The crash and burn of the CryptoHunt game

in ico •  last year  (edited)

tl;dr: Sascha absconded, leaving debts behind.

At about Christmas time 2017 I was contacted by a colleague who has just started working with Sascha Srdoch, to help them with a project which was aimed to be crowd-funded by an ICO. My original review of the ICO white paper, which recommended quite a lot of possible improvements, including to the business and economic models of the game, was not accepted (well, a few typo corrections were accepted, to be precise), and attempts to advise Sascha to hire a better team to rewrite the white paper were unsuccessful because of "lack of funds." In retrospect, this should have been an obvious red flag.

A few days later I was contacted by Sascha to participate in another way: by writing the game backend, the server-side component which needs to coordinate the activities of the players, offer them tasks (riddles), track where everything is in the game world. I accepted it, because it's pretty much the type of project I regularly do. And I'd say that that part was done pretty much ok; there were delays in data entry (locations in the world), some minor bugs, a bit more of miscommunication, but even though the deadline to do it was short - about 6 weeks - it was feature-complete and robust enough to power the pre-ICO alpha/demo, and then some.

However, the mobile app development was, well, insanely bad. Again because of lack of funds, in addition to the under-staffed local app developers, some cheaper developers were found in India, which have overstated their competences. And I think that such choice of developers is kind of a huge red flag, because the app is what the players see, their experience of the game. They will never directly see what's on the server side (except for critical bugs and outages) but they will interact with the app - hopefully - on a daily basis. Front-end is where you don't want to cheap-out. And yes, sadly, there were the usual miscommunications between the local app dev team and the Indian one, each blaming the other for bugs, which was only emphasized by the remote team not wanting to use Git for the Unity app code. WTF, right?

[Edit: After talking to them some more, as a reaction to this post, I'd like to say that the Indian team were not as bad as I've originally described them, they were for the most part severely overwhelmed and were a bad match for the requirements of this project. In better-managed circumstances, it is likely they would have delivered an ok alpha version -- though after the hypothetically successful ICO, a team with more experience would have certainly needed to rewrite most of the app code.]

I've brought in some of my friends and colleagues to participate in the back-end side of the project - sorry once more, guys - and when we were introduced to the Indian developers, the number of WTF's per minute escalated pretty much astronomically. And not only for the code - it became painfully obvious that project management was, let's say, not one of Sascha's strong sides.

As the ICO deadline approached (which was set pretty much in advance, before most of us were attached to the project, and when we advised it was too optimistic, were ignored), it became painfully obvious that even the basic features will not work as advertised. When even a second Indian team couldn't port the Unity app to iOS (the original was done for Android), we realised that the project lost pretty much half of its audience.

The ICO came and passed and we are all grateful for even the limited success it had, which was almost 600 Ether collected. The original goal for the ICO (soft cap) was set by Sascha a long time ago (effectively $5m), and it was soon clear it was set too high, and was effectively unreachable.

All of this is kind of par for the course - it's a risky business - and if it had all finished at that point, by parting ways appropriately and wishing each-other luck on other projects, that would have been fine. But then came the worst parts of this whole engagement. Soon after the ICO, Sascha has literally disappeared without a trace.

We had a brief contact one day when he sent us a photo from a hospital bed - but nothing actually meaningful was said. During all that time, he was regularly active in the Telegram group, pretty much holding the line that everything is fine. On the other hand, he has de-registered his cell phone number ("the number you are calling is not in use"), ignored us on WhatsApp, Facebook, e-mail, whatever else we were using to communicate, and for a time it looked like maybe even his Telegram account was used by someone else. However, that was not the case.

I was persistent and finally got a message from Sascha effectively saying the project has failed, there was no money left, and that we should wait. Which wasn't much but was at least something, and for me, it would have been acceptable. However, soon after that I got another message from him saying that the project was doomed from the start because the major private investor (M.U.) has withdrawn pretty early, that he has gone into debt in order to realise the project even in the state it was, and that because of that, he has absolutely no wish to fulfil his obligations to us -- "talk to the investor, it's his problem." That's some nasty attitude there.

I wish to note that the nature of our business together was contractual - we were not partners or stakeholders, but hired per-project to do a narrow part of it. It was not a "we'll pay you if it succeeds" kind of deal.

Since then, he's deactivated his e-mail and deleted his social media accounts, so there's no way that I know of to contact him. Since our part was done and we're are no longer active in the project, such as it is at this point, if anyone from the extended team who has access to the web site reads this, I hereby ask that my name and the names of my colleagues are removed from the active teams' roster.

So with Sascha's thoroughly unprofessional attitude after the ICO, and heavily suboptimal project management before and during it, it seems like there's a cautionary story here to tell.

There were two aspects of Sascha that I admired: that he really did put his heart and soul into the PR parts of the project, and apparently, has carried it out with his own money, literally boostrapped the whole project himself (if the tale with the investor was true). He appears to have actually done almost all of the communication on social media, forums, chats, by himself (though sometimes through other user accounts). If a project could succeed on PR and enthusiasm for screen time alone, this one would have been a success. I believe he had good intentions.

I like some of the ideas of this project: using a game to attract people into the world of cryptocurrencies (though, mind you, it seems like it was conceived at the very peak of the cryptocurrency bubble at the end of 2017, when it looked like everything is going to the Moon), and the edu-excercise parts of it, where people would get to know their towns better. I have no doubt that some variation of these ideas will be successful.

As for the CryptoHunt game - luckily, ICO refunds are handled by the smart contract code automatically, with or without Sascha - so at least there isn't much direct financial damage to the investors. The servers were shut down some time ago, because recurring bills were unpaid, so unless something changes, the game is currently unplayable. I feel bad for everyone who had great hopes for the project, including the members of the team, and can only hope that we've all learned something from it.

Edit: I'm asked a lot: what could have been done differently? The project was strangled for cash, but that's normal, almost every new project is. Maybe the bootstrap funds could have been allocated better to get quality Unity developers instead of quality YouTube exposure, time management could have been better, of course. The soft-cap for the ICO could have been much much lower. At the end, it's never just one thing. OTOH, Cryptohunt is still a good idea. It deserves a better incarnation.

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Sounds like the timeline of an altcoin scam from ~2014. Sadly, a Bitcoin boom does attract scammers - and folks that get in over their heads! - who end up bilking investors.

I expected something like this. Sorry to hear that you were burned, just like I was a few times in 2014.

I don't believe it was a scam. The funds are being returned and have been so for a few weeks thanks to the smart contracts. If there were some funds taken it would be a very small amount and would have been from the private investors pre-ICO.

They've been returned?? Wow. So there has been progress. ;-)

Thanks for the info.

No, the funds from the first ICO, which I developed, have been refunded and that works perfectly. The problem is in the fact that the owner made a second "ICO" without the rest of the team which was just a regular Ethereum address to which people sent money. That money is not getting refunded.

Oh, okay. Thanks for clarifying.

Believe it or not, that's still progress from 2014. It was so usual for scammers/failures to just vanish with the crypto, I was actually shocked when the promoter of a failed ICO refunded me my 0.5 BTC.

That's the advantage of smart contracts. We wouldn't have built the original ICO if they said "no refunds". Building it into the ICO was a condition we had to proceed with the thing. Luckily that turned out to be a very good decision. Live and learn...

Something that's already in alpha and will release :) sooth your pain with some Chibi lovin

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aw! maybe! i love the art.

What a real pity. It sounded like they had good intention but unrealistic plans. This is just the tip of the iceberg for many of the alt coins out there.

Thank you for the update @Ivoras. I am super disappointed. Resteemed

Another one bites the dust. I am sad too but not surprised. Starting a business 10 years ago I know how hard it is to make it. Just to get open for business is an accomplishment much less to stay in business for the long haul. Like they say, "when going get tough the tough get tougher." Being too optimistic is a problem for most people but being a Realist in business is a man's best trait. Did they really need $10 million to make it work is my question? I started my business with a $30K SBA loan that was hard as hell to acquire and turned that into a 7 figure business. Just saying start small, be humble, then grow to a giant later when you can sustain.

oh man, thanks for the update. It makes a lot more sense now. I also helped review the whitepaper. By the time it made it to iOS beta, the game seemed to have too much time commitment to actually be playable so I never really got past the first clue and lost interest.

So sad that Sascha couldn't keep it together :/

Maybe Mandelduck will relaunch Takara at some point ? (bitcoin geocaching, pretty much).

Now no one will want my token sad

folks, if you're still interested in the concept plz check out Walky Token . We'll be launching the game in a couple of months