Published
Sep 13, 2021

A Deep-Dive on NFT Marketplaces

A trailblazer among cryptocurrency exchanges, Coinbase has shown the world just how lucrative the business of enabling transactions can be. Unfortunately, participants in the crypto-economy looking to buy and sell NFTs will find themselves incapable of doing so on Coinbase, or any of its peer exchanges for that matter. To fill this gap, marketplaces have sprung up with the express purpose of providing users with a platform for transacting NFTs. These NFT marketplaces are already realizing substantial gains by virtue of fulfilling the same transaction-facilitating role as Coinbase. While there are numerous NFT marketplaces to choose from, varying greatly in terms of the assets they support and their fee structures, this article will provide an overview of the most popular and robust marketplaces available across the general, art, and utility segments. 


Note that many of the marketplaces below are presented with a summary of key metrics that measure activity over the preceding 24 hours and 30 days. These figures come courtesy of on-chain data aggregator DappRadar, which defines each of the metrics as follows:

  • Users: number of unique wallets interacting with marketplace’s smart contracts
  • Transactions: transactions made to marketplace’s smart contracts
  • Volume: total amount of incoming value to marketplace’s smart contracts
  • Balance: total value of assets held in marketplace’s smart contracts

General Marketplaces

This segment of NFT marketplaces encompasses platforms which take a universal approach to their listings, offering for sale NFTs from a wide range of projects and serving a plethora of functions. Naturally, this generalist approach means these marketplaces can cater to a larger audience and therefore capture a greater share of the total addressable market. General marketplaces may be further stratified based on whether they are aggregators – meaning they list NFTs being offered for sale on third-party marketplaces as well as their own – or take a more independent listing approach. Notable examples of general marketplaces include OpenSea and Rarible.

OpenSea

Founded near the 2017 height of what was then an unprecedented rally in crypto-asset prices, OpenSea has the distinctions of being the first peer-to-peer marketplace for Ethereum-based NFTs as well as the largest generalist marketplace for NFTs today. Feeling galvanized by the growth in mainstream attention for crypto-assets, which was in no small part spurred by the virality of CryptoKitties, OpenSea co-founders Devin Finzer and Alex Atallah set out on their journey to create the premier NFT marketplace.

With respect to the NFTs offered for sale on OpenSea, interested buyers should have little trouble finding something that captures their attention. The marketplace allows investors to trade NFTs across a wide range of categories, from digital artworks exhibited on SuperRare, to virtual world assets like those in Decentraland, to sought-after collectibles including CryptoPunks. OpenSea’s product offering also spans multiple blockchains, with NFTs hosted on Ethereum, Polygon, and Klaytn all available for purchase.

The OpenSea marketplace centers largely around a self-listing model. After opening an account on the platform and setting up the shell for their first collection – which effectively serves as a portfolio in which they can group related assets – prospective creators of NFTs can upload files in a number of formats, tag their work with different metadata to make it more easily discoverable, and define a fixed supply of the asset to be created. Selling NFTs is just as frictionless, with sellers having the option to set a fixed asking price for their work or create a timed auction in which buyers will bid up the price they are willing to pay. Ultimately, OpenSea profits through a 2.50% commission fee charged to buyers on all transactions, and sellers are also given discretion to charge a set fee on each of their sales.

In recent news, OpenSea achieved a historic feat among NFT marketplaces by closing a USD$100M Series B round, valuing the pioneering marketplace at USD$1.5B. The round was led by Silicon Valley venture capital juggernaut Andreesen Horowitz, best recognized for its early investments in Airbnb, Facebook, and even Coinbase. Other prominent backers of OpenSea include Y Combinator and Coinbase Ventures. Having previously led its Series A round, it goes without saying that Andreesen’s continued support of the company signals a vote of confidence for NFT marketplaces and OpenSea’s market-leading position. 

Looking ahead, OpenSea’s CEO has publicly voiced the marketplace’s desire to add integration for other blockchains outside of those already supported, including emerging networks such as Dapper Labs’ Flow. As new blockchains are built and existing ones are adapted to facilitate the exchange of lower-value, higher-volume NFTs, OpenSea aims to continue adding support to diversify its current product suite.

Rarible

Founded in 2020 by Alexei Falin and Alexander Salnikov, Rarible has quickly carved out its niche in the NFT world as one of the foremost art-focused and creator-centric marketplaces available. Following a decade-long career in full-stack development and entrepreneurship, acting CEO Falin made his early forays into the worlds of blockchain and markets. He went on to launch an ERC-20 token issuance system, whereupon he met his future co-founder Salnikov. Their mission was to create an NFT marketplace which bolstered liquidity in intellectual property rights by enabling non-technical users to create and transact their digital assets.  Thus marked the birth of the Rarible marketplace.

Where the marketplace began by catering to connoisseurs of premium crypto-art, it has since expanded to offer a wider array of NFTs for sale, including collectibles such as CryptoPunks and in-game assets such as Gods Unchained trading cards. Would-be creators can mint their NFTs and sell them, either at a fixed price or in an auction format, with Rarible ultimately charging a 2.50% platform service fee on the sale proceeds.

While much of this sounds familiar from the exposition on the OpenSea marketplace above, Rarible also boasts the unique feature of being operated as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), which in turn means that the marketplace is owned and governed by its community. The native governance token of the Rarible marketplace is known as $RARI. The purpose of this organizational model is twofold. For one, the governance token confers voting rights onto its holders, allowing them to submit and vote on proposals which ultimately shape the future direction of the Rarible marketplace. Additionally, because the tokens are distributed weekly only to those users who have made sales or purchases on Rarible in the prior week, it also incents active participation in the market and allows for the creation of a robust userbase. Ultimately, the $RARI governance token represents a unique first step among NFT marketplaces to transition to a fully DAO-based structure.

Rarible closed its USD$14.2M Series A round on June 23rd, 2021, which was comprised of investments from Venrock Capital, CoinFund, and 01 Advisors. The company announced that the use of funds would revolve around streamlining the process of creating, selling, and buying NFTs, and generally lowering the technical barriers to entry which continue to restrict access to a devoted core of crypto-enthusiasts. Part of this effort will involve introducing functionality for credit card payments, which would be a welcome addition to the existing support for ether. Prior to their Series A, Rarible had also received USD$1.75M in pre-seed capital from early-stage fund 1kx and Coinbase Ventures, among others.

In addition to its raise, Rarible also made public their partnership with Dapper Labs, renowned as the blockchain game developers and NFT wunderkinds behind such viral phenomena as CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot. The partnership concerns Rarible’s forthcoming integration with Dapper’s Flow blockchain, a collaboration that is sure to yield great synergies for both companies as Flow-based NFTs gain exposure to a wider audience and the Rarible marketplace expands its already extensive product offering. 


Art Marketplaces 

In contrast to their generalist counterparts, art-oriented marketplaces specialize in the listing and sale of tokenized high-end artwork. These platforms serve a similar function to real-world luxury auction houses, peddling higher-value, lower-volume NFTs. Art-centric marketplaces take a more exclusive approach to building their community of sellers, requiring prospective digital artists to pass some degree of vetting before being permitted to sell through the marketplace. Notable examples of art-centric marketplaces include SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, and Foundation.

SuperRare

Launched in April of 2018, SuperRare’s founding team was comprised of art enthusiasts and technologists including John Crain, Charles Crain, and Jonathan Perkins. Their vision was to democratize art collecting in much the same way that trading app Robinhood had claimed to democratize stock investing. In its first year of being live on the Ethereum mainnet, SuperRare saw strong traction with primary sales in excess of 1,000 and total sales volume of roughly 550 ETH. From that point, the marketplace was en route to cementing itself as the crypto world’s equivalent to a Christie’s auction house.

Where the aforementioned marketplaces take a generalist approach, listing NFTs that span various categories, SuperRare has instead specialized almost exclusively in selling high-end, one-of-one digital artworks. At present, the platform remains in early access mode. Accordingly, rather than allow any user with an account to tokenize and sell their art, the marketplace has relied on an invite-only model wherein prospective artists are subject to a vetting process that requires them to prove their identities and showcase original pieces they wish to sell on SuperRare. As the marketplace scales and continues to attract more active collectors, the team will invite more artists to mint and monetize their work.

Being that it has built its brand around the same exclusivity and grandeur one might expect of real-world art galleries and auction houses, SuperRare also charges exorbitant service fees when compared to other marketplaces. Where the art collector is concerned, each purchase of an NFT on the platform bears a 3% transaction fee. Additionally, the artists themselves must pay gallery fees of 15% on proceeds from primary sales. That said, these gallery fees can be recovered as artists are entitled to 10% royalties on every secondary sale of their works in perpetuity. In addition to the auction and immediate purchase formats present in other marketplaces, SuperRare also gives collectors the ability to make unsolicited purchase offers for works that are not yet listed for sale. 

Announced on March 30th, 2021, SuperRare closed its USD$9M Series A round, led by Velvet Sea Ventures and 1confirmation in addition to a bevy of veteran tech investors including Chamath Palihapitiya, Mark Cuban, and Marc Benioff. With the raise, SuperRare intends to accelerate its efforts to integrate VR technology into the marketplace as well as implement layer-2 measures that guarantee the longevity of artworks on the platform.

Nifty Gateway

Another of the most popular NFT marketplaces is Nifty Gateway. Founded in 2018 by twin brothers Duncan & Griffin Cock Foster, the company was started amidst the flurry of media interest which followed the launch of CryptoKitties. The twins each left their day jobs, one at a consulting firm and the other at an ecommerce start-up, and moved in together to begin working towards their lofty goal of having 1 billion people collecting “nifties”.

Nifty Gateway was originally modeled after generalist marketplaces such as those described above, listing for sale a plethora of collectible and game-based NFTs. The twins would soon transition the company to take on a more art-centric focus, with a revamped vision to collaborate with top artists on platform-exclusive NFTs. The twins drew inspiration from the prevailing sneaker culture characterized by “drops” of exclusive items available for only a limited window of time. Nifty Gateway thus pioneered the concept of drops in the NFT world, releasing limited-supply art collections and making them available for a short period of time. Items purchased from the drops can be resold in the platform’s secondary market.

In addition to the concept of drops, the Cock Foster twins also had the foresight to enable credit card payments on their marketplace. This would make the world of nifties infinitely more accessible to those lacking the technical foundation needed to acquire cryptocurrencies in order to transact on other NFT marketplaces. Nifty Gateway still continues to charge fees on sales, however, in part to finance credit card processing fees. Each primary sale is subject to a 15% fee, which can be deconstructed into a 5% service fee and a 10% artist fee. Artists on the platform are able to set their own royalty rates for secondary sales of their artwork, with the marketplace charging 5% + $0.30 of every secondary sale.

Shortly after its initial founding, Nifty Gateway was acquired in November of 2019 by Gemini, a cryptocurrency exchange and custodian founded by entrepreneurs Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss. Through the acquisition, Nifty Gateway has been able to leverage the institutional-grade defenses built to protect the Gemini exchange from malicious actors.


Foundation

Offering a slightly different take on the art-centric marketplace popularized by SuperRare, Foundation was founded in February of 2021 by Kayvon Tehranian and Matthew Vernon. It shares a similar ethos with SuperRare in aiming to bring confluence to the worlds of crypto and art. However, Foundation is geared less towards flattening the landscape of art collection and more towards offering digital artists a platform to reach a wider audience.

Foundation’s exclusivity approach also differs from that of SuperRare as aspiring creators are not vetted through an application process but rather invited to join by existing creators. Once onboarded, creators can then mint NFTs, set reserve prices – which are the minimum bids they would sell their artwork for – and begin their 24-hour auctions. Collectors can only bid in excess of the reserve price and can settle the NFT once they have won an auction, transferring the NFT and ether bid out of escrow and into the appropriate wallets.

Creators on Foundation are charged a 15% fee when their artwork is first sold. On secondary sales, including those on marketplaces other than Foundation, creators receive a 10% royalty in perpetuity. Notably, there is no service fee charged by the marketplace to the actual buyers of the NFTs, in contrast to the 3% charged by SuperRare.

Foundation Labs has raised a seed round of USD$200K from undisclosed investors.


Utility Marketplaces 

This final categorization serves as a catch-all for any marketplace that was built with the purpose of powering the exchange of goods for a specific virtual economy. For instance, blockchain-based games and collectible sets will often be accompanied with a first-party marketplace through which users can exchange their assets for others. These marketplaces can span a wide range of asset listings, from in-game resources to virtual plots of land to value-appreciating collectibles. Notable examples of utility marketplaces include the platforms built for NBA Top Shot, Sorare, and Axie Infinity.

NBA Top Shot

Among the most popular offerings of Dapper Labs is NBA Top Shot, which tokenizes videos of highlight-reel NBA plays and distributes them for sale through a system of randomized, multi-tiered packs. The Top Shot collection has its origins in a 2019 joint venture between the NBA and Dapper. The NBA selects NFT-worthy plays, whereupon Dapper determines the exact supply of each that will be made available and converts them into NFTs. The only transaction fees in the Top Shot marketplace are a 5% charge on all sales. 

In funding news, Dapper closed a USD$305M round at a USD$2.6B valuation on March 30th, 2021, headlined by angel investments from the likes of Kevin Durant and a strategic investment from venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz.  Shortly afterwards, Dapper was reported to be raising additional funding at a USD$7.5B valuation, placing it in the same rarefied air as other crypto unicorns such as OpenSea.

Sorare

Sorare deviates from NBA Top Shot in its approach to sports collectibles by integrating their NFTs into a game. Buyers and sellers in the marketplace can exchange fixed-supply digital representations of footballers at auction or in immediate transactions, and exchanges can be made through ether or credit cards. These collectibles can then be used in Sorare’s fantasy football game, with prizes afforded to the best-performing teams. 

Sorare closed its USD$50M Series A round in February of 2021, led by renowned early-stage fund Benchmark alongside venture capital firm Accel and angel investors including Rio Ferdinand and Alexis Ohanian. The company’s use of funds will center on launching a mobile application and onboarding more football clubs to their platform. 

Axie Infinity

At the center of the most recent craze in the NFT world is Axie Infinity, a blockchain-based game wherein users can collect and breed creatures called Axies and deploy them in player-vs-player battles. The Axie marketplace allows players to buy and sell Axies in addition to other in-game resources through timed auctions. Transaction fees in the Axie marketplace amount to 4.25% charged on each sale. If interested, you can learn a great deal more about Axie Infinity, its marketplace, and its play-to-earn business model here.

Sky Mavis, the Vietnamese blockchain development studio behind Axie Infinity, closed its USD$7.5M Series A round on May 11th, 2021. Investors in the round included Blocktower Capital, Konvoy Ventures, and billionaire Mark Cuban, among others. The funds will be used to further streamline the onboarding process and make play-to-earn more accessible, as well as to increase headcount on the game development side of the studio.

References

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Nelson, D. (2021, July 20). NFT Marketplace OpenSea Valued at $1.5B in $100M Funding Round Led by A16z. Retrieved from CoinDesk.

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