In 2022, It seemed as though play to earn games would take the world by storm. Games like Axie Infinity had demonstrated demand for these types of games, with the emergence of scholars and guilds. We even saw Stepn take off, with move to earn, leading us to believe you can do just about anything and earn. Laddercaster Alpha launched with 500 players, and we’re still in closed alpha. This article will be a deep dive into the history of Laddercaster, and a glimpse into the future with Laddercaster Alpha: Reborn.
Table of contents
- The launch of Laddercaster Alpha
- Lessons learned with the community
- Raising funds in a bear… trap!
- Reborn with Buddy Link
The launch of Laddercaster Alpha
On April 8th of 2022, we launched Laddercaster Alpha - Season 0. We proudly got on stage during the Solana Hacker House Miami, exhausted, but excited to announce the debut of our game, the first of its kind, fully on-chain.
We had been travelling from Hacker House to Hacker House for months, meeting people and networking by day, then coding in our cheap airbnbs at night. Most of these places had rooms with shared beds, just 4 dudes and a dream at first, but a growing number of friends and allies, buddies you could say.
Somehow we had managed to become the first fully on-chain game on Solana. More than that, we managed to launch $LADA the day of launch, despite Solana Mainnet grinding nearly to a halt.
Screenshot shared in Discord of the Solana Explorer April 13th a few days after launch
As every good Alpha launch should be, it was a super buggy launch. The Laddercaster Community has been awesome since Day 1 though, and they reported all the bugs, which had us sleeplessly sprinting to fix everything. The price of $LADA started at $0.01 and climbed to about $0.03 to $0.04 in the first few days. The main access was the orderbook on https://raydium.io, which proved to be a challenging user experience for new users.
For season 1, we launched 1,000 Limited Edition Twin Packs, that can still be found on Magic Eden. These packs were each claimable for two Limited Edition casters in season 1. Once Laddercaster Beta launches, these casters will also be swapable for PFPs: The Elves.
Screenshot of Limited Edition Twin Packs announcement on May 4th, 2022
On May 7th 2022, we had a sellout mint on Magic Eden. Another great accomplishment despite still having Solana network issues, a late announcement from Magic Eden, and 4 other projects minting at the same time on their platform. The goal of the NFT sale was to get more people testing the game, and by giving out whitelists to different communities, we were able to do just that. Leading up to the launch, $LADA reached its all-time high of $0.07.
Our mission is to create a self-sustaining community-owned game, one that encourages composability. Our motto is “No Nerfs, No Buffs, No Bans”. How can we achieve this? Seasons. Each season would have a self-contained economy, every 30 days a new season would begin, where new characters would start at level 1 with no items. We take inspiration from Diablo 2. They always had two concurrent modes running: “Ladder” and “Non-Ladder”…
Screenshot taken of our first Pitch Deck to Investors
The challenge is in preserving the value of the NFTs they bought or found. Our Naive approach with Alpha, was to keep every past season running, giving less rewards to previous seasons, and more to the current one. That worked for a few seasons, but fragmented the player base too much. With the community we eventually chose to cap the number of seasons at 3 concurrent seasons.
Initially we wanted to launch without a token at all. We realized we needed a consistent reward to keep players coming back between seasons though. The $LADA token allows us to turn the game into a race to the top. Earn a portion of distributed tokens each turn, based on the number of resources you burn to level up relative to everybody else. We wanted team and investor incentives to be aligned too, so we invented a new way of launching a coin; Fixed Step Orders.
The idea was simple. Use the fully on-chain Serum orderbook to launch 100 limit orders with $0.01 increments for the team and investors the day of launch. These would be locked in a smart-contract, with only the USDC from their sale being split between wallets. No discrete dumping possible, with target-based incentives rather than time-based.
Lessons learned with the community
Season 1 was our first successive season launch, which had its issues, but once again the community gave us feedback in real-time to figure out each bug. With a little over 1,200 players, and an average of 300+ on-chain transactions per day per user, we found our product market fit. Users were playing an average of 4-8 casters, with some players going as high as 70 casters in one account, but the feeling wouldn’t last long…
Just two days later, on May 9th, marked the beginning of the Terra (LUNA) collapse with the de-pegging of UST. Everything started to crash, and we realized there would be no way for demand to support the price. We decided that marketing to more people would be a disservice to them. Keeping the community positive and staying transparent became our mission.
Despite the drop in users, we continued to launch new seasons every month iterating on the rules and discovering new ways of making the user experience more fun. For seasons 2 and 3, the launches were a lot more smooth, and overall the Solana TPS issues helped us learn many optimization techniques we would have otherwise never implemented.
We eventually compiled a long list of Beta rule changes we could make that would require an entirely new program structure. With the community once again, we got to work on the new rules and even had some members with PhDs in mathematics contributing academic papers!
Screenshot of game mechanics paper submitted by community member qtxctlabanha
Raising funds in a bear… trap!
You might be thinking that with the new and improved rules, we’re ready to jump straight into Laddercaster Beta. That’s what we thought too. That’s where we hit our first major bump in the road. You see, we’re very passionate developers, a small and capable team, but we don’t have a designer devoting their lives to this the way we do without pay.
We coded all the smart-contracts for Beta, but quickly realized we would run out of funds without raising more money. Months had already gone by of trying to raise after the Terra (LUNA) death spiral…
We shifted gears on the raise front. Our plan was to build a version of Buddy Link for Laddercaster so we could dogfood the product before launching it for other projects. However, we discovered that investors no longer believed in play-to-earn, and viewed fully on-chain gaming as too experimental.
Breakpoint 2022 was incredible, we had been to 13 Solana Hacker Houses by then, so it was a great big buddy reunion with all of our friends. We spoke with many investors and felt like we were hitting our stride. Aidan, my co-founder and cousin, even got a spot on the final panel of the event titled “Breakpoint 2022: Final Boss: Can Web3 Gaming Win Over the Gamers?”. You can click here to watch the full thing.
Screenshot of Breakpoint 2022: Final Boss panel with Aidan Neil
Leaving Breakpoint we had many soft commits from VCs, with most of them waiting for a lead investor to determine the final terms for the round. Of course, two days later was the shocking collapse of FTX. Much worse than Terra (LUNA), this one had every investor take a step back.
Reborn with Buddy Link
We took the time to get back to building. Shifting focus to Buddy Link, we began to help other projects in a similar situation to ours get their product to market. In December, we went into bootstrapping mode, but we all kept working anyway. Today we are so close to launching Buddy Link, and being able to incentivize the community and other projects to help us make Solana great again.
We realized that with all of the work we put into Laddercaster Alpha this year, there had to be a way we could test the new Beta rules, without a full redesign. That’s when it hit us, lets launch a new season of Laddercaster with Buddy Link enabled.
Players never complained about the art, nor the gameplay, and we’ve had time to devise a new strategy for the relaunch of $LADA. Our plan involves launching on the phoenix orderbook, and to have casters cost 40 USDC each, in an invite-only season, rewarding referrers with 15 USDC per caster their friends buy.
It shall be known as Laddercaster Alpha: Reborn!
They say every year in crypto feels like five. Despite market challenges and a series of unfortunate events surrounding our launch dates, I wouldn’t change a thing. The Solana community has been incredibly supportive, and I believe most success stories include a few bumps in the road. Join us in this next chapter, and as always, magic awaits!