There’s a reason why animals, or domesticated animals in particular, are known as man’s best friend since the dawn of civilization. For example, dogs were the first animals to be domesticated by humans, with evidence of domesticated dogs dating back around 15,000 years ago. They were trained to perform specific activities that aid in increasing survival, and helped guard our homes against intruders or enemies in different forms. They were also trusty companions during hunting expeditions to track and find game, thus bringing home a bounty of meat to feast in the evenings.
In most modern societies today, pets bring a whole different multitude of benefits to humans, particularly in terms of companionship and emotional connection:
It’s no surprise then that pet ownership increased to 78% during the Covid pandemic, as people everywhere in the world were cooped up and had little chance to socialize with their loved ones except through online means. Getting a pet meant having another living being at home that can excite, delight, and accompany us with their lovable natures. What emotional connection we can’t find in humans, we can do so in pets as well.
Naturally, as technology advanced and the advent of games came about, the first virtual pet game surfaced in the form of Dogz from PF Developer Magic in the early 1990s. However, it only got popularized by Bandai Namco in 1996, who introduced and developed the Tamagotchi.
First released in Japan, it quickly became a worldwide phenomenon as it simulates the real-life experience of pet ownership. Playing Tamagotchi meant taking care of a digital creature — from feeding it, playing with it, to cleaning up its poo and curing its illnesses. While many similar games came after it, such as Giga Pet and Poo-chi, later ones sought to enhance the concept further to emulate the real-life experience of owning a pet as closely as possible. Here are some of the other more well-loved, popular virtual pet games of note:
Nintendogs is a virtual pet simulation video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming systems. The game was first released in 2005, and it has since been re-released in various forms, including Nintendogs + Cats, which was released in 2011. The game utilizes the Nintendo DS and 3DS’s built-in microphone and touch screen to allow players to interact with their virtual pet in a realistic way, such as by giving commands with their voice or petting their pet with the stylus.
Players can adopt one of several breeds of virtual puppies, then take care of them by feeding them, training them, and playing with them. The game also includes a variety of mini-games and activities that players can participate in with their virtual pet, such as obedience training, agility training and playing fetch. Players can also compete in virtual dog shows, trade items and interact with other players’ virtual pets via a wireless connection. Nintendogs also support the use of the Nintendo DS and 3DS’s built-in cameras to take pictures of the player and their virtual pet, which can then be used as in-game items or shared with friends.
Petz is a series of virtual pet simulation video games that were developed and published by Ubisoft. The first Petz game was released in 1995, and the series has since grown to include multiple games, including Petz, Babyz, Dogz, and Catz. Petz games are available on multiple platforms, such as PC, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS and mobile devices. The games have been well received by critics, and the series has sold millions of copies worldwide.
In the Petz games, players can adopt, raise, and care for a virtual pet, such as a dog, cat, horse, or even a unicorn. Players can customize their pet’s appearance, name, and personality, and then take care of their virtual pet by feeding it, playing with it, and keeping it clean. The game also includes a variety of mini-games and activities that players can participate in with their pet, such as playing fetch or going on a walk.
Players can also interact with other players’ pets in the game, either through trading items or by competing in virtual pet shows.
Neopets is an online virtual pet game that was first launched in 1999. Players can create an account and adopt virtual pets known as Neopets, which they can then take care of, play games with, and interact with other players.
Each Neopet is a different species and has its own characteristics and abilities. Players can customize their Neopets’ appearance, name, and gender. They can also buy items, such as clothing and furniture, to decorate their Neopets’ virtual home. They can also participate in a variety of activities with their Neopets, such as playing games, exploring virtual worlds, and completing quests. Neopets also has a social aspect where players can interact with other players, join guilds, and participate in community events.
What’s unique about it is that there is also a virtual economy where players can earn virtual currency called Neopoints by playing games and completing tasks, which they can then use to buy items for their Neopets. Purchasable items can fluctuate in price depending on demand and supply, and players can also gamble in different evnets, or invest in stocks and items.
Translated as “gathering cats”, Neko Atsume is a virtual pet simulation game developed and published by Hit-Point for mobile devices in 2014. The game’s objective is to attract as many cats as possible and complete the cat book, which is a collection of all the cats that visit the player’s garden. Players can also purchase items like food and toys to decorate the garden and attract new cats to come, each with their own unique appearance and personality. Once the cats arrive in the garden, players can take pictures of them and collect information on each cat, such as their name, breed, and favorite food.
Neko Atsume is a simple and relaxing game with low-stress gameplay, it doesn’t require players to actively take care of the cats, unlike other virtual pet games. The game is known for its cute and whimsical art style, and has a massive fanbase that took to sharing their cat pictures on their social media accounts, with the help of the inbuilt social features in the game.
Overall, virtual pets have come a long way since the release of the Tamagotchi in 1996, and they continue to evolve with advancements in technology. All of them aim to do one thing: to provide us with a sense of responsibility and purpose, and give people something to focus on and take care of. This is especially apparent with the uptake in pet ownership mentioned above.
While Covid is slowly but surely diminishing in its spread, it’s no question that virtual reality is becoming our new reality today. Well, not to say that it’s replacing real life, but that the line between our offline and online worlds have become more blurred in recent years. Many workplaces are now embracing the work-from-home scheme, and we no longer blink an eye when our colleagues suggest a virtual call rather than a physical meeting, though we may all live in the same city.
The metaverse is also another separate phenomenon that started taking the world by storm 2 years ago, albeit arguably fraught with controversial opinion as to its purpose and function. That said, it remains a fact that most of the global population are uneducated on related topics such as web3, blockchain, cryptocurrency, decentralization, etc, all of which play a part in explaining the vision and future of the metaverse. While the notion of decentralization has yet to establish a necessary stronghold in our lives today, it doesn’t mean we should put off learning about this till then. There is immediate, real-world value in adopting blockchain today: it’s just a matter of how ethical you want to be in, for example, managing your finances without institutional intermediaries playing a part in the process.
So, how does MetaPals come into all this? As virtual pets, they’re inspired by their predecessors, but mainly Tamagotchi and Neopets, as these were the games our cofounders Max and Daryl grew up with. Built first as a browser extension, these furry friends live in our web browser screens, and work across any website so long as it’s a Chromium-based browser. With a growing sense of loneliness today especially in the online space, we designed MetaPals to be emotional companions easily available to anyone with a PC. It can also be for a pet lover who can’t get enough of pets, or who’d love to have a pet but for some reason can’t own one. Simply put, we’re replicating the experience of pet ownership in the virtual world, and with an especial focus on the web3 space.
One interesting insight we found during our research is that people who are interested in learning about the blockchain space also have a strongly correlated interest in virtual pets. Introducing emotional companionship in to the metaverse will thus help users transition from the web2 to web3 space, wherein their MetaPal is not just a furry virtual companion to cheer them up, but also a guide to all things related to the metaverse. Players will start off taking care of a MetaPal as they would do any other virtual pet, tending to 3 main needs: Hunger, Energy, and Happiness. Eventually, when we introduce the educational features and elements, players will start to get prompts and tips related to blockchain and cryptocurrency subjects; for example, that feeding or playing with your MetaPal is actually equivalent to the act of staking!
While MetaPals is still in early development, we have an exciting roadmap for 2023 that will be shared in upcoming articles! One of these milestones is to release it on mobile, so anyone who has a mobile phone can get a MetaPal at pocket’s length. For free.
Wanna adopt your first browser pet? Download MetaPals here.
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