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CryptoKitties, Ethereum, Blockchain, and how I bought digital cats.

cryptokitties cover

Cryptocurrency is having a bit of a moment right now. And as cats have a tendency to get into everything, they have shown up in the cryptocurrency world in the form of a new game called CryptoKitties. The game started near the end of October and has absolutely exploded. There’s even a fairly decently-sized reddit community for it already, because of course there is.

(Contrary to its name, CryptoKitties will not help you solve the mysteries of your cat’s many erratic behaviors, such as when they stare in an empty room when you’re home alone and you’re almost certain they have detected a ghost.)

Basically, the game uses Ether to buy, sell, and “breed” cats. You buy a cat, which occupies bits on the blockchain, then you “breed” the bits of code together and create a new cat. I can only assume that there are cats at CryptoKitties HQ running the show here at this point.

cat in computer cryptokitties

According to their FAQ:

CryptoKitties is one of the world’s first games to be built on blockchain technology—the same breakthrough that makes things like Bitcoin and Ether possible. Bitcoin and ether are cryptocurrencies but CryptoKitties are cryptocollectibles. You can buy, sell, or trade your CryptoKitty like it was a traditional collectible, secure in the knowledge that blockchain will track ownership securely.

But, unlike traditional collectibles, you can breed two CryptoKitties to create a brand-new, genetically unique offspring. It results in something special—just like you!

If that doesn’t make sense, they have an “ELI5” version:

Think breedable Beanie Babies.

So, okay. Whatever. It’s new. It’s cats. It’s math. It’s cute. It’s weird. But the creators have said that the overall goal is to educate and increase people’s awareness of blockchain.

Apparently people are into it. And I mean really into it. To the point that they’ve already spent $8 million (USD), accounting for a whopping 11% of all Ether traffic.

I didn’t see the immediate appeal of it, but thought I would give it a try. I have had Ether (ETH) before, and currently have Bitcoin (BTC), so I’m not new to cryptocurrency. With kitties added to the equation, how could I resist?

(If you’re interested in acquiring your own cryptocurrency, read this.)

Hello CryptoKitties Island Adventure: Part 1

cryptokitties install metamask

First, you have to install MetaMask. MetaMask is a web browser extension that allows you to securely use Ether with websites.

Once installed, you have to “unlock” it by creating your account, during which you’re given a twelve word code that essentially functions as your login password. The code is not stored by MetaMask, Coinbase, CryptoKitties, or anywhere accessible to humans, so if you lose it, it’s gone (along with your Ether!). My suggestion would be to email it to yourself immediately before you even close the screen.

Once you’re done with that, you sign in and boom! You’re ready to buy some cats.

CryptoKitties Part Deux: The marketplace

This is where you buy your cats. And yes, you have to buy cats, which means yes, you have to spend real life money to buy Ether to use in the game. At the time of this post, the most expensive kitty in the game was 1000 ETH, or $474,130 (no, that’s not a typo). You can check the current exchange rate of Ether to USD here.

Cryptokitties marketplace

Of course, it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to buy a digital cat for half a million dollars. I certainly don’t have the bankroll for that, so I went for the more economical option.

budget friendly cryptokitties marketplace

The idea behind kitties is to breed them to make more kitties, which seems straightforward and uninteresting at first. However, sites like CryptoKittydex have popped up, showing different kitties that exist and what you can expect to pay. You can also see some of the attributes each kitty has as well as that kitty’s parents. There are other attributes in the kitty’s “DNA”, a 256 bit number, that may not be visible and could affect the outcome of your offspring. Certain traits are assigned to certain positions in the 256 bit number, and much like in real life, both parents having the dominant trait doesn’t necessarily mean it will show in the offspring, and the offspring may exhibit traits the parents didn’t.

The catch here is the more you use a kitty to breed, the longer it takes it to breed again. This is explained in an in-game toolip:

cryptokitties cooldown tooltip

Another deterrent to digital kitty mills is the generations. This is how far removed from the “original” kitty your offspring is. Gen 0 is an “original”, and won’t have parents – like Adam or Eve, had they actually existed. Gen 0’s are introduced into the game every 15 minutes (at least until November 2018) by the company itself, but they’re not cheap. Currently, they’re selling for 7.7 ETH (about $3700 as of this post). The high cost for these is due to the game adding together the generations to determine the offspring’s generation. If a Gen 3 and a Gen 4 breed, they will create a Gen 7, which breeds much slower and is therefore less desirable.

Part 3: Spending Ether

buying cryptokitties

This. was. weird.

I’ve not actually spent Ether on a product or item before, and only held onto it while it skyrocketed in value. So I was unfamiliar with this next process. I thought it would be similar to a PayPal transaction, but it wasn’t.

The first thing that happened once I clicked “OK, buy this kitty” was this screen:

My first thought was “what the hell is gas, what’s a limit, what’s the price, and why do I have to do this?”

Gas is not a thing that actually exists, it’s not a currency, think of it more as a rate for which transactions can be completed by. With cryptocurrency, the value comes from the work it takes to actually get Bitcoin, Ether, dogecoin, or one of the many other options (though, BTC, ETH, and Litecoin are the most popular cryptocurrencies, and therefore the most valuable). What happens is miners of cryptocurrency (the people who setup computers, more specifically GPUs], to create more of the currency) literally communicate with one another to determine if attempted transactions are legitimate or not. You can think of it as instead of me telling you that your cat is adorable and is the best cat I’ve ever seen, everyone around you confirms that your cat is the most adorable cat and the best cat they’ve ever seen (which is decidedly the case with all cats, ever). Here’s a video that breaks it down in about two minutes:

So “gas” isn’t an actual thing, it’s essentially the cost of other people around you confirming that your cat is legitimately amazing. It’s like an Uber for your Ether. If you offer too little gas for the transaction, miners will ignore it and not verify it. If you offer too much, well, you’re just overpaying.

So after looking up rates (and, ahem, being declined a few times), having others buy the kitty I wanted, and having to find another, I got my transactions to go through.

Ether gas cryptokitties purchase

And I was now the proud cat parent of these two fine kitties:

Skeptical kitten store promo 1

CryptoKitties Skeptical Kitten's Kitties

Part 4: The baby making

Now that I had my kitties, it was time to start the kitten-making.

sexy cat meme cryptokitties

I decided to sire 🎤Mariah Carey🎤 and have Pickelback lay the egg. Since this is 2017, CryptoKitties don’t have a gender or sex, and apparently engage in external fertilization. I don’t know, I’m not a biologist, but maybe these kitties are part salmon (thanks Monsanto!). These kitties aren’t male or female and “lay an egg” to breed.

Cryptokitties breeding give privacyThis, of course, also costs Ether as the transaction (remember, we’re still dealing in blockchain here) has to be verified throughout the network. Sadly, this took a considerable amount of time, likely due to the unexpected amount of interest in the game itself.

cryptokitties activity screen waitingSo, I waited. And waited. I made a pizza. I ate a pizza with my kids. I watched a holiday movie with my kids (Mickey’s Christmas Carol, if you must know). I checked back, and was still waiting. I watched the Season 4 finale of Nathan For You with my girlfriend. I was still waiting. I wrote up this blog post. And. was. still. waiting. I tried to buy another kitty. I even did a live stream of me waiting on Skeptical Kitten. Still waiting.

Still waiting on CryptoKitties to finish transactionsBut that’s not unexpected. The BBC discussed this issue. It seems that the CryptoKitties game itself has actually caused the Ethereum network to slow down. Which is something quite remarkable, but also not unsurprising when you consider how new it is, and how few people have actually been using it. This may very well be a learning moment for companies looking to grow into the crypto/blockchain realm. Blockchain is undoubtedly the future, so what better way to learn about it than through adorable kitties?

12/11/17 update: still waiting. No support options seem available from the devs, just discord. We’ll see what happens.

Be sure to check back, as this post will be updated.


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Almost no one can find Pieorgi, the little white cat in this picture!

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