In a bear market, the NFT scene is embracing goblins

In a bear market, the NFT scene is embracing goblins

Participants in 2022’s brutal bear market in NFTs and cryptocurrency developed their own “gallows humor” as they experienced losses of 90% or worse. While some NFT “projects” scrambled to develop new “tools” to provide tangible value to declining JPGs, New York City-based team Truth Labs embraced the bearish, Tolkien-inspired meme “down to Goblin-town ” to explore new potentials in performance art and in conscious rejection of the idea that NFTs need to “do” anything. Instead, identifying as gross and wonderful “gnomes” became a way for NFT traders and enthusiasts to laugh at absurdities and express shared frustrations.

On May 21st, the struggling NFT scene on the Ethereum blockchain witnessed a respite with the surprisingly successful launch of “goblintown.wtf”, an NFT collection of 10,000 “ugly” little goblins of fantasy history, which could be used as ” profile pictures ” or PFPs, on social media. While some goblins still wore astronaut gear from aborted financial trips to the “moon,” others were resigned to wearing fast food uniforms as their circumstances forced them to work at “McGoblin Burger.”

The collection was “designed” in 10 minutes, and it deliberately differed from previous successful projects in several ways.

There was no “coin price”, which meant that project developers could only be paid from royalties on secondary market trades, rather than initial sales. The first “free coiners” would only have to pay the cost of “gas”, the standard fee for creating a token on the blockchain.

Goblintown Promotional Image by Process Grey, digital art (courtesy of Truth Labs)

The Minting website explicitly rejected many of the established NFT conventions. Outright, it said it would be: “No road map. No discord. No use. CC0.”

“No Roadmap” meant that the (initially anonymous) developers would not advance any acknowledged plans for new features or future revenue, since the bear market – and frankly, the often dodgy nature of NFTs – had dulled buyers to the inevitable impossible or broken promises.

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“No Discord” meant that the team would not manage a separate Discord channel, where community culture and solidarity could be built, but which in practice often seemed to silo content from the outside world.

“No benefit” meant that the team would not promise any clear, tangible benefits from ownership, beyond the fuzzy value of interactive tokens on a blockchain.

And finally, CC0 (or “Creative Commons 0”) meant that instead of promising holders some specific intellectual property rights, as, for example, the popular “Bored Ape Yacht Club” collection had done, the entire collection would be copyright-free and “open source” for other creators to reuse and riff on as they wish. This would indeed be the case as goblintown framed the aesthetic of many other projects, such as corntown.wtf and hobotown.wtf.

Despite the lack of pledges, a wave of hype quickly developed, as the project’s “floor price” shot up to a high of around 8ETH (nearly $15,000) within days. The mystery surrounding who made the smart collection was a factor, as many speculated that a leading NFT team or media company was responsible.

In addition, by using Twitter Space’s chat room as a theater stage, goblintown advanced a new method of creating characters and stories for a large audience. As investors and people curious about the goblins and their origins desperately sought information, the goblintown account started a space on May 25. Yet instead of allowing representatives from the team to offer any details or explanations, for three hours thousands of attendees heard a cacophony of high-pitched goofy voices mumbling and talking nonsense, or making jokes and puns about bodily functions, especially “piss.”

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While one might have assumed that the developers had hired a cast of paid actors for this and subsequent performances, goblintown’s social media, marketing and community manager Sydney Clara Brafman told me that the performers had actually come from the environment themselves, and that the style was largely spontaneous. In this and subsequent spaces, her own background in film became an asset, as she was able to direct these joint improv performances by choosing who was elevated to speak.

As characters, goblins are down-to-earth, abrupt, sexually hyperactive and irreverent. They live in a world ignorant of, or mocking, human problems of scandal and economic loss. Hard workers, despite their insane or senseless goals, they invent their own elaborate schemes of trickery and dealing.

Goblins became a fitting identity for NFT enthusiasts, uncertain about the future but still darkly proud of their fast-paced, if often lurking, subculture. Many have invested huge sums of money in dreams divorced from real concerns (and some have had to absorb the psychological pain of feeling “cheated” or “tough”).

Truth Labs, “mcgoblin combo #113” (2022), digital art (courtesy of Truth Labs and CC0)

With characters designed in Twitter Spaces and through the main goblintown Twitter account (with its distinctive language and script), the blockchain itself became a framework for further stages of “history.” Holders of NFTs were able to “build” their own McGoblin burgers, with nasty ingredients like “pull ork dongz”, “eer funguss”, “dwarf pyoobz” and “pee soss.” Then these NFT burgers were used as “bait” to catch grumpls, a much cuter creature that farts a lot.

Where goblintown fits into an “art world” still trying to figure out NFTs and their tech-inclined, self-referential subculture is an open question. The core art was designed by “Process gray,” an imaginative illustrator who created a unique, comic aesthetic for the entire universe. Recently, the new “grumpl” NFTs were made in various styles by a number of established web3 artistswhich demonstrates the team’s commitment to harnessing and recognizing true talent.

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The performative element also has its own momentum, with members of the community continuing to organize Twitter Spaces and “radio theater” featuring goblin adventures and news broadcasts. New characters include a goblin Freudian psychoanalyst and owner of big box stores.

Still, in the months after the team revealed itself as Truth Labs rather than a larger, well-capitalized entity, the collection entered its own bear market, with the cost of a single goblin now falling to around 0.8 ETH, or $1,250, at publication. Perhaps the appeal of the bear market theme has faded somewhat in a scene anxious for a positive turnaround, or perhaps the project has revealed the difficulty of sustaining attention to “storytelling” elements over long periods.

Still, the goblintown collection alone has done almost 50,000 ETH in volume (around $80 million at the current Ethereum price). Under a 7.5% royalty rate, this has generated at least $5 to $6 million dollars in royalties for Truth Labs, and the team promises to continue investing in the goblintown “ecosystem.”

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