Exclusive Interview: BAYC Aims to Return to Roots After Community Outcry

BY Lorepunk

January 18, 2024

In the first weeks of 2024, there has been a flurry of social media activity offering critique to Bored Ape Yacht Club owners Yuga Labs, particularly around the company’s communications with holders.

Against this backdrop, on Jan. 17, the Yuga team revealed an initiative for Apes that it’s been working on for several months—a rededication to its clubhouse origins featuring a revamped website, the launch of a quarterly survey, and a commitment to more robust communication.

Will it be enough to quell the BAYC clubhouse?

Community Discontent

The years 2023 and early 2024 have been turbulent for BAYC, with mixed receptions and technical troubles for projects like Legends Of The Mara and HV-MTL. In the first two weeks of January 2024, holder discontent reached a head.

“Yuga has never felt more disconnected from the crypto community and space than right now,” the celebrated collector and investor known as mabu.eth posted on X on Jan. 11. “I absolutely want Yuga to thrive and succeed. I think there needs to be a strong pivot back to crypto, NFT, and degen culture, away from this cold gaming studio feel. Make BAYC a club again, not another gaming asset,” he wrote.

Beanie, the controversial co-creator of PixelVault and current founder of venture fund GM Capital, laid out a lengthy analysis of BAYC’s struggles in August 2023, including the loss of the BAYC “cool factor” among celebrities and rewards drying up after a heady series of airdrops in 2021/22, from dogs to Mutants to $APE. To him, the changing tokenomics of ApeCoin posed a powerful challenge to BAYC.

“The staking rewards are heavily front-loaded during a period of time that the token has no utility. Makes no sense as the token just gets farmed and dumped since there’s no organic demand right now. Rewards drop 65 percent next year, meaning staking demand will crater, and more BAYC will hit the market. It further drops another 50 percent the next year. Incentives for holding a BAYC for ApeCoin rewards will be next to nothing,” he wrote.

He followed up this widely-read tweet with a reply on Jan. 10. “5 months after I posted this thesis from depths of the altcoin bear to bull. And Ape Coin still can’t catch a bid. The economics are flawed. And this is now crushing BAYC as its staking rewards are down bad. Ape Coin economics relied on it only going up over time. A flawed model,” he wrote.

“Yuga talks a lot. It doesn’t move the needle for me.”


He wasn’t more optimistic after the BAYC’s new plans were revealed on Jan. 17. “I really don’t think it’s too newsworthy to be honest. Yuga talks a lot. It doesn’t move the needle for me,” he told nft now.

The core concern of many members was around Yuga’s communication style—a concern which was well expressed by a longtime holder known as withoutnameNFT, who announced on Jan. 12 that he had sold all of his Apes but one.

“I don’t understand that @yugalabs cannot openly, and with all honesty, say why they do not deliver and [why] they will not deliver on deadline. Set up new and right expectations for all the people whose care,” he posted on X, citing missed deadlines on a promised Magic Eden marketplace for Yuga assets and a promise by CEO Daniel Alegre to build in public.

Many longtime holders were quick to defend Yuga, including JBond, BAYCkada founder and Bored Ape Ambassador for Storyverse. “We can watch & enjoy others cook for now. But it would be a grave mistake to fade Yuga,” he posted on Jan. 9.

“I am still glad to be a holder of Apes. I still hold three Bored Apes and three Mutant Apes. I am still happy with the community. A lot of OG Apes are still around to bring up vibes. A lot of new Apes are coming in recently too. On top of that, BAYC is the only collection out there with that many regional chapters. There’s BAYC groups in the Philippines, Singapore, Korea, Japan, France, Dubai, Latin America, to name a few. BAYC is still the top-notch NFT community. Are there things that can be done better? Yes. Communication is one. Meeting timelines of deliverables is 2nd. But I’m cognizant of the fact that Yuga is now a different company to Yuga earlier on,” he told nft now on Jan. 15.

To JBond, holders have a great deal of power to enact change. “Ape holders are given power to be value-adding members of the community. Rather than waiting for what Yuga will do, why not do some dope stuff with your Ape instead? BAYC is all of us, not just Yuga,” he continued.

“Are there things that can be done better? Yes. Communication is one. Meeting timelines of deliverables is second. But I’m cognizant of the fact that Yuga is now a different company.”


Another holder who calls himself El Mono told us that the perspectives of different groups in the community can depend on when they came in—and how they participate.

“The people that make it to ApeFest and consistently have for the past three or at least the one in Hong Kong understand the long-term potential in BAYC/MAYC. The folks I see upset were either overleveraged, to begin with, got in around 20-30 ETH and were expecting a run up to 70-90 again very quickly, or just upset they joined after all the free money,” he said in a written interview.

In response to the furor, many Apes, including co-founder Gordon Goner, placed the banana badge on their X profiles—a sign of solidarity among Apes that has been around since 2021. These throwback vibes inspire GratefulApe, a vocal and proud holder, Spaces host, and Made by Apes participant.

“I minted my Ape on May 1, 2021, and have been riding this epic wave since day one. I remember the first meet-ups organized by community members, meeting new friends just because we wore the same BAYC hoodies or the famous Banana verification on our Twitter profiles 🍌,” he told us.

Yuga’s Announcements

With the return of liquidity to the space and excitement mounting on Solana, Ordinals, and EVM L2s, the blue-chip status of Apes faces economic and cultural challenges. Grail trait Apes like a Black Suit sold for 42.69 ETH, and a King’s Crown sold for 39 ETH, NFTStats reported on Jan. 12.

Yuga has recently increased the pace of announcements, revealing on Jan. 16 that the highly popular Dookey Dash will be back in the first quarter of 2024, with an expanded, mobile-friendly version available to BAYC holders and the wider community. “The goal of Dookey Dash Unclogged is to put BAYC and Yuga into a million people’s pockets,” posted BAYC co-founder Greg Solano.

On Jan. 17, the official BAYC account tweeted a series of updates, spanning the revamped website, holder survey, clubhouse plans, and more, asserting, “This year we’re going back to basics, making sure the club is at the heart of everything we do.”

nft now sat down with Jeff Nicholas, creative director at BAYC for an exclusive interview on Yuga’s new plans for Apes. 

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some fiery tweets and market movements. There have been people flooring their Apes. Was your reset happening within Yuga before this spate of feedback started happening? Is this campaign of announcements in response to the outcry from some members of the community? 

Jeff Nicholas: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s definitely been in process for the last six to seven months. We very clearly heard the community when Forge came out and did not land the way that anybody wanted it to. That’s when things really started to move. That’s when we really had to start reevaluating: what is BAYC versus what is Yuga Gaming? And how do those things fit together?

That, for us, was the biggest catalyst. 2023 ended up being really about gaming for the club. Sewer Passes, Dookey Dash, HV-MTLs, the Forge—that was all gaming stuff. And we could feel that bubbling starting to happen, so we’ve spent the last six or seven months kind of reconfiguring.

“We were getting up to speed, but everyone was still upset.”

Jeff Nicholas

It’s like a tanker at times to move [Yuga]; like, “Okay, we have this strategy, and now we’ve got to pivot that whole thing and bring back in the club vibes.” We’ve been doing that. ApeFest last year was really about, “How do we bring all that energy back into the club? How do we start the support?” Made By Apes launch was about that: how do we support the builders?

But all of that stuff was happening, and we were getting up to speed, but everyone was still upset. We’ve got this movement internally to get back to that place, but it doesn’t quite show up externally in the way that everybody wants, because they want more communication, and they want a clubhouse. They want all of these things that we’re pivoting to accommodate.

The front doors of the BAYC clubhouse, Credit: Yuga Labs

When we created Yuga’s own channel for gaming, as an example, that was in direct response to a lot of FUD we were getting at the time. It was very clear: “Oh yeah, we do need to move gaming out; it needs to be its own thing. It’s going to be a much better experience for people if they can go play it if they want to, but they don’t feel obligated to play it because it’s BAYC.” That move helped significantly, and we’ve been laying the groundwork.

So the hard thing was, we’re in the middle of all of this planning. We’re laying on this foundation internally, with the teams and reconfiguring things and pivoting—and the community doesn’t know that. We don’t like to share until we’re ready because it’s too often that we see people share and not be able to make good on those promises.

And so we’re laying the groundwork, and [holders] are freaking out—we’re like, “just hold on, just hold on. It’s all coming.” This latest round was hard—we weren’t necessarily reacting to this FUD. We’re like, “We hear you, we see you.” Internally, we’re right there, just keeping one foot in front of the other until we can actually address it.

So that’s what we’re starting to do this week. And you’ll see, the sentiment has shifted pretty significantly coming out of the weekend. We don’t look at it on a small scale, like, “Oh, did sentiment shift this week,” and now our job is done. It’s like, “Okay, we’ve got peaks and valleys. But how do we smooth this out so it feels like a great experience across the year or across the legacy?”

Tell us more about what’s going to change for the BAYC community.

Where I’m focused is over on the club—on BAYC. That’s what we’re announcing today. It’s really this idea that last year, the club sort of got—I don’t want to say taken over—by gaming, but we definitely put a lot of emphasis on gaming in BAYC.

What we realized is that not every Ape, not every Mutant, wants to be a gamer or wants to play games all day. They told us very loudly for months on end about how that was the case. So, we had some pivots to make—and that’s what we’re doing this year.

I came in last year [2023] in July. I’ve taken over as creative director as of Jan. 1, working with Wylie, Greg, and Figge to help really guide BAYC back to the roots. What we’re announcing is really this kind of overarching theme around the clubhouse and bringing the club back to its roots.

“What we realized is that not every Ape, not every Mutant, wants to be a gamer or wants to play games all day.”

Jeff Nicholas

The launch that we have today is—on one level, if you look at it—it’s not, like, a big launch. It’s not like the Otherside trailer, but it’s really about getting the club back to a place where we’re listening, where everyone feels like they have a place and a voice, and we’re vibing at the clubhouse rather than always playing games. We’ll go visit the arcade, we’ll go play Dookey Dash, and we’ll come back to the clubhouse; hanging out. 

We’re launching a new BAYC website, we’re updating the socials. The new site is a clubhouse theme. So you actually walk into a new version of the clubhouse.

We’re also launching a survey—a quarterly survey campaign that is geared to get really deep with the holders and hear from them—really unfiltered—what they want for the club, what they like, what they don’t.

It’s the first time we’ve done that. We’re trying to channel the energy and the voices into a structured place where we can actually take that data and then adapt with it, rather than just trying to find sentiment out on Twitter.

So that’s a big piece for us. And, then, we’re announcing a new BAYC Council refresh, where we’ll be bringing some new Apes into the council. And then we’re also teasing some clubhouse-y stuff. A real physical clubhouse is very much on the agenda for us—we’re exploring.

The main focus for the year is going to be really bringing people together in a much more direct, back to basics kind of way. As we look at where the sentiment has been, especially coming into this year, where it was, it was probably the darkest that I’ve seen it. I minted [BAYC], and I’ve been here since the beginning. It was like, “Okay, guys, just hold on, we have a return back to supporting the club in the right way. It’s the heartbeat of everything that we do.”

But it was very hard to watch that unfold, knowing that we’re holding back these things, that we can only talk about them and release them at a time when we know we can execute. 

That’s where we’re at. It’s not a huge, groundbreaking announcement, but it is starting to lay the foundation for what the whole year is going to be about. It’s like, “How do we get together more? How do we support? How do we build out Made By Apes even bigger? How do we really put in tactics that make you feel like, ‘Oh, yeah, like, I want to be part of this thing?’” It’s really special.

A lot of ratings, one through five, one through ten. Really, getting a sense of what’s going on, so we can identify quick themes through it—so we can go, “Oh, got it, everybody’s loving this.” And, “everybody’s hating that.” So we can say, “Let’s hit it and make sure that we’re supporting that.”

But then we’ve also got big, long-form questions. Here, it’s like, “You’ve got suggestions, we know you do—we hear it all day on the timeline. Put it here.” We can work with our data science team to really scrub that and say, “So many people are saying they want this. Let’s just go do that.”

So you’ll connect with delegate.xyz. Once you connect, then you’ll be able to go in, and it’s a number of different things. The survey is about all of our initiatives: what do you feel about ApeFest? What’s important to you about the clubhouse? How do you feel about the gaming initiatives? How do you feel about how we’re managing the club? What do you want to see? Those sorts of things.

There’s the lore of the clubhouse in the Everglades that has a bunch of rich crypto folks who are bored. The metaphor that you’re using for the website is also a clubhouse. Then you’ve got a geographically situated clubhouse like at ApeFest, which will include some people, and other people will find it more difficult to attend. How are you bringing a global, distributed clubhouse vibe to a website?

The way that we’re looking at it is more holistic than just the website, but that’s a key component. The terminology we’ve been circling is, “Wherever there’s Apes, there’s a clubhouse. So wherever Apes are gathered, there’s a clubhouse, and that vibe is there.” In the early days, when we came running into the voice app Clubhouse, we were all making ape sounds. You very much felt like you were in the clubhouse. You go to the Discord, you go to the bathroom wall; it’s all different versions of that feeling.

“Wherever there’s Apes, there’s a clubhouse. So wherever Apes are gathered, there’s a clubhouse, and that vibe is there.”

Jeff Nicholas

But what’s happened over time is—as we as Yuga have grown, and all the different initiatives have grown, that idea of the central meeting point has flitted away in different pockets. And so, this year, we do everything in the clubhouse. We play there, we grow there, we build there, we joke there, we do whatever. The website ends up being this starting point for a new version of what a decentralized clubhouse could mean.

When you first land on the site, you’ve got the clubhouse doors–little Easter eggs all over the place! You click in, and you’re in a new version of the clubhouse. This is an expansion of the original clubhouse illustration that we have created. There’s all kinds of stuff from the last two and a half years—bits of lore, everything from the Mutant game, Toad Mode—all kinds of little pieces to play with.

As you dive deeper, if we go to the About section? “Come on in,” and “Welcome to the clubhouse.” Now we’re zooming out of the image from the old website, and we’re saying, “There’s more to it here.”

There’s our new incomplete timeline, where we go through all the different elements, all the different things that we’ve done together over the last two and a half years. There’s Curtis and all the collections—it just kind of keeps going. We’ve done things like preserve the bathroom. When you click on the bathroom, you go to the old bathroom. If you want to go to the old site, you can go there, but you can explore all the other collections.

And we’ve got a profile where you can log in. Curtis is our loading screen—he’s looking out from the members-only door. You log in, connecting through a Delegate wallet. And then you have a profile and we’ll build those profiles out over time. That’s what I mean by the clubhouse. It’s not super interactive in the sense that you and I can’t go there and have a clubhouse experience there. But you can wrap yourself in the lore a little bit.

And it also serves as a catalog, the way the new CryptoPunks hub does.

That’s right. We also needed it to be a thing where if you don’t know what the club is—you’re, like, “the monkey JPEG”—we want you to land somewhere that feels like it’s current instead of feeling like it’s super dated, like the old site. When the next Otherside trip is coming, we’re going to be going to BAYC island together. We’re going to be exploring the clubhouse at BAYC Island. We’ve already done those previews in LA and at ApeFest, but the global community hasn’t had a chance to do that. It’s a really special moment. We’ve done the First Trip and Second Trip, but we’ve never visited BAYC Island and gotten into the clubhouse and done those things.

Then, everything that we do ends up relating to the clubhouse. Are we launching X, Y, or Z? It folds up into the clubhouse. Dookey Dash happens in the sewers under the clubhouse. We’re hearing the [pipes] rumbling under the clubhouse. All of the things that we’ll be launching will kind of ladder back to it.

The bar at the BAYC clubhouse. Credit: Yuga Labs

The hope is, by the end of the year, you end up with this feeling of “Oh, right, like, we’re a club, and where we gather is the clubhouse.” Even the Discord refresh is using it a little bit; the gaming stuff goes into the arcade, and the member channels go into the clubhouse.

So you will be consistent with your lore and use some rigor in its expression?

Yeah! You have to be. If we’re really building worlds out—like we all want to be doing—you’ve got to. I think we got lost along the way. I think last year, we were going like, “Okay, gaming is going to be this thing that is going to excite everybody.” And, we like to play games, but we also like to just talk shit at the bar, which is like hanging out in Discord. Right? We like to have that sort of communal feeling to everything.

Okay, this survey. So this is going to be a token-gated survey that you log into? And it’s on the website?

It won’t be on the website—we partnered with a company called BlockSurvey, which is really awesome. They’ve been such a great partner in building this out.

Why a survey? So we will hear from you—not because we need to know every detail of your life, but because we want to hear your voice. It says at the beginning: “Don’t want to answer something? Skip that shit.” It’s really optional. We do ask some questions about demographics and stuff. But if you’re like, “I don’t want to tell you who I am,” we get that.

Is the survey quantitative or qualitative?

Both. It’s about 100 or so questions overall. And we’ve got everything from, you know, “What’s your experience level with web3? What types of NFTs do you collect?” down to, “How important are these different things in a matrix of clubhouse elements?” Or, “How are we doing on Twitter?”

“You’ve got suggestions, we know you do—we hear it all day on the timeline. Put it here. We can work with our data science team to really scrub that and say, ‘So many people are saying they want this. Let’s just go do that.’”

Jeff Nicholas

Is this going to be an ongoing process with the questions refreshed? Is it going to be incentivized?

We will refresh the questions every quarter. For this first one, we’re not doing an incentive on it. We’re guessing—and maybe we’re wrong, but I think we’re right—that most everybody has been so up in arms about the lack of communication that they’ll want to fill this out because they want to tell us how they feel.

And the follow ups, I think we will probably incentivize, and those incentivizations might be POAPs. It might be game loot—but I think it depends. We’ve got a pretty interesting community—our Apes will tell us! It’s not like we have to go hunt them down to figure it out.

Do you think this survey will work? Or are you also thinking of other ways to improve both the communication and the holders’ satisfaction with the communication, which are two different things?

Two very different things. Yeah, we are. This is not a silver bullet. Everything we’ve done this year–or everything we’ve laid out to do this year–is all for building a foundation. They’re all little bits and pieces that, by the end of the year, should add up to quite a big, supportive block of foundation.

The comms piece has been tricky. I’ll speak on the BAYC side. Our comms have been pretty straightforward. I think people have been pretty happy with the Bored Ape comms. I think some of the comms they have not been happy with at all have been some of the Otherside comms and some of the gaming comms, and the lack of those comms overall.

We’re taking a different approach and resetting how we talk about what we’re doing and how often we talk about it. That’s going to shift pretty dramatically as we get into February and the rest of the year across all of Yuga.

We just brought in a new senior social media manager. We’re in this transitional period where he needs to get up to speed, but you’re already seeing that Otherside has been much more forward; gaming is much more forward with all the things that they’re doing. And that’s starting to work.

I think that’s where the big sentiment shifts started to happen in a positive light last week when Otherside released their trailer, and then [there was an issue with] that frame rate. They followed it up shortly thereafter and reacted quickly to that. That team was getting more active on social.

And then, on the gaming side, we built the Gaming Council. That has been a huge success. We’ve got [community members] who are helping us—they’ve all been posting about it all yesterday. They are deep into the alpha testing and beta testing with us—very transparently. We’re allowing them to share their experiences publicly. That, along with Spencer and the rest of the gaming team being way more transparent on Dookey Dash, is the start of a new chapter.

And that’s a very different approach than last year’s gaming approach, which was like, “hold it back and try to surprise and delight. But if you miss the mark, you’re screwed. And now, there’s not enough comms, and everybody hates you. Welcome to web3.

Would you ever have a periodic town hall, like a Twitter Space?

We’ve talked about it. For BAYC, in particular, we may end up in that direction. For gaming and Otherside they’ve got different ways—they’re building milestones to hit that may be different in how they operate. They’ve been doing a lot with coders, they’ve been doing a lot with me, but it’s really kind of “get in and talk more about what’s happening” with those projects.

The one thing that we’re always going to try to balance, for Yuga and for BAYC—is we still like the element of surprise and delight; we still like the element of only talking about things when we’re ready to talk about them so that we don’t over promise and under deliver. That’s an important aspect of how we operate, but we have to build the trust back. Trust has to be there for that to be a positive thing. If the trust isn’t there, and the right level of comms isn’t there, then those things feel opaque and very anti-web3.

“We still like the element of only talking about things when we’re ready to talk about them so that we don’t over promise and under deliver… Trust has to be there for that to be a positive thing.”

Jeff Nicholas

So yes, we’re looking at different ways. Made By Apes is a good example. We’ll be doing a weekly feature on a new Made By Apes brand that’s going to go out on Wednesdays at the end of that month. We’ll take all of those Made By Apes brands and do a Space with them where we’ll be talking about their brands. And we’ll also be talking about the new Made By Apes developments for that month and so on.

I’d love to get us to a place where, like in previous projects that I’ve been a part of, we can have a Discord town hall every week or at least once a month. That goes a long way. I think we’re on that trajectory to do that kind of comms.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Wylie [Gordon Goner] has been pretty active on the timeline lately, and it’s nice to see him back. He brings an energy and a focus to things that we’ve missed. He’s not back, but his spirit is here, and he’s involved in a lot of these conversations.

The whole thing is—how do we just re-infuse that web3 energy back into leadership for BAYC? That’s what we’re doing this year. When we’re talking authentically about the stuff we love, the community vibes with it, and everything is great. And when we get disjointed from that, it’s not. It’s kind of as simple as that. And that’s what we’re going to be infusing back in this year.

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