A brief history of NFTs

Take a stroll through the history of NFTs to get a deeper understanding of how the NFT world evolved to where it is today

The very first NFT

Kevin McCoy is credited with the creation of the very first NFT on May 3rd 2014. He minted his non-fungible token “Quantum" and the Non-Fungible Token madness ensued.
Quantum is a pixelated image of an octagon filled with denoting circles, arcs or other shapes which share the same centre, with larger shapes surrounding smaller ones and hypnotically pulsing in fluorescent hues. As of today, the one of a kind “Quantum” art piece (2014-2021) is on sale for seven million dollars. Sotheby’s made headlines last year when it sold Quantum for $1.47 million during its “Natively Digital” auction. Now, that sale is in the headlines once more, this time for a lawsuit being filed against McCoy and the auction house by a holdings company whose owner claims to own Quantum.

A new Era

Prior to the release of Ethereum in 2015, there had been some experimental development on the Bitcoin network on creating NFTs. The Ethereum blockchain popularised the concept of "Smart Contracts" - open-source, self-executing code that runs when certain conditions have been met. Token standards were also introduced that allowed the creation of tokens by developers. In brief, the token standard is the subsidiary of the smart contract standard, the token standard outlines how to create, issue and deploy new tokens.
John Watkinson and Matt Hall can be credited with the creation of the most iconic and successful NFT project to date. They also popularised the concept of generative PFP NFT projects. Essentially this means that no two characters would be the same and each outcome would be randomly generated from an algorithm. The project’s name was Cryptopunks. In late August last year total Cryptopunk sales surpassed $1b, they have become a pop culture staple in the past 2 years, with A -list celebrities snapping them up for eye watering prices. The most expensive Crypto punk sale to date was CryptoPunk #7523 for $11.7 million.


You can't talk about the rise of NFTs without mentioning Cryptokitties - a blockchain-based virtual game that allows players to adopt, breed and trade virtual cats from the safety of your own wallet. It was released by a Vancouver-based company called Axiom Zen (parent company of DapperLabs) and was introduced during the world’s largest hackathon for the Ethereum ecosystem. It was not long before Cryptokitties went viral in 2017 and the masses started flocking to get their hands on an elusive kitties. So much so that at one stage Cryptokitties were responsible for 20% of all ethereum computations, this lead to a rise in gas prices and the infamous Ethereum gas problem became evermore prominent


Between the periods of 2018 - 2020 NFTs slowly but surely caught public attention. The rise of NFT metaverse gaming soared as developers pushed the envelope on what Web3 can offer. The most notable early stars was Ethereum-based VR platform was Decentraland. In this virtual landscape gamers can explore, build, play games, collect items.
Soon after games such as Axie Infinity surfaced, a blockchain-based trading and battling game that’s partially owned and operated by its players. Axie revolutionised the way people earn money, most prominently in the Philippines. During it's peak users in the Philippines were able to earn more playing Axie than they would getting minimum wage in their home country. Riding off of the popularity of P2E (play to earn) games, multiple games have seen huge popularity such as:
  • Gods Unchained
  • Splinterlands
  • The Sandbox 3D
  • Battle Racers
  • Sorare — Fantasy Football

The current landscape

As can be seen by the diagram above ☝️ the NFT market is still largely dominated by collectibles, followed by art and sports. It makes sense that collectibles and art are the top two categories, NFTs unlock such obvious use cases for creators. Interestingly utility is the bottom category, this may not be the case as the NFT space evolves, NFTs are still so young in their lifecycle and as the space matures and progresses and more use cases are explored sectors such as business, finance, medical practices, climate change can bring to use the power of NFTs.