Let’s start with a quick definition: “Hot potato” games refer to smart contracts where you flip assets between players.
These assets automatically rise in price with flips. When another player buys the item, the previous owner gets his money back plus a reward .
Once nobody buys anything anymore, whoever holds the item is out of luck ! Hence the name “hot potato”. Get someone else to buy it off you before the music ends…
Hot potato dapps are no stranger to Ethereum. In the beginning of 2018, you could flip anything and everything: countries, celebrities, pixels, adspace… and of course, potatoes.
The amounts of Ether going back and forth rose to absurd heights, as certain games saw their hot potatoes flipped for 700 ETH a piece, and a transaction volume close to 8 figures worth.
This boom ended. Nowadays, hot potato games are nowhere to be seen. Why is that?
Let’s delve deeper into the mechanics of hot potato games.
Broken by Design
As we said earlier, hot potato smart contracts tend to work the following way:
- You buy an asset directly from the smart contract. The price is set automatically.
- Now, you own the asset. The price of the asset increases by a determined rate. For convenience, let’s say it doubles in price.
- Another player buys the asset from “you”. Technically, they buy it from the smart contract. The smart contract takes their money, then gives it to you, and transfers the ownership of the asset to them.
- You’re rich! Wooooooooo!
Here’s the problem
Ethereum isn’t Sybil resistant.
You can make as many Ethereum addresses as you want.
What does this mean for hot potatoes?
Let’s say you buy a hot potato for 1 ETH (you crazy man). You’ve spent 1 ETH. The price for the next flip becomes 2 ETH.
Then, you use another address to buy the hot potato from yourself, for the new price of 2 ETH.
You immediately get those 2 ETH back on your first address. In essence, you only spent 1 ETH.
As long as you have enough ETH, you can flip the hot potato forever between your own addresses, at no additional cost.
“Why would I do that?”
Perhaps you want to generate the illusion of volume.
Perhaps you’re hoping to rope another player into buying your hot potato.
As the ether you spend is no more than your very first buy, there’s no opportunity cost in flipping the asset between your addresses, save for meager transaction costs. And on the other hand, your potential payout becomes much bigger.
There’s worse still.
In this scenario, we assume you’re a normal player. You spend a certain amount of ETH the first time, to acquire the hot potato.
But what if… You were the developer?!
Using an anonymous address, you would spend nothing at all to get your first hot potato.
Then, you can use the same tactics as above, for the same purpose.
There’s even more incentive to do so, for a developer: generating the illusion of volume brings people to your app. Once anyone buys a hot potato off you, you’ve won. It’s pure profit, and no risk.
Think back of the previous numbers. What is the more likely scenario?
For people to spend HUNDREDS of ETH, valued close to $1000 at the time, on cryptocurrency assets without any use or purpose?
Or for certain people to abuse mechanics to defraud naive players?
Keep in mind this is not CryptoKitties we’re talking about here. CK had real original artwork, a dedicated team working on the game, heavy promotion on Twitter and real life Ethereum events, and minor collection-based gameplay.
In contrast, the popular hot potato games were rapidly thrown together websites from unknown anonymous individuals, and no organic traffic could be seen on social media or real life.
Let’s not focus too much on whether previous hot potato games were thinly disguised fraud or not.
Instead, here’s an argument: if the game design allows for manipulation in impunity, then this design is broken.
How do we fix it?
Make hot potatoes a Means rather than an End
In Lords of the Snails, we take the mechanics of hot potatoes and build a real game around it.
As you might guess, our hot potatoes are Snails.
(Also Lords. Hold on to your seats — We’ll talk about Lords in a minute.)
Grabbing a Snail works like your traditional hot potato game. You pay a price automatically defined by the contract, and you get the asset.
The difference lies in what happens next.
If another player Grabs your Snail, you get the amount of ETH you spent — and no more.
There’s no direct profit in a flip.
So what’s the point?
Snails produce Eggs at a constant rate, every second.
Egg production depends on Snail level.
Each time a Snail is Grabbed, their level rises.
When you Grab a Snail, you receive the Eggs they laid so far.
On top of that, a global multiplier is applied to your reward. The longer goes without anyone Grabbing a Snail, the higher the multiplier gets.
While you own a Snail, you can also Snag their Eggs for a small, fixed ETH cost.
Once you reach a predetermined amount of Eggs, you win the round!
And with that victory comes a sweet, sweet ETH reward.
After the round ends, the game enters a downtime period. Then, once the downtime is over, Snails are reset to their base level/cost/production, and the game starts anew!
But what about my Eggs?
If you didn’t win the round, you keep all your Eggs.
This way, you don’t have to feel like a loser for buying all these hot potatoes.
Your accumulated Eggs give you a headstart for the following rounds, and soon it’ll be you who claims the prize!
The original hot potato “value proposition” boils down to little more than tricking other people into buying your worthless asset.
By tying payouts to winning a game round rather than direct flips, we turn the hot potato concept into a game of methodical planning.
Grab Snails at the right time to benefit from a strong multiplier. Keep an eye on other players and their respective Egg count. Snag the Eggs of your own Snail before anyone else Grabs them.
With this, we’ve got a game that is simple mechanically yet should offer some depth.
Now for the second part of the equation.
During game downtime, players can Claim Lords. Lords are hot potatoes, but they don’t produce Eggs.
(Surprising, I know.)
Instead, lordship comes with the privilege of owning the corresponding Snail whenever a new round starts.
You start owning a level 1 Snail for free, and if another player Grabs your Snail, you get free ETH.
Not too shabby, right?
Add to that if another player decides to Claim your Lord — you get the ETH you spent on him, *plus* an extra 0.02 ETH.
In that way, Lords are much more like regular hot potatoes.
Unlike Snails, Lord cost never resets. It can only rise; or stall, if nobody buys Lords anymore.
There’s also a global Egg bonus for Claiming a Lord.
The longer nobody Claims a Lord, the bigger this bonus gets.
It can get as big as two thirds of the amount of Eggs required to win, if nobody buys any Lord during the downtime!
Last but not least, Lords benefit from “tributes”.
10% of the extra ETH spent on their Snail is sent back to them.
That means, even if other players Grab their Snail — the Lord continues earning from further Grabs or Snags.
If nobody Grabs the Lord’s Snail, then the Lord’s owner receives a small kickback on his own Grabs or Snags.
To sum up, for both Grabbing Snails and Claiming Lords, we align incentives so the longer the game goes without any player biting, the more rewarding we make it to bite.
You can even Grab your own Snail, if the multiplier gets so big you’d rather get this bonus than Snag your Eggs!
There’s no wrong path to victory.
As with every Snail game, LORDS OF THE SNAILS is part of the SnailThrone ecosystem.
There is no dev fee or cut of any sorts in Snail games
Instead, part of the ETH is sent to the SnailThrone in the form of dividends for all SnailThrone holders.
That means anyone who wants to benefit from Snail games can buy SnailThrone “snails” (tokens), and earn ETH.
You don’t even need to play Snail games if you don’t want to!
Your dividends will accumulate with volume, and they’ll remain available forever, in the safety of the smart contract.
Together, they produced slightly above 4 ETH of dividends for SnailThrone holders.
(For scale, there’s only about 13 ETH in the SnailThrone contract.)
The SnailThrone split for both Snail games was set at 10% of the ETH spent.
LORDS OF THE SNAILS will follow the same model. 10% of all bonus ETH that isn’t used to repay back previous Snail or Lord owners will go to the SnailThrone!
[Edit 27th January: we planned a 50/50 split previously. As tempting as it was, the game is more likely to last if the pot is well seeded.]
Of course, Lords of the Snails needs to attract enough players to be sustainable.
The game will be preseeded with ETH, to make it interesting right off the bat.
Only 10% of the pot is used to feed each round, a strategy that has proven fruitful in SnailFarm 3. SnailFarm 3 was released a month and a half ago with a pot of 5.28 ETH. As of this writing, half of the pot remains.
We’ll see whether Lords of the Snails follows the same trajectory… Very soon!
LORDS OF THE SNAILS is an attempt to turn Ethereum hot potatoes into an actual strategic competition.
The game is slated for release Saturday the 2th of February, at 07:00 PM UTC.
We’d love to see you there!
Thanks for reading!