Stray: How a virtual orange tabby is helping real cats


“I certainly hope that maybe some people will be inspired to help actual strays in real life knowing that having an animal and a companion is a responsibility,” said producer Swann Martin-Raget, of the BlueTwelve gaming studio in Montpellier, in southern France.

When Annapurna Interactive reached out to the Nebraska Humane Society to partner before the game’s launch on Jul 19, they jumped at the chance, marketing specialist Brendan Gepson said.

“The whole game and the whole culture around the game, it’s all about a love of cats,” Gepson said. “It meshed really well with the shelter and our mission.”

The shelter got four copies of the game to give away and solicited donations for US$5 (S$6.80) to be entered into a raffle to win one. In a week, they raised US$7,000, Gepson said, with the vast majority of the 550 donors being new to them, including people donating from Germany and Malta. The company also donated US$1,035 to the shelter.

“It was really mutually beneficial,” Gepson said. “They got some really good PR out of it and we got a whole new donor base out of it.”

Annapurna also bought out Meow Parlour, the New York cat cafe and adoption agency, for a weekend, as well as donating US$1,000. Visitors who made reservations could buy Stray themed merchandise and play the game for 20 minutes while surrounded by cats. (The game also captivates cats, videos on social media show.)

Jeff Legaspi, Annapurna Interactive’s marketing director, said it made sense for the game’s launch to do something “positively impactful and hopefully bring more awareness to adopting and not shopping for a new pet”.

Annapurna declined to disclose 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 No 1 purchased game for the past two weeks.

North Shore Animal League America, which rescues tens of thousands of animals each year, said it hadn’t seen any increase in traffic from the game but they did receive more than US$800 thanks to a gamer.

In a happy coincidence, the shelter had just set up a profile on the platform Tiltify, which allows nonprofits to receive donations from video streams, the week the game launched. The player channelled donations to the shelter, smashing her initial goal of US$200.

“We are seeing Tiltify and livestreaming as this whole new way for us to engage a whole different audience,” said Carol Marchesano, the rescue’s senior digital marketing director. Usually, though, organisations need to reach out to online personalities to coordinate livestreams, which can take a lot of work, she said.

About nine campaigns on Tiltify mention the game Stray, the company’s CEO Michael Wasserman said. JustGiving, which also facilitates charity livestreams, 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 run 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 platform Twitch as his cat character batted another cat’s tail and danced along railings.

“If I found out my cat was outside doing this, I’d be upset,” Trey said, as his character jumped across a perilous distance. Moments later, a rusty pipe broke, sending the tabby down a gut-wrenching plunge into the darkness.

“That is a poor baby,” Trey said somberly, “but we are okay.”

A US$25 donation followed the fall, pushing the amount raised by Trey for the Nebraska shelter to more than US$100 in about 30 minutes. By the end of four and a half hours of play, donations totalled US$1,500. His goal had been to raise US$200.

“This has opened my eyes to being able to use this platform for a lot more good than just playing video games,” Trey said.





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