As they say, what's weird in tech today just might be tomorrow's next big thing.
If that's the case, the world of digital, cryptographic collectibles may be high on the list of potential disruptive innovations. After all, where else can you "breed" digital items and come out with an ugly cat all of your own?
It's user experiences like this, which began with Axiom Zen's collectible CryptoKitties, that have technology enthusiasts talking excitedly about the future that could be enabled by non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or unique digital items tradable on a blockchain.
The first project to use ethereum's ERC-721 standard, CryptoKitties has since been rolled out into a standalone company with backing from some of the industry's top investors, while NFTs themselves have become one of tech's hottest buzzwords. (Coinbase Ventures' very first investment was in a sort of eBay for NFTs, after all.)
In other words, CryptoKitties has been seen as a harbinger of things to come for blockchain believers, one that opens up new possibilities in the world of video games, real estate and precious metals, among other things.
For those keeping score at home, though, these things are still just super weird. Comparing the state of play to social media, we might very well be in the Six Degrees and Makeout Club days (i.e. way before people got it and Facebook became one of the biggest companies in the world).
With that in mind, we decided to go out looking for some of the stranger, most creative NFTs.
Here's seven that looked like they could be ones for the history books, if not always for the right reasons:
CryptoKitties introduced the idea tokens could breed and create totally new tokens, and lots of the new projects are now coming up with different ways to play around with that idea.
CryptoCrystal, for instance, breeds "sentient metals" into new cartoon characters that evoke geological imagery. With CryptoCrystals, "breeding" is called "melting" – as in the crystals are melted together.
The way to get fresh crystals is to go "mining," but it's not mining like on bitcoin or ethereum (where your computer does work to secure the network). Instead, users just buy a sort of token called a "pickaxe" from the company and use it. This generates a variable amount of crystals. (It's like opening a pack of cards.)
The company behind the game makes its money from selling the pickaxes (sharing a portion with the Ethereum Foundation, voluntarily, to support the network's growth). The rest of the operations in the game cost no more than their gas price.
There are 100 kinds of crystals out there and a finite supply. Further, pickaxes will produce half as much crystals with each passing year.
This one is for folks that grew up on "Sim City."
Indie game developer Ben Nolan was trying to create virtual worlds people could own and explore, when he realized that the blockchain made it possible to improve the user experience of that very task. From that inspiration came CryptoVoxels, a three-dimensional space visible with virtual reality goggles.
"We have about 100 parcels sold (average price 0.16 ETH) in the origin city, about 100,000 square feet of development," Nolan told CoinDesk in an email.
The business model is selling these original pieces of land, as well as some other digital objects that add character to the users experience, such as special hats for their avatars.
Users can also build on their land, adding buildings and structures. Someday, there could also be color. (Right now, everything is black and white.)
Nolan says the community has showed good activity in its Discord channel, and that they are starting to see person-to-person sales of parcels on the secondary market.
Like many of these projects, its working with one of the Ebays-for-NFTs, OpenSea.
Lots of the early NFT projects are on some level or another imitations of Pokemon (cute creatures that can also battle each other to get tougher and cooler).
HyperDragons takes advantage of decentralization, though, by interacting with another team's project. In this way, HyperDragons can "eat" CryptoKitties, absorbing the attributes of cats that share a wallet with the dragon and boosting the dragons powers.
Gameplay takes three forms so far: collecting, breeding and consuming, battling warrior dragons one on one (like the original Pokemon) and castle defense, where you protect your resources from invading players.
The projects white paper acknowledges, like most projects in this space do, that real gaming interactions on ethereum are a problem, and it notes particular concern about the protocol's ability to handle the castle game.
However, it hints that workarounds are under consideration, like we have seen in other projects.
Its emphasizes the team's background in digital gaming, but it also addresses the business model presented by collectible NFTs. The white paper says, "We believe that there is a sustainable revenue-based model instead of an ICO, and we appreciate the innovation that digital collectibles portray."
'Bird in the Shell'
So, this one is really just one, specific NFT, by a nameless artist playing around with the form.
SuperRare is an app that lets artists create new digital works and offer them for sale on ethereum, something that could become more important in the art world given enough time.
In fact, one of last year's super ICOs, Status, sees a lot of promise in SuperRare, too. It announced Thursday that it was inducting its parent company, Pixura, into Status Incubate, its accelerator for promising crypto startups.
That said, this one work of art on the SuperRare platform – it just hit a little too close to home. By "@hackatao," it's an animated gif in its native habitat. For anyone on Crypto Twitter, check this one out. It will feel way too real.
A digital object doesn't have to be an image. It can also be sound (and probably other things people haven't thought of yet).
Created as a side project by two staff members at Serbian blockchain company Decenter, CryptoJingles was started at the end of 2017.
"Coming out after the CryptoKitty boom, I noticed they are all variations of you owning some sort of an avatar (an image). I was looking what else could we tokenized," Nenad Palinkasevic, one of the co-founders, told CoinDesk via email.
CryptoJingles are snippets of music that can be mixed together to make new pieces of music. There are 100 snippets of music that people can use to make jingles. Once a new combination has been made and recorded on the blockchain, it's unique and no one else can make that combination. The creator owns it and can sell it on to others, as an NFT.
The project is not in active development but there have been a few super fans making lots of jingles. "There were 45 jingles created in total on our platform," Palinkasevic said, without any marketing or promotion.
For this project, it's important to start with zoological facts first: Pandas are the best mammal.
On the surface, Panda Earth might just look like CryptoKitties-but-pandas, except for one important difference: Some of the crypto pandas represent real world pandas tracked by the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas.
A spokesperson says it is a project that is "authorized" by the center, but the company didn't respond to questions from CoinDesk about whether purchasing any of the pandas benefits their conservation at all.
Like CryptoKitties, these digital pandas breed. They breed more and more slowly over time, but that will reset every four years.
This post started when we discovered the CryptoTitties NFT (not to be confused with SpankChain's side hustle of the same name, which is a way to directly pay women for posting their topless photos).
CryptoTitties, on the other hand, are cartoon boobs made by a development firm called 7th Wave.
"It was a spoof of CryptoKitties for fun," Hami Gilbert, one of its founders, told CoinDesk in a Discord chat. Later, Gilbert's mother got breast cancer and they decided to find a way to supply cannabis products to women with the disease.
Like CryptoKitties, these are cartoon avatars, but of breasts rather than cats. Fear not: there are both female-identifying and male-identifying boobs available. In fact, while the real-world variety tend to come in pairs, CryptoTitties are available in singleton to sextuplet sets.
Also, they come in as many colors as there are in a bag of Haribo gummy bears.
CryptoTitties has not caught the world on fire, though. Selling each one for as little as 0.05 ETH, the full set of available items totals 144. Only 32 have sold thus far, according to Gilbert.
Previously, 7th Wave tried to launch an ICO project called Wardz, but it didn't succeed. CryptoTitties has gotten more traction, with a small community built around it. To spread the word about the project, they tried to run a "Motorboat Contest" where people would win an actual boat.
The idea is that CryptoTitty holders would pay 0.003 ETH to vote for their faves. The set that got the most votes would win a boat, but 70 percent of the proceeds would go to the charity (though they never established a specific partnership).
Sales were too low to justify the boat purchase, however, and it didn't happen.
"I thought people would share to their friends to vote and that it would snowball," Gilbert said. "But I think people are a bit more prude than that."
Image via CryptoTitties.