The global crypto community is obsessed with collecting virtual cats, and it’s about to get even more so.
Since the game CryptoKitties was launched in late November, players have spent more than $19 million trading cartoon kittens living on the ethereum network, and so far nearly 50,000 cats have been bred or released, according to CryptoKitties Sales, a third-party data site. At one stage, the game was responsible for nearly 25% of all ethereum transactions, jamming up the blockchain behind the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin.
Now CryptoKitties is about to get a lot bigger as it hits mobile phones in a major market that has been left out of the feline trade until now—China.
A mobile app for CryptoKitties will be launched in the App Store in greater China and Singapore during the coming Lunar New Year that starts Feb. 16, Benny Giang, the game’s co-founder, told Quartz in an interview in Hong Kong. The app will also be available globally within weeks after its China launch, but both release dates have yet to be finalized.
In the game, players can buy and sell digital kittens in a marketplace, and rent them out for breeding or have their own cats breed between themselves. Each cat comes with a specific set of attributes, and the rarest ones can get extremely expensive. So far the most valuable cat in the game changed hands in December for $110,000, according to CryptoKitties Sale.
With more than 250,000 active players, CryptoKitties is currently available only via its website, and playing the game requires an ethereum wallet called MetaMask, which works as an extension for Google’s Chrome browser. Because downloading the extension requires access to the Chrome web store—which is blocked by China’s Great Firewall—Chinese players have mostly been left out of the fun of breeding digital felines. To fill the absence, a couple of CryptoKitties clones have already popped up in the country.
Last week, Axiom Zen, the Vancouver-based developer of CryptoKitties, announced that it had signed an agreement with Hong Kong gaming firm Animoca Brands to distribute the game in China. According to Giang, the CryptoKitties app will include a wallet feature, but it won’t educate users about how to change fiat currencies to ethereum, given China’s crackdown on crypto trading—the country has shut down all domestic crypto exchanges and is reportedly planning to block access to offshore trading platforms. “We want to make sure that we would avoid any potential regulations that may come up,” he says.
The app will be named ”迷恋猫” (mi lian mao) in Chinese, which roughly translates as “Cat Obsession.” The word “迷恋” is a homophone for “密链,” which translates as “encrypted chain” and means “blockchain” in this case.
CryptoKitties is designed to add a new “Gen 0” cat into the game every 15 minutes within the first year of its launch. To celebrate the Lunar New Year, Giang says, all the new cats released during the holiday season will have Chinese backstories. Those will include three special kinds of crypto kitties known as “fancy cats”—including one wearing a lion-dance costume—and an exclusive cat that resembles a golden dragon.
Many have criticized the use of the ethereum blockchain for a game like CryptoKitties because of the network congestion it has caused. The CryptoKitties team has since increased breeding costs as an incentive to attract ethereum miners to process the game’s transactions. The game no longer has the busiest address on the ethereum network, but Giang notes that traffic spikes still happen from time to time.
“With the case of more crypto collectables and crypto games, it’s going to drive a lot more traffic to ethereum, and more attention outside the spectrum of people who are investors and traders to maybe your mom and dad who want to play the games. I think it’s ultimately a good thing for any blockchain,” he says.