When Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet was sold as a Non-Fungible-Token (NFT) for $2.9 million last March to a Malaysia-based businessman, the world sat up and took notice.
Asia has since emerged as the frontrunner in the global NFT craze with Southeast Asians making up most NFT-based web traffic last year, according to a report by research firm Finder. Central and Southeast Asia accounted for 35% of the $22 billion in global trade of NFTs last year, says research firm Chainalysis Inc.
Three Southeast Asian countries — the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia – top Finder’s list of web traffic while Global Google trends data for 2021 found that search queries for NFTs came most frequently from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and South Korea.
The Indian cryptocurrency exchange WazirX launched South Asia’s first NFT marketplace in June last year, with 15 NFT creators from across Asia. The platform allowed creators to pay minimal gas fees – payments made by NFT creators to compensate for the computing energy required – for saving them on the blockchain.
Abhishek Kalyanpurkar, a 37-year-old digital artist from Mumbai, is one of the beneficiaries. He says he minted more than 563 NFTs on the WazirX cryptocurrency exchange NFT Marketplace within two months of starting his journey in July. Each is priced at an average of $10.
“It has been life-altering,” he said. “Anyone who is a creator should tap into this growing market. The buyer transfers crypto to my Metamask wallet and I get the money converted through Binance Exchange.”
Metamask is an NFT blockchain and cryptocurrency wallet based on the Ethereum blockchain where users can receive and send crypto.
NFTs (Non-Fungible-Tokens) are tradeable, secure versions of a digital asset, including jpegs and videos, that come in many forms. An NFT can be a cartoon, a game’s digital avatar, a song, or even something as bizarre as the photo of a potato. Any unique creation can be a non-fungible (non-interchangeable) token with monetary value.
Asia NFTs Thriving On Discord and Twitter
The industry has also seen a steady rise in central and south Asian artists on social media channels including Discord and Twitter. NFT Asia, a community for Asian NFT artists, has some 2,700 followers on Discord and over 9,000 followers on Twitter.
Another growth witnessed in the space is through playing NFT paly-to-earn games. One NFT game that saw rapid growth in Asia was the Play-To-Earn ‘Axie Infinity’ game from Vietnamese company Sky Mavis.
Daily active Axie players jumped from over 10,000 players in January 2020 to over 2 million users in 2021, revealed Gaming analytics site ActivePlayer.IO. Axie was most popular in countries like the Philippines, Venezuela, USA, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
When the pandemic hit the Philippines, over 4.5 million Filipinos lost their jobs and Axie Infinity became an alternate source of income for many.
The game requires players to own a Pokemon-like avatar called ‘Axies’ which is an NFT minted in the game. Players buy or exchange Axies, which can cost around $350-$600, through two cryptocurrencies – Smooth Love Potions (SLP) and Axie Infinity Shards (AXS).
“Axie solves one crucial problem that is associated with NFTs – low liquidity,” said Nix Eniego, a 29-year-old Axie Scholarship manager from the Philippines. “While playing Axie, you can instantly use your Axie NFTs. This is not true for creators who sell their NFT art.”
NFT gatherings in Asia also picked up pace last year with events such as Art Moments Jakarta, Art Fair Philippines and CryptoArt Week Asia.
And NFTs are even being used as a way to make protests. Chinese political artist Badiuco, who is based in Australia, released his Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics NFT collection last month. It depicts Chinese oppression of Tibetans, alleged Uighur genocide, Hong Kong unrest, surveillance systems and a lack of transparency around Covid-19.
Plagiarising, Bootlegging and Identity Theft of NFTs
There are pitfalls to be wary of in the industry. Many artists have reported plagiarised artwork, bootlegging and identity theft.
Even on the world’s largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, NFT artists complain that their requests to take down accounts copying their digital art are ignored.
The company disabled its helpline page on December 12 and its claim that artwork is stored only on a blockchain has been challenged by Geoffrey Huntley, an Australian IT professional and programmer.
“Storing one gigabyte of data on a blockchain costs over $76,000,’’ he said. “Many NFT artworks claiming to be stored on a blockchain are still using Google Drive or a web 2.0 host. You are spending billions of dollars on a clickable link that will lead you to an image.”
A Twitter page called ‘NFT Thefts’ is working towards educating artists on how to protect their stolen digital art. Artists can, for example, log their copyright concerns through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that provides qualifying online service providers like Google with a safe harbour from monetary liability for copyright infringement claims.
NFT marketplaces have also started providing verification badges for artists owning the work, but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to protect their creations.
Despite these problems, NFTs are providing platforms for Asian artists to profit from blockchain technology with their artwork. Artists like Abhishek and game players like Isaiah have substantially benefited from NFTs through trading their digital collectibles.
“My work is being well-received globally,” says Kalyanpurkar. “I have over three decades of experience as an artist but to receive such a profit inspires you to create more art.“
- By Eetika Kapoor