A Sotheby’s auction of 101 NFTs depicting cartoon primates with varying levels of joy, rage, and boredom, sold on September 9th, 2021, for USD$24.4M. At the time of writing, a set of 4 NFTs from the same collection of silently expressive monkeys was on auction by Christie’s, with current bids ranging from HKD$850K (USD$109K) to HKD$5M (USD$624K). All of these NFTs originate from the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) collection, an NFT avatar project which has taken the crypto-sphere by storm since its late-April mint and has slowly established its presence in the mainstream awareness of digital assets.
This article will chronicle the story behind BAYC, the collection’s rise to prominence, as well as the distinguishing features which have established it as one of the premier NFT projects. In particular, the following subjects will be covered:
The Origins of BAYC
The BAYC collection was originally conceived by crypto-curious creative writers who go by the pseudonyms Gordon Goner and Gargamel. After spending some years speculating on bitcoin and ether, the two grew increasingly interested in taking on a more active role in the crypto-sphere. However, with their lack of expertise in blockchain, they felt their participation in crypto would be inherently limited to observing and buying what the more technically-minded members of the community built. It was not until their discovery of the Hashmasks collection that the long-time friends understood the promise of NFTs and the integral role that creatives like themselves could play in realizing their potential.
Goner and Gargamel’s early ideation proved fruitless. Their original plan to create a shared digital canvas for community members to collaboratively draw was shot down by a mutual friend who quipped “…people are gonna draw a dick on this thing the second it goes up. This is crypto”. This indictment of the crypto-sphere’s degeneracy ultimately proved to be the seed from which BAYC grew. After considering their friend’s feedback, the pair began to conceptualize a virtual world and its inhabitants which together could personify the degenerate, rash, and sometimes impulsive nature of crypto investors writ large. As Goner put it:
“The idea was that it was this place for degenerates to go, right? Because that’s who we were. We were the guys who aped into every fu*king sh*tcoin. We kind of are that person.”
The pair developed the Bored Apes backstory further, imagining them to be crypto investors in the distant future who have amassed obscene levels of wealth and have no remaining avenues through which to increase their fortunes. Bored and with nothing left to conquer in the crypto-sphere, the Apes retreat to a swamp club in the Everglades with their newfound riches to “…hang out … and get weird” together.
In developing and launching the BAYC collection, Goner and Gargamel joined forces with the pseudonymous Emperor Tomato Ketchup and No Sass to form Yuga Labs LLC. The launch of the BAYC pre-sale on April 23rd, 2021 – a moment in the NFT boom where markets appeared to be cooling down – was met with little fanfare. A week passed before a frenzy began around the collection, with the catalyst being the reveal of the unique artwork underlying each Bored Ape NFT. All 10,000 tokens had been minted by April 31st at a fixed cost of 0.08 ETH for each Bored Ape, and the blazing-fast growth of the BAYC collection has not slowed down since.
An Exploration of Bored Ape Traits
Bored Apes are procedurally-generated and each can inherit between 4 and 7 traits out of a possible 170. The traits which combine to make each Bored Ape distinct affect its background, fur, hat, clothes, eyes, mouth, and earrings. The Apes which inherit only 4 traits are the scarcest, with only 254 in circulation, while those inheriting 6 traits are most common, with a supply in excess of 5,300.
Examining but a few of the traits, some have iterations which contribute significantly more to a Bored Ape’s rarity. For instance, in the case of the mouth trait, a mere 26 Apes have a bored, unshaven expression with a pizza dangling from between their lips. The rarest iteration with respect to the clothes trait is a simple black suit, with only 42 Apes sporting this attire. In terms of colour, 46 Apes have solid gold fur, and with respect to the eyes, only 49 have blue beams shooting into the sky. Overall, as with any NFT project that incorporates a tiered rarity system, Bored Apes with more rare attributes will naturally command higher market prices.
BAYC by the Numbers
The rise of the BAYC collection in terms of adoption and popularity has included a coincident rise in daily volume traded. Following a relatively flat first 3 months for the project, daily volumes began to soar in August 2021 with a peak of USD$55.7M on August 28th. This peak came about on the day of the Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) launch. While it will be discussed in greater length below, MAYC was a project by the original BAYC developers which was in-part accessible only to existing Apeholders. Following a frenzy to buy Bored Apes as a way of increasing claims of Mutants, the market for BAYC cooled down significantly and has continued at early-mid-August levels since. Another noteworthy trend that can be gleaned from the daily volumes data is that the general increase in dollar value exchanged has been met with a general decrease in number of transactions executed. Naturally, this is explained by an uptrend in the average sale prices of Bored Apes.
The rise in average sale prices is in no small part thanks to the consistent record-setting sales of Bored Ape NFTs in recent months. According to DappRadar, all of the 19 most expensive Bored Ape sales have occurred in the months of August and September 2021, with the sale of Bored #3749 – affectionately dubbed ‘The Captain’ – commanding the highest sale price in the history of the BAYC collection.
Besides volume and average sale prices, members of the BAYC community have long touted the project’s higher levels of decentralization and distribution relative to comparable avatar NFT projects. According to Etherscan, the 10,000 Bored Apes are held between 5,515 wallets. This would imply that the collection is highly distributed, with BAYC community members holding on average 1.81 Apes. The project’s lack of token concentration is further exemplified by the fact that the top 10 holders control a relatively meager 7.17% of the entire collection. In contrast, CryptoPunks community members hold an average of 3.30 Punks, while the top 10 tokenholders control 19.37% of the total supply. Evidently, BAYC is the more open and distributed collection among blue-chip avatar NFT projects.
As will be explored below, the BAYC developers have released off-shoot and companion NFT collections to serve as additional entry-points into the Bored Ape ecosystem. The aforementioned MAYC collection is one of these, as is the Bored Ape Kennel Club (BAKC) collection. Examining volume and price trends for these official BAYC companion projects reveals that while BAKC has generally followed a similar trend to that of the Bored Apes, the MAYC collection has witnessed a precipitous decline in activity since its launch. In either case, both projects’ relatively low floors serve as more viable entry-points into the BAYC ecosystem for less crypto-rich investors, allowing newcomers to enjoy – albeit to a lesser extent – some of the benefits which accrue to Bored Ape holders.
What Makes BAYC Special?
For the countless avatar NFT collections, there may not appear to be any defined best practices for achieving the same critical mass as the blue-chip projects. In the case of CryptoPunks, for instance, the project’s incomparable success seems to be in large part driven by its status as the first NFT collection. However, BAYC does not have this luxury of being first-to-market and yet has continued to outperform all other derivative avatar NFTs. The distinct success of BAYC did not come about by happenstance, but instead resulted from a series of thoughtful and well-executed decisions to boost community engagement and drive growth in valuations. Following is a brief distillation of the playbook that BAYC has followed to capture the funds and attention of investors in an increasingly saturated NFT market:
Unlike most other avatar and NFT collections more broadly, BAYC is special in granting commercial use licenses for the artwork to the holder of the NFT. This design choice serves to empower creators by granting them legal standing to appropriate their Bored Apes for other creative pursuits, whether it be digital art projects, merchandise, or billboards. Although this is still a step away from total and complete transfer of the underlying copyright, BAYC’s comparatively liberal approach to intellectual property grants community members the ability to profit from their ownership of Bored Apes. This no doubt incentivizes the NFT owners to promote the collection, driving greater interest in BAYC. In reference to the project’s terms & conditions, paragraph 3 explicitly outlines:
“…Yuga Labs LLC grants you an unlimited, worldwide license to use, copy, and display the purchased Art for the purpose of creating derivative works based upon the Art…”
The BAYC Bathroom
Ownership of BAYC tokens is distinguished from ownership of comparable avatar NFTs insofar as it offers some functional utility and practical benefits beyond just social signaling and the potential for speculative gains. The BAYC Bathroom is a digital forum accessible only to owners of Bored Ape NFTs and serves as a sort of collaborative art canvas for community members to graffiti their collective thoughts. The mechanics of this feature involves staggering each member’s interactions with the Bathroom, with holders of Bored Apes able to paint a single pixel on the canvas in 15-minute intervals. In its current state, the BAYC Bathroom plays host to community-drawn pictures of popular culture figures, wordmarks, and other less discernible squiggles.
A Focus on Cultivating Community
BAYC’s developers have shown time and again since the project’s launch their commitment to building a vibrant community of long-term Apes. A key initiative in doing so was the BAYC Community Grant Program. Announced shortly after the collection’s initial launch, the program was designed as a vehicle for the development team to help finance community-built and ecosystem-enriching projects. The first round of grant awardees collectively received USD$9K to pursue their respective BAYC-inspired projects.
Another notable community-building effort was the development of the aforementioned BAKC, a collection of up to 10,000 dog NFTs drawn in a similar artistic style as the original Apes. For a single week in June 2021, all Apeholders could claim their BAKC NFTs completely non gratis. The project was released as a surprise gift for existing Apeholders and helped to whet the community’s appetite as it awaited other promised developments from the project team. A particularly unique feature of these tokens was that they came with a limited-time 2.5% royalty fee on secondary sales set by the developers. Close to USD$900K raised through these royalties were donated in-full to no-kill animal shelters including the Wright-Way Rescue. Developing this surprise project and utilizing the funds in an altruistic manner both served as strong signals of the development team’s conscientiousness, an attribute which no doubt helped to entrench existing community members.
An Active and Farsighted Development Team
The project is also notable for having a thoughtful roadmap with tangible rewards conferred on community members for their continued engagement with the collection. The project’s roadmap at launch comprised 7 milestones based on targeted sell-through percentages. While the first milestone was clearly meant to be more tongue-in-cheek, the subsequent 6 all promised direct benefits to members of the community. BAYC’s Roadmap 1.0 comprised the following milestones:
Some of these goalposts were highly-anticipated and arrived to great enthusiasm from the community. For instance, the launch of the official BAYC merchandise collection at 60% sell-through was incredibly well-received by Bored Ape owners. The mid-August merchandise drop was done in collaboration with popular streetwear brand The Hundreds and included two colourways of t-shirts and hoodies, one of which was exclusive to Apeholders. After selling out in a mere six minutes, a secondary market formed around the merchandise with pieces selling for thousands of dollars.
Another noteworthy milestone was the aforementioned launch of the MAYC collection at 100% sell-through. Mutant Apes represent grotesque, genetically-perverted iterations of the original Bored Apes, with Mutants being created by applying consumable serum tokens to existing Apes or by minting them as part of a Dutch auction. The sale of 10,000 new Mutants generated USD$96M within an hour. The introduction of MAYC was meant to reward community members for their involvement in catapulting the original collection to mainstream notoriety, as well as to create an additional entry-point to the ecosystem for interested Apeholders who may have been priced-out of BAYC. The Mutants have been deemed the final tier of membership, with future development efforts being devoted to intrinsically value-adding features.
Of course, the evolution of BAYC has not stopped here. On September 21st, 2021, Roadmap 2.0 was revealed on the project’s official Twitter page. Presented in a highly-stylized format, the new roadmap features increasingly ambitious projects to further enrich the wider ecosystem. These include physical gatherings for Apeholders, mobile and blockchain-based video games, and a three-part epic ostensibly set in the Bored Ape narrative universe. The roadmap culminates in a DAO to transfer decision-making from the developer to the community. The developers clearly have grand visions of what BAYC could ultimately become, and their precedent of delivering on the promises of Roadmap 1.0 gives reason to believe that their future project objectives are well within reach.
Increasing Pervasiveness in Mainstream & Crypto Spheres
Aside from its incredible price rise, the BAYC collection has continued to expand its mindshare among existing members of the crypto world through high-profile and purpose-driven partnerships with other Web3 projects. Notable among these partnerships is BAYC’s teased collaborations with The Sandbox, one of the leading blockchain-based Metaverses. Developers of The Sandbox have shared their ambition of achieving interoperability with BAYC NFTs such that Apeholders can use their respective avatars to explore the virtual world. Signs of a more formalized partnership abound, with the BAYC developers purchasing a large plot of LAND in The Sandbox’s Metaverse, and The Sandbox’s developers famously acquiring Bored Ape #3749 for a record-breaking USD$2.9M. BAYC has also partnered with Decentraland, another premier Ethereum-based Metaverse, to airdrop branded virtual hoodies to be worn by characters in the Decentraland world.
These collaborations aside, BAYC’s reach has begun to extend far beyond the bounds of the crypto sphere. All-Star caliber players across both the NBA and NFL have publicly shown their support for BAYC and NFTs at large. Among the most recognizable names is 3-time NBA champion and 2-time league MVP Stephen Curry, who in August of 2021 purchased a Bored Ape for USD$180K. Other notable Apeholders from the NBA world include rising stars Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball. On the NFL side, Super Bowl champion and MVP Von Miller aped into the ecosystem in early August 2021, as has 3-time NFL Pro Bowler and avid NFT collector Dez Bryant.
The mainstream presence of BAYC has also reached the traditional corporate world. In much the same vein as VISA’s recent acquisition of a CryptoPunk, wildly popular iced tea manufacturer AriZona Beverages recently purchased a Bored Ape. It is important to note that this was not done as a collaboration or branding partnership with the official BAYC collection, but rather to promote Issue #1 of the community-produced Bored Ape Comic. Within the comic, which was released shortly after the company’s purchase, the AriZona logo appears on a billboard advertisement for ‘NFTea’. Although AriZona’s purchase and promotion of BAYC was not formally sanctioned by the project’s developers, there is little doubt that it helped to further propel the collection to mainstream visibility.
Bored Apes have become a dominant cultural force in the world of crypto, and the project’s growing mainstream penetration signals that it may have staying power among non-crypto audiences as well. Critically, BAYC’s success is attributable to considerate thematic styling for each component of the ecosystem as well as a long-term and well-communicated vision for the project’s future. Both attributes have become increasingly scarce among NFT projects, with many now being treated as vehicles for rapid wealth accumulation rather than sustaining forms of community-building and self-expression. In being born from this unique approach to NFT project development, the BAYC collection is sure to outlast its more insipid peers.
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