Neko Atsume & The Cult of Collecting Cats

By: Averie Timm, Copywriter

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“Look! Look! There’s a cat in my yard with a plastic bag on its head!”

I’m busy collecting a variety of cats in exchange for silver and gold fishes. My yard is currently filled to the brim with cats, tabbies — Tabitha and Fred, among others — black cats, white cats, and one “rare” cat, Joe DiMeowgio. Tabitha is the one with the bag on her head. Mr. DiMeowgio is, of course, playing with the baseball I bought for him.

Neko Atsume has transformed our entire Carrot LA office into crazy cat ladies (and lads).

Translated from Japanese, Neko Atsume literally means “Cat Collection.” The single-player app developed by Japanese company Hit-Point (for iOS and Android) offers a simple, gamified experience: provide food and toys, and cats will visit your yard. The more toys, shelter, knickknacks, and food you leave for them, the more they visit. When they visit your yard, they gift you silver and gold fishes in exchange. This is the form of currency in Neko Atsume land. I strategically hoard my fish until I can make a big purchase, like a yard extension or home remodel.

I’m not usually one to play mobile games, but Neko Atsume has become an exception. A very addictive exception. As of December 2015, the game had accumulated 10 million downloads, according to the game’s Twitter account. That’s an 82% growth rate in eight months, and the largest demographic of users tends to be just like me: mid-20s, female. While the game’s popularity started in Japan, it quickly caught on elsewhere with 40% of downloads now coming from outside Japan.

But what is it about Neko Atsume that makes it not only popular, but long-lasting? Unlike a Tamagotchi, the digital pets in Neko Atsume aren’t overly demanding of time. If you forget to feed them, they don’t die. The cats are equally reciprocal to your efforts. So, if you put out toys and food, they give you gold and silver fish (which allow you to buy them more toys, and more food).

The game also has an uncanny way of convincing you that it’s going on without you. At any moment the app is open, a different scenario of cats is likely to be present. The cats come and go at their leisure, inspiring the user to come back time and time again to witness different cats, interacting with the scene in different ways. Both the cats and the space they inhabit feels real, tangible, and alive because of this.

Marketers could benefit by learning from the simplicity of Neko Astume’s mechanics. The need to create products, campaigns, and content that are unique often inhibits us from distilling our ideas into ones that reap uncomplicated benefits. There’s no “catch” to Neko Atsume. A five-year-old could play and appreciate it as easily as I could, or my mom could. Because of its undemanding nature, my willingness to take it as it is allows me to appreciate it more. This, combined with the game’s adorable aesthetic, keeps me coming back to the app again and again.

So far, the only advertising that exists in the game is in the form of small banners at the bottom of the screen and the occasional pop up. There’s certainly an opportunity for a more creative partnership on the platform, such as enabling advertisers or users to personalize and publish objects to purchase within the app. Or better yet, customize the cats.

Will I lose interest in time, once I’ve “collected” all of the rare cats as well as all the various remodels for my “home”? Possibly. Until then, I’m still excited about the prospect of witnessing Lady Meow-Meow.

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@Carrot is a full-service digital agency.

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