Kittens and Crypto: Vancouver’s Axiom Zen is Behind a Viral Ethereum Video Game

It’s the perfect mix of decentralized currency and adorable purring fluff balls.

CryptoKitties is the world’s first video game built on the Ethereum network, allowing players to collect and breed digital cats while using ether (a cryptocurrency) as the main transaction currency. The game was created by Axiom Zen, a venture studio based in Vancouver that has spearheaded projects like ZenHub and Timeline.

The game is blowing up right now as new players and blockchain enthusiasts alike hop onto the bandwagon, raising and trading the online pets for real cryptocurrency—almost like a version of Neopets that makes real money instead of computer points worth their weight in braggadocio.

Since launching on November 28, there has been close to $3 million USD worth of ether sold on CryptoKitties. This is a huge amount in such a short time, especially for a game rooted in Ethereum. For a comparison, the mega-popular Clash of Clans mobile app pulled in over $5 million per day during the height of its popularity, without the added barrier of cryptocurrency. The most expensive kittens sold cost over $80,000.

Players interact with the game via their own Ethereum address, and it gives newcomers to the blockchain space a soft entry into interactions with cryptocurrency. Players buy some ether, head to the CryptoKitties site and start buying, selling and breeding cats. At one point over 15 per cent of all Ethereum network traffic was dedicated to the game, which is nearly double the next closest trafficker. This is causing problems for the game as transactions are taking longer than normal and clogging the entire Ethereum network.

Kittens on the game have specific traits that can be bred, including stripes, whiskers, and even the background colour of the picture. There is no “rare” sequencer in the game, meaning cats that sell for higher are entirely based on how the community values them. Right now, kittens with gold backgrounds sell for more than others.

“The CryptoKitties economy is entirely decentralized and impossible for the development team to manipulate,” says Dieter Shirley, CryptoKitties’ technical architect. “Anyone on the team with knowledge of the breeding algorithm is prohibited from playing.”

The game is unique in the sense that all the kittens in the game are actually owned by players, as they exist on the Ethereum blockchain and not within the game itself. If the game were to shut down players would still own the ether the cats represented.

Axiom took commission on the first 100 kittens sold, as well as the newly generated kittens that pop up every 15 minutes. The company also takes a 3.75 per cent fee for all auctions or breeding transactions.

There’s a chance that CryptoKitties is just a fad and dies down almost as quickly as it gained popularity, but Axiom is in it for at least a year as they have planned product improvements for the next 365 days. These were slated to happen despite any hype around the game, which means all the publicity is definitely a boon for them.

CryptoKitties launched their alpha at ETHWaterloo, a Waterloo hackathon dedicated to Ethereum software. The winner at ETHWaterloo was Rufflet, a smart contract tool designed to help understand and navigate CryptoKitties more precisely than any other offering on the market. It was designed by several Axiom team members.

“The reaction to CryptoKitties in Waterloo was incredibly validating,” says Benny Giang, CryptoKitties’ head of community. “We helped crypto newcomers set up a MetaMask wallet, call a function on our smart contract, and come out of the other end being super enthusiastic about everything blockchain.”

The game was designed to be a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to traditional ICO approaches, instead looking to develop a sustainable revenue model that will survive. By making the game easy to access for many users, Axiom can pay attention to common consumers in ways many companies launching ICOs avoid.