MV #20: Pixel Vault 3.0
What will the next phase of PV look like?
This is MetaVault, the best way to keep up with the Pixel Vault universe: PUNKS Comic, MetaHero, United Planets, $PUNKS, $POW, and lots of DAOs.
We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the Punks Comic 1 release and seeing a big transition in Pixel Vault. They accelerated from an idea to a comic book launch to broad ambitions in comics, gaming, tv / film, and partnerships in less than 12 months. The total supply of the various Punks Comic and MetaHero releases exceeds 226,000 assets.
Their NFT and merchandise partnership with adidas featured Courtney, the CryptoPunk-derived badass of the Punks Comic universe, and brought together Bored Ape Yacht Club, GMoney, Punks Comic and adidas.
They closed one round of VC funding led by luminaries such as Michael Lazerow, Dick Costelo, and Adam Bain. And have likely closed another round recently that includes AJ and Gary Vaynerchuk as investors.
They’ve grown into a 30+ person company filled with Web3 natives, artists, and professionals. GFunk even got the blue check treatment from Twitter.
And yet they’re still a startup who will have to continue to build the team and operational capacity for their next phase of growth. I have no insight into what that might look like, but let’s review the IP, art, utility, tech, and company dynamics in PV 1.0 and 2.0, and forecast what PV 3.0 might be.
It all started here. 16 CryptoPunks would transform from 16x16 pixelated portraits to actual characters with names and backstories.
IP: Punks Comic 1 (PC1), $PUNKS tokens (not released in this phase), Pixel Vault Founder’s DAO, Mint Pass 1 (MP1), MetaHero Cores and MetaHero Generative Identities. The genesis set.
Art: Chris Wahl’s art defined the PV comic style, fvckrender’s PVFD design, and Odious’ creative direction and influence on the MetaHero concept established the look and feel of Pixel Vault products.
Utility: Burn or stake. The original game theory decision. This epitomized PV’s Wonkavision and what got me hooked.
Tech: Mint Pass concept to reduce gas wars. The concept took over the NFT world. Nearly everyone uses it in some form.
Company: Tiny group of builders. GFunk leading, Beanie hyping.
Execution: Top notch. Helluva way to launch a company. I think some people forget how hyped CryptoPunks were at the time. PV released PC1 on May 10th to coincide with the big Christie’s auction of CrytoPunks. The link between buying a comic and owning a fractionalized piece of 16 punks was incredibly innovative. Add to that the burn vs. stake dynamic, with the burn outcome being partial ownership of the Founder’s DAO, backed by historical art — it’s bonkers that this how they came out of the gate. Cut forward a couple of months and PV announces their pfp project: MetaHero. But, in classic PV style, excellent game theory was baked in. I’m still holding on to my MP1 with the dream of winning a MetaHero Core — and to be the beneficiary of any genesis set goodness. I ultimately minted a MetaHero on the first day we could. #644. That pfp has become my Twitter / Discord persona. I’d hope that when someone says to you SpaceWalk, you think of that guy with fabulous hair!
The product lineup expands! We go from a PV 1.0 supply of about 19k to more than 226k at the end of PV 2.0. A big leap. We also go from one DAO to 12 total.
IP: 10 distinct Planet DAO tokens, Punks Comic 2 (PC2), merch via adidas Into the Metaverse, Elite Ape Coin, Elite Ape Collector’s Editions, Origin Stories 1 (OS1), Mint Pass 2 (MP2), Bloot Comic. Early discussion of the AAA game and later the defi game — though no IP was released in this phase. But $POW was introduced!
Art: Writing from Josh Blaylock and RDL in PC2 and OS1. Raw & Rendered’s 3D models and The Virtunaut’s sound design for the planets. The lore around the planet release. One of the earliest comic depictions of Bored Apes in Punks Comic 2 with eight amazing new Elite Ape characters and a significant intro of the adidas ape, Indigo. The start of the OS line of comics with pieces of Courtney’s backstory. MP2 activates the MetaHero Universe (MHU). And then we get a Bloot Comic to round-out PV 2.0 — closing the loop on GFunk’s commitment to reward Bloot holders.
Utility: PC1 burn for the Moon DAO token. Planet giveaways to PV 1.0 holders. Elite Ape Coin. Set bonuses. PVFD priority in mints. MetaHero Core giveaways. MH staking for $POW. PC1 staking for $PUNKS. There’s probably more!
Tech: Planet giveaways via Chainlink to snapshot all holders then raffle off planets. Token gate the adidas drop across multiple assets and multiple projects. The Queue Coin concept for the Elite Ape Collector’s Edition drop.
Company: Steady growth at the beginning. Communications hits a steady clip. GFunk and the team discusses their product lineup in large Twitter Spaces on a weekly basis. Landing the adidas + BAYC + GMoney partnership changes the outlook for the company. Beanie Gate. VC Funding and Beanie’s exit. Then the team scales up — doubles in size in just a couple of months. They bring in economist, a prominent writer in the NFT space, as the Director of Communications. They bring in Jacob Wittman to be General Counsel. By all accounts, the team is growing, attracting major talent, and flourishing.
Execution: Mixed score. Huh? A company that releases all of those products, staking for $POW and $PUNKS, delivers the first popular Bored Ape collaboration/derivative, partners with adidas + BAYC + GMoney, closes a $100M round of funding, and is attracting top talent — and yet only a mixed score?! WTF.
It’s obvious that PV has broad ambitions. Building “Decentralized Disney” means spreading out and scaling up. But where’s Mickey? Who are the characters we’re connecting to? What’s the story? As a self-described media company, why is the focus mostly on utility? An example: Origin Stories 1 introduced us to Courtney’s backstory. But instead of leaning into IP, the company immediately talked about the utility of the $PUNKS token to determine the next OS release. We started minting MetaHeroes in September 2022. Here we are nearly eight months later and we know nothing about them. Why are there mutants? How do the MH Cores interact with the generative identities? What power does a Karat mask or DAO longsword or U07 suit convey? We don’t need answers to all of those questions at once. But we don’t have any.
How about this one: What’s an MHU planet? Or this one: What kind of Sidekick are you most excited to mint? We’ve only seen four small previews of the Sidekick art in 6 months — we have no story on what they are, where they came from, how they might be attached to an MH. But we’ve had tons of conversation about MP2 / Sidekick utility!
And where’s the decentralization? Where’s the push for community-generated content? Or, at a minimum, community-directed storytelling? How will PV spur the community to use our own MetaHeroes and Sidekicks to build out IP? It’s not really “Decentralized Disney” if they’re the only creator of Punks and MH content.
Look, I’m not saying PV 2.0 was a disaster. It was definitely successful. But I don’t see the grand vision at this point. It’s as if they put a ton of pieces on the board without any idea of what they wanted to do with them. Or…
Maybe their intent is to connect all of the assets, develop lore, integrate storylines, and contextualize this broad universe of IP — starting with Punks Comic 3, the expected cross-over event between Punks and the MHU. Maybe PV 2.0 was about scaling up and PV 3.0 will be focused on scaling in.
Let’s make some predictions (based on no inside info)!
IP: The Sidekicks release will propel us into the next wave of PV products. The April 28th date that Rusty and others found on the Medium article is too public to see it come and go. Expect the first Town Hall in months to be held on April 27th. We’ll get more detail about the story of Sidekicks, their design, traits, and… utility! I fully expect the leveling up mechanics to be, um, next level. Bonus points for PV if leveling up is tied to a storyline in Punks Comic 3.
Speaking of PC3, let’s place a bet that it is scheduled to release on May 10th — the one-year anniversary of the PC1 release. PV considers the Punks Comic brand as their flagship. PC2 was a massive partnership with the Elite Apes and adidas. The merch tie-in with adidas + BAYC + GMoney was a Punks Comic collab, not an MHU or even a PV collab (though of course it was, technically). I don’t expect a collab of that size for PC3, but I expect the publicly discussed Punks + MHU cross-over — though there was a cliffhanger at the end of PC2. We’ll get to utility for PC3 in a minute.
As for other IP, I don’t know where they’ll go! We can expect another Origin Stories release. Maybe PC3 launches an MHU line of comics. They’ve hinted that the Elite Apes weren’t just a one-off release. Maybe we see another comic or animation focused solely on them. I don’t expect the defi game to launch in this “window” — it’s far likelier that the game propels us into PV 4.0!
What about brand new IP. I haven’t heard anything to indicate it, but could there be a whole new vertical? An extension of existing IP? I’d love to see them do something very contained with a few of the Cores and MetaHeroes they own, an audio experience or ebook that brings you into the world of the Strobe people. Maybe they start to play with timelines a bit. As we know from the Medium article that references April 28th, the year in that date is 2052. I’d assume that’s “present day” in the MHU. And yet, one could assume that Punks is present day. There’s a gap there.
And then, I have to mention it because lots of communities are banding together, what about collaborations? Which other communities might we see PV feature? Think about their partnerships (Coinbase NFT) and investors (the Vaynerchuks), which projects might combine forces to cross-promote communities?
Art: I’m excited to see what Wahl, Odious, and Virtunaut pull off with Sidekicks. The way GFunk has framed it is: MetaHero Generative Identities was a tech play; Sidekicks are an art play. PV has also talked about bringing in guest writers and illustrators for future OS releases. Is it possible we start to see varying illustration styles? It’d be fun to see an offshoot brand of Punks Comics where we get to live in the world of Frank and Elvira and it’s drawn in the stark black and white style of The Dark Knight Returns Noir. I’d love to see what Blaylock and RDL could write in that context.
More Raw & Rendered work is always desired! The 3D art he did for the Elite Ape Coin and MP2 was beautiful.
I don’t know if merch belongs in IP, art, or utility — but after the adidas ITM drop, I hope PV releases some of their own merch. I suppose they can’t right now due to a possible clause in their adidas contract that precludes PV from releasing merch before adidas does. Understandable. But here’s wishing we get to use Elite Ape Coins to buy pink socks! Which leads me to…
Utility: We haven’t had a tough decision since the Moon burn. We know a ton of game theory is involved in MP2 / Sidekick leveling-up. How about PC3? Could we see a big stake / burn decision? Stake for $POW? Burn for ____? Is this when we see the MetaHero 1000 play? To catch people up on that briefly — Beanie owned nearly 1,000 MetaHeroes / MP1 and intended to allow buyers of PC3 to stake their comic for a fractional share of those 1,000 MetaHeroes.
I don’t know if that’s still in the works, but I’d be shocked if PV released another token. I suspect $PUNKS and $POW are a constant anxiety for them (are they up today? down today? how do we drive value to them? what’s their utility?). Adding another token probably doesn’t make sense. I also don't think it makes a ton of sense for the company to own nearly 1,000 of their 10k pfp project. If I started researching a new project and heard that the founders owned nearly 10% of the supply, I’d be weary. Could we see raffles for some of these?
How about this for speculation: We know PV loves sets. What if they established a new set that was more attainable than the Genesis Set. Call it the Beta Set. Something like:
1x Jupiter (The People’s Planet), 1x PC2, 1x Elite Ape Coin, 1x MP2, 1x Sidekick.
If you own a Beta Set and buy PC3, you’re entered into a raffle for an MH! They’ve pulled off some sophisticated multi-asset raffles in the past. This would be fun.
Speaking of sets, what do they have in store for Genesis and Planet sets? Early access is awesome. Gated drops are cool. Could they factor in to the Sidekick leveling up?
We know we’ll be able to use $PUNKS to vote on the direction of the OS series. Are they building a voting portal / dashboard, similar to what Jenkins the Valet built? Could we see them building a clean way to license an MH for use in the comic, TV show, or podcast?
Have to mention $PUNKS and $POW here. Nothing is currently driving value. I believe PV has been deliberate about not activating market utility for these tokens yet. With low circulating supplies and liquidity pools (though $POW was improved via Moonlings!), the market needed to settle a little bit. What comes next? Will we be able to use $PUNKS / $POW to buy PC3?
And there’s a lot more. Planets, UPDAO voting, Elite Ape Coins, Elite Ape covers — how about an Elite Ape cover set? More utility than Ma Bell.
Tech: PV has pushed the tech boundary from the beginning. Part of the reason Silicon Valley VCs have invested is their tech capability. Web3 technical innovation isn’t just blockchain mechanics. It’s pulling off fair distribution for high interest drops with custom software techniques. I’m always excited to see what tricks they have up their sleeves. A little speculation: an elegant solution to $POW distribution as Staking Pool ends.
Company: The functional organizations are being established to support GFunk’s vision. Departments like Operations, Engineering, Legal, Production, Creative Direction, Marketing, Finance. I could see heads of all of these departments joining by the end of the Summer. These are massive hires who can further professionalize each functional. What does that mean to us, the community? It means cleaner execution to achieve very broad ambitions. Look, if PV was just trying to be the world’s most innovative comic book company, they could remain a 30-person shop. But to build PV Studios, a successful defi game (in parallel with an AAA game), and strike deals with streaming platforms — that requires a ton of people and outstanding leadership in each department.
Why is it important to scale up like this now? The first mover advantage. GFunk said it in the Town Hall on February 2nd:
We have a significant runway now with some of these legacy media businesses, but make no mistake, they will be coming. And so making sure we execute today while we have the advantage. Focusing first and foremost, on providing ourselves with the resources, both from a human capital and financial perspective, to execute on our large vision.
Wen new Pixel Vault website?
Some Disclaimers: None of this is financial advice. DYOR. And yes, I’m obviously a PV collector and long-term hodlr. Not a whale by any measure (maybe a squid?).