It had all started with me getting bored.
For several years already I had spent most of my spare time contributing code to Monero, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin built by a large community of open-source developers. It had been fun, but over the years less and less interesting work had been left to do as the project matured, and like many other contributors I was basically running out of things that I could help improve.
So what do with all my skills regarding Monero, all the knowledge that I had amassed over those years regarding the cryptocurrency, its properties, its dev community, its users? One fateful day an idea sprang up in my mind: I wanted to get rich, and I would use Monero to achieve that.
Of course there were already quite a number of cryptocurrency millionaires around that had been lucky to get their timing right to buy low and sell very high, but that was out of question for me: Taking too long, probability of success too low, and too boring anyway. I had a better plan.
Step 1 in my "Getting rich with Monero" project: Obtain some working capital that unfortunately I did not have myself by getting my rich friend Alvin on board.
Alvin and I were sitting together in front of my notebook where I had just started the Monero daemon, the program needed to connect to the net of thousands of copies of that program running world-wide that together were processing payments in Monero, called transactions, and recording them in the blockchain, the always-growing eternal Monero ledger.
"We are now connected to the so-called mainnet", I explained to him, "so to say the realm of the normal Monero coins, currency code XMR, where each one is worth several hundred dollars. Now look: I restart the exact same program, all I change is some startup parameter that tells it to connect to stagenet instead of mainnet. Stagenet is a second, completely separate network, with its own distinct blockchain and thus a different kind of coin. Let's call those coins Stageneros."
"This extra network is mainly there for testing new software that handles Monero without endangering mainnet and without incurring costs" I explained.
"And?" Alvin was looking at me expectantly. "And Stageneros, despite no technical differences whatsoever, are completely worthless."
"Says who?" "Well, says the community of all Monero users. There is perfect consensus that the value of each single mainnet coin is about that of half an ounce of gold, whereas Stageneros are worth nothing. Zero. Nada."
Alvin let that sink in. "Hmm. Really remarkable. Obviously people are able to reach consensus about the strangest things. But tell me now, where does your plan to get rich fit in here? Did you find a way to turn Stageneros into true Monero coins, like those alchemists turning lead into gold?"
I had to laugh. "No, of course not. That's impossible. But I think the two of us together will be able to shatter the consensus."
"You mean you will convince people that Stageneros are not worthless after all?" "Exactly." "And of course you will start to do so after amassing as many of them as you can?" I smiled. "Yes."
A few weeks later Monero devs scratched their heads while watching the so-called difficulty on stagenet growing to heights that had never occurred before. In most cryptocurrencies miners compete against each other by their computers trying to solve some complicated mathematical riddle, and who solves the current riddle first is allowed to add the next block to the blockchain and pocket the handsome reward that is connected with that. The more miners compete, the higher the difficulty, and the harder to find a block.
Alvin had paid for around 500 computers that all mined now full-speed on stagenet. That made almost all block rewards falling into our hands, and it established a level of security on that network that was a precondition for people trusting it to transact should they finally consider Stageneros valuable.
Those mined Stageneros were nice but of course not nearly enough to get really rich later on, so I switched to step 2 of my master plan and made a posting in the Monero subreddit, the most popular online forum for fans and users of the cryptocurrency, using a brand-new account to hide:
People! I need your help. I am afraid I have identified a serious bug in the Monero codebase that hackers could exploit to create coins "out of thin air" which of course is a grave danger for our coin, given that transactions are fully anonymous and we will never be able to catch those hackers and find out how many fake coins they created.
Trouble is: To check whether the bug is real I need massive amounts of coins under my control, for creating lots of different transactions and see which ones actually trigger the bug. After that I will hand over all info to the Monero devs, and they will be able to fix the bug easily.
How can you help? By sending me all your stagenet coins! The more of those I hold the easier it will be for me to trigger and then document the problem. That's your chance to finally use all those worthless coins for something positive. Transfer them to the following stagenet address:
Help save Monero! Thank you.
A few days after that posting I visited Alvin again for some briefing. Things had not turned out too well. People where quite skeptical about that mystery bug, and the donated Stageneros were coming in, but not in the amounts I had hoped for.
And it seemed we had some copycat on our heels. There existed yet another Monero network called testnet, also with worthless coins and more complicated to connect to, as it often ran on not-yet-public beta versions of Monero daemons, but otherwise open for the same stunt as I was trying to pull through.
Guess what, suddenly several hundred new miners had appeared on that network, and there was a Reddit post asking for testnet coin donations as well: Somebody wanted to organize a "stress test" and check how well a Monero network functioned under a very high load of several hundred transactions per minute, needing - as the story went - many, many coins for doing so.
"I like their story more" Alvin told me when I arrived at his house. "And people seem to agree: Looking at the number of transactions on testnet now I see more people responding to that call than yours." I had to grudgingly agree. "Yeah, unfortunately people are quite skeptical about that bug and don't like mystery-mongering anyway, whereas they are positively enthusiastic about a stress test on testnet ..."
"But we don't care about those free-riders, do we? We switch to step 3 nevertheless?" asked Alvin. I nodded.
About a week later the Monero subreddit was full of chatter about three cryptocurrency exchanges starting to support a new coin for trading under a symbol of XMRS, which were of course nothing other than Monero stagenet coins.
Almost all major cryptocurrencies had separate extra networks running for testing purposes, not only Monero, but none of the corresponding coins had ever been listed on a public exchange. Alvin had to bribe them into doing so by paying a handsome amount of good old US dollars.
Alvin also was behind the first handful of trading accounts on all three exchanges that offered to buy XMRS by paying 0.0001 XMR per coin in exchange. People could hardly believe what they saw and first mostly stayed on the sidelines in bewilderment, but after more and more trades went through and people were also allowed to withdraw their newly acquired XMR, the market started to take off: Other buyers surfaced, and the XMRS price slowly rose.
Which was nice because the whole endeavor started to get expensive, and without substantial volume in the market we would not be able to sell our massive amount of Stageneros back with a win. But I saw us on the road to success: Stageneros did have value now after all, and speculators would drive the price up in the manner that cryptocurrencies were famous for.
Dear Monero Reddit community! After working towards this day for months, today we very proudly announce monero-testnet-casino.com. It's the best thing happening to Monero for a long time!
Check it out, we have it all: Roll the Dice. Wheel of Fortune. Plinko. You say there are already many such sites? Right, but on our site you don't need to bet with real and costly mainnet Monero: As the domain name already says you use testnet coins (XMRT) to play.
What's the point in this you ask, as testnet coins are worthless? We are glad you ask: To promote our brand-new site until further notice we pay out any wins in real, hard XMR at a rate of 0.0001 per XMRT!
And to those who think that this definitely sounds to good to be true: If you can try out for free whether we really pay out in XMR, and even have some fun with our games while doing so, what is there to loose?
So head over to monero-testnet-casino.com and try you luck!
When I next visited Alvin I found him in a bad mood. No wonder: With that gaming website our testnet competition had found a much better way to kick-start trade with their coins. A respected Monero dev had put up a site where people could trade between testnet coins and XMR in order to play, and it was so successful that it seemed only a question of time before some "real" exchanges would follow, especially as the precedence was already set with our XMRS listings that we had to pay dearly for.
"You know, there is only so much attention to get, and only so much free capital to suck up" said Alvin to me in a somewhat accusing tone. "That gaming website really starts to steal our show." I kept quiet, not knowing what to reply.
"And see here: They even establish a new name for testnet coins that is better than our cobbled-together Stagenero. They call them Moneretoj." When I only stared at him, not understanding what he meant, he explained: "They stay true to the Esperanto theme of Monero. Moneretoj is correct Esperanto, meaning little coins."
"Yeah nice" I mumbled. "Never mind" said Alvin. "What is your step 4 on our way to riches? You do have a step 4, don't you?" I only silently shook my head.
Soon after this the testnet gang played their next card. A custom version of the Monero daemon had surfaced, and the anonymous creators wrote that it corrected that catastrophic "coins out of thin air" bug that I myself had originally posted about to get people to send me their Stageneros.
That must have been from a page right out of some martial arts instruction book: Use the power of your opponents against themselves.
But this was not all: A carefully planted rumor started to circulate that the Monero mainnet blockchain was essentially a lost case, with the bug impossible to correct there, and that this daemon implemented a secret function for big holders of XMR to directly swap their coins over into the testnet blockchain: Evacuate to testnet, so to speak.
And there were a lot of little details that somehow seemed to support this wild story and made it more believable. It turned out that the mysterious modified daemon connected to both mainnet and testnet at the same time, for example.
Soon the exchange rate of XMRT versus XMR started to explode as more and more people believed the rumors and wanted out of XMR, just in case, with interest in XMRS dropping even harder: Who knew, if the mainnet blockchain was broken beyond repair, maybe the stagenet one was as well?
Alvin had called me to his house for project conclusion and final financial settlement. The party was truly over; the Monero core dev team had arranged an emergency release of the official Monero software that restarted both the stagenet and testnet blockchains from zero, forging new genesis blocks, with all earlier Stageneros and Moneretoj going up in smoke as a consequence.
"700 dollars? 700 lousy bucks? Are you serious?" I shouted in anger when Alvin handed me my share of the spoils. "Yes" he answered calmly. "You are lucky that we broke even at all. Remember, we had a lot of expenses, for all those mining computers, for bribing the exchanges to list us, and for kick-starting trading there."
"And now for a confession." He looked straight at me. "Don't take it personally, it was just good business sense for me not to bet all my money on a single horse. That testnet team, that was also me. Me together with another Monero dev."
"You bloody bastard! How could you? The whole scheme was my idea. My idea, understand?"
"Yes, of course. But you should know how the saying goes: It's not about the idea, it's about its execution. And I have to say, your fellow Monero dev executed a lot better. Ah, here he comes, to pick me up and drive me to our big project-end party. Bye, and better luck next time!"
A brand-new Lamborghini Aventador had arrived and was waiting now in the court in front of the house. I could not see the driver, but was able to read the plate number: XMRT 1.