The Azure Heroes program uses non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to recognize and reward the inclusive behavior and contributions of the Microsoft technical community.
In December 2019, Microsoft announced Azure Heroes, a new digital badge rewards program utilizing blockchain technology. The program delivered limited-edition badges to 6,400 unique recipients. Beyond the metrics, the Microsoft team was thrilled by the deep and sustainable engagement they witnessed in their developer community. Taking this partnership forward, we are delighted to collaborate with Microsoft on the occasion of 6th International Day of Women and Girls in Science, with the Azure Space Mystery game—an educational initiative that awards special-edition digital badges powered by the Enjin Platform.
With an active, growing developer community, the Microsoft Azure team was seeking a unique way to meaningfully engage with and recognize Azure practitioners for their contributions.
To do this, they needed the capability to offer something authentic and provably limited.
From these conversations, the idea of Azure Heroes was born—a form of provable social currency that would incentivize learning and encourage positive behaviors in Azure developer communities.
The core concept of the program was simple: do good work, earn a digital badge.
These badges—style as badgers—are issued as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) via the Enjin Platform.
By creating blockchain-based badges, Microsoft is able to recognize the Azure developer community with verifiably scarce and publicly-visible rewards, giving deeper value to their contributions. The program recognizes achievements across categories such as inclusive leadership, open-source contributions, mentorship, content creation, green development, and more.
Since its initial launch as a pilot program in Western Europe, Azure Heroes has expanded globally, being used by Microsoft for various conferences, meetups, and initiatives, such as Microsoft Ignite, Create: Frontend, Create: Serverless, Hacktoberfest, and GreenConf.
Today, we are proud to collaborate with Microsoft on the next initiative utilizing Azure Heroes: the Azure Space Mystery, an interactive educational game that rewards participants with special-edition NFTs that can also be used in the beloved game Minecraft.
Innovation, diversity, and inclusion are core Microsoft values.
Today, the 6th International Day of Women & Girls in Science, the Azure Advocates and Community Advocacy teams are launching an initiative that combines these values with cutting-edge technology.
The Azure Space Mystery is an interactive, educational space exploration game that challenges participants to test their technical skills and solve code challenges utilizing the Microsoft Learn platform.
Building on the success of previous Azure Mystery games (Maya Mystery and Mystery Mansion), Space Mystery sends participants on a mission to save the International Space Station (ISS), getting help from prominent European female scientists along the way.
Upon completing the challenge, participants will receive an Enjin Beam QR code that delivers a custom Learner Badger NFT from the Azure Heroes collection.
While the Learner NFTs have infinite supply, the tokens received during this event will feature custom art that will never be available again.
This is made possible by a new special-edition token variant feature developed by Enjin, which allows Microsoft to create unique token art within the core Azure Heroes collection, without having to create new tokens for each event.
Not only do the Learner NFTs serve as a reward for completing the mission, they also provide a connection to the beloved world of Minecraft.
Upon completing the Azure Space Mystery, participants can take their Learner badge to the MyMetaverse Minecraft network, where they will have access to a sequel quest and an exclusive Heroes Hangout for Azure Heroes members, joined by famous scientists featured in the Space Mystery.
“Enjin’s platform powers innovative projects across the gaming and wider blockchain ecosystem. Our collaboration has allowed Microsoft Azure to integrate cutting-edge technology with educational tools and recognize the contributions of our developer communities around the world.”
— Sherry List, Microsoft Azure Developer Engagement Lead
This cross-game functionality is enabled by EnjinCraft, a Minecraft plugin that enables players to integrate blockchain-based assets into their servers.
Today, the plugin has been upgraded to support both fungible tokens and NFTs, allowing Microsoft's Azure Heroes to be integrated into Minecraft for the first time.
"We needed a programmatic way for multiple teams to be able to create, manage, and distribute assets to potentially thousands of end-users."
At its core, the Azure Heroes program is built on the Enjin Platform, a software-as-a-service that allows Microsoft to mint NFTs via a simple web interface.
To date, over 32,000 badges have been created under the Azure Heroes collection.
Verifiable proof was a key reason the Microsoft team decided to utilize blockchain for Azure Heroes.
To provide a seamless experience for searching and verifying the authenticity and scarcity of badges, we created a custom, Microsoft-branded version of our blockchain explorer: microsoft.enjinx.io
With solutions for creation and verification, distribution was the next hurdle. How would Microsoft get their badgers in the hands of nominees and event attendees?
Enjin Beam, a QR-powered blockchain distribution service, allows Microsoft to distribute all of their NFTs for both individual nominations and large-scale events with thousands of attendees.
"We’re able to offer a rewarding token distribution and acquisition experience for Azure Heroes that end-users can participate in, while enjoying all the benefits of blockchain without the added complexity."
— Sherry List
Like the Enjin Platform, Beam QR codes are generated via a simple web interface with just a few clicks.
In a community-driven program, Microsoft needed a way to represent and connect their global communities of Azure Heroes program members, while encouraging new nominations and participation.
The Azure Heroes Showcase provides a visual representation of badges claimed in countries across the world.
To join the Showcase, users can opt-in by linking a social profile (LinkedIn or Twitter) and connecting the Enjin Wallet app where their badgers are stored.
"I’m thrilled to have received these recognitions! The #AzureHeroes badge in the category of Inclusive Leadership arrived in my inbox while I was volunteering in Vietnam. I was teaching at an orphanage for children with disabilities, so receiving this badge for Inclusive Leadership at that particular time really meant a lot to me. Receiving this badge, feels as a recognition, as well as motivation for my future activities."
— Isidora Katanić, Voices of Azure
Swag is frequently used by the Azure team at events, conferences, and meetups.
In the midst of a global pandemic where virtual events have become the norm, how would Microsoft continue to rewards their communities with physical swag?
"Reveal Codes"—codes embedded within NFTs—allowed Microsoft to give away holiday gift packages to members of the developer community.
Using a newly minted "Courier Badger," the team randomly selected members of the community from the Showcase Page, sending them NFTs that could be directly redeemed online for a gift box.
As a core value of Microsoft, inclusivity was important to consider in both the badger design process and program as a whole.
Alternate designs were created for a variety of tokens, with an in-app customization feature developed. This allows users to select the badger that best reflects their personal identity, right from their Enjin Wallet.
The Enjin Wallet serves as a digital backpack for Azure Heroes, allowing users to safely store and manage their badgers.
To tailor and improve the user experience for Microsoft, we added a Showcase page button, so users could link up right through their wallet. We also implemented pending token status to ensure users see their assets in the app immediately, even before the transaction has processed on the blockchain.
For community members who receive multiple badgers from the Azure Heroes collection, Microsoft sought an automated way to provide them with additional benefits at events, such as swag or tickets.
We developed a "Proof of Token" system that allow users to prove their ownership of certain NFTs by scanning a "Proof" QR in the Enjin Wallet.
Event organizers simple select the assets required for a particular benefit and generate an associated QR code via a web interface. Upon scanning the Proof QR, a user's inventory is automatically verified, so the event organizer can provide them tickets, merchandise, etc. based on the NFTs they have acquired.
Drawing on the success and lessons learned through our ongoing work with Azure Heroes, we are building a full-service stack that will allow enterprise clients like Microsoft to rapidly create and deploy their own token economies.
By providing the tools and services needed to easily harness this technology, our goal is to help organizations find innovative new opportunities for marketing and community engagement, as well improve customer retention and acquisition tactics.
If you're interested in exploring similar opportunities and solutions for your own enterprise or project, we'd love to learn more about it and invite you to get in touch.