A week ago, the first round of the FOMO3D "long game" seemed like it may never end. In fact, it seemed like it may have been designed to never end. But early Wednesday morning, Team JUST, the group that created the game, announced on Twitter that round one of the game had concluded, and a 10,469 Ether jackpot had been awarded. A Twitter account apparently linked to the winner replied, thanking the team.
The basics of the Ethereum-based gambling app are simple: a clock starts with 24 hours on it. It counts down. Players buy "keys." Each purchase increases the size of the pot and adds a small amount of time to the clock. When the clock reaches zero, whoever made the last purchase wins the pot (or actually 48 percent of the pot – that's where the game gets complicated). In the months the game had been running, the clock repeatedly dipped down to under a couple minutes. But there was always another purchase made. There was always someone else willing to commit a little more money for the chance to win millions. It seemed like, at least until Wednesday's announcement, there always would be.
It wasn't surprising, then, that immediately after the winner was announced there were accusations of impropriety.
Responding in the same thread in which the winner was announced, one Twitter user posted:
"Since the game ended due to a miner censoring a block, does this mean ETH was just sucessfully [sic] 51pct attacked?"
Team JUST responded with:
"Huh? As far as we could see the winner wasted a ton of ETH and time for weeks to try to buy a complete block all for xirself. Can you elaborate?"
The user then told Team JUST he was "keen to hear any insight into how the game ended when plenty bots pointing at the contract to auto buy keys when timer is low."
That does seem like a good question. With both humans and bots buying keys when the timer got below a few minutes, how would the game ever end? Also, there seemed to be plenty of time between the purchase of the last key and the payout of the jackpot – more than 15 minutes, in fact.
The jackpot was paid in block 6191962. The winning address had bought their last key in block 6191896. What happened in between, during the course of 65 blocks and about 16 minutes, does look a little odd.
In the block immediately following the winning bid, there were 103 transactions, two-thirds of which failed to go through. All of these failed transactions had a high gas limit, 210,000. After that, blocks continued to regularly have failed transactions, and these failed transactions always had extremely high gas limits, almost always in the millions.
For blocks 6191903 through 6191908, for example, there were a total of 28 transactions, but only nine were successfully processed. Most of these failed transactions had gas limits between 1.8 million and 4.8 million.
It would appear that someone was sending transactions through that had no real purpose other than tying up the network. Since such high gas limits were offered, they would get mined first and prevent other players from purchasing keys.
On Discord, Team JUST responded to the concerns that something unethical had occurred:
"[P]layers have decided round #1 was 'stolen' or 'hacked' or that someone 'cheated.' This is laughably false, and the reality of what occurred is actually so brilliant that although you already wish you had thought of it yourself [sic]."
According to its statement, the winning player had spent weeks analyzing how bots were playing the game, and was then able to create a strategy to beat them at their own attempts to lock out other players:
"Most the bots use various eth gas APIs, which report the averages, or the fast gas prices per block. But don't correct very quickly to large gas spikes or individual transactions. They figured this out, analyzed it, and formatted a method to trick both the 'Fast' gas prices and the 'standard' gas prices the bots were using on the network to lock them out of the final win."
They add that this was one of the "absolutely coolest" ways someone could have won, but claimed it won't happen again because "the botters will now know how they lost and fix it."
This explanation tracks with our analysis – that someone bought up the space in a lot of blocks by overpaying for gas – though it's not clear how Team JUST concluded that these high gas transactions were made by the jackpot winner, since the transactions did not originate from the same address.
So the game wasn't "hacked," or at least not exactly, and there is no rule against players preventing their opponents from placing bids. The way this round of FOMO3D ended really couldn't have been more fitting. In pointing out the danger and stupidity of ICOs, the "get rich quick" mentality, and the widespread amorality, the team behind FOMO3D has created an elaborate satire of crypto culture, a culture in which there is often no clear distinction between "cheating" and "playing the game."
At the outset, there was a low level of concern that FOMO3D might threaten the Ethereum network. Though Ethereum hasn't been destroyed, there is still reason for concern. One person playing a game was just paid the equivalent of millions of dollars because they were able to make the Ethereum blockchain not work.
And with what players have now learned, they'll probably be even better at shutting it down in round two. The pot currently stands at over 6,700 ether.