Monopoly money

Casimir Stone
March 17, 2022

ICYMI, Yuga Labs, the alleged Nazi shell corporation behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club, announced last Friday that it had acquired the IP rights to the CryptoPunks and Meebits NFT collections from Larva Labs. For context, CryptoPunks has the largest all-time trading volume on OpenSea, followed closely by two BAYC properties. Meebits, which only debuted last May, clocks in at number 10. Together, the three have moved around 1.7M in eth (~$5B). Now, I’m about as far from a finance bro as you can possibly get, but if the top 10 collections on OpenSea have moved a total of 2.6M in eth, doesn’t that mean one company now owns 65% of them? We knew DeFi is fake Internet fiat and all, but this gives a whole new meaning to Monopoly money.

The plans for their new dystopian multi-hyphenate megacorporation are, in typical web3 fashion, vaguer than a promise made in Tinder chat — ‘streetwear, events, gaming, NFTs, etc.’ is a literal quote. But one thing is clear. Much like the Yuga Labs founders disposed of their pseudonymity once it was no longer a necessary marketing ploy, they’ve happily removed the ‘decentralized’ from ‘decentralized finance’ too, presumably once they saw the nine zeroes in their personal ‘finance’ without it.

Now, we’re not surprised that a Rolling Stone cover certified ‘punk rock’ company — with such anti-establishment cred as claiming Post Malone and Jimmy Fallon as hodlers — restructured in typical corporate form the moment the big B came a calling. Honestly, we’re more surprised web3-friendly publications like Decrypt haven’t finally changed their fawning tune in the wake of what is a transparent, massive step away from the ideals they’ll cite to support blockchain technology whenever it is convenient, and toward consolidation of power by a small group of individuals over an immense share of the emerging ‘decentralized’ space.

Instead, we get pieces like this, focused entirely on justifying the acquisition by highlighting the waning interest of the Larva Labs founders in their NFT projects. Apparently, the guys behind CryptoPunks — ‘a couple of software developer experimentalist kind of people’ who launched the collection in 2017 as ‘a digital art project’ — weren’t well-suited to the standard web3 demands of offering buyers more than the million-dollar JPG they paid for or being constantly plagiarized and expected not to take legal action. CryptoPunk owners, for their part, are just happy to have the IP rights to their profile pictures secured, so at least the 10,000ish people at the top of a funnel who benefit directly from it are happy. But going so far as to declare this ‘a web3 brand acquiring a web2 brand‘ feels like willful ignorance, at best. 

In offense of Larva Labs, it’s not like cashing out on their 5 glorious years of shilling 24×24 pixel art whipped up in MS Paint is the most artistically integral move, either. But the implicit message winds up being — to all those artists we promised NFTs would democratize access and ownership, it’s still a better bet to sign your life’s work over to the bidder best equipped to merchandise the shit out of them at the expense of the consumer and the creator. You know. Like every other industry NFTs ‘disrupt’. 

Granted, this is just another nail in the coffin of the decentralized generation’s permissionless, borderless, age-of-consent-less pipe dream. Last week, major web3 developer Andre Cronje retired from the space without notice, tanking the value of the dozens of tokens he helped to launch. This once again raised the evergreen question: does simply being minted on a distributed ledger make a project inherently democratic or valuable, when in practice most still live or die with the engagement / reputation of their founders? Well, degens, have no fear. Your beloved Bored Apes have arrived with a new monopoly, some fake money, and definitive answer.

At least we’re not the only ones who see the patterns. The NFT Edge, a forthcoming web3 Substack, recently published a useful guide on surviving the ‘Death’ phase of the NFT Macro Life Cycle. Sounds an awful lot like our Heartbeat Theory of Web3 from last week, but hey, we don’t even believe in IP. Fresh ideas emerge, spread through fresh eyes and words and mouths, then eventually reach the ears of someone with money, eager to horde them all and squeeze out every last drop, until a new one comes along to disrupt. 

All lofty ideals converge on corruption, because securing success within the status quo will always be easier than changing what that means. We’ve seen it before. We’ll see it again. So, if there’s one thing to learn from the cycle, it’s this: avoid the loudest voices promising the fastest rewards, and follow those who walk slowly, speak softly, and carry a big stick.

No Account Yet? Sign Up Here