There’s a shady path that leads to a hidden cabin deep in the dark woods behind the gated kingdom. No one has ventured there before. Rumors are that inside of this cabin is a cursed tome -- something that should have been left forgotten. It probably smells a bit like old, wet socks (though some records report that the scent is more akin to 4-day old wilted roses). I’ve spent a while trying to recruit a party that’s brave enough or bored enough to excavate the ruin. Most of the time, the energy isn’t worth the effort, I’m told.
“What exactly do you need a cursed tome that smells like socks for? Anything good in it would have been taken away a long time ago.”
Not wrong. It’s more than that though. When I was small, I was working as a shoe shine in the upper kingdom. Honest work and pretty decent pay as most shoes are filthy. One customer still stands out in my mind to this day. He was a wizened, small fellow with a long scraggy beard and several disheveled robes hiding what I presumed was a frail, chocolate interior. He wore no shoes which seemed to be a bit of an issue considering my line of work.
“Young boy!” I recall the man saying (though I wasn’t exactly a boy at the time - more like a strapping and chiseled custodian of pristine shoes). “I would like your finest shoe shine!”
The old man chuckled to himself, obviously bemused by the joke he thought he’d made. He stood anxiously, likely awaiting some sort of response along the lines of “b-but sir, you have no shoes!”
I didn’t give him the satisfaction. After a quick ocular pat-down, I realized this scruffy grandpa had the same shoe size as myself. I told him to sit down on my bench and he did so, still with a ridiculous grin on his face. I gingerly removed my shoes from my own feet and placed them on the old mans. I probably shouldn’t have considered the extremely putrid state of his toes but had committed to the act.
The smile faded quickly and his face was replaced with a solemn melancholy. I performed a mighty dutiful shine, something I’ve never had the chance to do on my own shoes before.
When I was finished the man hopped off of the chair and exclaimed: “BEHOLD!” quickly dropping his garments on the dirty ground.
“Sir…” I began, before noticing what had been revealed before me. Huge binders of stamps scattered all around me. “There’s more where that came from!” the man said and ran off into the distance… with my shoes.
For years, I’ve devoted my efforts to solving the mystery of these stamp books and their origin. All signs pointing toward the haunted cabin.
Wow! How lucky it is to be a niche full of free-ish incentives. As the rest of the NFT space grows into a horrific nightmare creature full of random animal parts dripping off mutated exoskeletons and dysphoric traced women, the anime scene continues forward vibrant and mostly full of life. (Well, it was when I started this draft at least.)
Since that one article about collecting, the “stamp” game has ramped up and really become a strange force in the anime 1/1 scene. What does it mean? How can I leverage it for success and as a collector & artist what the fuck am I supposed to do with all of these stamps I’ve found myself dropping and receiving?
Sit tight little beans and beanettes, let’s talk about stamps from the traditional sense and explore some ways to spice up the metagame that has already added a lot of flavor to our corner of this environmentally destructive hobby.
Also heads up this is a REALLY long and disjointed blog. I didn’t edit it either so apologies. I’ll owe a real write up on rwx quest some day.
If you’re unfamiliar with bid stamps, the basic zeitgeist is “Hey yo, if you bid on my piece while it’s in auction - you get a consolation prize. A limited edition NFT that commemorates the auction!”. This was first pioneered by Naoki Saito (as an offshoot of his Stamp Book collection) and has become a standard in the anime scene.
People love the stamps. But people also don’t love them. The basic complaints about “thank you stamps” are:
For #1, there’s really no guarantee that having a stamp attached to an auction increases the number of bids you’ll get. The popular artists will still get more bids. It may create higher bids faster but generally it’s usually not a game of bid hot potato where someone who only wants a stamp gets stuck with the piece. For less higher profile artists, the stamps printed are usually only 1 or 2.
For #2, there’s really no reason to bid with alts or attempt to farm these things. Maybe if you speculate an artist will become huge, you’ll want to accumulate more stamps but generally stamps have very little value on secondary markets and the cost of the bid is often more than the stamp will sell on secondary. Also, like 98% of these stamps are minted on polygon which makes them a huge pain in the ass to do anything with.
For #3, we need to consider what value is and what the point of stamps are. Stamps are a great tool for creating limited edition runs. The argument could also be… why not just mint a limited edition run. As a collector, I like the stamps because I like the art - it’s fun to have a little piece of memorabilia from pieces I was interested in and that’s the value in of itself. But most stamps don’t do anything. There’s no utility attached (which is totally fine) except for the occasional whitelist access to everyone’s inevitable 10k pfp project (why is it always 10k?).
So, without actually getting too deep into the stamp metagame and game theory - I’m going to talk about traditional collecting in this section.
When I was a kid, I had a really gross addiction to cardboard crack, Magic the Gathering. I mean I was really hooked to this game and over the past 20 years I’ve developed Trading Card Game PTSD from all the poor decisions I’ve made surrounding my various collections over time. My first PTSD was giving all my Series 1 Pokemon cards away when I was in 6th grade (as an act of kindness to a friend). The second was having all my Yugioh cards stolen by some kid at church when I was in 8th grade. The third, ongoing one, is liquidating all my MTG cards every 5 years when I come into a capital crunch. The third one hits the hardest because I collected MTG because of the LORE.
I was obsessed with the Urza and Weatherlight arcs. I made sure to collect every crew member of the Weatherlight. I had my card binders sorted by story elements, not rarities. As a kid, I had to use a trade forum to blindly trust that someone would actually mail me the cards I needed to finish each one of these lore-based collections. It took an incredible amount of time and trust to complete and when I did - I was as giddy as a goose during a Ryan Gosling movie marathon.
My first liquidation when I was 19 was traumatic. All the effort going through school collecting these cards, consuming stories, and going on little quests trying to maximize my binder’s cool factor - gone. Well, all of it was lost except for the memory and the stories.
In present day - I’ve spent a little time rebuilding my lost treasures. It’s been a fun walk down a nostalgic road. But I’m not doing it as an investment. I’m doing it because something inside of me that I can’t explain is compelling it. So, what drives people to collect to begin with?
My grandfather gave me a stamp book when I was kid. I’m pretty sure I thought it was lame as shit. Stamps? Elvis stamps? Who cares. This massive binder of global stamps sits somewhere in a closet to this day. Perhaps this gift was meant to spark the joy of stamp collecting in me but my passions did not overlap with that of my grandfather’s gesture. My other grandfather gave me a shit ton of coins. Same thing - no spark. I failed both of them in carrying on the legacy of the thing they were into. Why was I compelled to collect cardboard, while they were compelled to collect coins and stamps.
I’m sure none of us were into our collections for the financial incentive. Likely the stamps were a physical journal of the correspondence my grandfather had - spurned by frequent letters to people around the world. Similarly, the coins may have been from travels around the world and ultimately both attached to stories created through the process.
When we look at the NFT environment, we do not have such a passion for story telling. There’s a lot of passion for getting rich quick or speculating on what life would be like if we had just managed to be included in the raffle for the shitty bird art with a celebrity name attached. But the primary driver does not begin with passion, it begins with dollar signs. Passion can be built through integrating oneself into a niche or a community. BAYC for example looks like shit and was spawned as a CryptoPunk derivative - with nothing particularly unique about it when it launched. However, I’m sure now there is storied lore and life experiences for those who integrated themselves into the culture its community built from the ground up.
There are some exceptions to the passion rule. But as I mentioned before in the last article about people saying the “don’t really understand art”, the space isn’t really at a place of maturity where the traditional incentive for collecting has become the norm here. Passion must be a forced function to enable the perception of growth for a project in the current environment. Growth in this case is at the very least, a consistent stable ‘floor’. But if we abstract away the financial incentive and focus on the story - maybe growth can mean something more personal.
When I was in college, I owned every single gaming console. I owned too many Nintendo Powers. I owned a lot of baggage. This was another collection I built over a long period of time. The initial inception was built from playing NES with my uncle as a toddler. Yep, I’m a gamer and 10+ years ago - I was cringe. I collected whatever gaming and gaming accessory based thing I could. The reason for this was a bit different from my collecting Magic cards. I wanted to show off how pristine my gaming collection was. It wasn’t to actually play the games - I’d already played what I wanted.
When you are trying to show off, it’s about the immediate first impression. Probably has something to do with signaling to your tribes. This ranges from the brand of clothing you wear or the music you blare out your car window when pulling into the parking lot at school. I think the feeling produced by both of the above examples is probably the same. The difference is a CD costs like 20 bucks and a full on SUPREME outfit several hundred. The outcome is the same though - the small piece of self-satisfaction when someone says “Dude, is that [OBSCURE BAND NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD OF]!” or “Yo, your drip is fire!”. Is the cost differential worth it if the dopamine hit is the same?
Probably - since the tribal signals are different.
For a game collection, there’s a cost premium depending on your motivations for collecting the game.
A conversation flow for the above.
“Hey dude, are you playing Tecmo Super Bowl!? I loved that game as a kid”
”yeah, me too! let’s play”
---- > *if there’s a box: “*yeah man, check it out” tosses box
-------------→ if there’s a pristine box: “yeah i fucking love this game, even have it mint in box. look at this instruction manual. I miss when we got detail like this in games!”
---------------------→ if you have a full wall of boxes “yeah i’m larping as AVGN! motions to wall”
The depth of the conversation train grows depending on the collected piece. Anyways, I sold most of my game stuff - only keeping a few things that I had personal attachment/passion for. I did not feel the same negative feelings that I did when I lost my cards.
Collecting for social signaling is even a huge mechanism in modern video game monetization. Why does anyone spend the time to 100% achievements for a game, or grind for gear in an MMOROG? This drive to signal your cool factor or immerse yourself in a passionate hobby is so powerful - it helps dollars bleed from your bank accounts.
And really the tl;dr here is: we collect for personal passion or tribal signaling. or you collect to speculate with the goal of selling to passionate tribes.
No. They don’t need to. Art is art and if you’re passionate about collecting art, stamps = more art. Maybe some day, someone will be passionate about collecting all of the anime NFT stamps. I think though (and this isn’t just a stamp thing) the broader culture in NFT is missing the humanity of physical collecting. I talk about this a lot - bringing that card binder to school and showing it off. Inspecting the items, telling stories about them. Trading for other things, signifying importance.
There’s not really an incentive out there to trade stamps for any reason outside of speculation. This means most stamps just sit in bidder wallets and will likely end untouched/unmoved eventually leading to them being lost to time in abandoned wallets.
In 2017, when I was making NFT art before it was called NFT art - I had a side project with a friend called Lexitoken. The website and whitepaper is long gone (lost to unpaid server bills) - but at its core we wanted to make the ICO ERC-20 tokens have actual use case by giving them properties. We called this mechanic ‘slotting’. Today, a similar mechanic exists called “wrapping”. Here’s the summary:
Lexitoken is a protocol for token standardization. When developing a token smart contract, there are many additional variables you can add to these tokens. Most are created to serve a specific purpose, and that’s cool. But what if I want to use my 1000 BasicAttentionTokens for purposes they weren’t meant for? That’s where Lexitoken comes in. By assigning additional stores of value to preexisting (and future) tokens — we can add value to these tokens and have them utilized across the network. Our main goal is cross dApp gamification, examples including: keys to rooms, weapon power-ups, hidden items, and access to private chats — but we’re sure you’ll be more creative.
As part of this project (and before I was aware of a project called Etheria), Moon and I decided it’d be fun to make a Multi-User Dungeon that leveraged token drops as loot. We named this thing Aetheria. It didn’t get very far. Just some spec’d screenshots and a MVP that is likely lost somewhere on a drive.
We’ve restarted this effort a few times over the years. The last interpretation being a discord engine Moon built to accompany our 10grans community server. Maybe some day, it’ll happen. But the challenge wasn’t the technology side of it - it was the substance of the thing. We were trying to jam a technical solution to a problem into something without knowing what the actual thing was supposed to be or how this solution solves its problem.
This is actually an issue across most of the NFT space. Promises of a game and metaverse at launch of a new PFP project. However, these PFP projects act basically as a kickstarter pledge and very few actually lead with just releasing a game first, that is at its core, fun. Most of these things are just made to scrape capital. When you want to tell a story, it’s probably best not to start by saying “This book will be a movie”. Know your medium and write something entertaining. Focus on the story.
And in gaming, most of the things that NFTs could provide utility for already exist (loot chests, characters, battle passes, etc.) A brave developer will one day release a game first that is fun. Until this happens, there’s a lot of maturity needed to see this space grow.
The inner circle social club pass stuff is hilarious and ridiculous. I understand it from a psychological perspective. Community tokens like VeeFriends give owners the opportunity to rub elbows with someone they idolize and to connect with like minded folks. And some of these communities actually do well with it. I may not agree with GaryV’s personal taste but as far as what he promises with his community token, consensus is he delivers.
In practice though, most of these influencer-based assets are mostly meant to enrich the creator. 888’s inner circle and most of the other related properties confuse me greatly. In 2021, there was a handful of collectors that spent large amounts buying everything on platforms like Foundation and once they reached a critical mass of audience began to explain how they were going to change the game by transforming things for the creators! Most of this stuff is just fluff and either the platforms failed, the influencer wasn’t consistent with their portrayal of themselves, or they turned out to be Beanie. But what perks do these circles actually provide? Idk. I’m not in one.
I was definitely inspired by 888’s inner circle. The whole notion of it infuriated me to the point of wanting to riff on it. Combined with the ongoing stamp metagame narrative and a wallet full of ‘ty stamps’ - I decided to try something.
I have 10 goals that have been guiding this rwx quest thing.
So, with these goals/rules, I did a vague cryptic tweet promising bidless stamps. In February, shortly after the 888 Inner Circle debacle, I dropped ‘bird site’ to everyone who responded to the tweet.
I put an unlockable in it that directed to a website and a discord. Told no one and waited to see what would happen.
Without getting into it in this already way to wordy blog - a lot has happened and it’s been fun (for me at least!)
Right now, there’s multiple ways to combine, redeem, and upgrade the art in the collection. There’s several ways of redeeming rwxquest stamps for nfts out of my collection. There’s methods coming soon for exchange stamps from other artists for artwork in my collection. There’s methods for receiving bid stamps without needing to place bids (reducing the bid meta pileup that happens sometimes). There’s ways to commission artwork from me with the stamps. We have a wiki with leaderboards, halls of fame, and expanding universe stuff.
Stamps must flow.
Upgrades and combination isn’t a new principle. Projects like Ghxsts set a framework for it - but I’m hoping that the shared cultural aspects, ability to share work outside of the specific project, removal of the need to “buy or bid”, and similar can spark something deeply passionate in people.
I know tt’s all very cryptic and I apologize. “The Dark Souls of NFTs” if you will. Basically, if you like my art and like getting stuff airdropped on mainnet (which is what the eth returns on the few character auctions goes into supporting) then you can hold these drops for more things. If you hate my stuff, I want to encourage you to trade it for stamps or artwork you might like that someone else questing owns (or that’s in the vault). If you don’t wanna be assed, maybe someone else will give you magic internet coins for one of these stamps. Maybe it all goes to 0.
And the lore and the world is being built not by me alone. There’s a metagame in which the community tries to break my mechanics and then I try to fix them and we do this dance. The unknowns lead to new quests and new items and new characters. All of it is incentive for me to draw more stuff and experiment. rwx quest will likely stay very niche and that’s okay. With share-alike licenses, the assets and world belong to everyone who shares the passion for the culture that’s being built.
I would like to make a video game out of it in the future and finish that M.U.D. but maybe someone else will beat me to making an rwx quest game - and that’s okay.
I’m eager to see how the rest of the stamp scene evolves. Maybe rwx quest will inspire a few people - but it’s okay if it doesn’t. Simultaneously, but potentially not in parallel, I’ve seen a few artists have started to provide similar game mechanics and utility for their stamps, creating things like redeemable store credits, lore, quests, and leveling. I Think That’s Cool. There’s a reason things are naturally evolving to this direction. If these fucking VC’s and grifters aren’t going to actually build anything that’s shared and innovative - then its up to the artists to own this, no matter how underground you are or may feel.
Let’s combine our ideas and art and worlds. Let’s bring the feelings of personal passion from traditional collectibles into our digital stamps and art. The metaverse doesn’t have to be a licensed brand shithole.
Let’s push everything forward even if it’s in secret and only for a handful of people.