NFT Fest 2022: Not quite everything that happened at Melbourne’s non-fungibly packed crypto event

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NFT Fest 2022… it was a good-vibin’, blockchaining, content-heavy, two-day shelter from the chilly, battering weather of the FTX-roiling crypto market.

Was Day 2 as informative and sold out as Day 1? Was there more non-fungible “alpha” floating about than you could poke a hardware wallet at? (If you can poke a tangible item at an expression of an idea without looking like an idiot, that is.) The answer is yes.

Hundreds of crypto heads and  NFT enthusiasts squeezed into Melbourne’s Alex Theatre for the Web3-a-thon across both days in a tightly packed schedule of almost 60 different 30-min segments including panels, 1-on-1 interviews and educational lectures.

While chatting with Collective Shift’s Matt Willemsen, Apollo Capital’s David Angliss, Mooning’s Lisa Teh, Run It Wild’s Sarah May, Illuvium’s Kieran Warwick and several other good people during the course of the event, we landed on what we think is a rough consensus of the fest’s sentiment among attendees. Cautious optimism for the future of NFTs and crypto more broadly.

With a side of “Eff you, Bankman-Fried” and maybe slightly through gritted teeth: “It’s a great time in the market to build”.

“Crypto is here to stay.” Heard that one a few times these past couple of days, too, and we agree. (Not just because we’re out of a job if crypto gets regulated into extinction. Firm prediction: it won’t be.)

So what happened at the event? Who spoke? Plenty. But here’s a broad sweep of some highlights from the two days…

Virtually there

Most speakers at the fest were there (David Brent-style quote marks) “IRL”, but some big-name NFT founders and entities appeared virtually from the US, other parts of OZ or somewhere over the metaversal rainbow.

Those included Kevin Rose of Proof and Moonbirds fame; Deadfellaz creator Betty; Overpriced JPEGs podcast host Carly Reilly; ZenAcademy‘s Zeneca; Avastars founder J1mmy.eth; and Keith Grossman, president at TIME.

A few choice words from some of them:

Betty: “I speak to [NFT] founders every day, and I don’t know anyone who’s not super, super busy. This is a really opportune time to identify what you want and set the scene for when things move again.”

Carly Reilly: “In an odd way, I enjoy the bear market more… I never love having the pressure of covering projects that are popping. [The bear market] forces you to get in and connect with who your real audience is.”

Kevin Rose: “It’s a great time to build. There’s less distraction going on right now which means we can focus on creating and shipping products.

“I believe that NFTs are going to be a legitimate form of art going forward. I enjoy it for what it is at its core.

“Most ideas fail. Once you can accept that, you can have a lot of fun.”

Zeneca: “The quality of NFT projects has never been higher, even if the interest is currently lower. NFTs used to be all about money, risk and speculation, but we need to disconnect from that if they are to go mainstream… NFTs can help crypto go mainstream.”

J1mmy.eth: “I minted 420 Bored Apes. I was bored on a Friday night.”

(Not that the others weren’t, but this chat with “NFT wizard” J1mmy.eth was one of the best of the fest. Quote bombs galore, and we’ll follow up with more in a separate article.)

 

Got game

One of the strongest, or at least most prominent, sub-sectors of NFTs is gaming. And that’s partly because the utility of NFTs in digital-game realms is quite often so clear and easy to understand (ie digital ownership of items, land, characters etc). But it’s also partly because gaming is so damn massive in the world of entertainment.

There were some great gaming-related segments at the fest, and Coinhead managed to grab hold of a couple of these guys for separate chats. But here’s a selection of what was said on stage, firstly on day 1…

Michael P, Content Lead at The Metakey: “What we’re exploring is, if the idea of ‘quest progression’ is tracked on the blockchain, then you can basically have NPCs from different games know what you’ve done in other games. You could finish a quest in one RPG and then go over to another one, play it for the first time and be recognised by some characters.

“Forget about ‘play to earn’. That term and that concept might still appeal to investors, but to consumers, it is poison.

Chris Smith founder of Business in Games: “Most Web3 games tend to treat their Twitter like an investor-relations platform… They need to think about who’s actually going to play the game… It’s not the 45-year-old who might buy it (the NFT) as a speculation, it’s the 16-year-old kid logging into that Discord every day after school and telling their friends to play.”

(Coinhead spoke with Chris in a separate quick interview. Twas good stuff. Stay tuned for that.)

Stan Roche, Assistant Director at Global Australia: “Gaming is the Trojan horse into Web3.”

… and on day 2…

Illuvium’s Kieran Warwick with Charis Campbell from Binance Australia.

Kieran Warwick, co-founder of Illuvium: “We’re not just building a game, we’re building IP.”

(Coinhead chatted with Kieran at the fest, so we’ll get to that one separately soon enough, too. Teaser: we asked him if “play to earn” is a dead concept.)

 

Sound disrupters

There was plenty of strong musical representation at the fest. Not least of all MODA DAO – a decentralised autonomous organisation focused on building an entirely new, decentralised music ecosystem via the blockchain and NFTs.

Sean Gardner, co-founder MODA DAO and Emanate: “[Web3 music projects] have to make it a little easier, I think, for artists to get involved. You shouldn’t have to need a computer science degree in order to work out how to release your music.

“That’s the challenge for us and others – keep those Web3 fundamentals but make it more usable at the same time.”

Jake Denny, Head of Growth at Mycelium: “These ticketing agencies are cartels. And they just don’t know any better – it’s a massive extraction process. They extract from the artists, from the promoters, from the fans. There’s no value across the board, they just take all the money. And I just don’t think that’s a sustainable model. That industry has to get blown up, because no one likes them!”

(Above, NFT Fest after party vibes. Hosted by MODA DAO.)

 

This non-fungible sporting life

Australia’s sporting codes were represented big time at NFT Fest, with reps from Tennis Australia, the AFL, NBL, Australian Grand Prix, Cricket Australia and NRL all showing up to talk about how their organisations have been dipping toes into the NFT waters.

Or, in the NRL’s case, attempting to figure out how to do it, and if it’s a valid idea to do so or not – according to Jardian Ormsby, Head of Product.

New Zealand Rugby’s Head of Web3 Strategy Leanne Bats was also there, and she spoke about how her organisation recently bought 33 World of Women Galaxy (WOW) NFTs. It was a show of support for the Black Ferns (New Zealand women’s national rugby union team), and women’s sport, ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

A couple of other notable recent local NFT-related sports updates:

Tennis Australia: Ridley Plummer announced on day two of NFT Fest the latest rewards incentives package for AO ArtBall NFT holders, including tickets to the Australian Open.

Cricket Australia: CricRush – a new, gamified fan club in partnership with cricket NFT platform Rario. The game gives “digital collectibles” (Cricket Australia is trying to steer away from using the term NFT) the potential to earn holders “real world money-can’t-buy experiences”, such as dinner with a star player.

We’ve covered the AFL and NBL’s NFT movements recently in Stockhead, and as for the Australian Grand Prix, it’s been showing blockchain and NFT interest for the best part of a year or more, introducing its AusGP Access NFT program designed to bring fans closer to the action with exclusive benefits such as merch and pit lane visits.

 

Some serious stuff

Regulations, legal considerations regarding the space from crypto-focused lawyers, payment rails and the path to mass adoption – these were some of the broader, big-brained, seriously minded topics explored at the conference.

Hang on, crypto lawyers? Yep, there are some vastly experienced legal minds in Australia dedicating a lot of time to NFTs and crypto more broadly, including:  Susannah Wilkinson from Herbert Smith Freehills; Michael Bacina from Piper Alderman; James Myint and Natasha Blycha (Stirling & Rose); Alana Kushnir (Guest Work Agency); Greg Valles (Valles Accountants) and John Bassilios (Hall & Wilcox). 

If only FTX had at least one of this lot advising it all the way through, perhaps the crypto market might be in slightly better shape than how it’s landed over the past few weeks.

We’ll gather some of their quotes in here shortly, but in the meantime, from Day 1:

“Regarding what happened with FTX, the issue isn’t about cryptocurrency, it’s about the behaviour of humans… But this is a watershed point in time for cryptocurrency and the NFT industry. What happens to us [regulations regarding exchanges] is coming for you. And I think it’s something everyone who is interested in the space needs to pay very close attention to.”
Caroline Bowler, BTC Markets CEO.

“Supporting the startup community and supporting the investment that’s needed is important… and Austalia has a real opportunity to lead in this space. We just need to invest in ourselves and keep doing the work.”
Lisa Wade, DigitalX CEO.

“As a tradfi institution exploring this space, we do come at it from a place of humility – we do have a lot to learn. But we also do have the belief that the future of finance will be enabled through the likes of NFTs and through blockchain more broadly. And we’re so excited to be a part of that big build.”
Annabelle Simpson, Director Digital Assets @ NAB.

 

Non-fungible education

Crypto educators Collective Shift, led by Ben “I Didn’t Sell My Moonbird” Simpson, Matt “Yeah, Me Neither” Willemsen and Nick “No Moonbird Pain For Me” Sciberras, by all reports did a great job across two of the rooms with various bits and pieces of alpha. Insights particularly targeted for those relatively fresh to the space.

And that included Ben’s panel appearance to discuss the ins and outs of VC crypto funding, and Matt and Nick’s important sesh: “WTF IS NFT INVESTING?

This scratches the surface of it, but some key takeaways include:

• When thinking of investing in NFTs, look for: organic community; quality of discussion (e.g. in Discord or on Twitter) and presence of team members and mods; utility; professional experience.

• Red flags: Botted social media followers; focus on price; anonymous team; vague, generic language with many buzzwords; lack of experience.

• Understand your risk tolerability and the tax implications of investing in NFTs (eg for CGT).

• Learn how to keep your assets secure in self-custody hardware wallets, such as a Ledger or Trezor.

 

Moving into the metaverse

One of the best panels to close out the first day was titled: Predicting the Unpredictable: The Future of the Metaverse.

Ada Yin, Invest Manager at crypto venture capital fund Airtree hosted and received interesting takes from Mateen Soudagar, better known by his online/Twitter handle DCL Blogger; founder of the Futureverse and FLUF World, Aaron McDonald; and “Voxelblaze”, head of Sandbox Australia.

From left: Voxelblaze; Aaron McDonald; Matty “DCL Blogger” Soudagar and Ada Yin.

And what does the metaverse mean to each of them?

“The metaverse is an ongoing transition to a more digitally immersive experience,” said Soudagar. “[For me] it’s about the portability of my identity and my social graph. It’s about removing the friction between things that existed before in the digital world.”

“It’s the next version of the internet,” added McDonald. “With a couple of things that are distinct from what we’ve seen in the past. And one of those things is ownership [of digital assets]. I think you could call anything that exists that says it’s a metaverse and doesn’t have ownership is just using that buzzword to rebrand the game they were trying to build or market.

“If you take ownership out of the equation, it’s just something we’ve had for the past 20 or 30 years.”

And for Voxelblaze, the metaverse is: “the evolution of the internet that brings creators and consumers together. It’s essentially what we have with the internet right now but more connected, more peer-to-peer, and with less middlemen.”

Other interesting projects, panels and people

Because “we” which really means “I” couldn’t be in three rooms at once, some, by all accounts, pretty cool segments slipped by Coinhead.

The Nouns DAO project falls into that category:

“Nouns are an experimental attempt to improve the formation of on-chain avatar communities. While projects such as Cryptopunks have attempted to bootstrap digital community and identity, Nouns attempt to bootstrap identity, community, governance, and a treasury that can be used by the community.”

We heard from others at the conference that the Nouns project has funded the build of a skate park in Brazil and hosted an event that attracted more than 1,000 skaters, and which marked the 10-year anniversary of skating being decriminalised in Brazil.

In fact, Nouns enables all sorts of charitable and impact projects – including donations to the Rainforest Trust conservation organisation.

Ethereum educator Anthony Sassano was one of the big, well-known crypto names we did see, but by Christ the man talks quickly. It’s like he’s permanently on 2x speed on YouTube. Still, he covered a lot of interesting ground with Blockchain APAC MD Steve Vallas in 30 minutes, including the debunking of the idea that Ethereum has become more censored ever since it moved to a Proof of Stake consensus model from Proof of Work.

Sassano finished the discussion by identifying Ethereum’s best current use case as financial activity. In particular, “a more open, transparent and auditable one”.

“The baseline for a decentralised network should always be zero per cent censorship and be as neutral as possible,” concluded Sassano.

 

More to come

NFT Fest was a monumental effort organised by the probably completely exhausted Greg Oakford, Steve Vallas and Richelle Cox.

Check their Twitter accounts, and the official NFT Fest website and Twitter and for further snippets and info about the speakers. And keep reading Coinhead, too. as we bring you a bit more from this week, too.

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