With 17,000 mobile installs and 3 pilot games fostering its initial community and showcasing its features, Litemint, a non-custodial, open-source Stellar Wallet, is getting ready to launch its app and game platform powered by decentralized payments and collectible trades.
In this case study, I explain how Litemint leveraged the Stellar Network to jump-start a full-featured, decentralized game monetization platform.
The Encumbering Publishing Deal
To start with a bit of background, back in 2016, I was meeting a game publisher partner at the San Francisco Casual Connect conference and we got into a long discussion on the idea of monetizing games with crypto.
In the industry, game developers often look to get a share deal with publishers (along with mainstream distribution platforms like Steam, Facebook…). However, these distribution partners are also acting as payment hubs and furthermore, with the need to engage in content syndication (sub-licensing), they may require some grants of intellectual property rights.
At that time, my publisher was looking at crypto like some new ways to stream revenue from their content. But to me, standing on the other side, it sounded more like an opportunity to break away from that monolithic and centralized payment hub model.
In fact, the point of using crypto—a peer-to-peer technology—just to re-implement that existing model, with one central entity collecting all micro-transaction payments, was somehow questionable.
Solution It became clear that to truly leverage the decentralized nature of crypto payments, to also disengage from the content syndication hindrance, the publishing platform should not be part of the payment equation—and crypto is a perfect technology to achieve that.
The Audience Conundrum
Having previous experience with self-publishing games and directly collecting in-app payments to alleviate the drawbacks mentioned above, I knew this was a time-consuming and intricate experience. Reaching out to the audience is one thing, retaining it is another—a non-trivial task outside of non-mainstream channels.
The sweet myth that a simple buy button on a page would alone be enough to start collecting payments is quickly replaced by another, less attractive, reality.
Even top grossing games like Candy Crush from King only met their full potential after publication on mainstream distribution platforms despite King already being an online publisher with a game portal.
Such mainstream platforms often come with quasi-immutable contracts and custodial payment accounts.
Solution Litemint should address this issue by providing a dedicated publishing platform with retention mechanisms (daily challenges and other social features) while remaining true to the crypto paradigm—combining the best of both worlds.
The Need for Trust
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to partner with Draugiem.lv (the Facebook of Latvia) on a publishing deal. Impressively, despite publishing web games, in-app purchases were the strongest stream from our shared revenue, and by far. Usually advertising revenues come on top for web games. They could achieve such results because 1) Draugiem is a trusted local service and 2) Their users were charged, not online but on their phone bills—keeping an open tab requires trust
Similarly, it is not surprising to see that Kakao Corp content platform is outperforming their advertising revenues. KakaoTalk is the most trusted and dominating social platform on the Korean local market.
Although seamless billing with the local service combo is an impractical solution for most content creator, it shows that when trust is not an issue, online micro-transactions can be used very successfully to monetize content.
Solution By providing users with a non-custodial and open source wallet, promoting self-ownership of funds, combined with strong content curation to favor mainstream adoption, we can emulate this open tab environment that users can feel at home with.
The Crypto Proposition
The strong value proposition of crypto—with its peer-to-peer, cash-like property—would allow a platform to provide decentralized payments from users to content creators.
Subsequently, content syndication would always benefit the creator—no more licensing and complex legal agreements as well as, often debilitating, intellectual property grants.
A content publishing platform powered by decentralized cryptocurrency payments would be able to focus on technology and audience growth.
Onboarding new businesses would be a simple matter of ensuring that the content is suitable to the target audience. KYC requirements would be based on the content that users decide to consume.
If a user wants to insert a coin in a digital pinball machine, KYC would probably not be needed. If other activities require an address for delivery, the choice would remain in the hands of users and they would not be locked out of the entire platform by choosing to not engage with that specific KYC-dependent content.
An Imperfect Ambition
Within the 2016 crypto landscape, there were issues with scalability and speed of blockchain-based networks preventing from making this work.
On my flight back to Korea from San Francisco, I wrote some quick notes about that discussion and the idea of a publishing platform powered by decentralized payments from creators to users.
LITEMINT was picked as the name for that project since the initial idea was to create a dedicated blockchain (MINT) that would be optimized for speed and scalability (LITE). I was not a fan of users having to buy a dedicated MINT token to commerce on the platform so atomic swap-based solutions were also looked at in parallel.
The work on the Litemint blockchain continued, making very little progress as I was also busy with other projects. In 2017, I joined an altcoin project as core dev and quickly thought about involving it but the lack of agnosticism, reliance on a specific currency and ties to speculative markets was a major drawback. Hard to imagine a platform like Google Play locked in a deal with Switzerland to have all its users transacting with the Swiss franc—doesn’t work.
Litemint, as a publishing platform, had to remain fully independent.
Overall, the project was ambitious—probably the reason it took longer to kick-start it but then, Stellar came to my attention.
A Comprehensive Solution
In September 2017, I came across an article about the winners of a build challenge on Stellar. I had never heard of the Stellar network before.
From a quick overview, it was apparent that scalability and speed were strong features of the network. After heading to the Stellar laboratory website and building a few transactions to emulate some key scenarios, it became even more evident that Litemint had found its home.
Not only the Stellar network is fast and currency-agnostic, it also provides a scalable multi-tiered structure which allows for light, cross-platform clients. And its most impressive features, the fast asset issuing process and native decentralized exchange, open up limitless possibilities for content creators.
Issuing assets on the Stellar network is as simple as making a payment transaction and is a great way to implement collectible items for games, discount coupons for apps or anything else. Stellar-based applications can also benefit from path payments to route orders through a series of assets providing innate cross-currency capabilities to all payments on the network.
It would take a few more months to free myself from other activities and focus on the development of Litemint but I could finally commit full-time from July 2018.
After 6 months of development, Litemint was launched officially on Dec 25, 2018 with a Google Play release and has since been released on the App Store, Windows, Linux, Mac, and Web.
The Results (so Far)
With 3 pilot games and 2 apps published to foster the initial community and showcase the platform features, Litemint has now hit past 17,000 mobile installs and is getting ready to open its app platform to third-party developers in Q4 2019.
The development of the eponymous game LITEMINT.IO has started for a release Q4 2019!
Several game studios have already manifested their interest in joining for the launch. If you have a business that provides safe-for-work* apps, games and content, feel free to get in touch.
*In the next article, I will discuss the content publishing policy.
Thanks for reading and keep posted.
Founder at Litemint. Honorable Mention Prize Winner at the 2014 Linux Foundation & Samsung Tizen App Challenge. Co-founder of Israeli-based video game company Massive Games. Founder of award-winning UK-based studio Okijin. Developer with 10+ years of experience working for financial firms BGC Partners and Crédit Lyonnais Bank (Crédit Agricole) in London and Paris.
Born in Korea, raised in France, everyday amazed by splendid hometown, Seoul.