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How Do Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) Hold Value?

Anthony Cerullo
April 14, 2022
picture of an NFT with the text "do NFTs hold value"

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have captured the hearts of millions around the world. So much so that it’s now moving beyond the “cute fad” phase and into the “life-changing technology” phase. We’re even seeing massive brands like Nike, Apple, and Meta (formerly Facebook) jumping onto the NFT bandwagon lately. What’s interesting about this movement is that NFTs have entered the mainstream zeitgeist with the large majority of people not understanding how NFTs work or why NFTs hold value. It’s complicated but not undefinable. 

Experts have determined NFTs get their value from a mixture of emotional attachment, digital scarcity, and a dash of hedonism. Whether this value will translate to longevity remains to be seen but from all accounts, we’re on the right track. 

What are NFTs?

Before we delve into the value behind NFTs, we first must understand what NFTs are. Simply put, NFTs are just a type of digital token. In the cryptocurrency world, tokens fall into two different categories:

  1. Fungible tokens: Fungible tokens are similar to currency. Just like 1 dollar is always 1 dollar, 1 bitcoin is always 1 bitcoin. If someone is selling a car for 1 bitcoin, you can use 1 bitcoin from your wallet or take 1 bitcoin from a friend’s wallet. It doesn’t have to be a specific bitcoin. They are interchangeable just like the paper currency in your wallet.

  2. Non-fungible tokens: Non-fungible tokens on the other hand are unique and cannot be replaced by another token. Each NFT is distinct and has its value. Think of an NFT as a piece of real estate. Unlike two dollar bills that are identical in value, two pieces of property are not identical in value. They both have unique qualities that make them more expensive or less expensive. The same is said with NFTs. 

NFTs are particularly interesting because this uniqueness can be verified thanks to blockchain technology. Anyone can go onto the blockchain and see that token recorded on the digital ledger, thus verifying its existence. Furthermore, the blockchain allows it to be easily traded across borders and through secondary financial markets. This opens up numerous opportunities for use cases, investment strategies, and business models. 

While this all sounds lovely, to the majority of people, NFTs are just some meaningless lines of code in a world they don’t understand. So let’s try to break it down from an economic perspective to see why NFTs hold value. 

How do NFTs hold value?

In an attempt to rationalize the seemingly outlandish world of NFTs, let’s examine some tangible economic theories and see how the two relate. In an interview with Vox, Matt Stephenson, a Ph.D. graduate from Columbia University and expert on behavioral economics said that

“in economic literature, there’s this interesting division between functional value and hedonic value.”

Essentially, what this means is that value comes from two questions: “what can I use this thing to do?” and “how much do I like this thing?”

To further explain:

  • Functional value: Defined as the utility that comes from an item or asset. For example, an asset has functional value if it can perform a specific task that satisfies the consumers' needs (e.g. a bike is a mode of transportation, thus has functional value to the rider).
  • Hedonic value: Value obtained through pleasure and fun. (e.g. this boat is valuable because I can have parties on it and cruise around the world). 

NFTs fall under both categories. A huge part of the mania surrounding NFTs is the profit potential. People can make money from speculative investments in the NFT resale market. The ability to trade NFTs as one would stock is a function. Another function is the tokenizing of real-world assets and putting them on the blockchain. For example, artists are tokenizing artwork, music, and even real-life buildings and putting them on the blockchain in the form of an NFT. 

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the hedonic aspect of NFTs. People love to show off their Bored Ape NFT they bought for $300,000. This “digital flexing” is a huge part of the NFT culture but the hedonic value is not only about bragging about how much money one spent. It is also about associating emotional response with value.

NFT value is closely related to emotions

In 2015, researchers from Nottingham Trent University Jack Cleghorn and Mark D. Griffiths conducted a study on “Why do gamers buy ‘virtual assets?” This in-depth insight unlocked the psychology behind certain purchase behavior. For example, let's say a player in a video game gives another player a sword as a gift. This sword doesn’t have any particular value. Sure, the friend paid $20 for it and gave it as a gift but there are infinite copies of this sword that can be bought on the online store by anyone. Based on the principles of supply and demand, this sword should be almost valueless. However, the player that receives the sword will never sell it. Why is that?

The player doesn’t see value in the sword because it is rare or expensive. The player sees its value in where it came from. This sword was a gift from a friend. If he bought the same sword from the online store, it wouldn’t have the same sentimental and emotional value. NFTs are the same way. 

NFTs generate emotional responses in some people. Just like a piece of art may speak to you or a property may be filled with years of memories, NFTs too can come with emotional aspects that add value. If you look at some of the most popular artworks of all time like The Mona Lisa or The Starry Night, they are not highly ranked because of the artist’s skill alone. They come with fascinating histories and backgrounds that add to their value.

While this emotional aspect is certainly something to consider, especially in the early days of NFTs, it is not the only reason behind NFT value. The tangible use cases continue to grow in 2022.

NFT use cases in 2022

Photo via @lililashka

As described earlier, NFTs have both functional value and hedonic value. While the latter certainly takes center stage in the media, it’s important to know that brilliant minds all around the world are working hard to make NFTs functional beyond investment purposes. Here are a few examples.

NFTs for identity verification and medical records

Certainly, NFT applications have been specially designed to assist healthcare professionals by storing medical records on the blockchain. This way, the records are stored safely without compromising confidentiality or external tampering. Every NFT transaction is validated by a node network before permanently being stored on the blockchain. Hence, every single record is 100% accurate and safe from manipulation.

NFTs for intellectual property rights

One of the best parts about NFTs is that they can be used to prove ownership of any piece of content. This is currently not possible with traditional intellectual property tools like copyrights and trademarks. NFT blockchains are immutable. The owner of an NFT can always prove they are the original creator of a piece of work at any time

NFTs for real estate

NFTs and real estate are a match made in heaven. By tokenizing property deeds, NFTs can be used to transfer deeds easily and provide proof of ownership. Since it’s on the blockchain, these NFTs can also represent timestamps of the property value over time. Imagine searching for a property online and buying that house with just a few taps of a button. That is entirely possible with NFTs. You could see when the property was built, who first bought it or built it, what renovations were done, and even buy property across borders in minutes. 

NFTs in the gaming industry

Screen shot from Axie Infinity

We are already seeing NFT users explode in the gaming industry. With blockchain-based games such as Axie Infinity and metaverses like Decentraland, NFTs are proving their worth in the international gaming community. NFTs can be easily integrated into the gaming world with cross-platform playability. Furthemore, NFTs give game developers new ways to build their brand and make a new revenue stream. Not only that, gamers can earn money from playing games with NFTs. To use Axie Infinity as an example, digital monsters called “Axies” are represented in the form of NFTs. Players can train and develop these monsters and eventually sell them to other players for profit. 

Using NFTs as collateral for instant cash loans

Your NFTs don’t have to be just for show and tell. They have real-world value and you can activate that value without having to sell your NFT and miss out on future growth. YouHodler lets you use your NFT as collateral for an instant cash loan. Get a loan in USD, EUR, GBP, CHF, stablecoins, or even in cryptocurrency today. 

Just visit our NFT page, send us a message and we will evaluate your NFT for the loan as soon as possible. With NFTs in their early stages, you don’t want to sell and miss out on future growth. So if you need cash, get an NFT-backed loan today. 

Those are just a few real-world use cases of NFTs. Suffice to say, we may be beyond the “fad” stage of NFTs and moving into territory that’s here to stay. Many experts believe NFTs are currently in a bubble and that may be true. But as we have learned with the dot com bubble and early cryptocurrency bubbles, these periods of extreme growth can be healthy for the development of the industry and are necessary growing pains. NFT value is still being explored and is still vague in some regards however, millions of people cannot be wrong…can they?

About the Author
YouHodler Blog Editor

Editor-in-Chief of the YouHodler blog. Connect with him about writing techniques, cryptocurrency, and music.

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