Strange New World: The Secret Stock Market No One’s Told You About

The Internet has always really liked cats. Maybe you remember Nyan Cat. The looped music video of a flying pop tart with a smiling cat’s face leaving rainbow exhaust struck a nerve with the internet. Years later, Bitcoin started soaring and the internet found another obsession. Then in 2017 when Cryptokitties launched we returned to cat equilibrium.

If you don’t know Cryptokitties, they are cartoon cats that sell for more than $300 on average. Why do they sell for that much? Each one is a digital snowflake — it can’t be copied or reproduced. And if you get a couple of them you can breed them! Like a colorful racehorse that can’t race and looks at you with glassy eyes. And because of this, Cryptokitties is a market with $23,000,000+ in trades on Opensea alone. Opensea.io along with Rarible.com and Mintable.app are the internet’s big NFT marketplaces (an NFT, or a “Non-Fungible Token”, is a digital item made especially so someone can own it. It’s like a signature work except the signature is lines and lines of code, unique to that file).

These sites are fully developed, large marketplaces and Opensea claims the title of being the biggest. On Opensea you’ll find a huge assortment of “unique and one of a kind” digital things that get bigger and stranger the deeper you go. On sale on Opensea are an incredibly vast and creative multitude of stupid collectibles: floating sneaker gifs (called “glitchKICKS”), trading cards, coins, art, domain names, video game usernames (“PoundTown” is on sale for $16,611.05 in case you’re interested), and, most interestingly, land.

Not land in the sense of you can buy a studio apartment there. Everything for sale on Opensea represents a digital product, so you’d be buying land you could only see in a virtual world. It’s hard to explain but here’s one:

This one’s for sale for just under 12 Ethereum (Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency behind bitcoin, is the standard currency for Opensea and other digital marketplaces). 11.8 Ethereum rounds up to $40,000. If you’re not sold here’s another angle of the property:

Now, because this is an NFT, you could flip this property. But on the other hand, where would hang your hat after a long day that you work to put food on the table for your electric nuclear family? A smaller property I saw listed for $1000 was advertised as “cheap” and “close to the university”.

The virtual worlds that have markets on Opensea are The Sandbox, Somnium Space VR, Cryptovoxels, and Decentraland, the big one. These marketplaces specialize in the trade of land (virtual-estate?). The Sandbox Market has traded more than $17 million in under 14 thousand trades. Trades have an exchange of $3,384 (0.42 Ethereum) on average and almost 10 thousand individual owners. If you look at the last 30 offers, they were all made by the same unnamed person (no username, no profile), all at 0.29 Ethereum ($979). On this person’s page, the ones he’s purchased and dozens more were re-listed and are being auctioned off at a markup.

Cryptovoxels is a marketplace with $50 million in trades with 15.2 thousand trades, an average exchange of 2.09 Ethereum (almost $7,000), and 1.2 thousand owners. I couldn’t get into The Sandbox game without making another digital wallet (you need a digital wallet for Ethereum to have an account on Opensea) but I could get into Cryptovoxels. It was empty, devoid of activity. The few people that I did see were pretty text mute and aimless, not that there was much to do. Most plots were empty and most buildings weren’t more than grey structures. And the ones that were more developed didn’t seem very “lived in”, as would serve a $6000 space.

Here’s a screenshot:

You can see several plots in the picture. In the distance are some of the empty grey structures. That orange coin closer to us is a Bitcoin statue and in the front is a pyramid, with a tent and a couple of Tesla Trucks. The NFT world is obsessed with Elon Musk. I’ve seen Elon Musk coins, collectibles called “Cryptopunks in Cybertrucks”, and Elon Musk art (like Andy Warhols’ Marilyn Monroe).

Here’s another screenshot:

“Cryptovoxels” as a word is interesting. It was easy to look past because it seems everything on Opensea is Crypto-something. But a “voxel” is a 3D space in a computed model, and the root of crypto in greek is secret/hidden. So Crypto-voxels means secret digital spaces and with 15 times more trade than actual owners, it’s safe to say Cryptovoxels isn’t more than a secret real estate market.

Going up the ladder is Somnium Space VR. The Somnium Space market has traded more than $444 million on Opensea alone, it additionally has its own marketplace on somniumspace.com. On Opensea it has 593 owners with a massive 19.8 thousand volume traded with an average price of $22,468 (6.78 ETH). If the only people that traded were owners, that would be 33–34 trades per person. Somnium Space properties are like Sandbox and Decentraland properties in that they vary in size and type. As such, some properties are more popular than others like the “Large Parcel on the waterfront” that got a lot of bids. One offer at $18.5 thousand expired before the property was snatched by another buyer at an undisclosed price.

Decentraland is the largest marketplace, with a market of $5.363 billion in trades on Opensea. Responsible for this are four and a half thousand owners and 126,000 items traded at an average price of over $42,000 (10.95 ETH). Like Somnium Space VR, this virtual world is more of a video game. There are arcades, mini-games, soccer fields, and casinos. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty empty. I watched a YouTube video when I initially couldn’t get in. Youtuber Cagyjan1 likes the game and he had a spiel while at Decentralands’ casino on why you should buy a gambling machine: “…think about the potential of this, imagine owning one of these machines and then there’s a bunch of people gambling here, people already do it in webpages, why would you wanna do something in a webpage,” he says, on a webpage. He continues, “when you could do it here, with actual people!” And to illustrate his point, Cagyjan walks up to an unmoving avatar with gold-rimmed glasses and an ever so curled mustache. The avatar is looking away, but above his head in white text against a grey highlight (so you can see it better) is the word “baus”, his name. Later he’s playing a mini-game, throwing coconuts at monkeys. The mini-game is Kokojones, which you might think is a ripoff of Indiana Jones, but is actually also a ripoff of Temple Run. He throws another coconut while riding as a passenger on the back of a jeep driven by a computer. “Look at that aim, see if they introduce some kind of play to earn that could be cool.” What Cagyjan means is, some way to earn “Mana” the game’s currency, which you can only get by exchanging Ethereum for it. You wind up needing to pay Mana to do just about anything in the game. You need it to have an account, you need it to have property, you end up needing it to claim rewards from the mini-games you play. Cagyjan wanted to play a zombie mini-game, but couldn’t fight the undead at all because a gun costs hundreds of Mana (one Mana is worth more than a dollar). He continued hitting monkeys with coconuts. “What do I get for spending my time here…?” Cagyjan said, facing a terrible realization.

It’s striking just how money-oriented it all is. Young, innovative, and artistic minds are creating interesting new pieces of trash every day. And in this shiny new world with unlimited possibilities the driving force of venture is a dollar. This digital world is a marketplace filled with marketplaces, whenever I think I found a product it always ends up seeming more like the means to selling another meaningless something. This world of crypto seems to be of and for ownership. And it banners decentralized freedom as if big government wasn’t completely pro you buying things.

Virtual Worlds are but a part of the massive market that exists on Opensea. Along with Virtual worlds are domain names, trading cards, and collectibles. Each of which could be worth an untold amount of money. CryptoPunks are collectibles whose market is worth more than $400 million. And the virtual worlds’ markets on Opensea combined trade more than $5.874 billion. If you add Cryptopunks’ market worth, you get $6.31 billion. 6,314,886,320 is a big number. A different way of looking at it is a case of 24 water bottles for each of the eight hundred and eighty-four million people living without access to safe drinking water. And that’s retail. For that amount of money someone clever could make a deal, make it worth their while.