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CryptoKitties is Going Mobile. Can Ethereum Handle the Traffic?

February 13, 2018, 8:04 AM UTC

CryptoKitties, the viral blockchain-based game that sparked a global craze for collecting cartoon cats, is about to get a whole lot bigger, which could mean another pile-up for the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency.

The blockbuster game is going mobile, launching a Chinese-language iOS App aimed at bringing Greater China and Singapore into the feline frenzy. The mobile edition is set to debut on Feb. 16, just in time for the Lunar New Year, with a global roll out expected a few weeks after the China release, says the game’s co-founder Benny Giang.

The game’s studio, Axiom Zen, hasn’t put a number on how many new users they’re expecting. That’s partially because after the PC version’s Nov. 28 launch, even their wildest speculations were quickly eclipsed.

“We did some models and we some made spreadsheets and had everyone take a guess at how many users we’d see. We ended up hitting every one of those numbers within the first three days,” Giang tells Fortune.

Intended as a cute way to promote the mainstream adoption of Ethereum — a digital and decentralized ledger which records the game’s smart contracts — CryptoKitties caught on with an irrational vengeance.

Within days of the game’s launch last year, players’ fervor for breeding, collecting and trading digital cats clogged up the Ethereum network. At one point, the viral game accounted for nearly 30% of all transactions on Ethereum, which resulted in delays and unprocessed transactions. The backlog peaked at about 30,000 pending transactions.

“People lost cash,” Giang said.

CryptoKitties, one of the biggest blockchain-based games, is launching a mobile edition.CryptoKitties/Axiom Zen
CryptoKitties/Axiom Zen

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As the kitties prepare to hit the Chinese market, another traffic spike could be on the horizon. Only this influx of new users could be even bigger. In China, it’s not unheard of for top mobile games to get millions of users per day.

“I don’t think the Ethereum network could handle that. I don’t think any other blockchain is ready for that either,” Giang says.

He acknowledged that “scalability” is an ongoing concern for all blockchains, but he’s also not too worried that an inundation of mobile players is going to totally overwhelm the Ethereum network.

For one thing, Axiom Zen now has a full-time team of six working on scalability. And they’ve also chosen to release the game on iOS and not the more widely used Android, at least for now.

Like Pokemon or Beanie Babies, CryptoKitties are collectibles. Unlike their analog forbearers, these cats breed, creating offspring with unique DNA preserved on the digital ledger.

Since the game was introduced, more than 500,000 kitties have been sold. There are currently over 250,000 players, and the total transactions have surpassed $40 million, according to Giang. Seven of the rarest kitties sold for over $100,000. Some are now worth over $290,000.

China, home to an estimated 520 million mobile gamers, is already among the top three countries for CryptoKitties. But as Giang notes, these are users comfortable playing in English and comfortable using a VPN to get around China’s Great Firewall. While the website version of the game is not blocked in China, playing it requires the Google Chrome extension MetaMask, and the Chrome webstore is blocked by the Firewall. The iOS game will bypass this stumbling bloc with a built-in extension.

But there are other challenges to contend with in China, including native competitors like Baidu’s spinoff CryptoDogs, and a regulatory environment that is increasingly hostile to cryptocurrency.

To help them wade into the market, Axiom Zen signed a contract with Hong Kong-based games developer Animoca Brands.

Giang warns that “anything could happen” with the game’s launch in China, where the government is taking steps to eliminate cryptocurrency trading. So far, the crackdown doesn’t seem to effect blockchain-based games, so Axiom Zen says they’re still feeling good about the planned release.

The Chinese version of the CryptoKitties App will not include information on how to change currency into ether, Ethereum’s associated coin. It will feature a whole new cast of New Year-themed kitties. All cats introduced to the game during the holiday will be given a Chinese-back story and three holiday-themed and ultra-rare “Fancy Cats” will also be released.

“We’re targeting China, Singapore and other Asian countries because to be honest we think they’ll love the kitties. The area has a sophisticated and passionate crypto community … plus a long time appreciation for cute things,” says Mack Flavelle, another of the game’s co-founders. But he added that’s he’s given up trying to expect how the game will go.

“The future is deeply exciting and completely impossible to predict,” he says.