What next for Catbox? The prototype developed for this project features a virtual pet capable of engaging with its user, displaying distinct behaviours and a developing personality. It fits the brief developed at the start of the project, and hopefully works as an engaging piece of software in its own right. With the project concluded, I’m going to cover some possible future developments for Catbox.

To continue the academic development of the project and to better exceed the needs of the brief, the next step in the process would be user testing. A group of participants would be given the Catbox app and charged with ‘taking care’ of their own Catbox for a few days. At various points during this process data would be gathered through surveys and interviews, to get a qualitative picture of the developing relationship users have with their Catboxes. An additional layer to this could include quantitative assessment of user’s engagement levels, with emotional response data gathered through, for example, EEG.

The results of this user testing would be used to inform an iterative development cycle, in which Catbox is modified to better meet user’s needs, then tested further, and refined in a cyclical pattern to achieve the best possible user experience. This will improve the core Catbox experience; there are also additions to the game I would like to make based on findings from the various case studies.

Polish and tuning

Certain elements of the Catbox prototype are still rough or only partially developed; some of Catbox’s play behaviours, for example, are only really placeholders at this point in time. If I were to continue developing Catbox, then a re-working of the animation and behaviour systems would be required.

Part of this would involve generating a range of new incidental animations for Catbox, which would improve his overall responsiveness and the appearance of his behaviours. The animation system would need to be changed to make adding this new later of more polished animation to the game easier.

The existing behaviours, such as feeding treats and playing with the ball, would be reworked to add a bit more interaction depth; these behaviours, which currently respond identically each time, should be made dependent on Catbox’s mood using a similar system to his idea behaviours, to better complement the idea of his changing mood and behaviour.

Adding variations to Catbox's item interactions would enhance the illusion of life.

Adding variations to Catbox’s item interactions would enhance the illusion of life.

User customisation

User customisation is a key element of user engagement; games like Neopets, Neko Atsume and My Boo feature a wealth of customisation options that let users make their pets and their game their own.

This is something I’d like to introduce to Catbox. Allowing players to customise the play area, adding in new objects to personalise the space their Catbox lives in, is one way to do this. Cosmetic additions for Catbox are another option; letting players give their Catbox unique colours and markings, or purchase add-on items such as different hats, would let players make their virtual pet unique.

Catbox is sad that he doesn't currently have a set of stylish hats to wear.

Catbox is sad that he doesn’t currently have a set of stylish hats to wear.

More activities

Many modern virtual pet games lean heavily on mini games to supplement caring for the pet. While I wouldn’t want to turn Catbox into a mini game vehicle like Neopets or My Boo, adding extra activities for the players to do with their Catbox would increase engagement with the game and encourage players to keep playing.

Adding new interactive toys would be one way to approach this. Currently Catbox’s only interactive toy is his ball; players can throw the ball and Catbox will follow after it. Adding more interactive toys, like wind-up mice, laser pointers, and feather dusters would increase the range of possible interactions. Adding learning curves for his toy behaviours would add some depth here; Catbox could ‘learn’ to perform better at certain games while players ‘train’ him.

I would also like to include a passive activity mode which Catbox would undertake while the game is not active. If the player leaves the app closed for a period of time, Catbox would leave his garden and go to ‘hunt’ for items outside the game. A well-cared for, well-trained Catbox would bring back better items, encouraging players to keep their Catbox happy. This passive/active cycle would bring a casual rhythm to the gameplay, encouraging players to play in short bursts and keep checking back in regularly.

Giving Catbox new interactive toys would increase the range of user engagement.

Giving Catbox new interactive toys would increase the range of user engagement.

Monetisation

For Catbox to survive in a mobile marketplace, it would be marketed as a free-to-play game. There are a couple of options for monetising the game, employed by similar games. One would be funding through advertising. This could be done on application launch; an advert could pop up when players start up the game. A less intrusive method might be to tie it in with Catbox’s passive hunting as outlined above; sometimes when returning from a hunt, Catbox could show players an ad; choosing to accept the ad could increase the in-game reward offered.

A second monetisation strategy involves virtual currencies, which could be purchased in small amounts through microtransactions. This is common strategy employed by games like Neko Atsume, and would fit well with the player customisation aspects outlined above. Small amounts of currency could be obtained by playing the game normally, which could be spent on cosmetic items like scene items and accessories for Catbox. Larger or rarer items would cost a lot more, encouraging players to purchase packs of currency in order to get their hands on the choicest items.

Regardless of the potential for monetisation, the key to developing Catbox from an academic prototype into a successful mobile app would involve adding more and deeper interactions to engage players, and options for cosmetic and functional modifications so that players can make the game feel personal to them. If this is achieved, then Catbox‘s future is bright.

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