nft

Meet PixelCons, a Minimalist NFT Pixel Art Project Dating Back to 2018

When it comes to Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), whether you’re a complete beginner or an expert NFT archaeologist in the making, there are enough new projects being created, dropped, dug up, and/or hyped on the daily to satisfy, well, just about everybody’s tastes.

As someone who’s still busy trying to learn everything about this incredible new space himself, I find the historical element of a lot of these pre-2021 projects particularly fascinating. In many ways, these individuals were pioneers of the early NFT space, testing the capabilities of minting art on the blockchain.

If you’re a fan like I am of collecting NFT projects that come with a little historical significance, I’d like to help introduce you to one today. I present to you a little (as in 8x8 pixel tiny!) project that began back in 2018 called PixelCons. Here’s the official bio from OpenSea:

“PixelCons are collectible NFTs featuring minimalist pixel art. 8x8 and only 16 colors, each PixelCon is unique and all its data fits in the size of a hash. This open platform was started in 2018 to allow any artist to easily make digital collectibles within a shared ecosystem.”

The rest of what follows comes by way of an email exchange with the original PixelCons creator, whose wish was to remain anonymous for this story.  

Who are you?

I am the lead developer of everything PixelCons. Others were consulted about the project in terms of the code and technicalities. I run the Twitter account, maintain the website, and have access to the admin keys of the contract, which can only set the URI endpoint for metadata (currently pixelcons.io) and owns the first 84 PixelCons.

How did the idea for PixelCons first come about?

Some of my colleagues and I found out about Ethereum during the bull market at the end of 2017. That led me down a huge rabbit hole of reading everything I could about Ethereum and adjacent crypto technologies, but I always came back to Ethereum. However, enthusiasm seemed to plummet in 2018 as the bear market came crashing down on everyone. It was during this low that I had a drive to try and add to the community to show off the vision I saw, but the market didn’t seem to get.

Brainstorming concepts, the biggest thing that kept standing out to me was how successful CryptoKitties was. I never saw the appeal of the cats, but I did recognize the power in digital ownership and the fun in collecting things. I had done some previous work with pixel art so I started thinking about how pixel art could be placed on Ethereum without being too data-heavy. I then started to think about what would be possible if all I had was a single “word” in the Ethereum Virtual Machine (256 bits - 32 bytes) to work with. 

This was an intriguing concept as 32 bytes was the size of a hash that most art NFTs use instead of storing the entire data. This means it would take up the same small size as other NFTs but have the data fully on-chain.

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This led to the 8x8 grid with 16 colors. I Googled around and found the pico8 community who was doing just that.

How were the first PixelCons created?

I was blown away by one particular artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) and it made me hugely confident in how extraordinary PixelCons could be. Talking it over with some colleagues, we also came up with the importance of grouping PixelCons together as it added to the collectability as well as making them more recognizable when they were in groups of a particular theme (e.g., the Ninja Turtles set). 

It’s amazing what can be done with such harsh restrictions. Some things look like just a bunch of pixels and then it clicks and you see that it’s one of your favorite pop culture characters and your brain can never unsee it!

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Development for the smart contract and website began around July of that year and was mostly finished by October 2018. It was at this time when we started reaching out to artists who might want to participate in the genesis launch of the project. We were able to get a hold of three different artists who were interested. 

One of the artists was commissioned to create the first 84 PixelCons which are prominently featured on the website and currently used for promotional purposes. At genesis, there were 325 PixelCons minted by us devs and the three artists with an additional 326 minted based on works found on Twitter from artists we couldn’t get ahold of to prevent malicious users from trying to take credit for work that wasn’t theirs. 

What was the response back then?

PixelCons never really took off as we had hoped, but we never lost admiration for the project and continued to maintain it with small updates to the website. 

We were originally going to have our own marketplace but quickly after launch decided that utilizing OpenSea was a much better alternative. A few dozen PixelCons were minted but nothing big. There were little-to-no sales on OpenSea except for some simple test listings and purchases. One of my colleagues created an LED display to show off PixelCons pulled directly from Ethereum through WiFi, which got a little attention but nothing big. 

The next year (2020) was even quieter with no major updates to the website but we made sure to keep it alive. Very few new PixelCons were minted that year as DeFi was taking up most of the crypto headlines.

Explain the renewed interest & attention in 2021.

My focus was brought back to the project in March of this year when NFTs started to become a more household name. There was a quick, small release made that addressed a few bugs and I started trying to contact all the old artists to see if they still had their keys. 

After a few scares that they were lost for good, all three artists were able to recover their keys but were turned off from listing on OpenSea due to the gas fees. With not a lot selling and too much noise to try and get the word out on our vintage PixelCons, not a lot of activity took place. 

However, I started to brainstorm how to breathe new life into the project with a possible version 2.0 to run on a rollup to alleviate high gas fees. A lot of work was done on this but it has now been shelved because one of our artists managed to drum up attention for his awesome works and raised the floor price to a point where gas fees weren’t a concern. 

Now all three artists are listing some of their genesis PixelCons for sale and there’s a big push to start growing our community.

What does the future look like for PixelCons?

We hope to continue growing the community and get the word out through all the noise of “low-effort” projects. 

These artists have done amazing work and were doing it back in 2018 before it was cool.

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It’s really exciting that all artists managed to keep their keys and these fantastic pieces of art can be shared and the artists rewarded. We also hope that artists continue to mint new PixelCons. One of the artists has already minted 100 new PixelCons of really cool and recognizable characters (they really blow me away). 

There will most likely be a version 1.5 of sorts released in the next few months which takes a lot of the improvements from the shelved version 2 and brings them to the current version. The website should look better and be more reliable, with better presentation and the creation of collections. Us developers are also thinking of doing some sort of airdrop or giveaway to help build the community soon.

For more on PixelCons, drop by the project’s website and follow them on Twitter.

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