Daily Kitten is a virtual pet game for iOS and Android devices developed by Honikou Games. First released in 2014, the game centres around taking care of a 3D animated kitten, ensuring it’s well-fed, clean and rested, and playing mini-games to score point which can be spent on items in game. The game is free to play, but new toys and items for the kitten can be purchased with real money via in-app purchases.

From the game’s Google Play page: ‘Daily Kitten offers you your own cat; it’s just for you. It can do anything as long you take care of it. Caress it, feed it, teach it to stay clean, play with it, put it to sleep … you can accompany it in its dreams, dress it up the way you like and make it purr when you stroke it. To make a long story short, it’s your new companion and you help it grow and have a lot of fun.’

Illusion of life.

The kitten's presentation and animation are particularly engaging.

The kitten’s presentation and animation are particularly engaging.

Where Daily Kitten excels in believability is in the visual design and animation of the kittens themselves. While clearly being developed with mobile technology in mind, employ low-polygon models and simple textures, the cats are presented in semi-photorealistic way, and it’s clear that care has been taken to make them move and respond like real kittens. Individual animations, such as rolling on the floor or chasing a ball, are obviously cat-like and instantaneously appealing.

The presentation of the pet isn’t always perfect, however. Attempts to give the kittens facial expressions to express their mood leads to some odd results, with ‘sad’ and ‘frowning’ kittens having a vaguely uncanny appearance. And while individual animations are effective and generally look great, it becomes apparent after a short play session that the kitten will repeat the same animation routines again and again. The frequency with which that cats must be fed and cleaned makes the repeating animations more readily apparent.

Effort has been made to show a progressing relationship between the pet and its owner. The game counts the number of days the user has played, and more animations and behaviours are unlocked for the cat as it grows ‘older’. Interactions with the pet, however, fall into a routine of metre filling; much like a Tamagotchi, Daily Kitten features a number of ‘need’ metres that must be regularly monitored in order to keep the pet happy, and their constant presence on screen and the rote nature of their refilling makes it apparent that the user is interacting with a limited system rather than a living creature.

Interaction design.

The game's best interactions are those that involve physical interaction with your kitten...

The game’s best interactions are those that involve physical interaction with your kitten…

Players interact with their kittens via the touchscreen – tapping the screen calls the cat over, where players can rub directly on it to ‘pet’ it. Some smart decisions have been made to emulate physical interactions with the cat – for example, the cat is cleaned by physically rubbing soap over it, then rinsing it by dragging a shower over it.

This only extends to the most basic interactions, however. The majority of the time interacting with Daily Kitten is spent playing mini games. Even routine actions like eating and pooping are accompanied by fairly uninspired mini games, which make taking care of a cat’s basic needs feel like something of a chore. More involved mini games are unlocked by purchasing various toys for the kittens, which let players play with them in new ways.

...and it's worst are those that require the performance of tedious mini games to complete basic actions like feeding.

…and it’s worst are those that require the performance of tedious mini games to complete basic actions like feeding.

For a relatively simple free-to-play app, the Daily Kitten features a bewildering three virtual currencies; stars, which are gathered through any interaction with the cats, coins, which can be purchased or acquired by using stars to play a virtual slot-machine, and emeralds, which seem to be awarded for performing certain special actions in the game.

This model plays into the game’s monetisation strategy; new cats, new toys and better items can be purchased with either coins or emeralds, or a mix of the two. Achieving this is complicated by the needlessly confusing menu design; basic items such as refills for food and toilet litter are buried several menus deep alongside new toys, games, cats and items. The visual design, from the clarity of the menus function to the grammar of the supporting text, leave much to be desired.

Progression in the game involves managing its various currencies.

Progression in the game involves managing its various currencies.

Social factors.

New toys and mini games can be unlocked by spending both real and virtual currency.

New toys and mini games can be unlocked by spending both real and virtual currency.

Daily Kitten is just one of the many, many virtual pet games to appear on mobile app stores. Searching for ‘virtual pet’ on the Google Play Store provides pages and pages of results. Generally these games all follow a similar model to Daily Kitten. They tend to involve a Tamagotchi-inspired routine of ‘metre-watching’ to keep a pet happy. They tend to be free-to-play titles which rely on cosmetic in-app purchases to turn a profit. They also, increasingly, seem to feature mini games as a central mechanic, as a simple way to promote gameplay whilst pushing microtransactions.

There is little to set Daily Kitten apart in this crowded marketplace, aside from some relatively sophisticated modelling and animation of the cats themselves. The model has clearly proven successful for developer Honikou Games, however, as they’ve introduced another, newer game in the same model titled Daily Panda

Player response to Daily Kitten seems largely positive, too. From over 87,000 downloads on the Google Play Store page, 61,000 users gave the game 5 stars. Users responses describe the game as ‘the best kitten pet out there’, ‘very cute and easy to do and is lots of fun’ and ‘too awesome to explain.’ The overall positive response to Daily Kitten despite its place in a very crowded marketplace implies that there is still audience appetite for well-developed virtual pet games, and that appealing to users through cuteness and a strong visual design is a solid approach to tackling this market.

 

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