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A Retrospective on Stellar Quest Live: Series 5

After a year-long hiatus, Stellar Quest Live returned with its fifth series focused on Soroban. Series 5 ran from November 10th through December 1st with six quest releases total. It was a wild ride with a lot of moving pieces coming together in a very short amount of time. And although we had some hiccups (broken Futurenet, anyone?), this series was, without a doubt, our most successful yet. 

What is Stellar Quest again?

Stellar Quest is a gamified SDF-run educational program containing a series of challenges that teaches developers about the Stellar network (and now Soroban). Stellar Quest is split into two parts: Stellar Quest Learn and Stellar Quest Live. 

Stellar Quest Learn is what the team has been working on for most of 2022. It’s a self-guided course consisting of three levels and various side quests that walk the user through classic Stellar operations. Players earn NFT badges for every completed challenge and small XLM rewards for every completed level. XLM rewards have been turned off in the past due to XLM farmers, which we’ll talk about more in a bit.

Stellar Quest Live is a series of live events where developers compete in real-time to complete challenges for XLM rewards and commemorative NFT badges. This is the bread and butter of Stellar Quest and where we see most new folks join the community. There have been five live series, with the first one taking place in October 2020.

Series 5: how it started

After Stellar Quest Learn launched at the beginning of October, the team began designing Stellar Quest Live Series 5. While all other live series were built around classic Stellar, Series 5 focused on Soroban, Stellar’s smart contracts platform. Initially, we planned to create another series around classic Stellar and even had a few quests built out before deciding to pivot focus. There was a lot of enthusiasm around Soroban after Meridian and the Sorobanathon announcement, and we wanted to support and strengthen that excitement. So it was back to the drawing board with only three weeks left until launch.

Completing the Stellar Quest Live build in just three weeks was a massive undertaking and involved coordinating several parallel workstreams between many individuals, including SDF employees, contractors, and even Stellar Quest community members. But we did it! In just three short weeks, the team completed: 

  • Brainstorming and planning the challenge for each of the six quests
  • Building the quests themselves
  • Composing technical documentation to guide questers
  • Updating the legal rules
  • Creating new NFT badges
  • Building the frontend by mixing and matching previous designs
  • Building the backend to allow for new tax integrations and opening up the API to support the Gitpod connection
  • Building out the Gitpod environment and CLI tool 
  • Writing a narrative story to accompany each quest
  • Creating a marketing strategy that involved blogs, email campaigns, and social media posts
  • Setting up Streamyard and Twitch to prepare for each pre-quest release live stream

This list doesn’t encompass all that went into creating and launching the event, but it gives you a good idea of the immense amount of coordination and work from many different teams and individuals. Massive shout out to SDF’s ecosystem engineer Tyler van der Hoeven for his fearless leadership and impressive wrangling ability.

Series 5: how it went

Stellar Quest Live Series 5 released its first quest on November 10th, 2022, with subsequent quests being released every Thursday evening and Monday morning until December 1st. It was a technically challenging series that used concepts and patterns entirely foreign to the Stellar ecosystem. For this reason, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of interest and engagement — however, it ended up being the most active series to date and got numerous developers experimenting with Soroban.

One thing that helped make the series a success was our decision to use Gitpod. Stellar Quest Live typically takes place on the Stellar Quest site, but for Series 5, we used Gitpod, an open-source platform for remote development. Employing Gitpod removed concerns about players needing to install Rust correctly, run a Futurenet node, and download all the correct dependencies and quest files. Having everyone running the same local environment allowed us to remove many challenging aspects of Soroban and better support new Stellar Quest users.

Although I’m totally hyping it up, not everything was rainbows and puppy toes for Series 5. We broke Futurenet (twice). We had a bug in the code that had players paying their own XLM rewards. We saw an immense increase in XLM farmers. However, despite these bumps in the road, it was still our most successful series ever. 

Let’s break down some stats

As of 2:20 pm EST on December 5th, 2022, Stellar Quest Live Series 5 garnered 2,344 unique accounts, saw 6,069 badges claimed, and distributed 1,007,400 total XLM. 

The Stellar Quest website saw 73,675 new users and 237,691 page views. 

Because we used Gitpod, we also wanted to look at backend stats since web stats don’t give a full picture. As you can see, we got ~550,000 API requests per week.

Even more fascinating is the connected peers to Futurenet for each quest launch.

We also grew the Stellar Quest Discord quite a lot, going from ~4,000 members to ~6,000 members during Series 5. 

Impact on Sorobanathon: First Light

Stellar Quest Live Series 5 encouraged users to experiment with Soroban outside of the quests and submit projects to Sorobanathon: First Light. Our goal was to have 30 submissions to the program, and we’ve had over 50 technical submissions, most of which came from Stellar Questers. 

We also created another branch of Sorobanathon that called for artists to create NFT art based on the quests’ narrative storyline. We’ve had some really cool ones — check them out

What’s up with the XLM farmers?

Before launching Series 5, we experienced a significant issue involving XLM airdrop farming in Stellar Quest Learn. We started seeing a considerable increase in Stellar Quest Learn sessions. 

After doing some digging, we figured out that all the Stellar Quest Learn answers had been posted in a Telegram group that encouraged farmers to take advantage of the “airdrop”. The huge influx of traffic to the Stellar Quest site and Discord was negatively affecting the experience for actual developers and increasing costs on every front for minimal ROI. We ended up turning off Learn rewards to try to mitigate the issue, but we still saw some airdrop farmers return for Series 5. 

Although the airdrop farmers were causing some issues, our Stellar Quest Discord moderators managed the massive rush of comments with grace, kindness, and patience while also working to build bots, tweak roles, and restructure Discord. We ended up blocking nearly 2,000 accounts from receiving XLM throughout Series 5, with the hardest ban hammer hitting after Quest 3. This slowed down the number of people completing each quest but ensured that most people playing Stellar Quest competitively were developers- which is what we want!

Stellar Quest: what’s next

Now that Series 5 has concluded, it’s time to focus on what’s next for Stellar Quest Live — and it’s Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control. For Series 6, we’ll have monthly contract challenges that cover three aspects of Soroban contract development:

  1. Fast: who can complete the challenge first?
  2. Cheap: who can submit a contract whose invocation is the most cost-effective?
  3. Out of Control (Small): who can submit a valid contract with the smallest size?

Quest 1 of Series 6 is scheduled to launch on February 1, 2023, with the plan to release a new quest every month through the end of the year. 

Stay tuned for more information, and we hope to see you for Series 6!

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