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Reflecting on the Nihilism of Free Mints

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Ethereum at 2k. Otherside gas wars. Zagabond getting cancelled. The NFT space in May was feeling the burn of the bear market and itching for something exciting.

With macro conditions looking grim, flippers and investors were getting bored fast. Everyone was waiting with anticipation to see which project would be the next blue chip on the radar and what they would have to offer, something more than just new tokenomics or promises of alpha.

Read more: Singapore Azuki Holders Aren’t Selling Despite Zagabond Controversy

When collectibles needed a new hero the most, (which will be referred to as “Goblins”) showed up promising… nothing.

The rise of a new meta

Unlike other blue-chip projects, which caught on through factors like stylised artwork, utility provided to holders and well-designed ecosystems, Goblins came in offering none of that, instead showing up with conventionally ugly depictions of goblins and Twitter spaces of holders making seemingly animalistic noises. The word “goblin” was already a meme itself in April, used loosely as a euphemism for bearish sentiment.

Given what we know of Kyle Davies now, perhaps the goblins were indeed being serious.

Goblins capitalised on that meme further, with its website reading: “1 free + gas mint per wallet. Don’t be fucking greedy. That’s how we got ourselves here,” a possible jab at the greediness of Crypto Twitter. Its website continues, “No roadmap. No Discord. No utility,” a stark contrast to other projects that heavily emphasised these elements.

Azuki’s “mindmap”, an example of a conventional roadmap in an NFT project. (Image: Azuki)

With other projects promising elaborate plans of community and utility for their holders, many were baffled that Goblins would see the pump that it did. How could a project that did not take itself seriously be taken seriously by the NFT audience?

Read more: Admit It, NFTs are Ugly and Expensive

Yet, the free mint project saw its floor price more than double by the day, from 0.1 ETH to 0.2 ETH, eventually pumping to a high of more than 8 ETH, taking many in the space by surprise.

At its peak, Goblins were overtaking the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection in terms of total Eth traded. (Image: Opensea)

An “FU” to utility

The unconventionality with which Goblins approached their marketing certainly made them stand out, spawning a host of other free mint projects in an extremely short amount of time. From “illdoit” to “shittysheep”, each project drummed up its own meaninglessness and lack of any utility even harder. One of these projects, “We are All Going to Die”, even had one of its Twitter space participants burn a Mutant Ape.

While this style of branding might seem contrary to the approach of mainstream blue chip NFT projects, the popularity of these free mint projects suggested that holders were not looking for any of these criteria in these projects, but were in fact seeking out the opposite.

These were projects that openly advertised their lack of any value accrual in the long run, and yet many flocked to them like moths to a flame. In some ways, it signaled an underlying weariness at project after project claiming to be the next BAYC or Azuki; the whole movement felt like the space was flipping the bird at broken promises, especially in the wake of massive dips in the crypto world.

An example of one famous NFT influencer being tired at NFT projects promising “utility”.

Being part of a “community”

Perhaps one of the most unexpected aspects of the free mint meta was its ability to produce a new form of community, a concept which was slowly falling apart. In the case of Zagabond and Azuki, as more details about Zagabond’s past were unveiled, so too were many holders quick to turn on him and the project as a whole. The speed at which communities fell apart called into question the sanctity of a “community” and if all it stood for was a collective desire to make money.

Read more: Rugpull or Failed Project? Azuki Founder’s Revelations Ignites Community Furore

With the way that Goblins and other free mints framed themselves as having no future potential as a project, these projects throw the idea of value out the window, inviting holders to hold for reasons beyond the money. The jabs at popular models of NFT promotion instead produced a community of its own, with many wanting to be a part of the in-joke. While Goblins succeeded in this with its unique style of marketing (particularly “Goblin-speak”), other projects successfully rode the wave, creating a space devoid of the traditionally serious discussions on Twitter and Twitter spaces.

An example of “Goblin-speak” in a Twitter space and in captions.

The way in which people flocked to these projects points towards a certain kind of cynicism with traditional models and conventions. Though NFTs only became popular within the last year, there were already many conventions being set in stone like the aforementioned roadmaps and utilities. Goblins represented a break away from that tradition, not unlike what is dubbed the “vibe economy,” or an economy selling a mood or a feeling.

Looking at Goblins and other free mint projects, the mood is obvious: as the crypto world burned, the best way to enjoy things would be to sit back and watch the fireworks with fellow nihilists.

But greed still persists

To say that free mints were all vibes, however, would be to ignore the speculation surrounding these mints and the entitlement they brought about.

It was not uncommon for people in the space to demand free mints at the time, with some projects like Lonelypop facing immense backlash for not starting out as free mints, despite it being the convention merely a month prior.

This raised the question: how would any projects build anything meaningful without any capital for R&D? While Goblins may have made a ton off of secondary sales, this may not be the case for other projects, especially those which prioritise long term holders and wish to build long-lasting projects. Though the vibe economy was meant to be a beautiful thing, it quickly turned ugly when people put their bags before their principles.

But perhaps these were the reasons that, ironically, fuelled the popularity of the free mint meta in the first place: people were tired of a space run by greed and speculation. In a sense, the free mint meta became a commentary on itself, ultimately showing that the space still has a long way to being sustainable in the long term.

Can NFTs really outlast the initial hype?

As NFT influencer Giancarlo Chaux pointed out, most NFT projects do not really have much reason to stick around for very long.

He noted that most projects function like startups, but with money raised upfront and without regulation, giving founders (especially the undoxxed ones) more reasons to rugpull and walk away with everything their holders have given them.

At the same time, as free mints have demonstrated, holders seem to be more fixated on short-term flip potential as opposed to believing in the long-term potential of projects. With free mints reducing the cost price of a short-term trade (barring gas), the free mint meta served as a breeding ground for even more speculation.

Its anyone’s guess where the NFT space will go from here. Perhaps the big names of this cycle will be nowhere to be found in the next. But if the free mint meta has shown anything, its that people will continue demanding more from their projects as time goes on, financially or otherwise.