2023 might be the year we finally stop hearing about NFTs.
No, not because all the brands, artists, and other creators in web3 have given up but because the industry has built enough case studies to stop needing to explain all this clunky stuff. In fact, 2022 was the year we saw people buy into NFTs without them being called NFTs, like when Starbucks announced its plan to embed digital tokens into its digital reward program or Ticketmaster packaged NFTs into event purchases.
Remember in 2008 how everyone was afraid of 'the cloud', fearing what would happen to our privacy and data? Now it's an afterthought to anyone who uses Netflix, Instagram, or Steam, as cloud computing is the industry standard. Will 2023 see the same thing for NFTs?
Last year, we predicted that the NFT trends for 2022 would include easier onboarding, more virtual fashion, and tethering digital assets to physical items, which was pretty accurate. For 2023, we’re betting big that terms like digital access will replace terms like “NFT.” After all, 2022 saw brands as diverse as Nike, adidas, Tiffany, Gucci, AMBUSH, Louis Vuitton, Pharrell, Sean Wotherspoon, and KAWS drop web3 projects (to name a few).
These trends aren't going away, which is why we compiled our favorite web3 developments of the past year to ensure you're not slacking on the subject. Let's dive in.
Luxury Brands Took the Lead
In 2022, luxury brands led the charge on NFTs.
We saw Gucci release SuperGucci, a collaborative effort with SuperPlastic, in two popular installments. Each featured a SuperPlastic statue in an exclusive Gucci print, accompanying a great IRL collectible.
Louis Vuitton worked with best-selling artist Beeple to embed 30 NFTs into its playable Louis The Game. Not only did the play-to-earn mechanics make the Beeple and Louis Vuitton NFTs accessible but also created an early example of a branded game with web3 rewards.
But, while SuperGucci and Louis The Game were fun, the biggest luxury NFT story of 2022 was easily Tiffany’s CryptoPunk chain. Starting at $50,000, the gem-studded necklaces were only available to the first 250 CryptoPunk holders to purchase one. Tiffany VP Alexandre Arnault’s move to exclusively sell to the 10,000 CryptoPunk owners was an ‘aha’ moment for the industry: it’s the only group that can afford the jewelry (CryptoPunks currently sell for around $86,178).
Expect more high-end executions to reward these early adopters in 2023.
New Technology Opened the Door for Web3’s Usefulness
A common sentiment in web3 is that the industry is in the pre-iPhone era, which means the software and hardware is just now reaching a point of mass adoption.
To help usher in the iPhone era, hardware wallet company Ledger brought on the Godfather of the iPod, Tony Fadell, for its Ledger Stax. As the leader in crypto-related hardware, Ledger is excited to unveil its cultural collaborations in fashion and luxury for 2023.
Competition is heating up around chips that can be embedded into clothing to track the wearables’ provenance. For instance, Jay-Z-backed Spatial Labs unveiled its LNQ marketplace with a proprietary chip that allows users to upload to the blockchain different files associated with each garment. Meanwhile, Azuki launched its Physical Backed Token (PBT) and partnered with AMBUSH to drop an exclusive line of hoodies and jewelry (a big surprise to the web3 and fashion communities alike). Finally, 9dcc used NFC chips for its Iteration-01 drop, which founder gmoney then enabled token holders to take out a loan against their shirt (a first for a streetwear brand).
On the software side, Deep Objects spent years developing an artificial intelligence machine to design better sneakers before opening initial voting on to-be-produced shoes for NFT holders.
IRL Activations Demonstrated How NFTs Can Provide Real-World Fun
The real-life activations of NFTs have brought the most excitement to collectors.
Sure, Discord is nice to make virtual friends in but the actual magic of these digital tokens is their ability to acquire real-world prizes and experiences.
Specifically, in 2022, many NFT projects offered their holders guest list spots at top-tier events.
For instance, Travis Scott DJ'd a private party for InBetweeners cofounder Pavi, a big get that stemmed from an invite sent by InBetweeners partner Justin Bieber. Other projects, like Somehoodlum, offered token holders the ability to RSVP for premiere music festivals like Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, and Something In The Water.
Meanwhile, during New York Fashion Week, PUMA enabled collectors to forge its token for one of two physical shoes, a first-of-its-kind initiative from a major sportswear company.
New Ways of Accessing Fashion and Collectibles
2022 saw NFTs bring a change in how we access the fashion we love.
Sean Wotherspoon’s MNTGE offered curated vintage collections to its Mint Pass holders, making the already rare goods extra exclusive. Meanwhile, MLLN offered digital passes to 3D-print shoes with Zellerfeld, combining virtual and IRL shoes with the footwear industry's latest innovation.
As ThankYouX pointed out, auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have begun pairing NFTs with physical works. Even KAWS hopped into the mix, working with longtime partner AllRightsReserved to provide a ‘tap-to–own’ chip within his PASSING THROUGH.
Nike Proved (Once Again) That It’s Ahead of Everyone
When Nike announced that it was adding RTFKT to its family of brands in 2021, the move turned fashion and business analysts' heads. After all, what could some virtual shoes really bring to the table for the world’s biggest sportswear company?
Turns out the answer is $1.28 billion, half of which came from royalties. While pretty far from Jordan Brand’s $4.7 billion, this is the first time that Nike was able to capture revenue from the resale market, which opens the door for RTFKT to possibly surpass Jordan’s figures in the future. To cap off the year, RTFKT unveiled its first physical shoes with the Cryptokicks iRL program, paving the way to Nike one day putting the Jumpman on the blockchain.
Outside of RTFKT, Nike also launched .SWOOSH, its own metaverse, where users can claim a domain (i.e. joe.swoosh) for the company’s digital offerings. The project then embarked on a multi-city tour to educate the masses on NFTs and conducted a design contest. 2023 will see more events in . SWOOSH, getting Nike's IRL audience accustomed to the metaverse.
Ethereum Switched to Proof of Stake, Marginalizing NFTs’ Environmental Impact
After years of development, Ethereum switched from a proof-of-work blockchain, which validates transactions using complicated math equations, to a proof-of-work blockchain, which validates transactions using a peer-to-peer network.
This transition reduced Ethereum and ETH-based NFTs’ environmental impact by 98 percent, making the act of trading NFTs less environmentally harmful than streaming Netflix.
Less Speculation, More Activation
Perhaps the biggest trend we saw this year was in how NFTs grew from being a mere speculative investment into a tool for activating brand and artist superfans. Personally, my inbox has more notable brands and artists shopping projects with real-world value and fewer people trying to shove 10,000 randomly generated cartoon characters in my face.
Getting through this crypto winter will be less about speculators and more about activating the crypto-curious. For example, Dour Darcels gamifiying Milan Fashion Week and collaborating with colette might not lead to multi-million dollar sales but rather engage fans directly.
And, with LVCIDIA, FVCKRENDER showed us a free, immersive metaverse that anyone could enjoy, abetted by gamified NFTs that collectors love.
For the industry as a whole, these are positive signs that the right people are getting fresh faces to enter the web3 space, laying the foundation for a strong 2023.