Not only does the virtual cat hero from the new video game sensation “Stray” meander along rusting pipes, jump over unknown sludge and decode clues in a seemingly empty city. The bold orange tabby helps real world cats too.
Thanks to online fundraising platforms, players play “Stray” while live streaming to audiences to raise money for animal shelters and other cat-related charities. Annapurna Interactive, the game’s publisher, also promoted “Stray” by offering copies of the game to two cat rescue and adoption agencies to raffle and rent a cat cafe in New York.
Live streaming gameplay for charity isn’t new, but the resonance “Stray” quickly discovered by cat lovers is unusual. It was the fourth most watched and streamed game on the day it launched on Twitch, the streaming platform said.
Viewers watch as players navigate the adventurous feline through an aging industrial landscape doing normal cat things – balancing on rails, walking on keyboards and knocking things off shelves – to solve puzzles and avoid enemies.
About 80% of the game’s development team are “cat owners and cat lovers” and a real orange stray as well as their own cats helped inspire the game, says one creator.
“I certainly hope that some people might be inspired to help strays in real life – knowing that having an animal and a companion is a responsibility,” said producer Swann Martin-Raget, from BlueTwelve games studio in Montpellier, in the south of France. .
When Annapurna Interactive reached out to the Humane Society of Nebraska to partner ahead of the game’s July 19 launch, they jumped at the chance, said marketing expert Brendan Gepson.
“The whole game and the whole culture around the game, it’s all about the love of cats,” Gepson said. “It meshed really well with the shelter and our mission.”
The shelter had four copies of the game to give away and asked for $5 donations to enter into a raffle to win one. In a week, they raised $7,000, Gepson said, with the vast majority of the 550 donors new to them, including people donating from Germany and Malta. The company also donated $1,035 to the shelter.
“It was really mutually beneficial,” Gepson said. “They got some really good PR out of it and we got a whole new donor base out of it.”
Annapurna also bought Meow Parlour, a New York cat cafe and adoption agency, for a weekend, as well as donating $1,000. Visitors who booked could purchase “Stray” themed merchandise and play the game for 20 minutes while surrounded by cats. (The game also charms cats, videos on social media show.)
Jeff Legaspi, Annapurna Interactive’s director of marketing, said it made sense for the game’s launch to do something “that has a positive impact and hopefully brings more awareness to adoption and not shopping for a new pet.”
Annapurna declined to disclose sales or download figures for the game, which is available on PlayStation and the Steam platform. However, according to Steam’s monitor, SteamDB, “Stray” has been the No. 1 purchased game for the past two weeks.
North Shore Animal League America, which rescues tens of thousands of animals each year, said it had not seen any increase in traffic from the game but that they received more than $800 thanks to a player.
In a happy coincidence, the shelter had just set up a profile on the platform Tiltify, which allows nonprofits to receive donations from video streams, the week the game launched. The player channeled donations to the shelter, breaking his initial goal of $200.
“We see Tiltify and live streaming as this whole new way for us to engage with a whole different audience,” said Carol Marchesano, the rescue’s senior director of digital marketing. Usually, though, organizations need to reach out to online personalities to coordinate live streams, which can take a lot of work, he said.
About nine campaigns on Tiltify talk about the game “Stray,” said the company’s CEO, Michael Wasserman. JustGiving, which also facilitates charity live streams, said it had identified two campaigns with the game.
For his part, Gepson of Nebraska reached out to an Omaha resident who goes by the name TreyDay1014 online to run a charity live stream. Trey, who asked that his last name not be used, has two cats, one of which he adopted from the shelter.
Last week, he told viewers watching live on the Twitch platform as his cat character whacked another cat’s tail and danced along rails.
“If I found out my cat was outside doing this, I’d be upset,” says Trey, as his character leaps across a perilous distance. Moments later, a rusty pipe broke, sending the tabby plummeting into the darkness.
“That’s a poor baby,” Trey said somberly, “but we’re fine.”
A $25 donation followed the fall, pushing the amount Trey raised for the Nebraska shelter to over $100 in about 30 minutes. By the end of four and a half hours of play, donations totaled $1,500. His goal was to raise $200.
“This has opened my eyes to being able to use this platform for much more than just playing video games,” said Trey.