GameStop breaks into surging NFT marketplace space

GameStop

GameStop, a retail company specialising in video games, gaming merchandise, and consumer electronics, has recently announced that it is entering the NFT space. The retailer’s stock price has been very unstable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when international restrictions dramatically reduced the foot traffic to its then over 4500 stores1. This was followed by a very controversial and widely reported short squeeze of GameStop stock2.

In January 2022, GameStop announced it was developing an NFT marketplace, focused on in-game NFTs, following a hiring spree for a new department3. GameStop’s new NFT landing page invites NFT creators to apply to join their marketplace, under the banner statement “Power to the players. Power to the creators. Power to the collectors.”4 By developing an NFT marketplace, GameStop hopes to position itself to benefit from the future uptake of NFTs in gaming. It does not plan to rely on immediate financial gains from NFTs or NFT-related company stocks. 

What are NFTs? Is there such thing as NFT stock? How will GameStop’s new venture fit into the success and stability of NFT-related company stocks? 

What are NFTs?  

Many people are confused by how to define an NFT. NFTs, non-fungible tokens, are units of value whose worth is not stable or set. Something fungible is comprised of units that can easily be exchanged. For example, $10 can readily be swapped for 10 $1 bills, or two $5 bills, without losing any value in the transaction. NFTs are unique assets that must be traded as single units. They are usually image or audio files. 

Unlike freely available digital images, NFTs are images that have been tokenized. This means that the image is linked to a unique ownership certificate, which is registered in the blockchain. Because this record of ownership, a public and decentralized ledger, is stored on many computers separately and simultaneously, it cannot be forged5. This secures the ownership of the image so that, even if the image is reproduced, the ownership is incontestable.  

NFT-related stocks and NFT marketplaces

NFTs are traded in cryptocurrencies and held in NFT wallets. They can be transferred from one marketplace to another6. Just as  NFT-related company stocks are largely unrelated to other commodities or stocks, the marketplace seems to operate relatively interpedently. However, central bank discussion of cryptocurrencies, as well as inflation and other economic markers, seem to have impacted the value of the currencies in which NFTs are traded.7 However, this has not impacted the value of the individual NFTs themselves within cryptocurrency marketplaces.

GameStop’s Chief Executive Matt Furlong stated that their strategy in developing a new NFT marketplace is to emphasize long term positioning, to enable GameStop to “ultimately become a much larger business.”8 Following their announcement in the Wall Street Journal, GameStop’s shares jumped 20%, perhaps indicating that investors think that NFT marketplaces are an expanding space9. Currently, the largest NFT marketplace is OpenSea, which is valued at $13.3 billion. However, as large companies such as GameStop enter and disrupt the NFT marketplace space, this valuation may change10.

NFTs and the art world 

 Initially, NFTs were a niche marketplace. Though the first NFT was created in 2014, significant interest in NFTs began in 2020, with a boom in the NFT marketplace. From January to March 2021, more than $200 was spent on NFTs11. A range of mostly US based celebrities were early adopters of this new form of art exchange. Paris Hilton’s NFT of her dog is one notable example12. Hilton’s claim that NFTs are a way for “fans to have a piece of me” reflects a recent entanglement of the contemporary art world with cutting edge finance and the democratisation of art ownership13.

For approximately a year, traditional auction houses have been selling NFTs. Perhaps most famously, an NFT by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold for $69.3 million at auction at Christies14. Not all NFTs are art or images. Sotheby’s recently sold an NFT of the original source code of the internet for over $5 million15.

Another emerging space is institutions such as museums selling NFTs of famous artworks in their collections. The British Museum, in partnership with French start-up La Collection16, has plans to sell 200 NFTs of Hokusai artworks. Rather than trading contemporary art as NFTs, these works are reproductions of the famous Japanese artist’s work. Though the images of these artworks are widely available, the NFTs are individualized. Each image is available in a range of editions and at different values, ranging from ‘ultra-rare’ (two editions) to ‘limited’ (1000 editions) and ‘common’ (10,000 editions). The British museum will keep an edition of each sort of NFT. Moreover, 10% of sale on the secondary market will go to the museum and 3% to maintaining the collection17.

The surge in the production, sale, and trade of NFTs in the art world means that NFT marketplaces are likely to become increasingly important. 

NFTs and the gaming landscape 

GameStop is not the only gaming related company with a stake in the future of NFT-related activities. For years, gamers have been spending money on in-game purchases, turning players into payers18. Some online games have recently introduced NFTs to supplement or replace those purchases, with limited, mixed success19.

The recent advent of NFTs in gaming reflects the importance of Facebook’s attempt to create the metaverse, as indicated by its recent rebranding as Meta. In the metaverse, people will move seamlessly through activities including work, social interaction, and gaming, all in a virtual space20. There have been a range of attempts to make the metaverse more accessible through gaming. For example, in January 2022, Ancient8, a Vietnamese blockchain gaming guild that develops software allowing people to play “play-to-earn” games raised $4 million in seed funding21

The success of ‘play-to-earn’ games is intertwined with the success of the metaverse. For example, the market cap. of Axie Infinity, a successful ‘play-to-earn’ game, increased from $40 million in January 2021 to $9.6 billion in November 202122. However, in January 2022 there was a 20% drop in the value of tokens within the game23.

The future of NFT-related company stocks and NFT marketplaces 

As indicated by the volatility of Axie Infinity, it is impossible to know which NFTs to buy now to secure medium- or long-term value. The success of NFT investing (as opposed to traditional investing as we know it) is dependent on both the specific NFT, as well as the value of the cryptocurrencies in which the NFTs are traded. A further consideration is the pace and success of the development of the metaverse. The increase in GameStop’s stock price since the announcement of their foray into the NFT marketplace indicates that interest in publicly traded companies with exposure to the NFT-related ecosystem is likely to increase. An ETF that invests in a wide range of companies with activities in the NFT ecosystem might better cushion investors against some of the price turbulence of those same individual companies’ stocks alone. It seems that NFTs are here to stay, and that NFT marketplaces, like GameStop’s, could potentially become increasingly important.

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1D. Tighe, 13 April 2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1209737/number-of-gamestop-stores-worldwide/#:~:text=As%20of%20January%202021%2C%20GameStop,compared%20to%20last%20year’s%20total 

2Rob Davies, 28 Jan 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jan/28/gamestop-how-reddits-amateurs-tripped-wall-streets-short-sellers

3Sarah Needleman 6 January 2022 https://accounts.wsj.com/login?target=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wsj.com%2Farticles%2Fgamestop-entering-nft-and-cryptocurrency-markets-as-part-of-turnaround-plan-11641504417 

4https://nft.gamestop.com/

5https://www.euromoney.com/learning/blockchain-explained/what-is-blockchain#:~:text=A%20blockchain%20is%20essentially%20a,computer%20systems%20on%20the%20blockchain.&text=Blockchain%20is%20a%20type%20of,cryptographic%20signature%20called%20a%20hash

6Paulina Linkos 21 January 2022 https://money.usnews.com/investing/cryptocurrency/articles/what-are-nfts-a-guide-for-investors

7Chris MacDonald 14 January 2022 https://www.fool.com/investing/2022/01/14/bitcoin-ethereum-and-solana-all-move-lower-today-h/

8Sarah Needleman 6 January 2022 https://accounts.wsj.com/login?target=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wsj.com%2Farticles%2Fgamestop-entering-nft-and-cryptocurrency-markets-as-part-of-turnaround-plan-11641504417

9Ramishah Maruf, 7 January 2022 https://edition.cnn.com/2022/01/07/business/gamestop-nft-marketplace/index.html

106 January 2022 https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-59880739#:~:text=An%20online%20marketplace%20OpenSea%20says,a%20work%20of%20digital%20art 

11Andrew Chow, 22 March 2021 https://time.com/5947720/nft-art/

12Paris Hilton, 19 April 2021 https://twitter.com/parishilton/status/1384247412680658950?lang=en 

13Rosanna McLaughlin, 6 November 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/nov/06/how-nfts-non-fungible-tokens-are-shaking-up-the-art-world#:~:text=Hilton%20first%20started%20investing%20in,owns%20more%20than%20150%20NFTs 

14Tim Copeland, 11 March 2021 https://decrypt.co/60971/beeples-nft-artwork-sells-for-60-3-million-in-christies-auction

15Elizabeth Howcrof, 9 November 2021 https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/new-masters-how-auction-houses-are-chasing-crypto-millions-2021-11-08/ 

16https://lacollection.io/

1726 November 2021 https://nonfungible.com/blog/the-british-museum-is-auctioning-hokusai-nft-art 

1829 March 2021 https://digitalmediatreatment.com/in-game-purchases/

19Justin Birnbaum, 6 January 2022 https://www.forbes.com/sites/justinbirnbaum/2022/01/06/why-video-game-makers-see-huge-potential-in-blockchain-and-why-problems-loom-for-their-new-nfts/?sh=286e2c9943d7 

20Steve Alexander, 14 January 2022 https://techcrunch.com/2022/01/14/a-hospitable-metaverse-requires-the-basic-building-blocks-of-virtual-life/ 

21Kate Park, 19 January 2022 https://techcrunch.com/2022/01/19/ancient8-secures-4m-in-seed-to-democratize-social-and-financial-access-in-the-metaverse/

22Kevin George, 19 January 2022 https://seekingalpha.com/article/4480424-gamestop-what-expect-from-new-nft-pivot 

23Chris MacDonald, 22 January 2022 https://www.fool.com/investing/2022/01/22/why-metaverse-cryptos-plunged-20-today/