Despite falling victim to several high-profile hacks earlier this year, OpenSea has continued to be the preeminent NFT marketplace on the world wide web. Their acquisition of Gem, the leading NFT marketplace aggregator, is just the latest in a series of aggressive moves.
In their official press statement, OpenSea expressed hope that the acquisition would “allow [them] to learn from Gem’s expertise and intuition about the advanced NFT community – and bring the best of Gem’s features to OpenSea.” Most notably, Gem enables users to easily purchase NFTs from a wide range of marketplaces in a single transaction. Should OpenSea integrate such a feature into its website, site traffic on competing marketplaces would likely face a steep decline.
Centralized services in a decentralized space
So — are NFT enthusiasts celebrating OpenSea’s latest acquisition? Not quite.
This news sheds light on an open secret about the nature of some of the biggest NFT marketplaces: they’re centralized.
Although in theory, NFT communities are free to host their collections on their own marketplaces, or even white-label solutions like Kred, Bitski, and Serotonin, this sometimes comes at the cost of user experience.
To put it bluntly, these smaller marketplaces would have a very hard time reaching feature parity with bigger marketplaces touting millions of dollars worth of funds from their investors that can go towards their development budgets. With OpenSea’s acquisition of Gem, competing marketplaces are going to have a very hard time catching up to OpenSea in terms of ease of use.
Ripples across the blockchain
In the tech world, buying up the competition – and their technology – is hardly a novel concept. We saw it when Apple purchased Beats by Dre back in 2014. Although it was regarded as a strange move at the time, it eventually made perfect sense when Apple unveiled a product that would change the face of mobile audio in late 2016: the AirPods.
But what does yesterday’s big tech news have to do with NFTs? In an ideal world, absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from ideal. As such, OpenSea isn’t the only major player in the space behaving like big tech. When Yuga Labs, creators of the BAYC, and one of the biggest players in the NFT space acquired the Cryptopunks and Meebits collections earlier this year, they effectively consolidated ownership of three of the most expensive NFT collections in existence.
The last thing web3 needs is an entity controlling what is in essence, a hedge fund. What use is the decentralized nature of this exciting, new platform if actors are just going to behave like normal corporations and financial institutions?
Thankfully, this type of behavior isn’t seen in all of the community’s most prominent members. People like punk6529 are building truly community-first spaces on the metaverse, owned by no one and built by everyone. Despite that, it remains to be seen what school of thought will win out over time.