It's hard to believe it's been 2 years since I first signed up for a Steem account through steemit.com. The time seems to have flown by and yet it also seems like I've been here for ages. Steem has literally and significantly changed my life in a relatively short period of time, and this milestone seems like a good opportunity to share the journey with all of you.
I wasn't tagged in the Steem Gratitude Challenge (that I'm aware of at least), but consider this my entry nonetheless. Also, you might want to take a minute to get comfortable, because this is gonna be a long one!
Chapter 1 - Life Before Steem
Ever since I was a child I've loved making my own games. I programmed my first computer games in QBasic in elementary school. Fast forward a bunch of years and I started working for companies as a game developer / designer / producer. I got to make games for a living - so that was good - but they weren't the types of games I liked and I was working "for the man", as the saying goes.
My dream was always to be able to work on my own game project as my full time job. In 2012/2013 I built a game called Word Chase on Facebook (back when Facebook games were a thing) and I grew it to the point where it had a nice group of players and made a few hundred dollars / month - which was awesome, but not anywhere near the level needed to support my family. At one point I even integrated it with Steem!
Anyway, the point is that I learned how difficult it is to create a successful game project (or any project really). It seemed so easy for the companies I worked for, but I didn't take into account the large amount of resources they were able to spend on marketing and promotion that I didn't have.
Fast forward again to 2017 when I learned about Ethereum, smart contracts, and digital assets. I immediately thought how cool it would be to be able to combine the benefits of owning physical game cards from games like Magic the Gathering with the advantages of a digital game like Hearthstone.
I wanted to make the entire game run on the blockchain, not just have the assets be digital tokens, and I knew that wouldn't be realistic on Ethereum due to the speed and fees. At the time things like EOS and Tron didn't exist, and I didn't think it was possible to build a game on Steem without smart contracts, so my plan was to raise money and build my own blockchain specifically for this project. I was thinking something similar to PeerPlays (does that still exist?) which was built on the same core "Graphene" blockchain code as Steem was, so it also had the fast and free transactions that a game like this would need.
In any case, if you think building your own successful game project is hard, building your own blockchain on top of it is even harder. I also wasn't in any position to quit my job and try to really pursue this as anything more than a side project, so I eventually gave up on the idea.
Chapter 2 - To Steem or Not To Steem
It was in 2017 that I also first found out about Steem (exactly two years ago today, in fact, hence the steemiversary post). At the time cryptocurrencies and blockchain were a whole new world to me (despite having first learned about Bitcoin in 2012, but that's a story for another day) and I wanted to get involved and learn everything I could about them.
Like many people here, when I first signed up through Steemit.com I had no idea how involved I would become with the project or how much it would change my life. It was just one of many crypto/blockchain things I signed up for or was learning about at the time.
In retrospect I think it's clear that the reason I became so much more involved with Steem than any other project was that it was the only blockchain you could actually do anything with other than trading some tokens and watching the price. Not only could you do things like posting and voting, but you could also develop software that could utilize and interact with the chain MUCH more easily than anything else out there at the time.
My first project, as you probably know, was the Steem Bot Tracker website. In only a day or two, without any prior blockchain development experience or training, I was able to make a usable product that solved what turned out to be a real problem for a large number of people on the platform.
Regardless of your feelings on bots and vote selling, the important point here is how easy it was to develop something on Steem, and how there are a significant number of actual users eager to try out new things. Best of all, Steem has a built-in mechanism to promote your projects to the community with little to no cost!
Chapter 3 - In Steem We Trust
At this point it became clear that I would be devoting some serious time and energy to Steem going forward. Had I known this from the beginning, I would have chosen a different account name that was easier to pronounce and spell, but, live and learn I suppose. For those of you who want more information about my unusual account name and aren't already tired of reading my ramblings, you can check out this post.
In any case, when I get involved in something one of the first things I try to do is learn everything that I can about it. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. One of the most important aspects of any blockchain is the block production and consensus algorithm, of course, and one of the best ways to learn about something is to do it, so I tried my hand at setting up a witness server which went live on November 1st, 2017.
Now I was also moving on to my second project on Steem, the PostPromoter content promotion software. After having created the Steem Bot Tracker website, it became apparent that the current post promotion services (voting bots) on the platform left a LOT to be desired. At the time they were almost all using the same software called Dr. Otto which didn't offer much in the way of functionality and was no longer being actively maintained.
Once again, this seemed like an opportunity for me to try to improve things while simultaneously learning more about Steem blockchain development. Thus, the Post Promoter content promotion software and @postpromoter service were born. The software allowed bot owners to do things like refund incorrect bids, add whitelists and blacklists, implement ROI limits, and much more, none of which had been available previously.
I don't want to get into a whole voting bot debate here, as this isn't the point of this post, but I still firmly believe that paid content promotion can be of great value to the Steem platform if done correctly, and I was honestly doing what I could to try to make that happen. Ultimately, I think the only effective way to curb vote buying abuse is through downvoting, and, as it turns out, that just became a real possibility 2 days ago thanks to Hard Fork 21!
Chapter 4 - Here There Be Monsters
Moving on, it's now early 2018 and the STEEM price (along with most other coins) is at all time highs. It was also at this time that I met up with @aggroed and I told him about my blockchain-based card game idea from back in chapter 1. Not only did he convince me to move forward with it, but he convinced me to do it all on Steem.
It's funny to think that at the time I thought we were compromising by building it on Steem vs a smart contracts platform whereas now I couldn't imagine building it any other way. I still can't believe so many projects are wrestling with the difficulty of development, poor user experience, and lack of real users that come with developing on most other platforms.
Thus, on May 27th 2018, Steem Monsters was unleashed on the world. It became clear very quickly that this was it. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. At the beginning of August 2018, a little over one year ago, I left a high paying full time job with great benefits to focus full time on the game.
At first it was an easy decision. At that time we were earning more STEEM than we knew what to do with. But, unfortunately, it didn't stay that way for long. By the end of the year crypto prices, and especially STEEM, had dropped to multi-year lows, and we watched what had once been nearly $1M worth of STEEM drop in value by over 80%.
Lesson learned - the hard way.
Fortunately, it turns out that most people weren't just buying our product because they got a bunch of free STEEM from the reward pool, but because they actually liked the game. So even when crypto prices got really low, people continued to purchase card packs using USD instead. That gave us confidence that this project really had legs, regardless of what crypto prices might do.
One silver lining to this is that, to date, we have never sold so much as a single STEEM on the markets, and we're not dependent on the price of STEEM in any way to keep the business running. Of course, since we still hold a pretty significant stake we want to do everything we can to help improve the price, but it's really important to know that regardless of what the price does, Splinterlands (as Steem Monsters is now known) will still go on!
Chapter 5 - Achieving Consensus
Jumping back a little bit, on November 5th (or 6th depending on your timezone) of 2018, while my wife and I were flying somewhere over the Atlantic ocean on our way to SteemFest 3, @smooth approved my witness, pushing me for the first time into the top 20. I'm not sure if I ever personally thanked you @smooth, but better late than never, so thank you, and thank you to everyone who has voted for my witness and otherwise supported me over the years!
There's more thanking to come later, but in any case, being in the top 20 meant that the Steem community chose to pay me what at the time was a decent salary (sadly not very much these days) to help run and lead this platform. I take that responsibility very seriously and I intended to deliver, regardless of what the market price says.
First of all, it was important that I keep Steem Monsters / Splinterlands separate from my responsibilities as a top witness. Obviously there's a ton of overlap there, but the game is a privately held, for profit business, and the Steem community isn't paying me as a witness to work on that. I wanted to make sure that I was contributing as much value as possible to the Steem platform in return for the compensation I was receiving.
Chapter 6 - What's In Your Wallet?
One thing that immediately jumped out at me as an issue that I could potentially tackle was this whole nonsense of copying and pasting private keys into websites. It still boggles my mind how so many people were okay with this for so long. Not only that, but unlike most other chains Steem was built specifically to power web apps, and ideally to be user-friendly, so the fact that there was no browser extension for managing keys and broadcasting transactions was also crazy to me.
If you've ever tried bringing someone who has a good understanding of crypto security practices and who is used to using Metamask over to Steem you should know what I mean. I've gotten some really funny looks from people when they get to the "login with your private key" screen on steemit.com or Steem Connect.
In any case, this presented a great opportunity to help improve the platform. But I didn't have much time on top of my work for Splinterlands, and I really wanted to create something that was well built and looked professional, so @aggroed and I agreed to spend some of our personal funds earned through the game to hire @nateaguila to do graphic design and @stoodkev to code it.
You now know this as Steem Keychain, and I feel that it's been a very important contribution to the Steem platform by providing increased security, increased usability, and also helping to improve the overall impression of Steem and its associated tooling to the broader crypto community.
Chapter 7 - Tokenizing the Web
Jumping back again to late 2018, @aggroed and I had started looking into raising private equity investment in the Steem Monsters Corporation. We decided we wanted to to that through a Security Token Offering (or STO), but if you for a second think that we even considered making the token on Ethereum or any other blockchain then clearly you haven't been reading. We also had started planning for an in-game currency token which you now know as Dark Energy Crystals or DECs.
SMTs are in a constant state of "coming soon(TM)" so that wasn't really an option, but we had already effectively built custom tokens on the Steem blockchain for the Steem Monsters cards, so we figured we should be able to do the same thing for fungible tokens as well.
Additionally, the demand for custom tokens on Steem was palpable. Years of waiting for / expecting SMTs was taking its toll and many projects either had already left or were looking to leave to other chains. If that's not a great opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the Steem platform, I don't know what is.
There were actually a number of different projects all starting to build their own tokens on top of Steem at the time, but I realized that if everyone has their own custom software for their token it would be a nightmare for tools like Steem Keychain or apps like SteemPeak to integrate all of them. For this to really succeed we needed the network effect, and that means having all of the tokens on the same platform. That then allows tools and apps to automatically support every token with a single integration.
I researched some available options and came across @harpagon's Steem Smart Contracts platform. What @harpagon built - by himself, in his spare time - is truly amazing, and I don't think he gets enough credit for it. But just having a great back-end wasn't going to be enough. It needed to be easy and user-friendly to create and interact with the tokens or people wouldn't use them.
So, once again, @aggroed and I decided to put up some funds and hire @nateaguila for graphic design (seriously, that dude is amazing) and another developer to build what is now steem-engine.com and the main face of the Steem Engine platform. Now we had a fully functional, relatively easy to use, "simple token" platform built on top of Steem, including a decentralized market to trade the tokens against STEEM as well.
Then, earlier this year we were contacted by @lukestokes who was working with Appics. Appics was finally done waiting for SMTs and was looking to move completely to EOS. Luke set up a few calls between the two groups to see if they could utilize the Steem Engine platform in some way. Appics wasn't looking for a "simple token" though, they wanted what SMTs had promised - their own token that can be distributed using the same "proof of brain" mechanism as STEEM does.
After the call I got to thinking...Steem Engine is already reading all the blocks from the blockchain as they are added, so it should be possible (and not even all that difficult) to pull out certain posts by tag or metadata, pull out all the votes on those posts by accounts who held a certain token, calculate what the author/curator rewards would be in that token, and then pay out that token to the authors and voters just like Steem does. So I wrote this spec for how I envisioned that all working and we hired @holger80 to build it.
We now had what you've come to know as SCOT-bot (though I prefer my original name - "Distribution Engine") which was a near exact replication of the original SMT design just built as a second layer solution on top of Steem instead of directly part of the core blockchain itself. Additionally, we succeeded in our original goal of getting Appics to stay on on the Steem platform!
At this point I was getting a bit overwhelmed with all of this stuff going on and I decided I needed to focus more of my attention on the game - without which none of this would have been possible. So I bowed out of my involvement on Steem Engine and left it to @aggroed to run. Say what you want about @aggroed, but he has done a phenomenal job with the Steem Engine platform since then.
He has brought on @someguy123 to build and run the pegged tokens and @eonwarped to create custom condenser instances for all of the "tribes" as they are now known. There's nearly a million STEEM held in the platform, thousands of dollars worth of daily volume on the market, and more tribes than I can even keep track of. Most importantly, it's all happening on the Steem blockchain, and requiring users to hold Steem Power in order to participate.
Chapter 8 - Is Anyone Still Reading This?
There you have it. A detailed account of my entire journey from complete n00b to top witness of quite possibly the only undervalued blockchain in the world. It's definitely not the end of the journey though (but it will be the end of the post soon, I promise)! There's still so much more to be done and so many more opportunities to help get Steem the recognition and attention that it deserves.
Even though I will be primarily focused on building and growing the Splinterlands game, I still intend on honoring my responsibilities as a top witness and stakeholder to keep growing and improving the platform.
In particular, I'm very excited about the newly released Steem Proposal System (SPS) and I intend to submit a proposal or two to get funding for some other projects that I think are essential for the growth of the Steem ecosystem. Even though I may not be building those projects directly, I plan to do what I can to see that they are adequately funded, set the high level vision and direction, and then find and compensate the right people to see them through.
Finally, I want to extend a sincere THANK YOU to everyone in the Steem community for making all of this possible. It's not the technology, the distribution method, or the consensus algorithm that makes Steem so great, it's the people and the community we've created. This is the secret sauce that so far I don't think any other blockchain platform has successfully emulated.
Thank you for
reading scrolling down to the bottom, and I can't wait to see what the next two years has in store for us!