In order to browse, buy, sell or create your own NFT, you have to visit an NFT marketplace, and the biggest one around is OpenSea. The NFT marketplace had a cumulative trading volume of $12.5 billion through 2021, nearly 88% of total NFT trading volume that year, according to DappRadar.
OpenSea is a marketplace similar to eBay, Etsy and Amazon, except all the listed items are unique digital collectibles in the form of NFTs that users can buy, sell and mint. The platform is a decentralized, peer-to-peer exchange that enables users to transact with one another directly in a trustless manner.
OpenSea was founded in 2017 by software engineers Alex Atallah and Devin Finzer, who became fascinated by the launch of the popular NFT series CryptoKitties and saw potential in NFTs to enable true ownership of digital items for the first time.
Digital artists and content creators can use the platform to mint NFTs, create custom marketplaces and NFT collections, set fees on their tokens and create auctions to sell them.
OpenSea’s marketplace is non-custodial, meaning that no central party has control of the transactions on the platform. Instead, transactions are facilitated by self-executing smart contracts that guarantee fair trade. Transactions on OpenSea either happen as a whole (the buyer gets the NFT and the seller gets paid) or not at all. These are known as atomic transactions.
As OpenSea is a peer-to-peer marketplace, there’s technically no intermediary between buyer and seller. Still, the platform takes a 2.5% cut of every transaction. Competitors’ costs range from none to 15%.
One of the main advantages for creators is that they can mint NFTs for free using Opensea’s Polygon-based gas-free marketplace. Opting for the gas-free marketplace means that creators won’t have to pay the transaction fees, also known as gas fees, on the Ethereum network. Another advantage is that the original creator of an NFT can arrange to receive a royalty payment for every secondary-market sale of the token in perpetuity.
Buyers can easily browse through NFT collections, being able to filter by price, status, native blockchain and rarity of each token. Depending on the type of auction, buyers can place a bid, make an offer or opt to buy immediately and pay the asking price of the NFT. Buyers can also see the purchasing history of each NFT, including how many times it was sold, who bought it, and its prices.
One of the main concerns of OpenSea is that because it uses the Ethereum blockchain there may be high gas fees during peak network congestion. OpenSea is in fact the top gas guzzler on the Ethereum network. To address this problem, OpenSea added cross-chain support for Polygon and created a gas-free marketplace. Ethereum is also trying to solve this issue by transitioning to Ethereum 2.0 — a cheaper, more energy-efficient proof-of-stake-based iteration of the protocol.
Another concern is related to the platform’s performance. As per OpenSea’s status tracker, the website and API often run with degraded performance. OpenSea has also suffered a service provider outage, as well as continued database issues, elevated API errors, and delayed response times. In response to these performance issues, the company began releasing a monthly site reliability report which outlines the past month’s issues and what steps are being taken to resolve them.
Customers have suffered losses from improper use of OpenSea. In Sept. 2021, OpenSea’s head of product was accused of trading NFTs on insider information. The executive was using secret crypto wallets to buy NFT drops before they were listed on the platform’s homepage, only to sell them shortly after they were released to the public. OpenSea promptly responded in a blog post that it would 'make recommendations on how we can strengthen our existing controls' and accepted the resignation of the unidentified executive.
In January 2022, users noticed a theft on OpenSea of 332 ETH, worth around $800,000 at the time of the attack. OpenSea said it contacted affected customers directly and reimbursed them, but said the problem is fundamental to blockchain marketplaces and notified all customers on how to handle their accounts to avoid this vulnerability.
Blockchain-related technologies often develop a community around their platforms, and OpenSea is no exception. But sometimes communities experience unrest, as OpenSea did in Dec. 2021. The NFT marketplace faced heavy criticism after its CFO began plans to take the company public.
Users felt the company should keep its fundraising within the community, through an OpenSea token airdrop. After the backlash, the executive said that the firm was 'not planning an IPO, and if we ever did, we would look to involve the community.'
In Jan. 2022, OpenSea closed a $300 million Series C funding round led by Paradigm and Coatue, raising the platform’s valuation to $13.3 billion. While the company said it isn’t actively planning an IPO, hiring a seasoned CFO in 2021 points to that eventuality. Previously, Brian Roberts served as the CFO of the ride-sharing platform Lyft, where he led the company’s IPO, raising $7 billion of capital.
As the leading NFT marketplace, OpenSea will always face competition. LooksRare’s vampire attack was a startling and successful example. While similar tactics may take away from OpenSea’s trading volume in the short term, its large market share could help it remain a leader in the long run. OpenSea saw a 646-fold increase in trading volume in 2021, surpassing $14 billion. As the entire NFT market measured $25 billion in 2021, OpenSea accounted for 56% of the transaction volume. With its size advantage, OpenSea could remain the top NFT marketplace for the foreseeable future.
LooksRare brands itself as a 'community-first' NFT marketplace that debuted in January 2022 with a so-called vampire attack to challenge OpenSea’s dominance. The marketplace built on Ethereum crossed $1 billion in sales volume within a week from its launch. The platform charges a basic sales fee of 2% for NFT sales.
Nifty Gateway is the first USD-based, centralized NFT marketplace, owned by Gemini. The marketplace was launched in 2018 and acquired by the Winklevoss twins in 2019. The platform charges a 5% marketplace fee.
Rarible is a community-owned NFT marketplace with similar features to OpenSea and likewise built on the Ethereum network — with multi-chain support for Flow and Tezos. The platform was launched at the beginning of 2020. To date, Rarible has over 1.6 million users and charges a 2.5% marketplace fee.