The world has gone cat-crazy with the app Neko Atsume (Kitty Collector).

neko atsume screenshot

Like its name suggests, the objective is to collect cats by purchasing various goodies to attract the game’s cats to come and visit.

It’s been such a huge phenomenon that it secured 5.5 million downloads in July 2015 – the number of downloads is now estimated to be closer to 10 million.

How did it achieve such success? Let’s take a look.

1. Universally cute theme and design led to people talking about it

Minus the 1% of the population that for some reason, doesn’t like cats (you evil creatures), almost every human alive would find the cute cat animation irresistible.

neko atsume gif

C’mon, how do you say no to that?

People love sharing cute things to their friends, as seen from the the popularity of Boo and my personal favourite, Chris P Bacon.

Word-of-mouth worked for Neko Atsume in the exact way – people started sharing about this ridiculously cute game, and their friends wanted to get into the action as well.

Which leads to the second point…

____

2. Communities were formed to share information about the game, keeping it in the spotlight

Neko Atsume does require some strategy – certain items attract certain rarer cats, although this is never stated up front. Also, as the original game was in Japanese, people who did not understand the language had to figure out the app’s special features by trial and error.

neko atsume menu

This led to fans of the game coming together to share intel about the best ways to attract certain cats, to trigger certain cats to leave you gifts, to get the most fish (the in game currency) and so on. Subreddits on Neko Atsume have been formed just for this purpose.

These communities and their discussions help to keep Neko Atsume in the spotlight, as well as established a loyal fan base for the game.

____

3. Makers of the game adapted to the growing wants of the community

The game was originally in Japanese, which shows the strength of the simple game design because many people from all over the world still managed to figure out the controls.

However, to cater to the new international fanbase, they released a version in English soon after.

Neko atsume english

This was hardly the only change they made to the game – the developers often released new cats, new items and even seasonal items during special festivals like Christmas.

What if you prefer dogs over cats? No problem, because now there’s Boku to Wanko (My doggies and I), basically a neko atsume for dog lovers. Made by the same producers, the mechanics are extremely similar, leading to most lovers of Neko Atsume also downloading Boku to Wanko to try to collect them all!

boku to wanko

These constant adaptations kept the game relevant, fun and sustainable, leading to the app being featured on many best-of lists of 2015.

____

4. Stand-out Characters give the game pop cultural relevance 

One of the most prominent characters is Manzoku-san (Satisfaction), or Tubbs, a fat cat that will eat finish the entire bowl of cat kibble, but will give you tons of fish in return…sometimes.

tubbs neko atsume

Fan merch, memes and even pseudo-academic theories have been made about this character, as some fans argue that he is representative of the pleasure from the mindless consumption that drives capitalism.

A quote from Matt Cornell who’s pursuing a PhD in cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam:

While Neko Atsume purports to simulate the ineffable pleasures of cat ownership, its true draw is the power to manage a free market, while indulging in a fantasy of unfettered surveillance.

Yeah, kind of deep for a game about the cats.

Nevertheless, in-spite of the needless imposition of political theory on cats, one thing these discussions do is to secure Neko Atsume’s name within pop culture, making sure that it’s a game that will remain relevant in the near future.

____

That wasn’t too much of a Catastrophe, was it? Here are 4 key lessons to keep meowing about:

  1. Universally appealing premise
  2. Gather a community to keep loyal fans and discussion alive
  3. Adapt to your customer’s wants
  4. Make characters that your fans will keep talking about.