned the hard way that the term ‘starving artist’ is not a euphemism. Finding an audience for my creations – people who value my work and are willing to back that up with money – is an all-too-familiar struggle, so when I discovered the NFT space my heart heaved a sigh of relief with what felt like the collective weight of the arts industry.
Alongside providing artists with their three square meals a day, I’m seeing how NFTs are also offering new creative possibilities, by virtue of their nature.
One of the first real-world creatives I saw expand into NFTs was legendary Portuguese street artist Vhils, whose destructive and (literally) explosive art pieces are being captured on video and minted as NFTs. The moment of detonation that gives birth to his subtractive murals is now forever captured on the blockchain, creating what might be considered a new medium of art in the process.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. If art is the gateway drug, then what lies beyond is a whole world of possibilities. The ‘digital art’ explanation helped immensely when I was a hapless newbie entering the space for the first time, but now, with an impressive five-month tenure behind me, I’m not quite so hapless.
Am I hapful? Have I collected some haps along the way? Another question for another time.
As much as I was drawn to pure art collections from the likes of Art of Byron and Magnta, it seems a day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across some unknown NFT utility. I love my art projects and, at the same time, it’s dawning on me that the NFT world is so much bigger than that.
So, off I set to expand my horizons and discover what this utility business is all about.
Diving into Utility
I imagined I’d be travelling to the far reaches of the space, away from the comfort zone of art NFTs and into the unknown. What I actually discovered was far closer to home – a subcategory of art NFTs that have become so ubiquitous that I didn’t even consider them as a special use-case. If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you’ll have noticed them too – those fancy hexagonal profile pics that denote an NFT is afoot.
This is the PFP NFT, and it’s a big thing.
If, like me, you’re a senior citizen of the NFT space, you probably learned to obscure your identity on the internet the same way I did – via the groundbreaking technology that was MSN Messenger.
Using proxy images as profile pictures is nothing new – what is new is 1-of-1 NFTs being used in their stead. Some of these are generative art pieces (randomly assembling vast numbers of images from a variety of interchangeable elements), like the 10,000-strong Shnazzy’s E-Girls collection. Others are hand-drawn individual pieces, like MikeeMyk’s themed Waxy NFTs.
Whilst I’m happy to stick to my own humble face on my social media profiles (for now), I do love seeing my friends flaunt their latest 1-of-1 purchases. There’s something satisfying about finding the perfect profile picture – like the scientist Waxy being proudly displayed by a former neuroscientist. I’ve seen first-hand how competitive some of these 1-of-1 auctions can get – and there’s even a comical feud ongoing between two well-known creators over who most deserves Waxy’s sparkly unicorn 1-of-1.
Far from just being another profile picture, 1-of-1 PFPs carry a micro-culture with them, as well as being a great way to annoy your jealous friends every time they come across your profile. A little bit of good-natured ribbing is what holds a community together, after all.
I’d figured out art, and art-as-utility (did I just coin a new term?), but I wanted to keep exploring, casting my eyes further afield for other uses I may have missed. Once again, I ended up almost where I’d begun – in my own wallet.
I stumbled into the realm of game assets when I explored blockchain gaming for the first time, and I’m now familiar enough with P2E gaming to know that it’s an enormous part of the space. Scrolling through my inventory revealed a host of matches, rocks, and branches from The Adventurer’s Guild, kart-driving animals from Costume Clash, and more hemp than a woman could need from Immersys.
It was in this scrolling frenzy that I remembered another use case I’d overlooked. Whilst some of my game assets could be gathered in free-to-play games, others require a pass to begin playing at all. In lieu of buying the game itself, some blockchain games offer access exclusively to holders of a particular NFT. This is especially common for games still in beta testing, such as The Adventurer’s Guild, whilst others, like Floyd Jenkins’ Deck of Mythical Varmints, are only available to holders of an infantry card NFT.
It’s not just games that are taking advantage of this utility – any NFT can act as a entry pass, and it’s not uncommon to find art collections restricting drops to holders of certain membership NFTs. Others entitle holders to airdrops or early access to future sales.
I wondered what else might be sitting in my wallet that I hadn’t yet clocked as a utility NFT. As I scrolled through my collection, I started to notice a slew of assets that served a purpose beyond enabling gameplay or looking pretty.
A handful of NFTs caught my eye all at once, each sporting the same robot-faced logo, staring out as if to say ‘Remember me?’. My first experience at DYGYCON had left me with a wallet full of themed NFTs marking my attendance at the event and, more specifically, which creator stalls I had visited.
This sort of NFT, I later discovered, was known as proof-of-attendance – which does what it says on the tin. I realised I’d actually made my own proof-of-attendance NFT, or at least something vaguely similar – the very first NFT I minted was an Early Coven Member sticker for the first 50 members of my Discord server. Unwittingly, I’d been using utility NFTs for almost as long as I’d been using NFTs at all.
Beyond my DYGYCON mementos lay another example of a usable asset. Not long earlier, I’d been researching the environmental credentials of the WAX blockchain, and in the process I’d bought a carbon offset NFT which was sitting happily in my wallet, awaiting my attention.
Released by the WAX team themselves, the NFT featured artwork of a happy little seedling, alongside a dollar value. For as long as the seedling sat in my wallet it did nothing, but the moment I burned it, it would be replaced by real-life trees, corresponding to the dollar amount, planted in Oregon by the National Forest Foundation. I happily clicked the ‘Burn NFT’ button, knowing my little tree friend was being transported into the ground where it belonged – and that I was one step closer to being an NFT utility aficionado.
This was just one example of a redeemable NFT – or what WAX calls a vIRL NFT. I’d heard about redeemables since before I stepped foot in the space, but this was the first time I’d used one. This is where things, for me, get really interesting – where NFTs start to bridge the gap between the real and virtual worlds.
There are other, even more complex, examples of redeemable NFTs. CritterCraft – best known for their Grubfish Royale game – has minted a series of critter parts that can be blended into a redeemable Grubfish plushie. The Immersys metaverse sold IRL hoodies that could also be worn in-game. My own collection has morphed from a pure art project to one that includes redeemable jewellery NFTs.
Behind the hurried explanations of what NFTs actually are, there’s a whole world of utility waiting to be discovered. Alongside my beloved Waxy collectibles and Cat Stickers, I’m apparently holding a bunch of utility NFTs that have been doing things I could never have dreamed of when I got my first ‘digital art’ talk.
I’ll always love what this space has done for traditional and digital artists alike, and the fact that those possibilities are expanding to include game developers, events organisers, and physical makers of all kinds is what will give this space the longevity we’re all hoping for.
If art was the gateway drug and utility is the follow-up, it seems I got hooked without even realising it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.