Free NFTs: How they work today

Free NFTs are a fairly common feature of the NFT space. There is already a lot of diversity, but we can group the different types of free NFTs into two main categories, distinguished on the basis on who can obtain them: Open Access Free NFTs and Closed Access NFTs. 

CategoryOpen AccessClosed Access
Category DescriptionThese NFTs can be obtained by anyone with a wallet.These NFTs can only be obtained by a closed group of people who meet certain criteria.
ExamplesFree MintsGiveawaysAir dropsFree Claims

It is also interesting to consider the selection mechanisms for the recipients of these NFTs:

Distribution MechanismSelection Mechanism
Free MintsFirst Come First Served
GiveawaysRandom 
AirdropsNew tokens awarded to all who satisfy the criteria
Free ClaimsNew tokens available to all who satisfy the criteria

Let’s take a closer look at the different categories and the types within them:

Open Access Free NFTs

Open access free NFTs are free for all. All you need is a wallet, usually along with sufficient crypto to cover gas, and you can obtain an NFT. There are two main examples of NFTs in this category: 

Free Mints

Free mints, otherwise known as free-to-mint projects, are entire NFT collections which are free, bar the gas fee.There have been a number of free-to-mint large scale projects. For example, Loot (see also)was a Dungeons and Dragons inspired free-to-mint project that dropped in 2021 under the auspices of being the building blocks for a decentralised game. This example emphasises the experimental and unfinished nature of many free-to-mint projects – they are free because their value is unrealised and thereby unquantifiable. In the case of Loot, it is up to the community of holders to actively participate and execute on the promise of the asset that they hold. Another example of a free-to-mint project. Goblintown is another example of a free to mint project, again it was a large scale, experimental project. This very strange, irreverent PFP collection resonated with self proclaimed ‘degens’ and create a lot of buzz. The website proudly proclaims: ‘No roadmap. No Discord. No utility. CC0.’ Nevertheless, the a unique subculture has emerged in the holder community with a unique communication style.

goblintown #5684

The success of these two projects can arguably be attributed to two factors

  • Their size: Free-to mint large scale projects have an automatic community. The goodwill of the community acts as momentum to spur the project forward and the consequent runway enables either the creator or the community itself to generate something of value.
  • Their experimental nature: These projects have a greater vision that elevates them as being more than a collection of words or a PFP project, for example. In the case of Loot, the inherent promise was a game that the holders could participate in building. With Goblintown, holders get to be part of a counter-cultural movement.

It is hard to find examples of small free-to-mint projects. At smaller numbers, a creator cannot rely on an army of people to execute on a broad vision, so it is not worth the time and effort. Nevertheless, such creators can leverage free NFTs in the form of giveaways.

Giveaways 

Giveaways are common in the NFT space. Essentially these are informal sweepstakes where anyone can enter in order to win one or more NFTs. These giveaways are often advertised on Twitter and Discord. Usually, a handful of NFTs from the same collection are up for grabs. 

In order to participate in the giveaway, a participant must complete the entry requirements (see example below). As can be seen in the example below, such giveaways frequently perform a marketing function – creators seek to increase interest in and awareness of their project via incentivised engagement. Another common practice is for creators to run giveaways for a small percentage of a new project, and then with the interest and awareness raised, they launch the sale of the majority of the NFTs in the collection. In some cases, such giveaways are advertised/run by influencers to raise awareness about the new project. Large scale (i.e. full collection giveaways) are not common. 

In some cases, the winner of the giveaway may be given access to free mint the NFT and still be required to pay gas (sometimes this may be refunded). In other cases, the winner will be asked to provide their wallet address and the NFT will be sent to the,

Closed Access Free NFTs

Closed access free NFTs are available to a group of individuals who meet specific criteria. Often these individuals will hold NFTs or possess some other specific characteristic (e.g. be in attendance at an event). There are two main examples of NFTs in this category. 

Air drops

Air drops are NFTs that are deposited in a user’s wallet without any action from them. Just like emails, they can be sent by anyone and there is no way to block them from entering. Properly used, NFTs air drops are usually used to reward the holders of an existing NFT collection project. 

In such positive use cases, air drops are desirable. For example, Bored Ape Yacht Club air dropped Bored Ape Kennel Club NFTs to holders of the original collection. Mutant Serum NFTs were also airdropped to holders of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. Alternatively, NFTs may be air dropped to users who submit their wallet addresses, e.g. as part of a giveaway or at an event. 

M2 Mutant Serum

In contrast, there are undesirable air drops (which arguably fall out of the definition of the closed category due to abuse). These are essentially spam, but can be more dangerous.In benign, yet still undesirable, use cases people can airdrop NFTs to your wallet in order to:

  • Get your attention for their project (think a flyer coming through your letterbox)
  • Make people think that you have bought an NFT from their collection (making use of social proof)

However, there are also more dangerous instances. Bad actors can also drop NFTs that are linked to malicious contracts. For example, interacting with one of these NFTS could enable a third party to remove all of the NFTs in your wallet.

Free Claims

Free Claims are similar to free mints, but for a restricted group of individuals. These are NFTs that can be claimed by people who have the right to do so because they meet the specified criteria. In some cases, free claims are available to holders of an existing NFT collection. In other cases, users are given the ability to claim in a closed physical or digital context e.g. a QR code at a physical location, a claim code at an online or in-person event (e.g. poap.xyz).

Closing

A wide variety of free NFTs fall into the categories and types explored above, but we will certainly see many more in the coming months and years. In addition to giving access to individual projects and communities, free NFTs give people easy access to start engaging in Web3 and Blockchain technology. 

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