Evolved Apes is a collection of 10,000 unique NFTs available for purchase on the NFT marketplace OpenSea. Each of them was also meant to be a character in an Evolved Apes fighting game, in which NFT owners would pit their apes against one another in battles for Ethereum cryptocurrency rewards (just as ancient hominoids did thousands of years ago, as I understand).
But it's all gone disastrously off the rails: According to a Vice report, one week after Evolved Apes went live, the head of the project vanished, taking 798 Ether—worth roughly $2.7 million—with them.
The money was raised through the sale of NFTs, and was expected to be used to support the development and marketing of the game. But the situation started to look sticky in September, according to the report, as project leaders began to fall off the radar and communications grew erratic. It also came to light that the artist on the project hadn't been fully paid, and winners of a social media contest hadn't been given their NFT prizes.
Backers eventually asked Mike_Cryptobull, a member of the community who spent a little over $10,000 on 20 Evolved Ape NFTs, to investigate the situation and compile a report on what exactly had happened. In it, he said that Evil Ape, the aptly-named administrator of the project's blockchain wallet (whose real identity isn't publicly known), had disappeared, taking the money with him. The official Evolved Apes Twitter account and website are also gone.
"Evil Ape has washed his hands of the project taking away the wallet with all the ETH from minting that was to be used for everything, from paying the artist, paying out cash giveaways, paying for marketing, paying for rarity tools, developing the game and everything else in between," the report says. "This wallet is also the wallet connected to receiving the 4% royalties from resales. Evil Ape is also holding a number of the 1/1 Evolved Ape NFT’S that were intended for giveaways."
There is no mention about the pursuit of criminal charges in either Mike_Cryptobull's report or the Vice story, in part because it's not completely clear that a crime has been committed. According to Jdmjem, an administrator of the Fight Back Apes Discord, police reports were filed in the UK, where the Evolved Apes crew is based, but while there is "definitely an aspect of a scam," there may not technically have been one.
"The thing is that everyone did get what they paid for, an NFT," they said in an email sent to PC Gamer. "At the end of the day any promises of a game or other development fall out of the scope of your purchase."
"People are trying to file police reports but [the] problem is this is unknown turf and while unethical not technically illegal. We all got what we paid for."
There are still questions about the unpaid artist and contest winners, but the matter is further complicated by jurisdictional issues—the NFT market is international, and Evolved Apes purchases come from all around the world—and the fact that individual reports are for much smaller amounts than the sum total, and thus aren't likely to garner much attention or traction from police agencies.
Of course, some members of the community aren't terribly interested in police intervention anyway.
"We're trynna find that n****," a remaining member of the original Evolved Apes Discord named vert told me. "Once we find him he's getting put on the bin and we're gonna pull up on him. The police won't even get the chance to pursue criminal charges once we are done with him ... That n***** is done for."
Despite the huge loss, at least some of the Evolved Apes community is hanging tough, and the plan now is to attempt to carry on. "We will become the Fight Back Apes, fighting as a community against our nemesis Evil Ape," Mike_Cryptobull said in his report. The new project leadership is reaching out to "massive players in the NFT game" for assistance and advice, and is also seeking continued effort from volunteers. That might seem like a big ask given all that's happened so far, but this time the crypto wallet will not be left in the hands of one person, but will instead require multiple people to sign in to gain access to the funds.
For now, the sale of the Evolved Apes NFTs continues: The OpenSea trading history indicates that more than 660 of them, worth roughly 16.7 Ether ($59,700) have sold since Evil Ape's disappearance was made public knowledge. And Evil Ape is still earning 4% royalties on each sale: Josh_Cryptobull , another member of the community, said attempts to contact OpenSea, presumably to either halt the sales of Evolved Apes NFTs or redirect the royalties, have so far gone unanswered.