CryptoKitties: A Marketing Love Letter
An informal case study on how CryptoKitties has effectively used marketing for wide-scale adopting & use-case of blockchain.
I find it difficult to dedicate a lot of time for gaming, but I do occasionally get hooked on a game. CryptoKitties was one of those games. I quit in a fit of rage after not winning a prized kitty in a Discord contest, but that’s a story for another day.
Full disclosure: I am not employed by CryptoKitties, nor affiliated with the company in any way, other than my few meager kitties in a metamask I lost access to years ago.
[A lesson on security, storage, and thoughtfulness for another day.]
CryptoKitties is a game that can most easily be described to anyone who is familiar with the 90’s as collectible & breedable digital beanie babies. These beanie babies are impossible for you to lose on ‘It’s a Small World’ in Disneyland Florida in ’98, and not only because ‘Kitties wasn’t around in the 90’s.
Oh, also, you pay for these in Ether, and breeding them costs you Ether. This sounds like a gaming term, but in this case, actually isn’t. [More on this later]
At first, CryptoKitties didn’t quite hit the mark. Their marketing was deep into the tech community, and focused on avid gamers and/or blockchain enthusiasts.
They hit up Discord and early adopters shared google sheets documents on breeding formulas. Granted, this gave them a small but considerable loyal following, and they have been presented with impressive awards in the blockchain community.
Post first funding round, however, it seems they beefed up their marketing team (at least on their endorsement deals) and their practice shows a great approach on a real-world example on making blockchain accessible to those who don’t really give a damn about blockchain.
In terms of marketing play, the deal with Steph Curry was a smart one, but the company certainly spent more of their first seed round on this one than they should’ve. (Especially considering the following lawsuit, even with their court given win.)
If you aren’t familiar, the company created 3 kitties designed after Curry, one of which was auctioned off by Curry himself, and the remaining two utilized in regular gameplay. There was massive publicity on both sides from the deal, and it attracted a new demographic and customer base that may not have naturally found themselves to be CryptoKitty players.
The company is currently in works with a product with the NBA, so it’s seemingly a strategy that has paid off for them, and a consumer base they intend to keep tapping.
It’s not that celebrity endorsements are the key to market acceptance for blockchain, although there are plenty of those — it’s that consumer adoption of blockchain needs to happen at a mass consumer level, and that can’t happen by simply explaining the technological, financial or security benefits to mass-market.
We’d all like to think we’re rational creatures and that we make logical decisions, but the thing here is, logic isn’t always the greatest salesperson.
At a beach near where I live, there are signs on the dunes: “venomous snake nesting area”. This is because, after years of testing, city council learned that “stay off the dunes,” wasn’t an effective way to protect our fragile coastline ecosystem.
There are no venomous snakes that nest on the beach in our area. Here’s the kicker: the people of this town know this, and they still voted in favor of the signs. They voted in favor of lying to the mass market because they knew it would be effective.
I’m not saying blockchain businesses should lie to consumers. I’m saying businesses need to better market themselves and strategize for mass-adoption, like how CryptoKitties has utilized the concept of gaming, and game theory, to implement a large scale case of Ethereum, and big picture, provide more avenues for mass-scale blockchain adoption.
Let’s go back to my first description of the game. CryptoKitties, and transactions and actions within the game, all cost Ether. Users are walked through how to set up a wallet and convert USD into Ether so they have funds to utilize in gameplay.
If you google, “setting up an Ethereum wallet,” as a newbie, you are going down a dangerous rabbit hole. As far as user experience goes, ‘Kitties does an excellent job of walking users through “a first wallet”, without any convoluted steps or too much user-overloading on technical details.
Let’s go to the Wikipedia definition of Ethereum, which is as follows:
Ethereum is an open source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform and operating system featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality. It supports a modified version of Nakamoto consensus via transaction-based state transitions. Ether is a cryptocurrency generated by the Ethereum platform and used to compensate mining nodes for computations performed. Each Ethereum account has an ether balance and ether may be transferred from one account to another.
Blockchain needs a marketing rebrand — and definitions like this is primarily why. Technologically, blockchain is great. But that’s about the only way it’s being marketed for mass-adoption, and unfortunately, logic & reason has never been the primary motivating factor for sales.
CryptoKitties hits the mark in effectively teaching consumers about some of the inherent benefits to blockchain without anyone needing a computer science degree, and making blockchain accessible to the non-technically minded members of society is the final frontier of mass consumer adoption.
Even digging in more, the overall strategy was smart. CryptoKitties was the company’s first play, but their founding play is not what the company actually does.
They went on to create AxiomZen and Dapper Labs, and have raised nearly 40 million in venture capital in the last three years, allowing them to create a secondary blockchain game based on Wizards, and they will soon be launching a product with the NBA. But underneath that, they focus on building scalable applications for block-chain technology, including Flow and Dapper.
CryptoKitties worked great as a first play on proof of concept — the majority of marketing was focused entirely on game-play, and the whole system was gamified, making it easy to understand and comprehend, and thus, they got users to learn about blockchain without intending to learn about blockchain.
The overarching strategy is to create and build more functional large scale systems on blockchain, and they’ve come up with an incredibly clever way to do that. It’s not about using the most rational, logical, or realistic approach to convince consumers to use a safer product.
It’s about using the quickest method for mass adoption. As far as simplifying a difficult concept to allow it to become mainstream and commonplace, CryptoKitties has made one of the best attempts I’ve seen thus far, and offers a great use-case in the study of how blockchain is best diffused across society for mass access.
To check out more about the game, check out the game here.
First published here. Read my stories here with HackerNoon. Find Darby Cox's publication here & subscribe to our newsletter to receive new and interesting business information, e-commerce discussion and more.