NEW YORK (AP) — The virtual cat hero of new video game sensation “Stray” doesn’t just slide down rusty pipes, jump over unidentified mud and decode clues in a seemingly abandoned city. The bold orange tabby cat is also giving cats a helping hand in the real world.
Thanks to online fundraising platforms, gamers play “Stray” while streaming live for the public to raise money for animal shelters and other cat-related charities. Annapurna Interactive, the game’s publisher, also promoted “Stray” by offering two cat rescue and adoption agencies raffle copies of the game to rent a cat cafe in New York.
Livestreaming the game for charity isn’t new, but the resonance “Stray” quickly found among cat lovers is unusual. It was the fourth most viewed and streamed game on its launch day on Twitch, the streaming platform said.
Viewers watch as players lead the adventurous feline through a aging industrial landscape doing normal cat stuff—balancing on railings, walking on keyboards, and knocking things off shelves—to solve puzzles and evade enemies.
About 80% of the game’s development team are “cat owners and cat lovers” and a real-life orange stray dog, as well as his own cats, helped inspire the game, a creator said.
“I certainly hope that maybe some people will be inspired to help real strays in real life, knowing that having an animal and a companion is a responsibility,” said producer Swann Martin-Raget of game studio BlueTwelve in Montpellier, in the south of France. .
When Annapurna Interactive reached out to the Nebraska Humane Society for a partnership ahead of the game’s release on July 19, they jumped at the chance, said marketer Brendan Gepson.
“The whole game, and the whole culture around the game, is about the love of cats,” Gepson said. “It meshed really well with the shelter and our mission.”
The shelter obtained four copies of the game to give away and solicited $5 donations to be entered into a raffle to win one. Within a week, they raised $7,000, Gepson said, and the vast majority of the 550 donors were new to them, including people donating from Germany and Malta. The company also donated $1,035 to the shelter.
“It was really win-win for both parties,” Gepson said. “They got really good public relations and we got a whole new donor base.”
Annapurna also bought Meow Parlour, the New York cat adoption agency and cafe, for a weekend, as well as donating $1,000. Visitors who made reservations could purchase “Stray”-themed merchandise and play for 20 minutes surrounded by cats. (The game also captivates cats, videos in the social media program).
Jeff Legaspi, director of marketing at Annapurna Interactive, said it made sense that the game’s release would have a “positive impact and hopefully create more awareness about adopting and not buying a new pet.”
Annapurna declined to reveal sales or download figures for the game, which is available on PlayStation and the Steam platform. However, according to Steam monitor SteamDB, “Stray” has been the number 1 game bought during the last two weeks.
North Shore Animal League America, which rescues tens of thousands of animals each year, said it hadn’t seen any increase in game traffic but received more than $800 from one player..
In a happy coincidence, the shelter had just created a profile on the Tiltify platform, which allows nonprofits to receive donations from video streams, the week the game launched. The player funneled donations into the shelter, breaking her initial goal of $200.
“We see Tiltify and live streaming as a whole new way to engage a completely different audience,” said Carol Marchesano, senior director of digital marketing for the rescue. However, organizations typically need to reach out to online personalities to coordinate live broadcasts, which can be a lot of work, she said.
About nine campaigns on Tiltify mention the game “Stray,” said company CEO Michael Wasserman. JustGiving, which also facilitates charity live streams, said it identified two campaigns with the game.
For his part, Gepson from Nebraska reached out to an Omaha resident who goes by the name TreyDay1014 online to host a charity livestream. Trey, who asked that his last name not be used, has two cats, one of which he adopted from the shelter.
Last week, he narrated to viewers watching live on the Twitch platform while her feline character slapped another cat’s tail and danced along the railings.
“If I found out my cat was outside doing this, I’d be mad,” Trey said, as his character jumped a dangerous distance. Moments later, a rusty pipe snapped, sending the tabby hurtling into the darkness.
“That’s a poor baby,” Trey said darkly, “but we’re fine.”
A $25 donation followed the fall, bringing the amount Trey raised for the Nebraska shelter to more than $100 in about 30 minutes. At the end of the four and a half hours of play, donations totaled $1,500. His goal had been to raise $200.
“This has opened my eyes to being able to use this platform for so much more than just playing video games,” said Trey.
AP business writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.
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