Sunflower Diaries: Part 1
I am not an expert in Blockchain, protocol design or cryptocurrency. In the eyes of Web3 veterans I am still a freshman and have much to learn. Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to ride the journey of a wildly successful crypto game and community.
The purpose of the Sunflower Diaries are to share the origins of Sunflower Land and explore how an open source project with no funding, no marketing and no employees grew to become the #1 crypto game for a brief period of time. The hope is that others find inspiration to start their own Blockchain project or come contribute to Sunflower Land on our Github and live game development streams.
Nothing expressed is financial advice and all opinions expressed are of my own. Always do your own research around NFTs and cryptocurrency.
Introduction into Crypto
Ponzis, useless JPEGs and scams. A few years ago this was my stance on crypto. When Bitcoin and Ethereum started to gain mainstream popularity, I was extremely sceptical. Like most people, I had a few friends who were invested and would talk endlessly about the virtues of cryptocurrency and their diverse portfolios of shit coins. Funnily enough, those same friends were the ones that would pause mid conversation to place a $100 bet on a rugby match before continuing to explain the merits of ledger technology.
In short, my first impressions of crypto were not positive. I thought it was all gambling and ponzi schemes.
Over the course of a year I was lucky enough to work with individuals and discover resources which began to shine blockchain technology in a new light. I became obsessed with reading every available book and subscribing to all of the Web3 podcasts. After wading through the marketing bullshit, I got to the root of what this technology could mean for the end users. The ideals made sense but I still had a lot of questions.
The best way I learn about technology and ideas is through building, so naturally I began tinkering & deploying smart contracts. I jumped into the space with next to 0 knowledge about what projects existed and how the underlying technology functioned. Liquidity, staking, ZK rollups… I had no idea, but I was excited.
Time to build something
After polishing off a crypto zombies smart contract tutorial I felt like I was ready to rock. The next question was what should I build? I studied as a game designer/developer while at university and like most of the graduates, I had launched multiple games that had failed tremendously. My career launched into product development across construction and finance applications, however I never lost the spark and it felt time to pursue the calling and embark on building another game.
At the time all I knew about the NFT gaming market was centred around Axie Infinity and other projects that had extremely high entry fees and minimal gameplay. These games appeared to be built around exclusivity and speculation. I saw an opportunity in casual, accessible and low-cost gaming in the crypto arena.
After multiple brainstorming sessions I settled on a farming simulator game called Sunflower Farmers that was entirely donate-to-play ($0.25–50 at the time). The key premise of the game was planting seeds and harvesting crops that could be exchanged for the in game currency (Sunflower Farmer Tokens).
However, the built up scepticism over the years around NFTs and cryptocurrency had not worn off. When I began designing Sunflower Farmers I wasn’t entirely sure how it would function, but I definitely knew what I was trying to avoid:
- Charging players hundreds of dollars for NFTs and access
- Pre-mines, pre-sales, ICOs or marketing of an unfinished game
- Complex and crypto jargon filled games
- Anonymous developers, closed curtains and hidden token allocations
- A sense of exclusivity — only a small group of people can play
It took roughly 3 months to build out a prototype that I was satisfied with. With help of users on Reddit and Telegram I finally deployed my first smart contract that would power the game. By August 2021 I was ready to release my baby to the world.
On launch day I went wild sharing links across my LinkedIn and all over Reddit. My initial angle was not to try and get players. I was trying to find developers and people who knew their stuff about smart contract development and could help out the project.
3 weeks later I had roughly 30–40 players and what seemed to be another failed project. Amongst these players were Romy and Spencer, the initial open source developers who began contributing to the open source repo. Luckily enough we also had some players who were more experienced in tokenomics that would later guide the project.
Despite the lack of players, I was hooked on the technology and everyone in the Discord was having a great time discussing ideas and implementing them in the game.
Learn, Build, Fail
The beautiful power behind smart contracts is that you can build any functionality you want. I did not want to follow the standard and hype of current projects in the industry. My goal was to take a well known concept and flip it on its head to produce something truly innovative.
Over the course of 4 months I launched 2 new blockchain projects whilst maintaining the Sunflower Farmers code base and making small improvements.
One of these projects was a generative NFT collection with a unique twist — user’s could bid and essentially ‘steal’ another person’s NFT. The aim was to alter some key perceptions users have around ‘ownership’ of NFTs to make for some engaging behaviour.
The other project was a token with built in voting mechanics that enabled the holders to vote on burning, reflection and interest mechanics. There was an initial free distribution of supply, meaning that a random group of strangers online all got between 1–3% (myself included) of the supply for free.
These projects are no longer maintained and hence any names/links have been removed to avoid interest in these projects.
Throughout developing these projects I learnt some key insights around deploying decentralised apps and what the technology could support. More importantly I witnessed the power of community and what impact it could have on a product. No matter how good you thought your product or technology is, without a community it would be useless.
So what’s next?
I was developing a firmer grounding in the Web3 ecosystem and was ready to challenge some of the traditional ideas in the industry. I began to imagine some ambitious ideas for a game where everything was entirely decentralised and tokenised. These ideas deeply fascinated me and I was excited to tinker and see if they were possible.
Little did I know that these ideas would be the catalyst for the game that took the crypto gaming world by storm and almost brought a Blockchain to its knees.
Part 2 coming next week.