Bitcoin Takeover Games: Lightning Agar
Lightning Agar is the perfect representation of the current state of Bitcoin video games: a clone of a popular and successful title, with an added layer of Lightning Network-powered microtransactions.
Developed and maintained by the team behind the excellent arcade-style game collection Satoshi’s Games, Lightning Agar emulates the format of the popular multiplayer version of arcade game Feeding Frenzy (but with bacteria replacing the fish): Agar.io.
The original Agar.io isn’t just a game, but a cultural phenomenon of the mid to late 2010s. At its peak, the game was so popular that it got featured on hit Neflix series “House of Cards” as a metaphor for the competitive world of politics.
Even today, the Miniclip servers are always filled with enthusiastic players from all around the world who simply want to become the biggest cell on the grid. Yet in my experience, Lightning Agar is not the same. Even though it emulates all the ingredients that made Agar.io great, bitcoiners just don’t seem to be willing to engage in this type of competitive gaming.
This is exactly why this series exists: in order to review the existing Bitcoin games, but also raise awareness that this side of the industry is unlikely to succeed without our support. Unless we voluntarily decide to replace non-Bitcoin video games with Bitcoin-centric ones, it’s extremely unlikely that the nocoiners will do it and this is a death sentence to all the creators from our community who really try their best.
Lightning Agar can be regarded as a nice testbed for community engagement, as the studio is working on a Fortnite clone with Lightning Network integration for financial incentives, titled Lightnite. To some extent, it can be said that Lightning Agar is the first attempt that Satoshi’s Games makes to produce a multiplayer game for the Bitcoin community – and the current title’s failure to gain traction should teach us a few important lessons about what it takes to disrupt video games with Lightning.
This review is based on an impromptu community event to which I have had the pleasure to participate on February 11th 2020. Announced on Twitter a whole day before the clash, the actual gathering which took place at 7PM GMT (or 2PM EST) turned out to become an interesting reflection of community lethargy. As you can see on the livestream recording, fewer than 10 people actually joined the event, and consequentially the battles were not as epic and intense as they could have been.
The Lightning Agar Tournament
Organizing an impromptu tournament on the 11th of February 2020 was definitely a revealing experience about the state of Bitcoin gaming. To say the least, the number of players who joined the game was pretty underwhelming.
As you can see in the livestream videos, the number of players never exceeded 5 and the number of different individuals who joined the game throughout the two hours of moderately intense battling probably amounts to 10.
Just note that this underwhelming participation happened after doing some heavy promotion on Twitter and getting some engagement on the social media platform. On average days, the grid of Lightning Agar is a ghost town and it takes some effort to convince somebody to play with you.
Furthermore, Agar is the kind of game which requires at least 5 players to simultaneously be on the grid in order for the challenge factor to arise. Since the map itself is large, only two combatants will take a long time to meet and have boring encounters. In this regard, playing Lightning Agar in a way that is actually enjoyable requires some coordination.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the tournament itself was not a total disaster. For most of the time there was a degree of challenge and there was one moment when browsing Twitter has cost me one life (and 1000 sats that I had to pay to get back in the game). But if we want to transform Bitcoin games into an attractive activity and potentially attract nocoiners, then we need to be as critical and demanding as possible when it comes to the degree of polish these games have.
Given my rather lengthy exposure with the game, I have been able to identify some ways in which Lightning Agar can be improved. And I will dedicate the next part to a series of suggestions for the Satoshi’s Games team.
Lightning Agar Improvement Proposal (LAIP) #1: Give The Game An Identity Of Its Own
In its current form, Lightning Agar is graphically and technically indistinguishable from the original Agar.io. Outside of the entrance fee of 1000 per game, there is nothing that makes the experience special.
As a matter of fact, one can argue in favor of the network effect of the free-to-play Agar.io, which guarantees that at any time you will find at least a dozen of players competing on the map.
Unless you want to specifically support the development efforts of Satoshi’s Games, there is no reason to play Lightning Agar. It’s essentially the same game that you can find on Miniclip, but with a financial incentive that isn’t attractive enough to make bitcoiners play.
Therefore, extra graphical elements should be added to visibly distinguish Lightning Agar from Agar.io. For instance, the developers can add a meter that shows you how many satoshis you’re going to earn at the end of the game (depending on the number of players you’ve eaten).
Also, special text messages can be added in order to let you know that your elimination has earned you 750 satoshis. Inventing a streak system with extra rewards and some satisfying visual effects can be nice too. Triple kill? Rampage? Lightning Agar whale? There are lots of ways of making the experience more engaging and immersive.
Furthermore, more designs should be added to the cells in order to help bitcoiners use popular community memes for their cell design. Being able to import the Twitter avatar can also be a great idea, as it generates an interesting psychological challenge.
In terms of map design, more Bitcoin-related elements should be added. For instance, the large green cells that simultaneously augment and divide your own cell can be replaced with a fork sprite: if the player eats it and divides his cell, then the “HARD FORK!” message appears on screen; if the player eats it without divisive results, then the message “SOFT FORK!” pops up.
More symbols for Bitcoin and Lightning should also be added in order to give Lightning Agar an identity of its own. If the Satoshi’s Games developers have been able to adapt Flappy Bird into Flappy Crypto, then it shouldn’t be difficult to give Lightning Agar a cosmetic change.
Lightning Agar Improvement Proposal #2: Reduce Or Change Entry Fee
The idea of paying 1000 satoshis ($0.1 USD at the current BTC valuation of ~$10,000) and receiving 750 satoshis whenever you eliminate a player with your great skills sounds good only on paper. In the absence of enough players, the incentives make no sense: for instance, what’s the point of paying 1000 satoshis only to discover that there is nobody else around and you have to convince your friends to join in?
Yes, the price is still smaller than the one you pay for quarter-eating arcade machines. However, these arcade games are often times more fun and challenging. In the absence of enough players, Lightning Agar is neither.
Personally, I’d suggest reducing the entry fee to a very low amount like 50 satoshis. Making it cheaper will definitely encourage bitcoiners to not think too much about spending some of their hard-earned sats on an online video game. At scale, having 20 players every day and organizing weekly tournaments should cover the server subsidies a lot better than keeping Lightning Agar in its current ghost town state.
Naturally, a reduction of the fee should also bring about a proportional adjustment of the rewards. The 75% pay/reward ratio is alright, but can also receive adjustments to make the game even more interesting.
Ultimately, the incentives should be aligned to allow more bitcoiners to play without triggering the post-hyperbitcoinization thought of essentially paying $1000 from the future.
Lightning Agar Proposal #3: Organize More Community Events, Build A Culture/Habit
I’m very much aware that this idea is pretty utopian in the context that the team behind Satoshi’s Games is mostly working on Lightnite, but I feel like the two multiplayer games can exist and attract different audiences.
While a Fortnite clone is for those who prefer a more immersive and action-centric type of experience, Lightning Agar is for those who are on a 10-minute break and need a challenging way to relax and momentarily detach from other assignments.
Yet ideally, Bitcoin Twitter users should be invited to take part in periodic tournaments and events. Ultimately, rivalries should get developed and an entire culture of settling disputes in the Lightning Agar grid can start.
But for this, the game should be popularized a little more and the incentives should receive an update. If the entry price is small, the reward is attractive, and the system is still profitable to keep the servers running, then the sky is the limit.
Agar is already a popular and easy video game that requires no tutorial or learning curve – you understand what you have to do in the first couple of minutes, and then proceed to grow your cell. With better community management, Lightning Agar has the potential to become a cultural phenomenon that attracts both bitcoiners and nocoiners who seek a greater challenge.
Lightning Agar Proposal #4: Get Faster Servers, Fix Reward Accounting System
Now this is an essential part, as during my playthrough I have witnessed moments when the lag spiked to more than one second. In a game that’s all about quick reactions, not syncing with the servers fast enough can make the challenge unfair and eventually lead to an undeserved loss.
Even when I switched off my VPN, closed unnecessary tabs and made sure that my system allocates lots of resources to that one video game tab, the experience was slow at times. And I soon realized that the lag is not caused by my system, but by the servers. A ping of 1000 ms, with an average of ~200 ms is pretty terrible. In comparison, the original Agar.io is a lot smoother while a hundred players compete simultaneously on the map.
It’s a pity that an otherwise promising game is compromised by technical difficulties such as latency. And if you pay attention to all the details, you will notice that you never get notified about the 750 satoshis that you should be earning when you eat another player and it’s never clear what you’re supposed to do.
The reward accounting system needs to get fixed ASAP, or else the financial incentive is doomed and the reasons to play Lightning Agar instead of Agar.io drastically diminish.
Following the two-hour tournament, some players have reported issues on the Satoshi’s Games Telegram channel. Lead developer Carlos Roldan has fixed everything and rewarded everyone with greater rewards to make up for the inconvenience. However, this should not happen.
Since Lightning Agar is the only video game on the website which requires individual payments for each attempt and doesn’t allow you to use the funds in your Satoshi’s Games account, then withdrawals should also happen as soon as you get eliminated from the game or quit. This way, the accounting is simpler and you know at all times how many satoshis you receive for your efforts.
The fact that you’re supposed to create an account, use the same account name during the game, and pray that there won’t be linking glitches is a bad design that needs to be fixed.
Currently, there are plenty of open-source faucet designs that generate QR codes that you scan in order to receive funds (for example, Ben Arc‘s LNBits project is excellent and powers DIY fiat to Lightning ATMs). If this was implemented in Lightning Agar, the whole withdrawal system would become a lot more transparent and fair.
Lightning Agar: Lots Of Wasted Potential
During Bitcoin conferences, the variety of titles on Satoshi’s Games receives lots of praise and community members actually test these Lightning micropayment-friendly pieces of digital entertainment. However, Bitcoin video games should also be enjoyed outside of dedicated events.
If we want to build a circular economy, we need to support BTC projects. If we want the rest of the world to adopt Bitcoin as a better form of money, we must attract people with great projects whose incentives are attractive.
Video games can be a great bridge between an audience that is already technologically-literate enough to understand how Bitcoin works, and the old-time bitcoiners. Therefore, we should really take advantage of this crossover opportunity.
Likewise, Lightning Agar emulates a successful recipe that people know and easily understand. However, it falls short in some key technical (slower servers) and social (smaller network effect, almost no active community) aspects that keep this sleeping giant from flexing his muscles.
With better servers and improved financial incentives, it’s possible that nocoiners who enjoy playing Agar.io will be attracted by this Lightning-powered version. Who wouldn’t want to capitalize on their skills, after all?
Bitcoin video games are still in their infancy, and there is a lot of experimentation going on. It’s out duty to support them and make sure that they deliver the best kind of digital entertainment to the world. However, when something doesn’t work it’s also better to make suggestions than to abandon projects altogether. Let’s make Lightning Agar get the kind of polish it deserves by actually playing it and constantly submitting constructive feedback.
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