Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
2021, for numerous reasons, was a year for the books. It’s nearly impossible to not feel as though we are living in an intricate time loop. GameStop is still trading nearly 10 times higher than where it was at the top of the year, with little change to the fundamental outlook of the company. Former President Donald Trump was permanently banned from Twitter, displaying the effective control asserted by centralized mega-enterprises. To top it all off, the world finally got clarity on how Britney Spears reclaimed her life. And while none of us foresaw any of these things happening, two things, in particular, remain top of mind for me as we head into the new year:
1. Covid-19 and its variants continue to be elusive (much like Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid);
2. Blockchain and cryptocurrency are continuing to change the ways we interact with each other.
While the merits of blockchain technology are still being flushed out, crypto really came into its own in 2021 on the back of bitcoin reaching an all-time high. Tesla flirted with bitcoin, adding material positions to its balance sheet, only to send mixed signals once climate concerns were raised. With other big-name companies planning to accept crypto as payment, we’re seeing how digital assets are slowly getting validation. For the first time in its existence, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies had finally been introduced to discovery audiences by trustworthy faces.
Shortly thereafter, images ranging from digital cats to LeBron James’ highlight reels saturated our timelines, inciting a new wave of crypto hype. The noted difference this time was the inconceivable fortunes being spent. We were being fed a near endless stream of headlines telling us these items sold for almost immeasurable fortunes, each one breaking the previous record. But this has left many wondering: What’s the big deal anyway? Why can’t you just right-click and “save image”?
Alas, we’ve finally made it to the part where we talk about non-fungible tokens (NFTs). For context, 2018 saw only $41 million in NFT sales while the first half of 2021 alone saw an incredible increase to $2.5 billion of volume.
We’ve seen a number of awe-inspiring pieces come to market in 2021, some of which really changed the way we thought this technology could not only be used but also how it could bring communities together. For instance, the sense of belonging and status that has been built around the Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunk movements is truly unfathomable. While we have seen a number of celebrities launch their own collections, there have been a few brands that have put together some breathtaking offerings. One of my favorites is Pixar’s timeless collection where fans will be able to purchase NFTs featuring golden statues of iconic characters from Disney’s catalog. Fans will not only have the opportunity to buy the pieces of the characters they admire most, but they are also able to try their chances at stumbling upon verifiably scarce pieces through “Blind Box” offerings.
What to Expect in 2022
Based on my experience in this space, here are the top trends I expect we’ll see take shape in 2022.
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Increased NFT Utility
Utility is beginning to take shape across the industry, particularly in terms of enriching various experiences, be that fan engagements for collectors or exclusive access to events, by virtue of owning these digital assets.
For instance, in September 2021, we saw quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys Dak Prescott release a collection of NFTs where purchasers were able to unlock items such as autographed cleats or game jerseys. By intertwining physical and digital worlds in this way, NFTs become increasingly relevant to audiences that reside outside of hardcore early adopters. Essentially, by having the art stand for more than just the digital rendering itself, we are all just getting started on what the possible use cases for this technology could be.
We’ve also seen some more virtuous applications of NFTs. Namely, Deepak Chopra recently launched Seva.Love, an altruistic NFT platform. Through wearable digital collectibles, Chopra aims to equip artists, philanthropists and brands with the tools to build communities around causes that matter. Social benevolence and inclusion make up the underlying blockchain ethos, and despite some teething issues relating to environmental effects and cybercrime, I see a great future in projects committed to doing good.
Tightened Posture Around Crypto
Given the eye on crypto projects has continued to grow over the last year, I imagine we see an uptick in the scrutiny shown to various coins coming to market. With the increased number of projects looking to benefit from the relatively standard anonymity that exists within the space, I expect investors will take a more disciplined approach when evaluating the merits of any potential investments.
Most notably, an unknown group of people was able to scam investors out of millions on the back of the popular K-drama, Squid Game. As such, 2021 saw a regulatory Sword of Damocles dangling over the crypto markets, leaving the legal framework open-ended as we continue into 2022. Something I would like to see is more robust leadership from the financial regulators, as the current approach has been disharmonious at best.
In addition to us all learning about the benefits of what could be an even more connected world, I believe we will start to see certain metaverse projects separate themselves from the rest of the pack. In what could be a saturated market, we will see investors, creators and general users start to gravitate toward the metaverses with the most traction. There are only so many instances where investors in digital land will turn a blind eye to investments that never quite materialized due to the insufficient growth of the broader ecosystem. Similarly, groupthink isn’t just a disease that lives in Web 2.0. People want to be where other people are. So I imagine, the metaverses that are able to build the largest communities will be the ones to survive the inevitable consolidation.
Overall, given the explosive growth NFTs have experienced in 2021, I expect we can bank on the market continuing to grow at exponential rates.