Source: DeFi Kingdoms

DeFi Kingdoms (DFK) is a Collect & Breed RPG game set entirely on-chain. It started live on the obscure Harmony ONE network, where it initially grew to be the largest application on the chain. More recently, the project has been connected to a second chain, utilizing the new Avalanche Subnet method for scaling blockchain transactions. The team is fully decentralized and hasn’t taken a significant proportion of VC investment. The game launched early, having minimal initial features, but has steadily grown. What's been most impressive is the team’s ability to stick to a rigorous release schedule, engage frequently with the community, and build sophisticated DeFi trading features.

Whatever you think of the “game” itself (and we’re critical), DFK provides a great case study for how to grow a crypto gaming audience organically without taking large investments or creating huge partnerships. Utilizing a strong “Builder” mentality coupled with highly effective and regular communication, the team has grown and managed to maintain a Discord community of 86.7K members to date.

This essay will explore how DFK effectively engages with its community, but in order to set the scene let’s first briefly cover how the game works.

A Brief Overview of the Game Design

As mentioned above, DFK lives entirely on-chain. The team’s focus so far has been on recreating many of the functionalities of a standard DEX (Distributed Exchange), driving liquidity for its native tokens, $JEWEL and $CRYSTAL. Players are able to stake, farm, and exchange their tokens within different areas of the main world without having to visit competitor sites or games. This ensures the team has full ownership of its tokens and trading, allowing the project to capture fees on each trade.

The world of Serendale from DFK

This beautiful pixel art serves as a clickable menu that opens core blockchain functionalities. So far, these crypto features have been gamified via humorous names (Jeweler Ian), RPG scene-setting (Serendale is the land), and some theatric choices of Pixel Art Monsters, but gameplay itself is lacking.

Initially, most players could only engage with these functionalities on-chain with no direct gameplay; simply purchasing and investing in $JEWEL was “playing the game.” The team worked on building out a large number of $JEWEL — and more recently $CRYSTAL pairs — that attracted the majority of early players with unsustainable 10,000%+ APY payouts. Given current market conditions (June 2022), these have been reduced to a lower 132% APY to stake and earn with $JEWEL.

Lately, certain elements of gameplay have started emerging. The most engaging actions revolve around Hero Collection, Breeding, and newly added pets. Each of these objects are sold as NFTs and can be upgraded, sent on quests, or bred. Heroes are complex NFT objects with a large number of stats, classes, and bonuses utilized by different functions. For now, Heroes are primarily used for Breeding and Questing, but PvP blockchain battles are planned to be added. As you can see, the team went for blockchain first and gameplay second.

Start by Building in the Open

The initial focus of the strategy has been on fast features built to support the price action of the native token, $JEWEL. Token launches are high value but often high risk. Once your token is out, remember that investors, for better or worse, will constantly be seeking increasing gains in token price in order to feel comfortable. Maintaining growth is very difficult, but up until the most recent downturn this was something the team managed to excel at. It all started with a clear and well-defined roadmap. Most months would see a new feature or smart-contract update, which would feed the community with content they can engage with. Small features still felt like a big deal, and large features had ongoing buildup, competitions, rewards, and gameplay functionality to support their rollouts.

Source: DeFi Kingdoms

Rather than being developed in secret, many of the tools, data dashboards, and GitHub are freely available and open. They are regularly updated, and all "game design numbers" are shared so that players can work out the strengths of various hero characters. One mistake I see new studios make when it comes to blockchain games is maintaining control and secrecy over core stats and values. In the case of blockchain, it's impossible to hide functionalities, so it's almost always better to involve and listen to players.

Onboarding onto blockchain games is also typically difficult. With DFK, the team provides quick access to all docs and help-files within the core game experience. An inquisitive gamer or investor can easily access:

  • On-chain stats
  • The current codebase on GitHub
  • The game design in GitBook
  • The social areas: Discord/Twitter/Instagram

This builds trust both in terms of what has happened so far and what the team is currently working towards.

Designing a Usable Discord Server

Discord, as most of you will know, is a powerful chat messaging tool with the great benefits of openness and flexibility. Many projects use this to create a large number of sub-channels, often organized by gameplay features, but I much prefer the taxonomy employed by DFK.

DFK focuses on two forms of channel but don't specify a channel per feature or function:

  • Open, engaging, chatty channels
  • Specific, request-focused, admin channels
Source: DeFi Kingdoms’ Discord

They then group those channels by community or technology, not the game itself. Game channels such as #getting-started, #hero-discussion, or #serendale-discussion are kept within the community chat or are located in a chain section of the game. Dividing groups by technology can be important since the issues faced vary from chain to chain.

Members would also naturally engage each segment in order. This helps to onboard new members and keeps conversations within channels between users who are at the same point of their journeys. It is often overwhelming to join the #hero-discussion channel immediately, for example, where detailed chats around stats occur. Rather, joining a discussion about a new world or quest can help you familiarize yourself with some of the concepts. Always think of Discord in terms of user journeys — keeping people at similar stages together is much more effective at helping them overcome their most pressing issues.

Another simple but nice feature is quick reference Price Feed bots, which are useful in assisting people to qualify conversations, coupled with different roles within Discord that are awarded to the most active members or owners of specific hero NFTs.

Running Live-Ops on DeFi

Blockchain gaming is similar to free-to-play in the sense that engagement happens in bursts. Players are much more active when events are being run. Every event varies in its complexity and rewards, so let me categorize them by the size of engagement / development effort deployed. Players are always excited by novelty and larger events — a new chain or token launch have the biggest community impact. Smaller engagements have less impact but provide other valuable touch points:

  • A full chain launch (Very Large)
  • Gen 0 Hero Launch (Large)
  • Livestreams/Hatchings (Medium)
  • Tiltproof Tuesdays (Small)

Learning how to align a social strategy with development, whilst also making reward drops to your community, is what DeFi Kingdoms has mastered. Giveaways are an easy win for users; however, every asset you create on a blockchain is permanent, meaning all rewards tend to inflate the pool of assets. This creates strong downward pressure on your token/asset prices. The community team’s job is to help support the price by engaging players to play the game or encourage HODLing, staking, or investing in NFTs, which all help to ensure assets are continually utilized.

Regular Weekly Events

Source: DeFi Kingdoms’ Discord

Keeping the momentum of a project up is difficult. Your Discord channel needs to feel full and alive. Having a regular weekly event helps players remain active and rewards that activity. In the case of DFK, that’s Tiltproof Tuesday.

Every 20 weeks or so winners are rewarded with $JEWEL. The only requirements are to react to the post on Tuesday, as well as be a level 3 in Discord, which means you must have chatted around 100 times. This encourages a large number of people to stay engaged and rewards them for listening. Although handouts can lead to inflation if not careful, I really like games that focus on rewarding social activity, as this has a compounding effect on both understanding and engagement within the game itself.

Launching a Chain and a New Set of Heroes 

On March 30th, 2022, DFK launched a new world (Crystalvale) on an Avalanche Subnet blockchain. Along with the chain launch, the team also launched a new token, $CRYSTAL, where they partnered with Synapse to ensure that bridging the tokens between chains worked well. This is a highly technical endeavor, and it would have been a miracle for the event to have run 100% smoothly, which, it predictably didn’t. There were a few small bugs, but no funds were lost.

What we can learn here is how the community team handled things. During the build-up and migration day, the team was continually communicating when actions became available for users. On launch day, the team did a livestream event showcasing the new chain, chatting with developers and artists, and showing new users how to play there. It all felt well-planned and interesting, and how the team reached that point was through methodical and consistent engagement.

Around three months in advance, the concept of the new chain was announced to the audience via social media. With the announcement of something so pivotal, the team needed to be very clear about several details:

  • They presented the idea that there would be a new world with similar actions as the first.
  • A new token with 1/4 the total supply of $JEWEL would be introduced.
  • The new chain would be on Avalanche, and the initial tokens would only be $AVAX, $JEWEL, and $CRYSTAL.
  • $CRYSTAL would be airdropped or given away in a multitude of tasks or actions the players could take part in but would only be dropped on launch day.
  • $CRYSTAL farming would only come from a $JEWEL-$xJEWEL pair.

This did two things: it boosted the $JEWEL price and engaged people to own more heroes in order to take part in the quests and rewards, both igniting the community.

Gen 0 Hero Raffle Tickets

After the chain was launched, the team designed two new hero classes specific to Crystalvale. DFK uses the term Gen0 to explain these initial drops, as they are able to breed infinitely, thus creating a continuous flow of heroes for people to buy in the marketplace. Each subsequent breed reduced the number of breeds available for that hero. The value of these Gen0 Heroes is very high, since infinite breeding can create reliable income. To ensure that a wide distribution of small token holders, as well as whales, could participate in Gen0 deployment, the team developed a new approach - the Raffle.

A Snapshot of the address and the Total number of Raffle Tickets earnt.

The team provided Raffle tickets to users based on their Average Daily Balance across a specific time period. They also boosted players who reached certain milestones, i.e. 100 locked $JEWEL with 1 extra ticket (pushing players to hit milestones in ownership). In most (but not all) raffles, a specific address could only win once. As soon as the address was drawn, all the raffle tickets under it were voided. This had the benefit of increasing the chances of all smaller raffle holders.

This also encouraged people to:

  • Lock more tokens to get bigger bonuses
  • Keep the tokens locked for the whole time period (bigger average)
  • Distribute to the largest number of addresses

The raffle helped keep token prices steady while the active participation count was taking place.

Launching the Chain

As the date of the chain launch approached, the team sent a final announcement for when emissions would begin. Initially, emissions were scaled to have the highest value. Players were expected to bridge across their tokens from Harmony onto the new chain in order to receive rewards. The time allocated for this was only 24hrs. During the event, a technical error meant that only a single bridge transaction would occur at once and all other transactions would queue. Obviously, this meant that a huge number of people got stuck transactions, and most people we're waiting 12-24hrs for their transactions to get unstuck!

This led to a lot of complaints and worry that funds might get lost. Players also made genuine mistakes during the process, so there were real support issues. There was no direct guide on what to do, and a lot of the information was either changing or had been spread across multiple resource areas. Although issues will always occur on launch days, some simple corrections might have resolved a lot of the early issues:

  1. The time for bridging / staking / depositing should be longer in order to avoid congestion, mistakes, or unforeseen technical issues. Emissions can start 3 or even 5 days after a bridge or contract opens.
  2. Understand the user experience of performing complex tasks such as adding a new chain to MetaMask, and get the info out early through video walkthroughs.
  3. Nomenclature in games and docs is of critical importance, as it can get confusing. Take a leaf from Apple and become a stickler for spelling and terminology across docs, code, and marketing communication. All terms, capitalization, and spelling should be the same.

As the bridging fiasco continued, the team reacted accordingly. They made a swift choice to amend the emissions contract and start emissions 24hrs later, as well as airdrop additional $JEWEL for any address that had reached the contract deposit in time. They were also livestreaming the event and updating the speaker as the events happened, helping to keep people engaged.

Key Takeaways

Most gaming projects won’t undertake such large, complex, or technical features as DFK did, but everyone can learn a thing or two from their community management and handling.

Doing what you say is so critical to trust in the crypto space. There is so much vaporware and risky projects, which makes convincing users and ensuring that they stick with you highly difficult. Creating a clear roadmap and continually hitting it with releases builds trust in the team and the project.

Make sure to dedicate a proportion of your resources to weekly community management events. Just as important as development is engaging your fans with activity. No matter how big or small, you will get more out of every feature if you sell it to your fans early and often.

Lotteries, giveaways, airdrops, and staking rewards all dilute token holders. To ensure that you have the healthiest and broadest of communities, see to it that you reward active addresses that have engaged or staked a reasonable ($100+) amount of your token. If you spread your token fairly to active players, rather than proportionally to large token holders (whales), you will get a more active community.

In these difficult times, it remains to be seen when and how crypto gaming projects would be able to regain their initial valuations. As trading occurs more based on fundamentals than hype, they might not be able to the same way, and projects built purely for financial gain are not the future of this movement. However, betting on teams of highly communicative and active builders should lead to success in the long-run. DFK gives us a great case study of a team doing just that, and I look forward to seeing the features that lie ahead.

A big thanks to Tom Kinniburgh for writing this essay! If Naavik can be of help as you build or fund games, please reach out.

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