What are PFP NFTs? (Profile Pic Non-Fungible Tokens)

It’s the summer of 2021, and NFT’s seem to be in a speculative mania.  A special category of NFT collectables called “avatar” or “PFP” (profile picture) projects in particular have been booming. 

KEY POINTS

  • PFP NFTs are a collection of avatars, usually about 10,000, where each avatar has a combination of unique attributes that are randomly generated and combined.

  • PFP stands for Profile Pics as these NFTs are often used as profile pictures on social media sites such as Twitter.

  • Popular examples of PFP NFTs include CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC).

  • Although you can buy PFP NFTs on secondary markets such as OpenSea, you can also try to “mint” them directly when they are first released by a project team - but this can be a risky game and there is no guarantee of success (or even that that your NFT will be worth anything in the future).

“PFP” stands for Profile Picture.  It’s the profile picture that you might use on Twitter or other social media sites.

Typically a PFP NFT project is a collection of avatars, usually about 10,000, where each avatar has a combination of unique attributes.  These attributes are randomly generated for each avatar and, hence, these projects are generally categorized as “generative art”.

For example, CryptoPunks, considered to be the first generative art PFP project, is a collection of 10,000 punk avatars, each one unique.  There are several punk types: Alien, Ape, Zombie, Male, Female as well as dozens of combinations of attributes from Beanies to Top Hats, and Classic Shades to Nerd Glasses.  Each attribute has a rarity, for example, there are only 8 punks with Beanies, but there are 74 punks with Nerd Glasses. 

Cryptopunks is an example of a PFP NFT

What’s the big deal with PFP NFTs?

Rather than use any old photo or JPEG that you find on the Internet for your profile pic, with an NFT, you can prove that you actually own it.  

But maybe more importantly, it shows that you actually cared enough to fork over some ETH to get the image.

It may not sound like a big deal - but to many it is.  The proof is all over Twitter.  People are not only proudly using their avatar NFTs as their profile picture, but they are also following others that have avatars from the same project.

In other words, your PFP NFT gives you access to a community.  And with high-value NFTs, a certain level of status.  

Add to that a Discord group (which is very common for any of these projects); plus any special utility, like access to real world events - and you have yourself a bonafide, exclusive club.

And people pay big to be a part of some of these clubs.

For CryptoPunks, the floor price (which is the lowest purchase price for an avatar in a collection) stood at 51.84 ETH ($160,696.23 USD) at the time of writing (August 2021).  Yeah, you read that right - over 160K for the cheapest CryptoPunk!

Should we even use the term PFP?

 With such high valuations, even with the community aspect, it might be hard to believe that some of the avatars can be worth so much.

And maybe “profile pic” is not a great description of some of these projects as they can be used in so many more ways. 

For example, some projects give you the commercial rights (sometimes through full ownership or sometimes through a licensing agreement) to your particular NFT avatar, which means that you can sell t-shirts with your avatar or create derivative works, and so on.  You are the owner of your avatar.

Getting in Early on PFP Projects

Getting in Early on PFP Projects

Getting in early on a PFP project can pay off (of course, no guarantee!)

Case in point, the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), a generative PFP NFT project that has 10,000 unique Apes created from 170 different traits.

If you were lucky enough to hear about BAYC when they launched in April 2021 you could have “minted” (which basically means created) an Ape for a mere .08 ETH plus gas fees (which would have amounted to a total of about $200 at the time).

And you could have done so until about April 31, 2021 when the last of the 10,000 Apes were minted.

If you were so lucky.

Because today a Bored Ape is a hot commodity with a floor price (the cheapest one you can buy) standing at around 13 ETH, which is about $40,000 at the time of writing (August 2021).

And at the top end .. well, on August 11th a Bored Ape fetched 400 ETH - that would be over million dollars!

Bored Ape Yacht Club Stats

Stats from nftexp.io/explore/bored-ape-yacht-club.  Screenshot taken August 14, 2021.

With the success of Bored Apes, PFP avatar projects have exploded onto the NFT scene.

BAYC also set the  trend for how these PFP projects are generally structured - 10,000 generated avatars with a mint price of 0.08 ETH (of course each project has its own specific structure, but they are generally close to these numbers).

How to Get In Early

Most people buy their PFP NFT on a secondary market like OpenSea, but there are ways to mint (create) an NFT directly from the project’s website.

And for a popular NFT project, you’ll need to get in early before they sell out.

There are a few ways to find such projects before their mint date.

The easiest way to get started is to visit the "Upcoming" page on the Rarity Tools website.

Here you can scan through projects that might interest you, check the projects mint date and price, and, maybe most importantly, find the link to join their Discord.

You can also follow the NFT Calendar Discord which lists upcoming drops daily and weekly.  NFT Calendar also shows the number of Discord members for the project, which can be an important metric to show the popularity of the project.

(You’ll notice that there are a LOT of projects - which is concerning - but more on that later in "Final Thoughts").

However you find the project, you should join the project's Discord if you are at all interested in the project.

Why?

Because here is where you can start to understand the strength of the community and its leaders.

You can also get in on possible special perks and giveaways that the project might offer its early members.

You’ll also notice, as you join these Discord servers, that members will also talk about other NFT projects, so these groups are a great place to find other projects that you might also be interested in.

NOTE OF WARNING - most of these projects will not have anywhere close to the success of BAYC, and there is even a good chance that the majority of them will end up selling below their mint price (or even go to zero). 

This is the wild west - be careful.

But also have fun.  Even if you never buy into one of these projects, you can often interact with other members, chat about crypto, and, in general, just get more involved in the NFT space.

VOGU twitter profile

VOGU's Twitter Profile - Screenshot taken on August 14, 2021

Example: How I tried to get in Early on the VOGU project

While perusing the upcoming projects on Rarity Tools, a project called the VOGU collection caught my eye.

The robots looked kind of cool and the art seemed high quality (at least to me).  They were also a bit different from all the other animal themed PFP projects at the time.

I checked out their website and read their “lore” (which is the story behind the characters - an important concept in PFP projects).  It all seemed interesting.

What finally got me to join VOGU’s Discord and track the project more closely was when I heard EllioTrades, a popular NFT and crypto influencer on YouTube and Twitter, mention that he liked the project.

Mint Day - Part 1

The VOGU team announced in their Discord group their mint date would be on Monday, July 26th at 5pm PDT.  The mint price would be set at .077 ETH (about $166 USD at the time) with a supply of 7,777. 

The link to mint the VOGUs would be posted to the Discord group 5 minutes before the mint time.

Sounded reasonable enough to me.

A couple of days before the mint date, I loaded up my Metamask with some ETH to prepare for the big day.

On July 26th, I joined the Discord around 3PM PDT (2 hours before mint) and saw that things were hopping with activity.   I knew immediately that this was going to be very competitive.  

Yes, there were 7,000+ VOGU’s, but there were more than 8,000 members of the Discord and people could try to mint several VOGUs (there was no limit).

There would surely be a major “gas war” - when hundreds of people try to put in an ETH transaction at once and drive up the price of gas. 

Which means that unless you set your gas limit high enough in Metamask, you won’t be able to win the gas war and you won’t get your VOGU.  

But maybe worse, you could lose the gas fee if your transaction fails.  

Yes, that's right, if you set your gas too low, not only do you miss out on a VOGU, but you could lose your gas fee… ouch.  And if you set it too high - well then you could seriously over pay.  

Oh, what to do?

Online or not - the tension felt real - especially as we got closer to the mint time.  A common question in the Discord was how high to set the gas limit.  But that’s like asking your competitor for their strategy.  Could you really believe any answers to this question?

I decided to set my gas limit to 100 Gwei, which means that I probably would pay around $200 in gas fees alone (not including the VOGU mint) - basically that would be my limit for a total loss if I couldn’t mint a VOGU.

As promised, the VOGU team posted the link in the Discord around 4:55 PM PDT. I immediately hit the link, set my gas limit in Metamask, and tried to mint.

Nothing. 

Click again.

Nothing…. Nothing ….. Nothing

The Discord is buzzing with comments about not being able to mint.

OK, well at least I’m not the only one.

The project team announces that they are having an issue.

OK, so everyone is having an issue then.

But wait - people are commenting that VOGU’s have been minted.  

About 1,800 or so!

Turns out that people were bypassing the VOGU website (where the error was occurring) and going directly to the contract on Etherscan to mint.

Yes, this is possible.

It shows how a bit of knowledge goes such a long way.

Want to learn how to mint directly from a contract?  Check out this video posted by a VOGU Discord member (but if you are new to Metamask and minting NFTs, I don't recommend you try this).


After about 30 minutes of this confusion and chaos (the team first tried to fix it quickly, but couldn’t) the project team announced that they would shut down the contract (so no one could mint) and rescheduled the mint to the next day, July 27th at 5:00 PM PDT.

Now I had a decision to make.

Did I want to join the next day and battle again or just buy a VOGU on the secondary market?

Yes, some of those people who minted directly from the contract already posted their VOGU’s for sale on OpenSea (if I recall correctly they were going for about .3 ETH - $850 or $900).

Well, I thought I’m doing this for the experience, not just the VOGU, so I decided to battle again the next day.

The thrill of battle!

my battle for a vogu


Mint Day - Part 2

July 28th, 2021 - I’m back in the VOGU Discord a couple of hours before the mint time, which was scheduled for 5:00 PM PDT.

The Discord was even more active than the day before.

I got a sinking feeling.

There was sure to be an epic gas war.

The project team assured everyone that the issue from the day before was fixed and everything was good to go for 5:00 PM.

Mint time arrived and I hit the link, set my gas limit in Metamask, and tried to mint.

It looks like things were functioning today…

Now to check Etherscan to see how long my transaction might take…..

Over 2 hours!

At this point I could try “speeding up” the transaction by paying more gas or I could just cancel the transaction.

If I try speeding up and still don’t put in enough gas, I risk losing that gas fee - which could be pretty substantial (probably a few hundred dollars).

Or I could just give up and cancel the transaction.

Which is what I ended up doing (by the way, it costs gas to cancel a transaction too… about $70 for me in this case).

No VOGU for me 🙁

All the VOGUs sold out in less than 15 minutes.

Final Thoughts

There are many people who think that PFP NFTs are stupid - JPEGs of Apes and Punks selling for hundres of thousands of dollars just seems silly.

But they are missing the point.

First off, PFP NFTs are more than just profile pictures - some include certain types of utility; some come with intellectual property rights; all include some form of ownership.

But maybe more importantly is that PFP NFTs help form communities in ways that couldn’t be done with simple JPEGs alone.

And communities are part of our human experience.

These PFP NFTs (the ones that make it for the long run) are forming significant cultural artifacts in a new digital landscape.

But will all these PFP projects make it to that level of significance?

Absolutely not!

In fact, there is already (in my opinion) an oversupply of these projects that are being sustained by a high degree of speculation in the market.

And there will be a shakeout.

But I believe, there will be a few special projects that achieve a level of significance that future historians will note as shaping the cultural experience of our time. 

P.S. At the time of writing, August 14, 2021, the VOGU floor price (the lowest price for a VOGU) was approximately .5 ETH (about $1,600).  I guess I should have spent that extra ETH on gas.  Oh, well.  You can check out VOGUs for sale on OpenSea.

Ed's headshot

About the Author
Ed is NFTska’s lead Editor and Author based in the Los Angeles area.  He fell deep down the crypto rabbit hole starting in 2017.  Ed actively participates in and follows the fast changing NFT scene. Learn more about Ed.