When Jack Everitt got ready to attend the Lightning Conference, his first ever Bitcoin conference, in October of 2019, he didn't want to show up empty-handed. In hopes of using it as an ice breaker to get to know like-minded HODLers, he put together a demo for a Bitcoin game and took it to the event in Berlin—and indeed, his game was met with excitement by other attendees, inspiring him to take his prototype to the next level and make it available for everyone to play.
A little over a year later, the game is known amongst a growing audience of mobile game fans as Bitcoin Bounce—developed by THNDR GAMES, the startup Jack brought to life after his trip to the Lightning Conference.
When the BTC Times spoke with Jack in mid-December, THNDR GAMES counted around 88,000 aggregate downloads for Bitcoin Bounce and its second game Turbo 84. Less than a month later, the startup has hit over 100,000 downloads. A considerable number for a young company serving a market that is considered relatively niche, as Bitcoin-related games are primarily played by bitcoiners. Yet also an indicator that the Bitcoin gaming sector is seeing accelerated growth.
THNDR GAMES isn't Jack's first venture into gaming; since 2011, he has been running a mobile games company called Firezoo together with developer Tim Edwards, who also works with him on his new startup. Yet his encounters at and impressions of the Lightning Conference led Jack to pursue the fusion of Bitcoin and gaming, he said back in December:
I could see the potential for the Lightning Network to be used for rewarding players with micro-prizes to keep them engaged and entertained. So I started THNDR GAMES to hopefully be at the start of something new and exciting.
In Bitcoin Bounce, players travel along a virtual blockchain on their mission to collect tickets, while Turbo 84, which is currently in beta, requires players to collect tickets while avoiding obstacles on a race track by rapidly changing lanes. The tickets can be used to enter daily raffles for satoshis, or sats, the smallest unit of a bitcoin; the more tickets a player collects in a day, the better their chances of winning. The raffle system was born out of necessity:
"Since it is very easy for someone to crack a game, having Bitcoin directly tied to the gameplay is a very difficult technical challenge, which ultimately leads to having to run a game server that processes all game interactions," Jack told the BTC Times. As the cost and overhead required for such a server was beyond his means at the time, he opted for the daily prize draws. Turbo 84 additionally features a "Daily Spin" that promises an additional chance to get lucky and win sats.
That most payouts are within the lower range of a few cents or dollars doesn't seem to bother THNDR GAMES' growing user base. In 2020, the startup facilitated over 200,000 payouts via the Lightning Network, which players use to withdraw their prizes. With the small financial incentive added to the gaming experience, THNDR GAMES targets beginners looking to discover Bitcoin and Lightning through a playful approach. It's also "a fun way for bitcoiners to show their friends and family how to stack sats," Jack added.
The money for payouts comes from in-game ad placements, which THNDR GAMES sells on an open market. "Advertisers bid on our inventory in real-time to have their ads placed in the games. We also sell in-game products such as upgrades and skins. A portion of this revenue is then fed back into the games as prize money."
At the same time, the startup values the support it is receiving from others who are working on Lightning-related projects. While building their own services and startups, entrepreneurs and developers in this sector are also, to an extent, starting up the ecosystem surrounding the Lightning Network itself. As such, "everyone is willing to support each other," Jack shared. THNDR GAMES is doing its part as well: "we started giving away free ads in our games to Bitcoin projects that want them, as long as they are startups with no investment."
While THNDR GAMES kicked off the year with great growth numbers, Jack has a lot more planned for his startup—starting with more mobile games. "We're to ramp up development to a new mobile game every quarter."
Web support is in the pipeline as well, although the driving force behind the plan is less joyful. After spending a good part of the last year trying to get various versions of their Bitcoin games into Apple's App Store, Jack has been met primarily with rejection. By providing web games, the startup will have more freedom to express its ideas, he said, "rather than having to comply with the App Store's tight-rope rules and regulations."
In 2021, everything at THNDR GAMES is geared towards refining the business model and scaling up to accommodate more users. Jack is convinced that the coming year will see further growth in the Lightning and Lightning games community, which will eventually bring esports and tournaments to the space. In a few years' time, "we will see a few big commercial hits, obviously coinciding with a Bitcoin bull run and the interest that will bring."
THNDR GAMES wants to be at the forefront of this movement and bring the masses to Lightning. If its recent growth rate is any indicator, the young startup is set up for a bright future.