NFTs have been making headlines and we’ve seen several major brands getting in on the action recently. But the term non-fungible token, which is what the acronym stands for, may still leave many people scratching their heads.
So, what is an NFT? And what implications does the concept have for the attractions industry? Simply put, it is a way of certifying that a digital asset is unique. An NFT can be used for a range of digital files, such as videos, photos, audio and more. They are often paid for with cryptocurrency, like bitcoin.
What are NFTs and how do they work?
An NFT is a digital ownership certificate that lasts forever. The owner can sell this on to another buyer, but only one ownership certificate can exist at any one time. The technology makes it easy to determine who owns digital items.
It isn’t a new concept. In fact, NFTs have been around since 2014, but are now increasing in popularity and notoriety.
Recent examples include a new album by Kings Of Leon, called ‘When You See Yourself’, which generated more than $2million in NFT sales, an animated GIF of the Nyan Cat meme which sold for over $500,00 and even a single tweet. Yes, earlier this year, Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, sold the first-ever tweet as an NFT for $2.9 million. Christie’s also made headlines this year when it set a new record for digital art. In March, the auction house sold an NFT by digital artist Beeple for $96 million.
Now, NFTs are also beginning to make waves in the attractions industry. We’ve brought together some examples from theme parks, museums, brand experiences and more.
The Ancient of Days NFT at the Whitworth
Given the way the world of art collectors has embraced NFTs, it’s no surprise that museums are exploring the potential of this concept too. The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester has partnered with online platform Vastari to introduce The Ancient of Days NFT. William Blake’s The Ancient of Days is one of the most well-known pieces in the museum’s collection. It has been reproduced countless times.
The imaging team at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library has created the NFT using multispectral imaging equipment. This resulted in an all-new version of the classic image. The Whitworth then made 50 editions of the NFT available for purchase. The initiative is part of its new Economics the Blockbuster project. This looks at alternative ways of living together in the world.
This project includes collaborations across several different disciplines, finishing with a major exhibition in Summer 2023.
Speaking about the reason it decided to create The Ancient of Days NFT, the Whitworth says:
“At a time of great social and economic instability, the gallery is entering into the emerging and chaotic world of NFTs to test alternative models of financing social practice. The Ancient of Days NFT will be sold in an edition of 50 with 20% creator royalties written into each NFT.
“The income raised…will be used to fund social projects co-produced by the Whitworth and its constituents…this experiment will explore the potential of directing new flows of private digitised capital into social capital.”
NFTs at the State Hermitage Museum
Russia’s State Hermitage Museum in St Petersberg is hoping to extend its digital reach by using NFTs. The museum has produced NFT versions of some of the most well-known masterpieces in its collection. This project, called “Your token is kept in the Hermitage”, includes works by Monet, Van Gogh and Da Vinci.
This month, it has put up for sale NFTs of Leonardo da Vinci‘s Madonna Litta, Vincent van Gogh‘s Lilac Bush, Giorgione‘s Judith, Wassily Kandinsky‘s Composition VI and Claude Monet‘s A Corner of the Garden at Montgeron.
Mikhail Piotrovsky is the general director of the Hermitage, and his signature appears on the digital artworks. In a statement, he called the sale “an important stage in the development of the relationship between person and money, person and thing”. He said that NFTs “create democracy, make luxury more accessible, but are at the same time exceptional and exclusive.”
Piotrovsky also said that the project would “ensure a new level of accessibility to the Hermitage collections and emphasize the democracy of the museum, and emphasize the importance of digitalization as a new stage in the art collection world.”
The State Hermitage Museum intends to hold an exhibition focusing on NFT art later this year. A copy of each of the digital artworks will also remain in its collection.
New Coca-Cola brand experiences
Earlier this year, one of the most well-known brands in the world also began to explore the concept. To celebrate International Friendship Day, Coca-Cola announced the auction of a collection of four NFTs, as a single asset. Proceeds went towards Special Olympics International.
Coca-Cola partnered with Utah-based start-up Tafi to create a digital version of the iconic 1956 Coke vending machine, called the “Friendship Box”. This echoed the concept of “loot boxes”, often found in video games. It could be snapped up by placing bids in cryptocurrency. The Friendship Box included a sound visualizer, digital versions of vintage trading cards and a bubble jacket that players can wear in the VR platform Decentraland.
“It really gave us an opportunity to explore the robust space the digital space gives you. This really cool convergence of form and function and aesthetic” said Joshua Schwarber, senior director of global digital design at Coca-Cola, in an interview with Forbes. “So the ability to do things in motion and have artwork come alive or be able to reimagine our assets in new and unique ways to create these multi-sensorial kind of opportunities.”
A new era of sporting collectables
Sports brands are also getting in on the act. In the US, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has launched a global NFT campaign. This features some of its most popular players.
Allowing players to “own the world’s best plays”, NBA Top Shot is an officially licensed platform of digital collectables. Here, fans can collect and trade iconic moments in NBA history. Content ranges from starter packs, priced at $9, to super rare clips such as a Kevin Durant dunk, priced at $19,999.
Speaking in 2019 when NBA Top Shot first launched, Josh Goodstadt, Executive VP of Licensing for THINK450, the commercial arm of the NBPA, said: “NBA Top Shot is an entirely new way for fans to connect with their favourite athletes.
“We believe blockchain technology creates a truly unique product that fans can collect, manage and engage within a fun environment, and we are excited to partner with Dapper Labs to introduce these groundbreaking digital assets to the NBA community.”
Fashion meets gaming with Louis Vuitton
NFTs also seem to be appealing to the world of luxury brands too. Fashion company Louis Vuitton is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a number of initiatives, including a new adventure-based game.
Louis the Game is a fun experience in itself, featuring a new world to explore with a fully-developed storyline. But it also features 30 embedded NFTs that players can discover throughout the game. These are designed by digital artist Beeple. They can only be found through gameplay and cannot be sold.
Gamers play as a character called Vivienne. They must help her on her mission to collect 200 candles to mark the brand’s milestone. Along the way, they can wander around and discover six different worlds.
Perhaps this is a way for a well-established brand to connect with a new generation of fans, one more concerned with experiences than with material possessions. And they are not alone. Other iconic fashion brands have also been dabbling in NFTs, including Gucci and Balenciaga.
Marvel and Disney explore NFTs
Attractions heavyweight Disney, the parent company of Marvel Entertainment, is also starting to enter the world of NFTs.
Earlier this year, Marvel Entertainment announced that it had partnered with the VeVe Digital Collectibles App, in order to provide a “global digital collectibles experience”. Then, in August, it revealed the first NFTs on offer as a result of this new initiative: five different digital statues of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
“Spider-Man is one of the most legendary Super Heroes in the Marvel Universe, so there was no better way to kick off our global digital collectibles experience with VeVe,” said Dan Buckley, President, Marvel Entertainment. “We can’t wait to bring Marvel fans and collectors even more exciting drops throughout August and beyond.”
However, the response was not overly positive, with critics saying the digital models were of poor quality. Marvel also released some other NFTs were released later that same month. This included a Marvel 1st digital statue of Captain America. Fans could also collect a fully readable digital version of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1.
In Hong Kong, Ocean Park launched a new immersive, interactive experience this summer, called Explorer R. Here, younger guests can create their own avatars, as well as AI SuperAnimals. Along the way, they also learn about the world around them and develop their creative skills.
“Harnessing technology for learning, the attraction features a stimulating mix of virtual games and interactive fun play for kids aged three to nine to experiment for themselves how animals adapt to their changing environments,” says Ocean Park.
Explorer R aims to encourage STEAM learning and to develop children’s critical thinking and practical learning skills.
But it doesn’t end there. The experience has been created by Immersive One, and its CEO Denny Wong has said that he envisions a new type of decentralised theme park for the future, where this immersive technology is backed by blockchain technology. Here, the avatars that visitors create would become NFTs, a unique collectable that they can take away and use again. Given the rise of gamification in the attractions industry, it’s certainly an idea that could gain traction.
We are all familiar with winning tokens and physical rewards when visiting an attraction. But could we see a future where attraction visitors come away with digital content to collect instead?
The first NFT museums
Last month, The Crypt, a new virtual NFT art museum launched on the Virtually World platform. This will be the first virtual visitor attraction on the platform, which was created by Virtually Holdings Ltd. Eventually, Virtually World will expand to include a shopping mall, sports village and gaming centre.
The Crypt is the brainchild of Jonathan Sands, Alex Suchet and Rick Senat. It aims to collect, curate and showcase collectables across art, literature, music, photography, sculpture and digital media. Much of this will be available for sale.
“We are responding to a fast-changing world where creatives are back in the driving seat, and one in which there are no boundaries,” said Sands on the concept.
The virtual museum will feature free-to-view art. The first six exhibitions are FLASHBACK, Alternate Dimensions, The Making of Heroes, Unseen Histories, Hollywood Greats and One Giant Leap.
There is also real-world NFT museum in the pipeline too. Todd Morley, co-founder of investment firm Guggenheim Partners said he wants to build the world’s largest NFT museum, during an interview with Bloomberg Markets: The Close.
The challenges of NFTs
NFTs are often built using the same kind of programming as cryptocurrency and often paid for with it as well. This comes with its own set of problems. Many brands are now keen to demonstrate their environmental and sustainable credentials. So, making sure that the technology behind their NFTs is green will be key.
Many cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, require large amounts of energy, due to the computations needed for ‘mining’. This is the process of creating new units of cryptocurrency by solving a computational puzzle.
Currently, the entire bitcoin network consumes more energy than some major countries, like Argentina, Sweden and Ukraine. Not to mention the fact that, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge, the majority of bitcoin mining currently takes place in China, which gets most of its electricity by burning coal.
An NFT art heist?
Another issue is the potential for the creation of new NFTs, without the knowledge or approval of the original’s owner. For example, in March 2021, an art collective called Global Art Museum announced a collection of NFTs. These were based on paintings from the Rijksmuseum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Birmingham Museums, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Welcome to GAM.
Our 1st NFT social experiment has ended. A global conversation on NFTs has finally started with a big bang. We are thankful for 1000s of tags & mentions on Twitter. Let us explain what REALLY happened. 🙂#museum #museums #nft #art pic.twitter.com/VwkZ6gr6OP
— GAM (Global Art Museum) (@GlobalArtMuseum) March 15, 2021
Following some outrage from the museum world at this apparently unauthorised release, the collective then said that this initial launch had been a ‘social experiment’. The stunt was a way of generating publicity for its real offering: animated versions of famous paintings as NFTs. However, there has been no further comment on Global Art Museum’s Twitter account since then. Furthermore, some months later, the promised animated canvasses have not yet appeared for sale.
Will the trend continue?
The attractions industry is still recovering from the challenges of the global pandemic. And NFTs could certainly help to provide a much-needed revenue boost.
For example, earlier this year The Uffizi Gallery in Florence announced that it had turned one of the jewels of its collection, a Michelangelo painting of the holy family, Doni Tondo (1505–06), into an NFT. The digital piece sold for €140,000 ($170,000) and apparently more masterpieces will follow suit, including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Caravaggio’s Bacchus.
“In the medium term [the NFT sales] will be able to contribute to the finances of a museum, comparable to the proceeds of the restaurant business. It is not a change of direction in terms of revenue, it is an additional revenue. But creating such a market is not a quick thing,” Eike Schmidt, the museum’s director, told Corriere della Sera.
Many have said that NFTs are a flash in the pan. Yet interest continues to grow, with more and more brands exploring the concept. As traditional retail continues to struggle, and a new type of retailtainment-based brand experience rises in popularity for the digital age, it seems that many are seeing this as a new way of interacting with consumers.
David Pakman is a partner at Venrock, an investor in the company behind NBA Top Shot. Speaking with Business Insider, he said he foresees many major IPs, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, getting into the digital collectables game.
Top image: The Crypt