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 community rallies
With little time to spare we began development of Sunflower Land on the 12th of January with aims for an April 7th launch.
The Sunflower Land game design encompassed a range of new features that in order to support we needed to start from scratch. This meant that all of the code from the prototype was essentially thrown away.
The plan was that I would design the smart contracts, API, custody system and scalable infrastructure while the community helped out with the front-end game. At this point Sunflower Land was becoming more known amongst the open source developers and we had many contributors join the project to help out. Alongside Spencer and Romy, we had a dozen key early contributors that were helping shape the foundations of the new project.
These were people who were providing their time and guidance for the sake of being apart of something incredible. It was truly amazing to see the community jump on board the vision of the project and help build out the future of the game. By late January we had a tremendous spike in open source developers and artists that were contributing to the project. We were beginning to pick up speed and the 3 month deadline was beginning to seem plausible.
By late January Sunflower Land had become my entire life. I made a commitment to the community and wanted to stay true to my word. Unfortunately this meant squeezing every last drop of energy out of life.
I was working 7am-7pm everyday and in my free time reading articles around smart contract design, security and scalable architectures. All of this while I was still on “holidays” in Brazil.
Trying to balance my social and work life balance was proving difficult at times. I was extremely grateful to my partner who tolerated me carrying my laptop everywhere we went and talking non-stop about Sunflower Land and the community.
The key unknown up until this point was whether an infrastructure could exist that would support thousands of Blockchain tokens. Finally, by late February I had cracked the code and all the core pieces of the architecture were built. The game had many bugs, but it was working!
We launched the game on Polygon Testnet and invited players to provide feedback. I was expecting perhaps 10–20 developers to setup a wallet on Testnet and trial the buggy game.
By March we had over 1,000 players who had gone through the hassle of Testnet setup to play the game. All of the tokens and NFTs were useless in a Testnet environment but we already had a tremendous amount of activity. Players were getting ready for Mainnet and were giving us valuable feedback and ideas for the game. With their help, we were shaping the final details for launch.
With the beta version nearing completion, only one problem remained.
How do we make money?
By now I had been working non-stop for 3 months without funding and the financial situation was beginning to daunt on me. I had a clear vision of the direction of the game but I knew that I would need the help of full-time engineers and the financial support of a company to achieve it.
The question was: how do we make money?
Most of the crypto projects were performing ICOs, token allocations and NFT/Land sales. This reeked of greediness and speculation. These methods raised significant capital, but turned a product into an investment vehicle instead of an accessible and enjoyable game.
Our previous version was donate-to-play (to a charity of your choice), which aligned with our values but didn’t exactly pay the bills. We needed to find a balance where we could fund development of the project without following the path of other crypto projects.
After many community proposals, we settled on a micro-transactional model as our main revenue stream. This meant that players needed to pay a “micro-fee” (roughly $0.10 USD) every 2–3 days when they wanted to store their game progress onto the Blockchain.
This approach meant that the project only made money when player activity was high. We did not make money on NFT or token drops — all of these items could only be earned through gameplay.
Essentially we were incentivised not only to launch a project, but to ensure that we can drive engagement endlessly. The downside of this approach is that we received very little upfront capital. Spencer and Romy were pumped to join the project and it meant they were going to have to wait a few months until we earned enough revenue to hire them.
Preparing for launch
We still had to iron out a few kinks but we were feeling ready to bring on the masses to start beta testing. The plan was to release early and incrementally add features over the coming months. We would rely on the community to help decide what features should be prioritised.
We knew the game was a bit rusty but hey, that was the purpose of Beta testing. After less than 3 months of development we were hoping that the community would give a bit of lee-way around the game and not be expecting a AAA quality release.
As the day drew closer, the doubt intensified. Will this be another failed game? Will any players return? Did I spend the last 3 months for nothing?
Like most game developers, there was an endless list of gameplay that I wanted to add before releasing the game. However, I also knew that I could not wait keep everyone waiting forever.
At this point I was at the mercy of the deadline that was promised and realised that a late release could harm our reputation. We needed to launch and pray to the gaming Gods that the players returned.
Based on community engagement we were expecting roughly 10,000–20,000 players to join on launch. This would have been a successful measure that would help sustain basic development of the project and afford another full-time engineer to join in a few months.
Finally, the day came. April 7th. The flood gates opened and players were able to begin their journey at Sunflower Land.
I was glued to the computer that day, constantly checking the numbers and fixing bugs as quick as I could. To my surprise the player count just kept growing and growing. 2 thousand, 5 thousand, 10 thousand, 20 thousand….by the end of the week we had 50,000 accounts minted.
This was insane. The community had returned and we earning an actual revenue.
The previous financial & hiring model was thrown out the window and Romy and Spencer jumped on full-time. The community was ecstatic with the new gameplay and we knew we had an incredible opportunity on our hands.
Up until this point we succeeded with no funding and no marketing. However, we had an amazing community that stuck with us during the down time and believed in the project.
Now that we had successfully relaunched and earned our initial revenue, we were not at the mercy of VC funds or investors on the direction of the game. We felt that we owed the community the game we believe they deserved.
We were going to build completely differently than every other crypto project. Full transparency, community involvement and a shift away from the greediness plague of the industry.
We had revived the project thanks to the community and all of the contributors. The community was buzzing and was eager to see what the future of Sunflower Land now had in store.
There was only one thing to do. Start building!
This was the final part of the Sunflower Diaries series, I hope you have found these enjoyable and even sparked interest for people to begin their own projects.
I am still wading through the craziness of the Web3 space and have endless topics that I want to write about. Following this series I will continue to write on Sunflower Land & Web3 related topics. Stay tuned for more!