We’ve all witnessed it happen: a 10,000 supply PFP project comes out of nowhere and becomes the hot new thing seemingly overnight. Clad with flashy animated teasers and cryptic tweets, the social media accounts supporting these projects somehow find a way to attract hundreds of thousands of followers in record time, prompting those in the NFT space to turn on notifications lest they be left out of the loop.
Yet, at this current stage of maturation in the NFT space, we know that hyped NFT projects are never what they seem. When a hot new collection catches fire and sells out instantly, it often inevitably burns out just as fast, leaving a trail of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in its wake.
While the intentions of those behind hyped collections may be pure, allow-list gatekeeping and questionable social media tactics have ultimately soured the reputation of many a project. And while these types of projects are now few and far between, perhaps the only thing hyped NFT project use cases are good for in 2023 is to remind creators, collectors, and builders that max exposure isn’t always a good thing.
The anatomy of a hyped NFT
Apart from cropping up out of nowhere and gaining steam quickly, there are a few other telltale signs that can be used to identify hyped NFT projects. In contrast with anticipated ecosystem expansions from established (or at least well-known) brands in Web3, hyped NFT endeavors often:
- Sound a bit too good to be true;
- Use FOMO (fear of missing out) as a marketing tactic; or
- Feature unknown founders, influencers, or builders.
But even if the development team has some clout on the blockchain, there’s often nothing to account for the exponential growth experienced by many of these hyped mints. While it may be difficult to pinpoint or prove unethical growth tactics — like buying fake fans or using burner accounts to promote content —some projects find it possible to accrue upwards of six figures in Twitter followers and Discord members within days. Of course, there’s more to hyped mints than can be put in a box. To understand the whole picture, we can dissect examples of projects that have become somewhat of hype archetypes (i.e., cautionary tales) for Web3.
Exhibit A: MekaVerse
In October 2021, Mekaverse became one of the most anticipated PFP projects since the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Considering the NFT space was at the tail end of the PFP summer — a period where generative avatars littered the NFT market — it felt as though every collector was hoping to win big by getting in early on the next big 10,000 supply collection. MekaVerse seemed to capitalize on their newly awarded attention big time by hosting raffles and giving out allowlist spots to their staunchest supporters.
Once the mint came and went, everything seemed to be on track. The project quickly crossed $60 million in secondary sales volume in less than 24 hours, and even before the collection’s 8,888 NFTs were revealed, the floor price for a single Meka had reached around 8 ETH (upwards of $25,000 at the time). But then came the first nail in the coffin, a potential insider trading fiasco that created a domino effect.
Soon after launch, numerous collectors and enthusiasts took to Twitter to accuse the MekaVerse drop of being rigged. Highlighting figures from OpenSea, Etherscan, and other public databases, they created a picture that suggested the developers behind the project were somehow able to purchase some of the most rare Meka NFTs pre-reveal. A feat that shouldn’t be possible unless the project’s metadata was accessed by an outside source or deliberately changed by its originator.
Then came the botched NFT reveal. After delaying for a spell due to technical difficulties, MekaVerse unveiled its full supply of NFTs to mixed opinions. While some cited personal distaste for the PFPs, comparing the images to upside-down vacuum cleaners, or propane heaters, others noticed that the identical feature issue MekaVerse developers encountered seemingly wasn’t fixed after all. In side-by-side comparisons, users exhibited their “unique” NFTs to be near mirror images of each other, aside from single color changes. With floor prices rapidly dropping, this seemed to be a blow MekaVerse could not recover from.
Exhibit B: HAPE PRIME
After MekaVerse came Hape Prime and Pixelmon. Neither of these ventures proved to be as significant of an Icarus moment as MekaVerse. However, they still helped the NFT space understand the caveats of hyped NFT mints, what spotlight attention can do to a collection, and why all “hot new things” should always be taken with a grain of salt.
In the case of Hape Prime (formerly known as Hapebeast), the hype was accrued in an almost identical fashion to MekaVerse. Twitter followers and Discord members tried hard to secure allowlist and raffle spots, even going so far as to create intricate fan art or write and record full hip-hop tracks to try to curry favor with the brand. But again, in a similar fashion, things took a turn when the collection’s 8,192 NFTs were revealed.
Having sold out quickly in January 2022, once Hape Prime NFTs were unveiled, users realized that the quality of their assets didn’t exactly line up with what was initially promised. Sure, the characters and traits were all there, but with the art featuring hat trait errors and diminished details, some likened it to catfishing, comparing the debacle to MekaVerse. And with floor prices topping out around a similar 8.5 ETH (also more than $25,000 at the time) pre-reveal, collectors started to feel the FUD when prices plummeted over the coming months to the sub 1 ETH range.
Exhibit C: Pixelmon
Not even a month after Hape Prime, the NFT space was subjected to a similar occurrence with Pixelmon, a project that garnered hype early and sold out quickly at a price point of 3 ETH. However, after the collection’s 10,000 NFTs were revealed, the collective NFT community essentially lost their s*** at Kevin, the unfinished Pixelmon zombie. Yet even Kevin memes couldn’t save Pixelmon from becoming known, by some, as the worst project ever.
Why do hyped mints inevitably fail?
So, three separate projects (more if you count Squiggles, Invisible Friends, and the like) grew fast, launched quickly, and fizzled out. Sure, some, like Hape, are still seeking to innovate within Web3, with major brand collaborations reinforcing their merit. But by and large, hyped mints seemingly always lead to failure. But why? While it might be easy to point to developers of these projects simply biting off more than they could chew, in reality, it is perhaps the hype itself that leads to a project’s demise.
As pointed out by NFT collector and prominent Twitter thread author wale.swoosh, heightened expectations paired with a magnified amount of attention paid to a project’s every move can often lead to disaster. “[Projects] are only hyped because everyone is talking about them. There’s no other topic on NFT Twitter, everyone wants a piece of the pie, a piece of the next big thing,” wale.swoosh said in a thread. “But after the mint, or at the latest after the reveal, the attention goes on to the next project.”
Yet, perhaps the NFT community itself is also at fault for hyped NFT project failure. Because, as is often witnessed in the NFT space, those that either couldn’t secure an allowlist spot to a specific collection or are otherwise in opposition to the said collection will often FUD the project publicly as being sketchy or unethical. Of course, while these claims sometimes turn out to be accurate, considering the importance that Web3 places on Twitter engagement, it’s never a surprise when others join in to stir the pot.
Oddly enough, though, the moral here isn’t for creators and builders to avoid hype altogether. Considering the speed at which the NFT space operates, securing a spot on the Twitter feed is just as important as any other digitally native marketing tactic. Instead, avoiding artificial hype (buying followers, promoting FOMO) and building out in the open while ditching restrictive minting mechanics may be the way forward. While this may seem obvious to some, surely the mistakes of hyped NFTs passed have helped reinforce values of accessibility and transparency in Web3.