After the highs of 2021, the beginning of 2022 saw NFT positivity continue to bubble, even as the wider crypto environment was taking early steps along a year-long downhill path.
While that NFT bullishness couldn’t last forever, the rest of the year still saw plenty of drama, although the 2022 JPEG rollercoaster was a lot more erratic than the up-only rocket-ship of the previous year.
Collections That Drove the Narrative
The first big drop of the year, when sentiment was still positive, was Azuki. This anime-themed PFP collection set a new meta (manga and anime), and established itself in the upper NFT tiers.
Azuki is maneuvering to be a web3 innovator, with its Physical Backed Token concept drawing a link between real-life goods and NFTs, and with major partnerships that have covered fashion and F1.
This was a hyped-up, high-caliber drop, linked with the PROOF Collective NFT community, and headed by well-known web entrepreneur, Kevin Rose.
Moonbirds hinted at the connections emerging between the existing web, and the in-development world of NFTs, crypto and web3, and it has great potential, despite sometimes lacking clarity about its intentions.
Yuga Labs, the creator of Bored Ape Yacht Club, is now the dominant force in NFTs, and so there was huge anticipation around its Otherdeeds drop.
Otherdeeds NFTs represent virtual land in Yuga’s Otherside metaverse development, and when it came to minting these virtual assets, hype was sky high and sales volumes were immense.
However, immediately after the launch, there was vocal criticism of the drop, as gas fees had soared, transactions failed, and it was claimed that Yuga hadn’t properly optimized their sales process.
That all said, Yuga’s status has only grown throughout the year, despite such bumps in the road, and Bored Apes are still–along with CryptoPunks–the premium NFT collection.
By mid-year, wider crypto chaos was making people nervous, NFT sentiment was buckling, and Goblintown perfectly captured the darkly nihilistic mood that had descended over everything.
The collection seemed to drop out of nowhere as a free mint, had no Discord or roadmap, and yet, fuelled partly by speculation about who had created it, soared to a floor price over 7 ETH, and all while markets were crashing.
The reckless degen spirit that usually fuels NFTs was temporarily restored, and we later found out Goblintown had been created by Truth Labs. However, while the collection was well executed and fun, activity has been subdued towards year-end, and prices are down.
As we progressed past the summer, crypto looked ragged and NFT markets were operating at diminished volumes. Then, just when everyone was starting to look a little too down-and-out, along came Renga, with a novel new way of revealing its artwork.
Several months prior, Renga had distributed Black Box NFTs to holders of a related collection called The Art of Seasons, and in September, box holders could finally, at their own leisure, crack open their boxes to reveal a PFP from the Renga collection.
Box-smashing beat the hell out of regular old reveals, the PFPs looked immaculate, and the NFT space became giddy when Renga prices took off and provided some welcome relief, and a party atmosphere.
Art That Made a Splash
Arguably, the breakout NFT artist of the year is Grant Riven Yun. He has been creating art almost his whole life, and was active in the NFT space the previous year, but when a piece titled Cow sold for 22 ETH in 2022, Yun’s profile elevated rapidly amid discussions about art and utility, and his neo-precisionist style became widely admired.
The Art Blocks platform maintains a constant flow of eye-catching generative work, but if you had to pick an Art Blocks drop of the year, then Harvey Rayner’s Fontana collection stands out, and attracted plenty of demand.
Painter and poet Amber Vittoria is an established artist who started working with NFTs in 2021, and has been prolific throughout 2022. She has an instantly recognizable style, has worked with well-known names from the web3 space, including Gary Vaynerchuk and Bobby Hundreds, and recently dropped a collection through MoonPay.
In 2021, Tyler Hobbs created the iconic Fidenza series, through Art Blocks, and in August 2022, he launched a new project in collaboration with artist Dandelion Wist. It’s called QQL, and is a platform allowing users to initiate generative artworks, with holders of QQL’s Mint Pass NFTs able to mint a creation.
And speaking of Art Blocks, the influential platform, which first launched in November 2020, restyled itself in 2022 to become Art Blocks 2.0. This meant improving its smart contract, releasing an updated website, and changing the organization of its collections.
Throughout 2021, OpenSea was the NFT marketplace of note, and while it’s still dominant, 2022 was the year when competitor trading platforms made a real impact.
Challengers appeared at the start of the year with LooksRare and X2Y2, and, in the second half of the year, Sudoswap and Blur introduced new approaches to NFT trading.
We’ve also seen marketplaces expanding support across chains, with OpenSea adding Solana and Avalanche, among others, while Solana marketplace Magic Eden incorporated Ethereum and Polygon.
Anime and storytelling are the persistent NFT meta as the year draws to a close. Of those, the anime style looks as popular as ever and is likely to stick around, while the storytelling concept remains a little vague.
Free mints and CC0 seemed like side-plots of the summer, when the entire crypto space was in a state of panic and NFTs stripped down to the basics. However, CC0 now looks like a distinctive feature that could continue to set NFTs apart from traditional formats.
Attempts to build out mainstream web3 brands are way ahead of the corporate curve. There are long-term NFT ventures such as Moonbirds, and well-known companies are incorporating web3 strategies.
Some established brands leading the way are Reddit, with its Collectible Avatars, Starbucks, through its Odyssey rewards program, Instagram, Shopify, Toys R Us, and a growing list of other household names.
Could NFTs onboard the world into crypto? We’ll have to wait and see, but they seem to be exerting a pull on a wide range of companies.
Solana and Polygon
Solana spent much of 2022 making itself the highest-profile NFT ecosystem after Ethereum, but then got hit hard by the FTX shambles, and towards year-end, two of the biggest Solana NFT collections announced that they were bridging to other chains, with DeGods moving to Ethereum, and y00ts using Polygon.
At the same time as Solana has run into trouble, Polygon, and its Polygon Studios offshoot, are becoming the go-to web3 option for big brands, including the above-mentioned Reddit, Starbucks and Instagram.
Gaming and the Metaverse
Blockchain gaming continues to be an area of huge potential, but has yet to develop a definitive product that can win over skeptical gaming communities.
The gaming-related NFT collection making moves towards the end of 2022 has been DigiDaigaku, which generates outsized hype thanks to its well-qualified founder, Gabriel Leydon.
Metaverse development was a major area of interest at the end of 2021, but 2022 saw periods of quiet building during which mainstream attention drifted away.
Still, metaverse development rumbles along convincingly on a long-term arc. Otherside, from Yuga Labs, is the blockbuster project to keep an eye on, and it can generate instant hype (and price moves) with any hint that it’s about to reveal something new.