Most Expensive Virtual Items Ever Sold Online
Let's take a look at NFT's and some of the most expensive virtual items ever sold!Technology
From old memes and historic tweets to pictures of bored cartoon apes, let's investigate some of the most expensive virtual items ever sold.
Before we get too deep into this topic, we need to know a little about NFTs. NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, represent unreplicable receipts for digital pieces of data. For example, I could sell you an NFT of a picture of a piece of ham. While anyone could view, copy, paste, or even save the picture itself, only you would own that exact NFT.
These trades are mostly done in Ethereum. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, but its blockchain system also supports NFTs.
At the end of the day you can think of an NFT as a receipt, digital thumbprint, or proof-of-ownership certificate for your picture of ham, a video of some ham, a word document that says “ham”, or even an audio recording of someone dropping some ham on the floor.
An NFT can be pretty much any digital file! And these days, just about everything is. For example, Taco Bell created several taco-themed NFTs in 2021, which are a mix of images and gifs, and listed them for just .001 Ethereum, around $2 or $3.
They were quickly snatched up, and some have been successfully resold for up to 3 Ethereum, which is around $8000! That’s a pretty steep profit! In fact, one NFT taco traded for enough to pay for more than 4000 actual taco-bell tacos.
It’s important to point out when talking about NFT purchases that, in addition to transaction fees, the exchange rate from Ethereum to dollars fluctuates a lot. This can make it hard to tell exactly how much someone makes when selling an NFT, so keep that in mind moving forward.
Reviving the Classics
If you thought it couldn’t get any sillier than animated taco gifs selling for thousands of dollars, you’ve got a lot to learn about this market.
The Nyan Cat, the 8-bit rainbow pooping flying pop-tart cat who first went viral back in 2011, was sold as an NFT by the original creator for $590,000. That’s about $49,166 for each of it’s 12 frames of animation.
In June of 2021 the Charlie Bit My Finger kids were able to auction off an NFT of their 2007 iconic viral video for the equivalent of $760,999. That’s a lot for a minute long clip of one kid biting another!
Still, none of these memes compare to doge, who, 11 years on, is still the king of the Internet. The simple picture of a Shiba Inu looking slyly to the side, which became widely used alongside broken English phrases in colored comic sans lettering, is one of the most popular memes of all time and a perfect pop culture reference.
An NFT of the original image recently sold for around $4 million worth of Ethereum.
Why would anyone pay so much money for some old memes? Well, likely because they think they’ll increase in value, and they’ll be able to sell them for even more down the line. Or maybe they’re just connoisseurs of fine digital art.
Still, NFTs aren’t all good news for creators, with many having their work stolen and sold without their permission. For example, only a few months after beloved online artist Qinni tragically passed away from lung cancer, her work was being sold as NFTs.
In response to this, many artists are told they simply should have turned their work into NFTs first, which is a bit like if I snuck into the breakroom at 10AM, ate your lunch out the refrigerator, then blamed you for not eating it first.
A Historic Tweet
Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, posted the platform's first ever tweet - ‘Just setting up my Twittr’ - in March 2006. Since this humble beginning, Twitter has exploded into a worldwide powerhouse.
On average, the current 206 million active users tweet five hundred million times per day, or two hundred billion times per year. If Twitter were a nation, it would have a population larger than Russia, tweeting more times per year than there have been people to ever live.
In March 2021, Dorsey turned the tweet into an NFT and was able to sell the banal piece of Internet history for $2.9 million! Sina Estavi, who bought the NF-Tweet, likened it to the Mona Lisa. We can conclude that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
The Skin I PWN In
Let’s take a break from NFTs for a moment to talk about something even more confusing: Fortnite! The game took the world by storm in 2017 and has been amassing dances and lawsuits ever since.
Inevitably, as the game became more-and-more popular, it started launching more-and-more licensed tie-in events. You could attend deadmau5 concerts in Fortnite, play as Thanos in Fortnite. The crummy third Star Wars sequel even gave away major spoilers before it was released in Fortnite!
As you could imagine, a lot of these events were time-sensitive, meaning if you missed out, you could never experience them again. This has driven the value of some limited-time items way up. For example, the Blue Team Leader skin could only be attained by those who owned the PlayStation Plus Celebration pack, and re-sells on eBay for a few hundred dollars.
The Double Helix skin was only available as part of a Nintendo Switch bundle, which can now sell for upwards of a few thousand dollars on eBay, though to be fair, that one does include a Switch console.
Still, even these skins don’t compare to the pale-faced Skull Trooper. Originally released as a Halloween tie-in, demand for this grim costume has only increased over time, with some Skull Trooper skins going for nearly $5000.
It's hard to understand why people would pay so much for this. It’s all skin and bones!
Bored of Apes
If you’ve been online in the last year, there’s a chance you’ve seen a cartoon of an ape looking pretty bored. These monkeys are part of an NFT collection adeptly called Bored Ape Yacht Club.
The collection is a series of 10,000 algorithmically generated images of apes, each with a different and unique set of expressions and accessories, some of which are rarer than others. An ape with a combination of rare elements sells high. Real high.
At the time I’m writing this article, the most an ape has sold for is #8817 for the equivalent of an eye-watering $3.4 million, but apes regularly break a million.
When you buy an ape, you do also gain access to a private club of other ape-owners, and the rights to reproduce and sell your ape. But considering you can just right-click and save this image, that still seems like a hefty entry fee.
And if any of these apes look ugly to you, it’s probably because they are. Remember that these NFTs weren’t actually designed by an artist, they’re just a collection of assets a program smooshed together.
Like hitting the “random” button when creating a character in a videogame, only each of these 10,000 apes is unique, technically. While this is obviously cheaper than paying an artist to design a bunch of unique characters, it also means the results can be varied.
This is the same process all large collections use, which is why NFTs like Lazy Lions, Potato Power, Trollz, Doge Pound, Cute Pig Club, Satoshi Spuds, Freedom Bunnies, The Snake NFTs, OnChainMonkey and many more are so unappealing to look at.
But it was Bored Ape Yacht Club’s initial popularity that fundamentally shaped the NFT scene we see today, which is what makes them so valuable in comparison.
So much so there are some apes listed for up to 100,000,000,000,000 Ethereum, which is currently worth more than $280,000,000,000,000,000. That’s more money than has ever existed on Earth.
Street artist Banksy and NFTs have a lot in common. Both are drenched in sarcasm, both seek to disrupt the status quo, and both are, in the eyes of most people, extremely over-valued. It makes sense, then, that the British artist’s work would end up as an NFT, though it happened in an appropriately novel way.
Back in 2006 Banksy created Morons (White). The piece is a not-very-subtle critique of the art world, depicting an art auction selling a piece of art while mocking the bidders. Eventually the artwork was bought by blockchain firm Injective Protocol, who in 2021 released a very interesting video.
The following clip shows a member of Injective Protocol burning the artwork the firm paid $95,000 for.
The reason for the piece’s destruction was so the firm could later sell it as an NFT. They claimed that, since the original was destroyed, the NFT was the most authentic version of the art that remained.
Whether or not you think the NFT is more relevant than any screenshot of it doesn’t matter, because someone decided to buy it for $380,000, netting Injective Protocol an insane $285,000 profit. Pretty ironic when you consider the subject matter of the piece.
The Source of our Misery
In 1989, computer engineer Sir Tim Berners-Lee brought his vision of a unified international network to life, inventing the world-wide web! That eventually evolved into the Internet we know today. Things have pretty much gone downhill for humanity since then, but don’t be mad at Tim; it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In June of 2021, Tim auctioned off an NFT representing his creation from 30 years prior. The “This Changed Everything” collection featured 4 items: time-stamped files from the original web source code, a letter written by Tim, a digital poster of the code, and a 30-minute video of the code being written.
While bidding on the collection started at just $1000, it soon skyrocketed before being sold to an anonymous bidder for the equivalent of a staggering $5.4 million. While the idea of owning a piece of the web, a freely available network built on connecting people, might seem a little ironic, that’s not how Tim sees it.
In his letter, he calls NFTs “the latest playful creations in this realm” and “the most authentic form of ownership that exists”.
"Counterstrike: Global Offensive" or CS: GO, as fans call it, boasts an insane number of collectibles and an even more insane number of players, currently averaging around 20 million monthly players.
As you can imagine, a giant install base of manly men shooting each other with their big old guns creates a lot of competition, and these guys don’t just compete with firepower but with fashion for their firearms!
CS: GO weapon skins are coveted for both their rarity and looks, even though they don’t improve the equipment’s stats in any way. And because these skins are unlocked randomly by players, they can sell for ridiculous amounts, too.
For example, the Statrak Five Seven Case Hardened with Titan Holos can be priced up to $35,000, while the Souvenir AWP Dragon Lore has sold for more than $61,000.
But even that doesn’t compare to the Factory New Case-Hardened Blue Gem Karambit, which one player bought for an insane $120,000, a record price in the CS: GO skin marketplace.
The Mystery Box
What if I told you that you could purchase a jpeg of an Ape for $125,000, or a mystery box for the same price. That’s because, sometimes when you purchase an NFT, you don’t even know what you’re buying.
The colorful creations below are Hashmasks, and there are 16,384 in existence. Like Bored Ape and other collections, Hashmasks have been algorithmically generated from a collection of assets.
The creations that result from Hashmask mergers look more purposefully designed, like something an actual artist might come up with. The real draw of Hashmasks, though, is from the mystery.
When you buy a Hashmask, there’s actually no guarantee what it is you’re getting. Buyers aren’t made aware of which Hashmask they’ve purchased until 14 days after the sale, which is apparently to ensure sales and the distribution of different Hashmasks is fair.
The entire collection has apparently generated over $16 million, though the most a Hashmask has sold for is this pretty number for around $650,000. Mainly because 5 of its 7 properties have a less than 1% chance of being generated, so being generated all in one image is a massively rare combination.
Additionally, whenever a Hashmask is sold, the buyer gets to assign it a name, meaning there is a small collaborative element to the collection. This also explains why so many Hashmasks have random names like Gwen Stefani, crypto mom, and Bored Ape.
In May of 2007, Mike Winkelmann (known online as Beeple) set himself an insane challenge: to create a new piece of art every single day, for as long as he could. Day after day Winklemann created new pieces of digital art; sometimes melancholic, sometimes silly, sometimes politically charged, and sometimes even a strange mix of all three.
Somehow, Winkelmann was able to go over 13-and-a-half years without missing a single day. Winkelmann compiled his work into a piece called Everydays: The First 5000 days and created a high-quality NFT of the artwork.
The reputable auction house Christie’s put the NFT up for sale, marking the first time they’d ever sold a piece of digital artwork. The piece recently made history selling for a staggering $69 million, which averages out at about $13,860 per piece of art. That’s a pretty good day-rate!
The piece was purchased by Indian crypto-investor Vignesh Sundaresan, who claims he bought the piece to show the world that “the global south was rising” and had money to spend.
As others have pointed out, however, the sale may also have been influenced by the fact that Winkelmann owns 2% of Sundaresan’s own crypto-project, B20, the value of which shot up 6000% after the sale.
The Punk Bunch
Are Bored Apes, Lazy Lions, and OnChain Monkeys somehow too interesting for you? On that case, you can enjoy an even more bland collection of NFT characters. Meet the Cryptopunks, a collection of 10,000, 24x24-pixel headshots.
As with Bored Apes and similar collections, Cryptopunks were all generated by an algorithm, with certain traits made intentionally rarer than others. Ape cryptopunks, for example, are incredibly rare, with only 24 in existence.
On average, cryptopunks are currently selling for between $350,000 and $500,000 worth of crypto each. Those are just average going rates, though! These two ultra-rare alien cryptopunks, #7804 and #3100, sold for over $7.5 million each!
But how can 24x24 pixels have that much value? Well, Cryptopunks were created way back in 2017, making them one of the earliest crypto collectibles, while also being credited for starting the 2021 craze for NFT’s. Hence, the multi-million-dollar price tags.
But, for all that, these don’t come close to the most expensive cryptopunk sold to date. The cryptopunk of a blocky boy is, technically, the single most expensive piece of art ever sold. A collection of 24x24 pixels sold for an eye-watering $532 million.
That means that cryptopunk #9998 sold for more money than the most expensive painting ever auctioned, which hit just $450 million. That painting was Salvator Mundi, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci over 500 years ago.
If things seem fishy to you, it might be because this NFTs buyer and seller are the same person! From the transaction data, it appears the buyer took out a flash loan, which is an online cryptocurrency loan that only goes through if certain criteria are met. In this case, it was buying punk #9998.
The owner transferred the NFT from one of their wallets to another, then took out a flash loan for more than half a billion dollars’ worth of crypto, bought the punk with one wallet, transferred it back into their first wallet, and then repaid the loan.
This may have been to create artificial buzz around the NFT, as part of an unknown real-world deal, or just to make headlines and drive up its price further. Seeing as it’s currently on sale by the same wallet owner for over $780 million, it’s probably the latter.
Entropia Universe is an online multiplayer game set in the far reaches of outer space. Players engage in crazy, futuristic activities like piloting spacecrafts and discovering alien creatures.
Entropia Universe was released in 2003, so it’s showing its age a bit now, but at its height it was extremely popular, and paved the way for virtual trade in videogames. In 2009, Entropia boasted around 820,000 registered users, who’d spent over $420 million in user-to-user transactions, sometimes for thousands of dollars a pop!
In 2010 so much hype and cash were flowing through Entropia, users were able to sell the egg below for nearly $70,000. No one even knew what was in it, either!
It had been won by a player who’d completed a unique quest, and when they put it up for sale as a mystery egg, people just had to know what was inside. For seven long years after purchase, nothing happened. But then one day, the creature below emerged from it.
Still, this isn’t the craziest Entropia exchange. That honor goes to Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs, who mortgaged his actual house in 2005 in order to buy a virtual asteroid for $100,000 in-game. Jacobs eventually turned this plot of land into a virtual club: Club Neverdie.
The club enjoyed music, a stadium, and even a marketplace where users could sell in-game goods, with Jacobs getting a small cut of each sale.
According to Jacobs, the club ended up making him around $200,000 per year before he sold it completely in 2010 for $635,000. Assuming the club got off the ground quickly, that’s a profit of over $1.5 million.
Grimes is a popular artist known firstly for her music, and secondly for having an ex-partner in Elon Musk, the man who owns Tesla and really needs to take a break from Twitter.
In February of 2021, Grimes got in on the NFT game with her War Nymph collection, primarily made up of separate Earth and Mars variants. Each NFT is an animation of a cherub ominously hovering over their respective planet, set to an electronic beat, which, at the very least, is more than you get with a Bored Ape.
Several thousand of these NFTs were created and, rather than being auctioned, were simply sold for $7,500 apiece. In addition to Earth and Mars, the collection included one unique NFT called Death of the Old, which features even more buoyant babies, along with several floating swords and crosses. Thanks to Grimes’ popularity, Death of the Old sold for approximately $389,000.
According to NiftyGateway, the platform on which she sold the NFTs, a portion of the profits would be going to Carbon180, a non-profit focused on removing carbon from the atmosphere, though it’s unclear how much. In total, this grimy planet collection ended up netting the artist a little under $6 million.
I Am Stupid
We’ve learned that people will spend obscene amounts of money on functionless digital items but where did this all begin? Well, let’s go on a journey all the way back to late 2008.
Things weren’t looking good. China had just suffered a devastating earthquake, the 2008 financial crisis was swinging in full force, and worst of all, Spider-man 4 was put on permanent hiatus. It was out of this dark period that I am Rich emerged onto the iOS store.
The app broke ground being priced at a ridiculous $999. For that, when you opened the app, you were greeted with a low-res image of a diamond and the text “I am rich. I deserv it. I am good, healthy, & successful”. Didn’t deserve an "e" in that sentence, though.
The purpose of the app was supposedly to show off how rich the owner was, and eight people ended up downloading it before Apple took it down a day after its premier without any explanation.
While I am Rich is dwarfed in price by the other items we’ve looked at today, you have to wonder; how did we go from mocking and removing thousand-dollar jpegs in the 2000s, to treating them as investments in the 2020s?