‘We’re Poor Again, but We’re Still Here’: Why NFT.NYC Won’t Die

It was fun, it was cringe – in short, the premier NFT conference was again itself.

AccessTimeIconJun 24, 2022 at 4:09 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:02 p.m. UTC

On a bustling Monday afternoon in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, protesters chanted down Grand Street, picket signs ablaze.

“God hates NFTs,” a few of the signs read. “Vitalik is the anti-Christ,” said another. “Anti-MetaMasker.”

A video of the Westboro Baptist Church-style protest went viral on Twitter, but people eventually realized it was a marketing ploy for a new non-fungible token (NFT) mint ahead of NFT.NYC, the industry’s leading conference that the city would play host to for the rest of the week.

The fact that the protest could have been real, along with the brief lack of recognition that it wasn’t, captured how many attendees were feeling toward the state of Web3: Nobody really knows what’s going on anymore, but it’s likely God does hate NFTs.

The week’s ambiguity was also due in part from ether (ETH), the underlying asset of most of the NFT industry, crashing in price last week to as low as $1,000, making most NFT holders a lot poorer than they were during the last NFT.NYC, when ETH hit its all-time high price of $4,812.

Nevertheless, the NFT show was committed to go on. Flights were booked, venues reserved, open bars set. Crypto prices aside, most attendees were prepared to have just as much fun as they did last November, possibly indulging in one last week of parties before a looming BUIDL season.

1,500 speakers

The trend for NFT conferences in the past year has been well documented: The programming gets worse, the parties get better, the bags keep getting pumped.

But this year’s NFT.NYC took it to the extreme, with the meme of the conference being its 1,500 scheduled speakers. The fault being, of course, that the list of people in the entire world worth listening to talk about NFT isn’t 1,500-people long. Some would say it doesn’t exist at all.

“The programming this year sucks, the panelists have no idea what they’re talking about, I’m never coming back,” one attendee was overheard saying to another in line for an after-party. “There are panels?” the other responded.

Attendance was as expected. The dissonance between the industry’s participants and promotional underpinnings loomed larger than normal.

The week’s epicenter of cringe, the Times Square MoonPay lobby, was as much of a spectacle as any of the performance art. Builders, as they do, talked about building, on-rampers discussed on-ramping. NFT clothing – brightly colored, logos large and unforgiving – was worn in abundance.

A week of parties

The week was, and was always supposed to be, about the parties.

Lavish satellite events were the cornerstone of last fall’s conference, and it could be argued they were even better this year.

Events from profile-picture NFT collections stole the show. Moonbird holders witnessed David Blaine sew his mouth shut. Pudgy Penguin and Cool Cats owners wandered IRL installations with plentiful merch, enjoying token-gated parties of their own by night.

At the Doodles marquee event, the project’s CEO unveiled legendary hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams to be the collection’s new brand leader, triggering a thunderous response from an at-capacity theater of holders who have all watched their NFTs drop $50,000 in value since the start of May.

“Pump our bags! Pump our bags!” one inebriated Doodles holder yelled. His companions couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Maybe the hottest project of all, Goblintown, was also active throughout the week. A secret Goblin after-party in Chelsea Market was host to dozens of cloaked attendees and ghoulish performers.

NFT auction chad Beeple roamed the dance floor making goblin noises, comedian Nick Kroll was confused at what he saw. At the end of the night, the party’s DJ stepped to the front of the stage, revealing himself to be, who else, Steve Aoki. The smell of McGoblin Burgers wafted over the dance floor.

The largest party of the week was ApeFest, a separate but concurrent festival thrown by Yuga Labs, stewards of the Bored Ape Yacht Club.

“ApeFest was incredible,” Tom, a 73-year-old who bought a Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFT last October, told CoinDesk in an interview. “You’ve gotta live life fast, that’s what I say. This is my second NFT conference, and I’m having a blast.”

Performers on the Pier 17 ape stage included Eminem, Snoop Dogg, LCD SoundSystem and Lil Baby. Amy Schumer was also there, once again stealing off-color jokes, this time from a viral NFT TikTok song that was also the week’s unofficial anthem.

On Wednesday night, Magic Eden hosted a Yacht Party for hundreds of Solana fanboys (and a few girls) fresh off its $130 million raise, bear market be damned. Madonna performed for World of Women holders a few blocks north of the pier the next night.

“We were poor, we were rich, and now we’re poor again.”

The pockets of the NFT community may be bleeding, but this week proved that project founders are doing just fine.

What does it mean

It’s becoming less and less clear what Web3 means, or what the value of NFTs will really be in the long haul. But making my way through various crowds of blue-chip NFT owners, I couldn’t find a single person who regretted holding, even as prices fell from the sky.

“We were poor, we were rich, and now we’re poor again,” one Cool Cats owner told CoinDesk. “But we’re still here.”

Founders staying rich ended up being more of a realization than a rift for most attendees. Few had critiques of their own beyond observations like yacht parties feeling out of place during a bear market, or that merch maybe isn’t the ultimate NFT utility.

Real utility or not, merch stores may be the industry’s bright spot of adoption. Doodles, Cool Cats and LinksDAO all partnered with Shopify to sell their members high-priced crewnecks and T-shirts, in a token-gating announcement that briefly captured the “utility” conversation.

Ironically, it’s possible that ETH plummeting has caused the NFT industry to turn the very charade it's long pretended to be, where the things that founders have said matter most – the art, the community, the belonging – are all that’s left as prices crater.

Maybe what’s left holds up, or evolves or disappears, but for now, everyone seems content with enjoying the free drinks along the way.


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Eli Tan

Eli was a news reporter for CoinDesk. He holds ETH, SOL and AVAX.