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.
The odds against us
The 3 month deadline was on the table for a new game and the community was eagerly waiting for the launch. I had no job, no funding and was the only full-time engineer on the project. The worse part about all of it: I had no idea how to build a large scale blockchain game.
Perhaps I was riding on the high of Sunflower Farmer’s popularity or maybe it was because I had nothing to lose at this point, but for some reason I was confident that it was possible.
I reached out to as many projects as possible to ask for guidance. Over the course of a week I had multiple technical discussions with the Polygon dev team, Pegaxy, Knight Lands and a range of other Polygon developers. I was extremely grateful for these sessions but to be honest, a lot of content went way over my head. Elliptical curve signatures, anti-botting entropy, proxies, off-chain synchronisation…what the hell are these things!
At the end of these sessions, I always asked the same question — Do you think this is possible in 3 months? The call went quiet. They wished me good luck and we went our separate ways.
After one week of discussions and technical design, I began to develop a firm picture of what was needed for the game. However, it wasn’t just the technical side of things that needed significant work. The prototype Sunflower Farmers had lots of design flaws and the economy needed some balancing. I wasn’t just trying to relaunch the game with a better architecture — I wanted to create an entirely new and sustainable game.
Similar to Sunflower Farmers, I wanted absolutely everything in the game to be a token. I was a firm believer that this would bring on emergent behaviour and give freedom to players to do things I could never have imagined. Everything that a player owned would be public on the Blockchain and there would be freedom for players to trade resources amongst themselves to achieve their goals.
Now, this is the tricky part. How do you ensure that a player does not trade an item in their wallet while it is currently being used in the game? Giving player’s ownership and flexibility to trade their resources is amazing, but it also introduces a range of technical headaches. This introduces one of the core challenges in Blockchain gaming — ensuring that your game server stays in sync with what is changing on the Blockchain.
I scoured the web for solutions to little avail. There were projects that were achieving this with a small handful of NFTs, but not on the scale that I envisioned. We needed a solution to track potentially thousands of different tokens and ensure that our game stayed in sync with the Blockchain.
Time to invent a new custody & session architecture. Ok, add that to the list!
I was up in the air about receiving funding for the project. I wanted to take an indie approach to building the game and did not want VC influence affecting the game. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t go on forever building the game by myself.
After the success of Sunflower Farmers, there were VC funds that were definitely interested in the game. Over the course of 2 weeks I met with 6 potential investors including the likes of Paradigm and Facebook Ventures. Most of these conversations leaned towards questions around user acquisition, token allocations and growth plans.
I believed that there should be no token allocation, the game would be low-cost (if not free) and the direction of the game would be controlled by the community. This wasn’t exactly shouting PROFIT to the VCs and there was a lot of hesitation. The open source approach we were taking was also a huge risk for these companies. Since the code was public, what would stop someone else from replicating the same idea?
My vision for the community and the game definitely did not align with those of the investors. With little time to spare I ended the VC discussions and went into build mode.
The more I investigated about building a scalable game, the more I realised what was involved. Here is a condensed list of some of the items that needed to be completed by April.
- Design a new game model
- Develop a brand new front-end game
- Design new art for the game
- Develop a game server
- Architect a scalable database, website hosting and infrastructure
- Design & implement an anti-botting solution
- Create a brand new session and custody architecture
- Implement blockchain synchronisation with game server
- Build API digital signing algorithms
- Deploy smart contracts — ERC721, ERC20, ERC1155 and game contracts
- Audit smart contracts
- Migrate all users from Sunflower Farmers
- Terms of Services, Privacy Policies, Trademarking, Company Registration..
I was frightened by the deadline I had committed to but also knew that every day I spent planning meant another day the launch was delayed and more players we could lose.
With a mountain of tasks to complete I jumped right in.
Road to launch
I knew I wouldn’t be able to ship a blockbuster game within 3 months and to be honest I didn’t want to compete with the likes of large crypto corporations or AAA gaming studios to build the highest quality game. This would be a losing battle.
Instead I wanted to create an entirely new ballpark that meant I did not need to compete in the same market as these games. Web3 is all about building communities and I saw an opportunity to build a game that is community led in all aspects. Players not only get the experience of playing Sunflower Land, but they now also get the experiencing shaping and building the game themselves.
All of the proposals, features and art would become available on Github. This meant players could vote on suggestions or even develop a feature and add it to the game.
We had what no other crypto game had. A community full of dedicated open source developers, artists and contributors who were excited not only to play the game, but to improve it.
Over the next 3 months I knew I would not be alone.
Part 6 coming next week.