My Boo is a virtual pet and mini game compilation game developed by Tapps Games and available on iOS, Android and Amazon devices. Players take care of a cheerful-looking blob creature called Boo, which can be customised with a wide range of colours and features earned with in-game currency generated by playing mini games.
Mini games are unlocked as Boo levels up through continuous interaction. The game is free to play and ad-supported, with options for players to pay to remove ads and win more in-game currency. There is an emphasis on player-to-player interaction, with players able to share their Boo’s design through both traditional social media and dedicated My Boo sharing platforms provided by Tapps Games. Continue reading Case Study: My Boo
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.’ Continue reading Case Study: Daily Kitten
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is a mobile game available on iOS and Android platforms which centres around building a virtual garden to attract a host of colourful cats to visit. Players purchase different types of food and furniture with either currency earned in game or purchased with real-life money; these can then be dropped into your garden, and different cats will appear over time depending on which items are available to them.
Pleo is a robotic dinosaur ‘life form’ manufactured by Innvo Labs, first revealed in 2006 and released at retail at the end of 2007. Using a similar combination of robotics and artificial intelligence to PARO, Pleo is capable of responding to human contact and developing distinct personalities depending on its interactions with its user.
Where PARO is targeted specifically at care services, designed to aid elderly patients suffering with loneliness or the onset of dementia, Pleo uses similar technology to develop a robotic pet aimed at a commercial market.
From the PLEOworld website: ‘Every Pleo rb is autonomous. Yes, each one begins life as newly-hatched baby Camarasaurus, but that’s where predictability ends and individuality begins. Like any creature, Pleo rb feels hunger and fatigue offset by powerful urges to explore and be nurtured. It’ll graze, nap and toddle about on its own – when it feels like it! Pleo rb dinosaur can change its mind and its mood, just as you do.’
Pleo was designed by Caleb Chung, one of the co-creators of Furby, and shares much of the robotic ingenuity and appealing design that made that toy such a success.Continue reading Case Study: Pleo
PARO, a physical form factor robot pet developed by AIST and first released in 2003, is an attempt to use appealing virtual pet design in the mould of Furby to improve quality of life. PARO is primarily focused on helping elderly people less able to care for real pets, particularly those suffering with dementia and confined to care homes, where access to flesh-and-blood therapy animals can be difficult.
The therapeutic benefits of engagement with animals have been well documented, and PARO is just one example of designers using robots to emulate this beneficial companionship in a way that is more accessible to those who may find it difficult to care for a real animal. There are many of these therapy robots in existence; this case study will use PARO to examine how engaging pet design can emulate the therapeutic benefits of a relationship with a real animal.
Neopets is an online community website and micro-game platform that centres around the raising and customising of virtual pets. Players can own a number of pets from 54 possible species, take care of them by feeding them special items, and customise them by changing their colour or giving them special equipment. Pets are seen as status symbols by users, who take part in a lively community, with rare breeds, colours and equipment being highly desirable.
Neopets was originally conceived by British student Adam Powell and partner Donna Williams in 1999, with the site being incorporated as Neopets, Inc. by American businessmen Doug Dohring in 2000 following the initial success of the site. Neopets has since been owned by Viacom (2005 – 2014) and JumpStart (2014 – present). The nature of the site changed dramatically under its various ownerships, prioritising advertising and commercial content in its later iterations.
What makes Neopets interesting as a case study is that it’s the only piece of software examined in this project that has been in continuous operation from the dawn of the virtual pet until today. In that time it has adapted to the prevailing business models of the time – with a premium membership model introduced in 2004, sponsored games and advertising content gaining prevalence through the late 2000s, and a premium currency being introduced alongside the game’s traditional purely virtual Neopoints currency in recent years.
In this sense, Neopets bridges the gap between the original, boxed-product virtual pets of the late 90s and the modern, mobile based, free-to-play virtual pet games available on today’s app stores. Continue reading Case Study: Neopets
Creatures is a life simulation software designed by computer scientist Steve Grand, and first released as a commercial game for Windows in 1996. Originally conceived as a virtual pet that could live on your desktop and interact with other Windows software, this ‘virtual mouse’ idea eventually became a broader experiment in artificial life, featuring semi-intelligent creatures called ‘norns’ which inhabit the planet Albia.
Players were tasked with nurturing a population of norns through multiples generations, assisting them in navigating their environment and avoiding the unwanted attention of the sinister grendel. Creatures released as three central games (Creatures, 1996, Creatures 2, 1998, and Creatures 3, 1999) with an online expansion Docking Station released in 2001. Several spin-off games were also released, including titles aimed at younger children and a release for the original Playstation console. This case study is primarily focused on three releases in the main series. Continue reading Case Study: Creatures
Petz originated as a desktop virtual pet for the Windows PC. Designed by Night Trap designer Rob Fulop, the first title in the series, Dogz, was released in 1995. Originally published by PF. Magic and billed as ‘the original virtual pet,’ Petz was largely overshadowed by the release of the Tamagotchi the following year, and was later acquired by Ubisoft and reintroduced in a form that resembles little of the 1995 original. Even so, the game had a strong following at the time and is fondly remembered by enthusiasts today.
Furby, first released in 1998, is a physical soft toy with mechanical parts and a computerised brain. Its physicality, and the fact that it can respond to physical touch, differentiated Furby from other virtual pets available at the time such as Tamagotchi and Digimon, and made it the best selling toy at Christmas for three years running.
Produced by Tiger Electronics and designed by inventor David Hampton, who had previously worked at toy company Mattel as well as on classic videogame Q-Bert, the Furby was an attempt to make a Tamagotchi-style virtual pet that felt and reacted like a real, living animal. With sales exceeding 27 million in one 12-month period, and a 1999 sales forecast of $300 million from parent company Hasbro, the toys were hugely successful.
The original Furby model was discontinued in 2002, to be revived in 2005 and again in 2012, with later generations of Furby adding new features and functions. This case study will largely be concerned with a historical analysis of the original 1998-2002 Furbies, with a brief follow up describing changes made to the toy to bring the design up to date.
Tamagotchi, originally a hand-held device containing a virtual chicken, is widely considered the first true virtual pet. Released in Japan in November 1996, and the U.S. in May 1997, the toy’s release sparked a craze of popularity that has seen it sell over 76 million copies as of 2010, with various iterations of the toy appearing through the years.
This case study will mostly concern the original 1990s Tamagotchi as the progenitor of the virtual pet. Most of my research comes from this study of Tamagotchi from 2001, conducted by Jef Samp at UC Berkeley.
The illusion of life
A Tamagotchi is described as a ‘virtual chicken’, but can in fact take a number of forms, beginning life as an amorphous blob and growing into one of several different creatures depending on its condition in early life.
Caring for a Tamagotchi involves monitoring its ‘happiness’ meter whilst keeping an eye on its weight and its overall health. Feeding or playing with a Tamagotchi increases its happiness, while feeding also increases its weight; overfeeding a Tamagotchi can cause it to become sick and require medicine. A Tamagotchi will also defecate after eating, and failure to clean this up in short order also leads to the creature becoming unwell. Continue reading Case Study: Tamagotchi