NFT trading activity in November recovered slightly at $217M of monthly volume. While a recovery is looking unlikely until a shift in broader market sentiment, there are notable developments across new marketplaces (Uniswap and Blur) and existing creators (staking functionality) that are impacting NFT market structure.
Sales in collectibles surged as gaming NFTs slumped. The launch of Art Gobblers (and subsequent community scrutiny) resulted in a surge in activity in the segment at the end of October. Gaming, however, lacks the velocity of new collections, making the segment much less varied; 98% of total sales occurred in just two NFT collections (Otherdeed and Sorare).
Majority of retail trading flushed out as whales drove volume. Trading volume per active wallet has reached its highest level in the past six months (up 3x), driven by a small number of wallets trading high-value collections such as BAYC and Y00ts ahead of newly-launched staking functionality.
Competition intensified between NFT marketplaces with Blur and Uniswap. Recently launched Blur has grown its market share on Ethereum to 28% (second-largest after Opensea) with a zero-fee structure and professional trading features. Leading DEX Uniswap aims to close the gap between NFT users and DeFi with the launch of its NFT aggregator, leveraging 15% lower fees using its open-source Universal Router.
Introduction: Global NFT Activity
NFT trading activity in November has increased slightly at ~$217M of monthly volume when excluding the impact of Art Gobblers in October (more below). Prices have moved in tandem with ETH but with heightened volatility, given changes in NFT floor prices (in ETH). While a recovery is looking unlikely until a shift in broader market sentiment, there are notable developments across new marketplaces and existing creators that are impacting the NFT market structure.
One example is the launch of Art Gobblers, resulting in a surge in activity within the Arts and Collectibles segment at the end of October. The project is designed as a self-sustaining ecosystem where holders of the NFT can create artwork that is stored on-chain in the NFT metadata. Minting was free for whitelisted participants, which are speculated to have comprised primarily of popular NFT influencers and content creators. The project received backlash from the wider NFT community, arguing promotion by white-listed influencers without suitable disclosures; a practice that has resulted in increasing scrutiny from regulators. Trading volume significantly declined in subsequent weeks.
Sales count for Arts & Collectibles remained elevated throughout November on the back of Art Gobblers, but also due to the rise in sales of Yuga Labs’ collections. Sales are up +73% compared to October for BAYC and MAYC collections, in anticipation of Apecoin staking (which went live on 5th December).
The gaming segment has trended downwards in the second half of this year, ending November with a 6% decline. That’s despite a 60% growth in sales count of Yuga Labs’ Otherdeed collection. But gaming lacks the velocity of new collections that collectibles see, making the segment much less varied; 98% of total sales occurred in just two NFT collections (Otherdeed and Sorare). This is partly because developing a high-quality gaming NFT takes more time, and few players have cracked it. Video game development takes significantly more resources than the development of an NFT collection; 5+ years for a “AAA” published game vs. 3-6 months for the average NFT. Of course not all gaming NFTs require a full game, but the difference in timelines is indicative of the increased complexity involved.
Active Market Wallets
While prices and activity have increased, the number of active wallets trading NFTs declined by 27%, reaching their lowest point year-to-date at just 9,900 wallets. The likely explanation is that the Yuga Labs collections that drove the increased activity are concentrated in a very small number of wallets. This in turn also drove prices upwards as these collections remain some of the most valuable ones.
Regardless, trading volume per active wallet has reached its highest level in the past six months which suggests that the majority of retail NFT users have been flushed out. Remaining wallets driving volume are therefore likely to be NFT whales.
Unique Buyer & Seller Activity
Another indicator of NFT market activity is the unique number of buyers and sellers. Unique buyers jumped upwards in line with the launch of Art Gobblers, but participants on both sides of the trade decreased in subsequent weeks. Unique sellers outnumbered buyers on a few occasions, which demonstrates the shift in sentiment following FTX’s implosion and the resulting liquidity crisis (as well as explaining the drop in active wallet activity). Market illiquidity magnifies in a bear market especially for NFTs due to each token being a unique asset. (We previously highlighted new marketplaces (e.g. Hadeswap) that tackle illiquidity of NFTs using price bonding curves).
Sellers may have also increased in hopes to engage in tax-loss harvesting, where investors sell their assets at a loss to offset current or future capital gains which typically happens during this time of the year.
Projects have explored new innovations to incentivize users to hold on to their NFTs during this time. Yuga Labs and Y00ts have both implemented staking functionality on the back of users’ NFTs. Yuga Labs’ Apecoin staking went live on December 5th and is expected to start offering rewards in the coming weeks for both Apecoin holders as well as users who stake the BAYC or MAYC NFT. Similarly, Y00ts has enabled staking of their NFTs on November 28th which yields stakers with “y00tpoints”. These tokens will be used to collect a number of community rewards including airdrops, physical goods, and sponsored brand activities.
NFT Trade Volume by Chain
In November, trade volume by chain shows that the majority of increased volume occurred on Ethereum (+5%) and Solana (+7%) due to their dominance in the NFT ecosystem. However, others have dropped, with Ronin (-64%) and the BNB chain (-56%) being the largest detractors.
NFT Marketplace Share
There has been a notable shift in market share among leading marketplaces on Ethereum. Launched only a few months ago, Blur has grown its market share to 28% in November, placing only second next to Opensea and outcompeting rival X2Y2. Blur is both a marketplace and an aggregator targeting professional NFT traders with advanced features such as floor sweeping and portfolio analytics. Most notably, it offers zero transaction fees and no enforcement of creator royalties. It is a controversial move, especially given the backlash following Opensea’s and X2Y2’s integration of optional royalty fees; which was recently reversed by both platforms. Blur’s structure is likely to be a bootstrapping initiative for now, but the marketplace’s features are quickly gaining traction given most active traders are currently non-retail participants.
Competition between marketplaces will increase with the entrance of Uniswap’s recently launched NFT aggregator. Following its acquisition of Genie earlier this year, leading DEX Uniswap is expanding into NFT markets to bring NFT users closer to DeFi. According to the protocol only 20% of NFT users used a DEX in the past. The aggregator charges 15% lower fees than competitors using its Universal Router, which enables both ERC-20 and NFTs to be combined into a single transaction and saves on gas fees. Uniswap made both the smart contract and UI open source, meaning any advantages on the core technology side can be replicated by competitors. It is therefore likely that Uniswap is expecting most users to choose its platform for the ability to trade both ERC-20 tokens and NFTs on a single protocol.
Primary & Secondary Market Activity
Finally, we note that the volume of primary listings and secondary listings have continued to decline, despite the popular listing of Art Gobblers. The result is that liquidity for NFTs is becoming more fragmented across marketplaces, as creators list infrequently and on fewer exchanges. As previously highlighted in this series, this contributes to declining market share of aggregators. Blur gaining traction could be indicative of specialized features being a strong differentiator. Although it is not clear how much of Blur’s volume stems from its marketplace vs. the aggregator.
There are signs of the NFT market starting to recover after a bottom in activity. New incentive mechanisms by existing creators and an entrance of new marketplaces leveraging specialized features may shift trade volumes upwards and to new venues. Nevertheless, active wallets continue to trend downwards which inevitably will dampen prospects of a strong recovery in our leading indicators. We expect a broader market recovery to be a catalyst for the NFT space where ongoing innovation will set the market up for a new phase of growth.