The virtual feline hero from the new video game sensation “Stray” doesn’t just swing along rusted pipes, jump over unidentified sludge and decode clues in a seemingly deserted city. The bold orange tabby also helps real cats.
Thanks to online fundraising platforms, gamers play “Stray” while live streaming for the public to raise money for animal shelters and other cat-related charities. Annapurna Interactive, the game’s publisher, also promoted “Stray” by offering two cat rescue and adoption agencies to raffle copies of the game and rent out a cat cafe in New York.
Live streaming of gameplay for charity isn’t new, but the “Stray” resonance quickly found among cat lovers is unusual. It was the fourth most watched and aired game the day it launched on Twitch, according to the streaming platform.
Viewers will see players navigate the adventurous cat through an aging industrial landscape, doing normal cat things – balancing on railings, walking on keyboards and knocking things off shelves – to solve puzzles and dodge enemies.
About 80% of the game’s development team are “cat owners and cat lovers,” and a real orange stray dog and their own cats inspired the game, one creator said.
“I really hope that maybe some people will be inspired to help real strays in real life – knowing that having an animal and a companion is a responsibility,” said producer Swann Martin-Raget of the BlueTwelve gaming studio in Montpellier, in Southern France. .
When Annapurna Interactive reached out to the Nebraska Humane Society to collaborate before the game launched on July 19, they jumped at the opportunity, said marketing specialist Brendan Gepson.
“The whole game and the whole culture around the game, it’s all about the love for cats,” Gepson said. “It suited the shelter and our mission very well.”
The shelter was given four copies of the game to give away and asked for $5 donations to enter a raffle to win one. In a week, they raised $7,000, Gepson said, with the vast majority of the 550 donors being new to them, including those donating from Germany and Malta. The company also donated $1,035 to the shelter.
“It was really mutually beneficial,” Gepson said. “They got really good PR out of it and we got a whole new donor base out of it.”
Annapurna also bought Meow Parlor, the New York cat cafe and adoption agency, for a weekend and donated $1,000. Visitors who made a reservation could purchase ‘Stray’ themed merchandise and play the game for 20 minutes while surrounded by cats. (The game also captivates cats, videos show on social media.)
Annapurna Interactive’s director of marketing, Jeff Legaspi, said it made sense for the game’s launch to do something “positive impactful and hopefully bring more awareness about adopting and not buying a new pet.”
Annapurna declined to release any sales or download figures for the game, which is available on PlayStation and the Steam platform. However, according to Steam monitor SteamDB, “Stray” has been the number 1 purchased game for the past two weeks.
North Shore Animal League America, which rescues tens of thousands of animals each year, said it hadn’t seen an increase in the game’s traffic, but they did receive more than $800 thanks to a gamer.
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 funneled donations to the shelter, breaking her original goal of $200.
“We see Tiltify and live streaming as an entirely new way for us to engage a completely different audience,” said Carol Marchesano, senior digital marketing director of the bailout. Usually, though, organizations need to contact online personalities to coordinate live streams, which can take a lot of work, she said.
About nine campaigns on Tiltify mention the game “Stray,” said the company’s CEO, Michael Wasserman. JustGiving, which also facilitates charity live streams, said it 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 conduct a charity livestream. Trey, who asked not to use his last name, has two cats, one of which he adopted from the shelter.
Last week, he told viewers who watched live on the platform Twitch as his cat character slapped another cat’s tail and danced along railings.
“If I found out my cat was doing this outside, I’d be upset,” Trey said, as his character leaped a dangerous distance. Moments later, a rusty pipe broke, causing the tabby to take a heartbreaking plunge into the darkness.
“That’s a poor baby,” Trey said gloomily, “but we’re all right.”
A $25 donation followed the fall, bringing the amount raised by Trey for the shelter in Nebraska to over $100 in about 30 minutes. At 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 putting this platform to good use for much more than just playing video games,” said Trey.