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Solarwood Land Sale Retrospective


EmberSword
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On May 27th 2021, we held our first land sale, and it was a bumpy ride. Technical issues arose, which made continuing it harder, and we had to abolish the parcel system mid-land sale.

First off we would like to apologize to everyone affected by these issues, although not all of them were within our control, some certainly were. We take responsibility for those issues and will be making sure to solve them, as well as working with our partners to make sure that the issues that were outside of our control are dealt with in future sales as well.

That being out of the way, in this article, we’re going to take a look at what happened during the land sale, and what we plan to do in the future. We’re going to address some popular concerns from the community and how we plan on avoiding some of the things that occurred when we have our next sale.

So what happened?

Once the doors opened over 25 000 people hit the land sale website.

While our website performed well under the circumstances, the amount of pressure this caused led to 2 external services going down, as well as the block explorer. Although the Polygon side chain stayed operational throughout, the RPC endpoint went down due to the sheer amount of traffic.

This also caused the map syncing to go down, so we couldn’t actually see how much had been bought — how many elements had been sold was a bit of a mystery at that point. The after effects of this are still being felt. For example, some 300 or so plots to this day don’t show their image on OpenSea and other marketplaces. Their metadata is in need of an update, which requires a contract update on its own, which will take some time to go through.

Technical issues arose during the land sale which made continuing it harder, and we had to abolish the parcel selling mid-land sale, instead allowing people to buy individual plots directly.

In the case of a parcel — a city — that’s 16 individual land plots. If one of those land plots failed to load its metadata, was already sold, or was otherwise missing, the entire parcel became unavailable for sale. So out of 16 plots, if 1 is sold and 15 are waiting for the picking — the entire parcel transaction doesn’t go through.

With people bypassing the Ember Sword website this happened more than we’d like, so the remaining 15 plots couldn’t be sold and transactions on whole cities would fail. And it was very hard to keep track of in real time — the map wasn’t syncing up, and the chain explorer was behind by 3 hours.

Not having an up to date image of what’s going on was very limiting. We could only fully see it after the fact, and we couldn’t act as quickly or appropriately as we would have liked to, which was tough.

Overall, this was a huge challenge from a technical perspective. A lot of the third party services we used struggled to keep up with the pressure, but thankfully persevered in the end. We also took a long, hard look at how our own end points were holding up — and plan to scale these up for future map based land sales as well.

We’ll also work towards no longer relying on public services where possible — for example by using our own Polygon nodes, which will have the full history of the blockchain, and provide our team and the land sale page with up to date information during future sales.

Things sold out incredibly quickly

When the tech issues got cleared, everything got scooped up immediately. People wanted to get a piece of Solarwood at the low rates it was offered at.

The process of preparing a land sale, even a small one, takes a lot of time. Despite this, we purposely limited ourselves to about 7.5% of the land available in the game world. A first time land sale, after all, is almost expected to have some problems, and now that we saw what to expect first hand, we’ll be ready to prevent what we can, and tackle the rest of them faster in the future.

But, of course, so far that’s just our point of view, and it’s a little limited — we need different perspectives to make sure we’re going in the right direction. Luckily we also collected a lot of feedback from our community, which is always super helpful when it comes to keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s going on and what we can do better.

With that in mind, let’s get into some things the community wants to know!

Improving communication

During the land sale communication was a bit hectic. In a Discord community with over 20 000 registered users, the mods really had a run for their money. Some recorded how many direct messages they were getting — it was at a rate of over 1 message per second.

At the time, our main focus was working out the technical errors — we wanted things to run as smoothly as possible, so communication went on the back burner. We tried to make a clearer line for communication — the mods locked down the Discord, a lot of channels had a limited time mode, and we centralized everything into one channel.

We recognize our community has grown very rapidly, and we’ve learned our lesson here — we plan on expanding our team by bringing in more community facing staff, so we can meet your needs more efficiently.

With more manpower and a better system in place, it’ll be easier to communicate on all channels. We’ll have ready and accessible responses to the most frequently asked questions, and direct everyone into the right channels.

With a lot of our communication, we waited until the information was set in stone on our end, in order to ensure people got the correct and final version. Navigating what we could and couldn’t tell everyone was a bit of a challenge, and we also had to get that information across in a clear and understandable manner.

A good example of that is the map — we released it the moment it was accurate and final, and we were sure everything on it was going to be sold. In future map-based land sales, we’ll make sure we have the full map accessible the moment the land sale countdown starts.

The user experience

We plan to make things easier by educating the community on multiple fronts — clear guides, video tutorials and nice visuals for the entire land purchasing process, from start to finish, are in the works. A lot of the existing materials are going to be updated, as many of you requested. The idea is to make sure everything is communicated clearly and efficiently, and to ensure a good user experience.

Due to the nature of blockchain, some people had trouble setting up wallets or losing money due to making mistakes along the way. Others circumvented the site, yet still didn’t manage to get land. That’s definitely not the kind of experience we want our users to have — of course, we helped those people out to the best of our ability. But what we really want is to prevent this from happening at all.

Simplicity and ease of use is what we’re after in Ember Sword, and blockchain is no exception.

How are we going to deal with people bypassing the website?

Essentially, we’re going to make a centralized set up in the sale where people have to go through the website.

A blockchain is basically a public database, meaning anyone can send a message to the blockchain at any time and buy something. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you buy something on the website. It’s not our website sending a message. Rather, it’s your browser sending a message to the blockchain.

We’ll force those who tried to bypass the website to go through the website where only the content creator (that’s us!) is allowed to call a specific function of the contract. Thus circumventing it, and invoking the smart contract directly, becomes completely impossible — that means those that were circumventing the site can’t sneak past us anymore.

The chain is trustless — no one, not even we, can manipulate it. We try to do as much on chain as possible, and we’re fans of the ecosystem it provides. You’re definitely going to get that piece of land you put your money in. But it’s also important for us to use the best possible approach to give everyone the same opportunity to buy land.

We also have to operate within certain legal frameworks that require that we get at least some information from you. So we have to make sure that there’s absolutely no way — no matter how tech savvy or intent on getting your desired plot of land you are — to bypass the system that everyone uses to get their piece.

Looking at the stats from the land sale, we did get a wide distribution of ownership — a lot of smaller buyers were able to snatch up a few plots of land or a settlement, so it wasn’t just the virtual real estate giants who were buying large chunks.

Looking back, this was a momentous occasion for us.

Just to reiterate:

  • We are scaling up our infrastructure to handle more traffic, including our own Polygon nodes
  • We are expanding our community management team
  • We will be making key information, such as maps, available earlier
  • We will be improving and expanding our land sale guides
  • We’ll be implementing technology that ensures sales only take place through the website
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Solarwood Land Sale Retrospective was originally published in EmberSword on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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