It is a truism that in any gold rush the people selling the picks and shovels make the real fortunes, and that is likely to prove as true for NFTs as it did for gold nuggets.
Whether the Apes are bored, dapper or dreamy there seems to be an endless cavalcade of chancers willing to risk a share of their Ethereum, Solana or Bitcoins, for the opportunity to acquire and quickly flip the latest NFT minting. (Minting just means 'go live' in the world of NFTs).
But there is also growing evidence of serious intent with businesses starting to place early bets, and developers looking for big, difficult and potentially lucrative problems to solve in a growing set of metaverses, for which crypto is currency, and NFTs are immutable atomic building blocks, wrapped in business rules.
Ohio based DahsNFT is one example. The company took what might seem like a “traditional” NFT route this last weekend, releasing 500 limited-edition Dapper Apes*, (This being the first such mint these are Alpha apes in the language of the tribe) with 55 more for friends and family.
And true to form, more than half of the minted Apes ended up on secondary trading markets — often earning a tidy profit — within 48 hours of the launch.
Another 5000 will be minted in March according to the roadmap.
However, founders Soorya Parameswaran and Mark Eglseder have peered into the maelstrom of the early metaverse — or rather metaverses — and identified a set of significant long term problems that need solving before the promise of a Web3 world can hold true.
Their Dapper Apes High Society NFT business aims to solve at least three of them; the first is to meet the practical need for consumers to be able to use a single avatar to traverse multiple metaverses.
"Right now the hypest, hypest thing in the NFT space is Metaverse land. And when you think about it logically, where is this headed? Now a bunch of companies are rushing in buying all this metaverse land and building on it. So that means in about six months from now, maybe a year from now, all these metaverse venues are going to be opening up with artists holding virtual events where you can attend using augmented reality, and virtual reality."
"And you're going to need an avatar when going into all these places. So we here at Dapper Ape High Society are basically are solving that problem."
Next, they want to tap the desire of those consumers to customise and control their own avatars as they move between metaverses. "The issue we saw is you have to just pick one you like. You can never really design it for yourself. And no one out there right now is making Metaverse avatars that you can design yourself," said Parameswaran (pictured, left).
And the third goal is to use NFTs to transform the business model so it aligns more closely with the requirements of digital-savvy and subscription weary internet consumers.
And that is where NFTs come in because Parameswaran and Eglseder possess another quality that sets them apart from many NFT developers — they are numbers guys.
Both are graduates of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio with whom, they say, they still work closely. Parameswaran has a masters of science, finance (on top of a computer engineering degree), while Eglseder has a bachelor of science, accounting.
Parameswaran told Digital Nation Australia they believe one of the primary advantages of NFTs is the opportunity to invent a new revenue model that can replace traditional monthly subscriptions.
The pair, who are part of a 16-strong team with equity shares ranging from about one to five percent, are developing their Dapper Ape NFTs in such a way that they can move between metaverses and carry attributes they acquire from one to the next as well.
An attribute could be something as simple as a dashing new digital shirt for a Dapper Ape about town to wear to an upcoming virtual concert in the metaverse or it could be a pick and shovel to wield in a virtual garden acquired in the metaverse (land is one of the hottest assets being traded today says Parameswaran).
And because the attributes which consumers acquire for their avatars are also NFTs, DahsNFT can assign business rules such as taking a piece of the action every time one consumer sells an attribute to another (or even sells the avatar itself).
A hard row to hoe.
In speaking to Digital Nation Australia, Parameswaran demonstrated both the gimlet eyed optimism of many NFT true believers, but also the hard-edged realism of an entrepreneur with skin in a very long game.
"The mass media does not portray NFTs in a good light right now. There are people out there that are very, very involved in the space. People that know technology, people that are building companies together, and these people have been like honing their skills. And I would say there's about like 2 percent of NFTs out there that really do justice to what an NFT is, and really do justice for the underlying technology behind NFTs."
That's because there remain a great many hurdles to clear before metaverse hype matches reality.
For starters, there is a deep and currently unbridgeable gap between two very different technologies upon which metaverses are built — polygons and voxels. DahsNFT is building for the latter.
Wikipedia says "polygons can efficiently represent simple 3D structures with much empty or homogeneously filled space, while voxels excel at representing regularly sampled spaces that are non-homogeneously filled."
In layman's terms, polygon metaverses are great for things like gaming. Voxel metaverses are better suited to augmented and virtual reality.
Hardware is also a problem, says Parameswaran.
"We're actually held back by hardware. So software and decentralised applications are going at an exponential rate. But the problem is virtual reality hardware, such as being able to wear a headset on your head that can display all this, all of that can only be done in low graphics. You can only use voxel technology or a little bit more pixelated graphics than with your standard polygon avatar."
The kinds of graphical experiences delivered by games like GTA or Call of Duty simply can't be provided with the current level of hardware that exists in virtual reality and augmented reality.
"Right now the industry is being held back by hardware. And even though that hardware does exist, it's so expensive and at the hands of very few. Polygon-based metaverse are always left in 2D. It's never turned into a 3D space where you can use goggles to attend that event."
As part of its longer-term view DahsNFT is also investing in the NFT community in practical ways.
For instance, on February 26 it is holding a hackathon which Parameswaran describes as a not-for-profit event.
"It's the first international NFT blockchain hackathon, that's open to all ages. So we have over 10 local high schools signed up to attend. We have a few college students attending via Zoom. And it's actually open to anyone in the world of any age, who wants to participate via Zoom."
"The event will include NFT prizes, cash prizes, and the in-person event has food."
Attendees to the hackathon will be given real-world problems and then will be asked to describe how NFTs or blockchain technology might solve those problems.
"Everyone has the same amount of time. It's not like a lot of industry experience will help you, or that you need a lot of coding experience. Literally, anyone who just wants to have fun, or is really interested in blockchain and cryptocurrency can come to the hackathon event.
"There will be a couple of professors giving guest lectures, we will teach you about NFTs. And after that, you basically have three hours to build out a business model canvas and pitch it. And the people who win the hackathon go into our business incubator for a chance to win the $25,000."
*In preparation for this story, the author acquired one of the original Dapper Apes on the day of the minting in an attempt to understand just what the hell is happening. He is likely sitting on a tidy paper profit.