The Rise and Fall of Sunflower Farmers: A Fully Decentralized P2E Game

"Within a few weeks — from the middle of December to the beginning of January — the player base went from around 300 concurrent players to its height of around 350,000 players on January 5th."

Sunflower Farmers originally started as an idea posted to the Polygon subReddit by the creator, Adam Hannigan. He talked about the possibility of building a P2E game on that blockchain and what that community wanted in a P2E game at that time.

Eventually, through the feedback and responses, Adam gathered a couple of like-minded developers and formed the framework for the project, which culminated in the game being released to the public, in addition to the start of the Discord server which would serve as the future hub of communication regarding the project.

The gameplay consisted of having a farm where players planted and harvested crops (the first being the iconic sunflower from which the game derives its name) with the goal of upgrading their farm and unlocking more features such as resource harvesting and NFT crafting.

When the Game Started Getting Traction

The game started off with a modest following from the Polygon subReddit and only picked up new players from word of mouth; there was never any sort of formal advertising done for the project before it started picking up steam.

This continued until mid-December when the game numbered around 300 players and 200 Discord members. There doesn’t seem to be any singular moment or action that caused the explosive growth that the game received in the latter half of December leading into the January crash. It was a mixture of P2E content creators across multiple languages finding out about the game, the open multi-accounting and/or botting policy, the pixel graphics style which seemed to be prevalent in the overall NFT ecosystem at the time, and the projects decision to donate the entire cost of entry (0.1 $MATIC minimum) to three charities choosable by the player.

Within a few weeks — from the middle of December to the beginning of January — the player base went from around 300 concurrent players to its height of around 350,000 players on January 5th.

Where It All Went Wrong

This is a bit of a tricky part to identify since there was a culmination of reasons that led to the downfall of the project, but I’ll do my best to highlight what I felt were some of the biggest issues the project faced during its rise and fall.

Firstly, the game had an open multi-accounting (and by extension, scripting/botting policy) where they allowed any player(s) to operate as many accounts as they feasibly could. The idea was that it would help the economy by having more of the token in circulation due to the deflationary nature of the tokenomics.

While this may have been helpful early on in the project’s life cycle due to it allowing the creators and early players to be able to provide liquidity to the swaps the token was listed on, it eventually paved the way for malicious actors to dominate the economy and falsely boost the player numbers with tens of thousands of bot accounts.

Secondly, and this is where the game received significant media coverage, due to the game being fully decentralized, it relied on blockchain transactions for the vast majority of actions taken within the game, which resulted in an overwhelming amount of transactions for the Polygon network. This caused gas to skyrocket from the 30 gwei minimum to as high as 5,000 gwei on average.

This brought significant backlash to the game with some incorrectly calling it a DDOS attack on the network and demanding Polygon themselves take action against the project for the congestion of the network. It does bring up an interesting challenge to the claims of Polygon’s touted 7,200 TPS though as gathering data from the height of the game’s activity shows that at best, the Polygon network was averaging 50-60 TPS, which is something other projects have noted as well.

Lastly, I think the idea to have an unalterable contract once deployed was a noble and novel concept that trusted fully in the decentralized model of the blockchain. Unfortunately, the game’s contract had an exploitable error that was abused to make a nearly infinite number of tools in-game which were used to mine the game’s most precious resource at the time: gold. It was outlined in detail in this Reddit post.

Because of the contract being unalterable there was no way for Adam and the development team to fix the issue without redeploying a separate contract, because of their dedication to decentralization. While the first two issues were problems in their own right, this last issue was enough to bring the game down on its own as it ruined the gameplay’s progression and economy with no real easy or quick fix.

The Current State of the Project

Despite everything that occurred, it would have been easy for Adam and the development team to walk away from the project with the knowledge and skills they had gained. However, he released an open note to the Polygon and greater community at large explaining the mistake he and the team made in developing the game.

He noted that while full decentralization is still his dream for a game like Sunflower Farmers, the blockchain space and the team behind the project simply isn’t ready for an operation like that. With this in mind, however, Adam and the team decided to double down on their vision of the project. They decided to remake the project, this time with more development help, a better security audit, and less of a focus on decentralization in areas that would improve both the security and gas cost of the gameplay.

As of the time of writing this article the V2 of the game, now rebranded as Sunflower Land, is currently in closed beta with an open beta slated for sometime in March and the full release in April 2022. Time will tell if Adam and the team will be able to deliver on their promise of a decentralized game of farming sunflowers.

Crypto enthusiast, P2E connoisseur, and lover of anything gaming. West Coast, US.

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