Sunflower Diaries: Part 3

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.

Part 2 here

The Hackathon results are in

Whilst we had a small community, engagement was extremely high. During the Dora Hackathon we did a campaign on Discord to get everyone to vote and provide feedback on our entry. Compared to the other projects, we appeared as the only one with an actual community and app that had been launched.

By late November the judges of the hackathon were finalising their results and they announced they would be giving additional prizes. In total there would be almost a dozen winners and since there were only 50–60 projects that presented, I thought our chances were pretty good.

Finally the anticipated moment arrived and the hackathon results were revealed… Sunflower Farmers was nowhere to be seen.

It appeared the idea I was pushing for was not getting any recognition. If a panel of crypto judges deemed the project undeserving, was it even worth pursuing?

The community had high hopes for the competition and I had to do an announcement to share the bad news. There was a bit of FUD and uncertainty that came from the announcement but the conversation quickly turned back to the future of the game. What should we build next?

The First NFT

At the time, majority of “crypto games” had NFTs that players had to purchase for exorbitant amounts, usually in pre-sales or pressure driven “drops”. Projects were selling Pokemon like characters for $600 USD and pieces of MetaVerse land for $2000 USD a pop. Was this gaming or speculation?

This model of selling NFTs meant that whales (large investors) were the ones that ended up purchasing and owning the majority of NFTs in a game.

In Sunflower Farmers, we decided that we would not sell any NFTs. Players just needed to collect the resources (i.e. stone) by playing the game, burn these resources and VOILA, an NFT was minted for them.

The model we were proposing meant that the best players (whoever could farm and collect resources the quickest) would be the ones that owned the NFTs.

Finally, our first NFT launched. A Sunflower Statue which required 50 Stone to mint. The community went wild and quickly started to chop trees and mine rocks to collect enough resources. The number of statues minted was increasing at a steady rate every day — it seemed majority of our Discord community were actively playing and crafting these NFTs.

Since all of the data was public on-chain, we began to see our most dedicated players collecting vast amounts of wood and stone. At this time there was no value associated to any of the tokens, players were collecting resources and crafting NFTs just for the fun of it.

There was a now clear short term goal for players: Collect resources and craft NFTs.

Here come the players

We had roughly 600 players in our Discord and whenever a new person joined they received a personal welcome message and an army of players that would assist them getting setup, farming and grinding towards their first NFT.

Typically a crypto game requires in depth guides and videos to help players get started. We were the contrary. We had 0 videos or guides but the community provided overwhelming support for newcomers and showed them how to setup a wallet and play the game.

Through word-of-mouth, players were hearing about this project that was donate-to-play, the developers had no pre-mine and NFTs were free. We began to see 40–50 players join our Discord each day.

Before we knew it we had community members volunteering to improve our Discord, our documentation and create video guides for the game. This was a glimpse of what the community was capable of. It felt truly special to see people all around the world contributing to the project. It was a side-project that now had 30 contributors who were helping with the code, art, music, community and documentation.

Sunflower Farmers Token

Some of the more DeFi knowledgeable players decided to set up a liquidity pool for the token so players could begin trading amongst themselves. Essentially this meant you could swap MATIC (Polygon’s native token) for Sunflower Farmer Tokens. For newcomers, this was an exciting way to catch up to the players that had already been playing for a couple of months.

It was crazy to watch the decentralised nature of the game work. Without any input from myself, the players setup their own trading network on QuickSwap (Polygon’s #1 decentralised exchange). The players provided both the SFF and MATIC token to the exchange which meant enough liquidity exist for players to trade the token amongst each other.

You could go on the decentralised exchange and swap your MATIC for the Sunflower Farmers Token (SFF) for roughly $0.003 USD. A community member even set up a Discord widget that began to display the token price. Each day I woke up and was amazed to see that the players had given value to the token and were actively trading amongst themselves.

There was no pre-mine which meant that the only tokens that myself and the founding engineers had were ones that we had earned through in-game farming. It wasn’t long before players began to overtake myself in amount of SFF they owned. Were we the first crypto project where the players had more tokens than the creator?

With no revenue and no reserved tokens, the idea of making money from the project or the token wasn’t fathomed. However, seeing a value against the token gave me the confidence and spirit to keep building and releasing features. The community was valuing the project and I felt like a rockstar. This was by far the most successful game I had launched.

Prepare for takeoff

All software engineers and entrepreneurs dream of building something that goes viral. This was my dream but I never imagined what this would truly entail.

In mid-December the game was getting a steady influx of 100–200 players a day. It was getting hard to deliver a personal welcome message to everyone, but luckily there was no need for me to continue doing this. The community was already giving such an amazing welcome to players.

Christmas was nearing and I was in high spirits. I launched a Christmas tree NFT, gave warm holiday messages to the community and decided to switch my brain into holiday mode for a few days. I was not worried about going AWOL since the community was self-sustaining. It was time to enjoy Christmas in Brazil and improve my Portuguese.

This is when the rollercoaster started.

“Have you guys seen what is happening in Discord?!?”

I awoke from a group message from Romy and Spencer. My heart dropped, I thought the Discord had been hacked or even worse, the game had been exploited.

I jumped into Discord and the first thing I noticed was a lot of unfamiliar usernames in the chat. These weren’t the usual players, game designers and developers that were usually chatting in the channels. They were fresh usernames, and 2000 of them. In less than 3 days, the player base that took 5 months to grow had doubled.

There was 0 marketing from our side and hence we never expected the game to pick up traction so quickly. The extent of our marketing was a few LinkedIn & Twitter posts with only a handful of likes.

However, some of the players had began to make YouTube videos and stream the game. This peaked the interested of their followers who naturally came in to check out our Discord.

Steve Woody, a streamer and Axie scholar manager at the time said he was amazed of the community that had been built. Most crypto projects at the time had this toxic community of anonymous developers who would often scam their players. Our project on the other hand had no pre-mine, was completely open source (all of the code was visible and anyone could contribute) and we were engaging non-stop with the community. When new players joined the Discord, they were treated with kindness and an attitude that was not present in other communities.

What happened next was an unstoppable feedback loop. The more players that joined the game and had a positive welcoming experience, the more videos, streaming and word of mouth spread about our game. Each day our user base was growing exponentially.

This was unbelievable. The game was growing and people were having a great time playing it. As someone who had built many failed games and projects over the years this was one of the proudest moments of my life.

This pattern of growth continued for 1 week until we went from less than 2,000 accounts to more than 50,000. At this point it started to sink in the reality of what was happening. What started as a side-project was getting serious. My short Christmas break ended early and my key focus shifted towards maintaining and improving the game.

Build and ship fast

With the huge influx of players we needed to build content quickly to keep everyone engaged. It felt like a miracle we had gained so much traction and I wasn’t willing to lose it.

Since we had such an incredible group of open source developers and artists, we could move rapidly. In less than 2 weeks we built and shipped new ERC20 tokens (Chickens & Eggs) and launched a handful of NFTs that players could craft including the Scarecrow and Chicken Coop. These NFTs all had built in game logic that would provide players with boosts and enable them to collect extra resources. The community was ecstatic and were rushing to play and craft the NFTs.

Given our flexible design, it meant that players could also freely trade any resources they want amongst themselves. Players set up liquidity pools between Gold & Eggs and before we knew it we saw emergent gameplay appear. Instead of going the typically route to collect eggs (farming chickens), we saw players focus instead on mining Gold and then trading this for Eggs on decentralised exchanges. It was wild.

Players could play the game however they wanted. This was the initial thesis that tokenising everything would give immense flexibility to the players. Looks like the idea was becoming true!

The dark side of crypto

Now at this point it is important to remember that what had been built was a side-project/prototype. I never could have believed that this game would have surpassed 1000 players, crushing the records of all of my previous games.

I had taken on the classic startup mantra of don’t build for scale or pre-optimise your product. Find market fit and then work on building a scalable solution. The underlying concerns of scalability and security were not at the fore-front of the prototype — it was all about making a fun game.

When the game exploded, it began to attract players. However, it also caught the attention of the arch nemesis of every decentralised project. That was the people looking to make money and destroy a project.

The hackers, the scammers and the botters were coming for us.

Part 4 coming next week

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