Yuga Labs, the startup behind the popular Bored Apes Yacht Club project, finally got its long-rumored investment from venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz. It now has plenty of funds to transition into a game company — and create the illusion that its newly launched Apecoin is something other than an unregistered securities offering.
Apecoin, an ERC20 token that lives on Ethereum, is a path to liquidity from Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, of which many more are soon to come in the form of virtual land. “Blue-chip” NFTs are too expensive for the average Joe, and you can’t buy a fraction of an NFT, the way you can a fungible token.
As with the Bored Ape NFTs, Apecoin has zero intrinsic value. The money you get when you cash out comes from new investors buying in. Unlike virtual land or ERC20 tokens, the supply of suckers in the world is finite. Eventually, the tokens will crash in value and retailers will get stuck holding the bag.
After acquiring the IP for CryptoPunks and Meebits, Yuga Labs now controls three of the most popular NFT collections. All three live on Ethereum, a proof of work blockchain that consumes a country’s worth of energy. Each transaction on Ethereum is equivalent to the power consumption of an average U.S. household over nine days, according to Digiconomist.
Destroying the planet, one NFT at a time
Animoca Brands is the Hong Kong-based outfit behind the play-to-earn game Benji Bananas, which plans to incorporate Apecoin — an attempt to give the token utility and avoid regulatory scrutiny. P2E games have received criticism for being digital sweatshops. Players, often in poor areas of the world, are required to purchase an NFT, worth several months’ salary, to start “earning” tokens they then have to sell to recoup their initial investment in the game.
The Sandbox, a subsidiary of Animoca, is the creator of a play-to-earn game that sells virtual land as NFTs. The company bills itself as “one of the pillars of the open crypto metaverse.” As of September, The Sandbox — ‘The’ is part of its name — owned 31 different BAYC NFTs.
According to a leaked pitched deck, Yuga Labs plans to create a gaming metaverse and raise another $455 million selling virtual land NFTs. In a recent tweet, Yuga Labs hinted at a new project called “Otherside,” which will accept APE and launch in April. Yuga Labs can create as much virtual land as they want, so maybe they’ll create virtual forests for their virtual primates?
In the real world, the one we all live in, great apes are running out of natural habitat. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are already endangered or critically endangered. A combination of the climate crisis and the destruction of their natural habitats is threatening their very existence as a species.
By promoting Web3 and Ethereum-based tokens, Yuga Labs is speeding the demise of these creatures. To compensate for this evil, Yuga is throwing chimps a banana by donating 1% of the Apecoin supply of 1 billion to the Jane Goodall Legacy Foundation. (I wrote to Jane Goodall to see how she feels about this. If I get a response, I’ll post the comments here.)
Investment bank LionTree is headed by Aryeh Bourkoff, who told investors in his 2021 year-end letter that climate change is something we should all care about: “Widening our gaze, as the market chases growth, the climate crisis is reminding us that infinite growth on a finite planet is irrational and that we must commit to a long-term outlook guided by purpose rather than short-term gains.”
Bourkoff appears blind to the hypocrisy of backing an NFT project — or maybe he cares more about the money. Investing in tokens that resemble securities is a lucrative business. Just ask Marc Andreessen, who recently bought a $44.5 million house in Malibu down the street from the $177 million home he bought in October. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.7 billion.
Sound Ventures is a fund controlled by Guy Oseary and actor-turned investor Ashton Kutcher, who also pretends to care about the planet.
Kutcher was a founding member of World War Zero, an American coalition launched by John Kerry in 2019 to fight the climate crisis. He and his wife bought a Hummer EV, and they live in a Los Angeles home powered entirely by solar energy.
“Ashton and Mila are concerned about the quality of the soil, the purity of the food they eat, and the water they drink. The ideals of sustainability and regenerative farming aren’t just abstract concepts to them,” the house designer told Architectural Digest.
Crypto exchange FTX is one of Tether’s biggest customers. (If you are not familiar with Tether, its web of lies, and the role it plays in the crypto economy, read my Tether timeline.) The company’s answer to the climate problem is to purchase carbon credits.
Finally, MoonPay is the company behind all the strange celebrity purchases of Bored Ape NFTs, where nobody is quite sure if the celebrities are buying the NFTs themselves, or if they are playing a part in promoting the project, without fully disclosing their motives.
MoonPay’s response to Ethereum’s waste is a similar greenwashing. It claims the media exaggerates the impact of crypto mining on the world and points out that Ethereum has plans to transition to a more energy-efficient proof of stake. Ethereum has talked about shifting to a proof of stake system since 2014. It has yet to make the big move.
These are the backers of Yuga Labs, full of contradictions. On one side of their mouths, they talk about saving the planet or they preach exploitive play-to-earn games as a way for players to “own their digital assets.” (They don’t, the assets are stored in central servers.) And on the other side, they promote Web3 and the metaverse, fuzzy marketing terms that point to ways to justify the creation of new tokens.
Another celeb joins the circus
On Thursday night, Madonna announced on social media that she now owns a bored Bored Ape NFT. It’s not clear if she bought the token — or if the token was gifted to her by a certain someone who is using her celebrity status to promote Bored Ape Yacht Club.
The material girl’s manager, Oseary, has known her since he was 17 years old. He’s probably been talking her ear off about Bored Apes since October when he signed a deal to represent Yuga Labs. Now he owns a chunk of the company via Sound Ventures as well.
Oseary has a history of tapping into his celebrity connections to shill cryptocurrency. He also has a history of investing in alleged unregistered security offerings.
He and Kutcher previously invested in Ripple. In 2018, they donated $4 million in XRP, the token widely associated with Ripple, to “save the gorillas” on the Ellen Degeneres show. Degeneres has a wildlife fund.
Two years later, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Ripple and two of its execs for conducting a $1.3 billion unregistered securities offering. The firm is still battling the lawsuit in court.
Yuga Labs likely never contacted the SEC before launching APE — and there is good reason for that. If they had, the regulator probably would have told them, “No, don’t do this.” So they went ahead and did it anyway, figuring they could get away with it, or worst-case scenario, pay a multi-million-dollar fine years later.
The APE DAO or decentralized autonomous organization, which supposedly launched Apecoin, is not a legal entity. It is also neither decentralized nor autonomous. The Ape Foundation — the committee that enforces decisions made by the DAO — is registered in the Cayman Islands.
The Ape Foundations’ five members get paid $125,000 in Apecoin for their six-month terms. The Apecoin community votes on whether they get reinstated. Votes are weighted by how many Apecoin you own. Since Yuga Labs and its investors hold the majority of Apecoin, ultimately, they decide who gets reinstated and what proposals get passed.
Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian serves on the Apecoin Foundation. (The other four members are Amy Wu, who leads a venture fund at FTX; Maaria Bajwa, a venture investor at Sound Ventures; Yat Siu, the cofounder of Animoca Brands, and Dean Steinbeck, cofounder of Horizen Labs, one of the companies that partnered with Yuga Labs in developing Apecoin.)
Like all the others, Ohanian also talks a big story when it comes to combatting climate change. He recently launched the 776 Foundation, a fellowship that will give $20 million to young people over the next decade to work on climate solutions.
People who care about the planet, don’t back massive NFT projects. They just don’t. Every NFT transaction on Ethereum comes at a destructive cost to the environment.
Bored Ape Yacht Club is about creating perceived value where there is none to pump tokens. Not only do retail investors risk losing money, but the project itself is contributing to our last remaining chances at escaping climate disaster — all in the hopes of making a few grifters rich.
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