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Stray follows a virtual orange tabby as it navigates hazards in the former Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong – and the video game is helping save cats in real life. Photo: TNS

Stray the feline video game is helping cats in real life – gamers live-stream themselves playing it for audiences to raise funds for pet charities

  • Most of the team behind Stray, a game that follows a cat around Hong Kong, are cat lovers, and its publisher used the launch to solicit funds for pet charities
  • Meanwhile, gamers have been raising money for animal shelters and pet rescue and adoption services through live-streamed game play on platforms such as Tiltify
Video gaming

The virtual cat hero from the new Hong Kong-set video-game sensation Stray does not just wind along pipes, leap over sludge and decode clues in a seemingly abandoned city – the daring orange tabby is helping real-world cats as well.

Thanks to online fundraising platforms, gamers are playing Stray while streaming live for audiences 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 copies of the game to raffle off and renting out a cat cafe in New York.

Live-streaming game play for charity is not new, but the resonance Stray found from cat lovers is unusual. It was the fourth most watched and broadcast game on the day it launched on Twitch, the streaming platform said.

Stray was the fourth most watched and broadcast game on the day it launched on Twitch. Photo: AP

Viewers watch as players navigate the adventurous feline through the industrial landscape of the former Kowloon Walled City doing normal cat stuff – balancing on railings, walking on keyboards and knocking things off shelves – to solve puzzles and evade enemies.

About 80 per cent of the game’s development team are “cat owners and cat lovers” and a real-life orange stray helped inspire the game, one creator said.

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“I certainly hope that maybe some people will be inspired to help actual 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, southern France.

When Annapurna Interactive reached out to the Nebraska Humane Society in the United States to partner before the game’s launch on July 19, it jumped at the chance, marketing specialist Brendan Gepson said.

“The whole game and the whole culture around the game, it’s all about a love of cats,” Gepson said. “It meshed really well with the shelter and our mission.”

Players navigate an adventurous feline through the former Kowloon Walled City doing normal cat stuff to solve puzzles and evade enemies. Photo: AP

The shelter got four copies of the game to give away and solicited donations of US$5 to be entered into a raffle to win one. In a week, they raised US$7,000, Gepson said, with the vast majority of the 550 donors being new to them, including people donating from Germany and Malta. The company also donated US$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 out Meow Parlour, a New York cat cafe and adoption agency, for a weekend, as well as donating US$1,000. Visitors who made reservations could buy Stray themed merchandise and play the game for 20 minutes while surrounded by cats. (The game also captivates cats, as videos on social media show.)

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Jeff Legaspi, Annapurna Interactive’s marketing director, said it made sense for the game’s launch to do something “positively impactful and hopefully bring more awareness to adopting 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 monitor SteamDB, Stray has been the No. 1 bought 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 did receive more than US$800 thanks to a gamer.

A still from the video game. Photo: TNS

In a happy coincidence, the shelter had just set up a profile on the platform Tiltify, which allows non-profits to receive donations from video streams, the week the game launched. The player channelled donations to the shelter, smashing her initial goal of US$200.

“We are seeing Tiltify and live-streaming as this whole new way for us to engage a whole different audience,” said Carol Marchesano, the shelter’s senior digital marketing director.

Usually, organisations need to reach out to online personalities to coordinate live streams, which can take a lot of work, she said.

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Nine campaigns on Tiltify mention the game Stray, the company’s CEO, Michael Wasserman, said. JustGiving, which also facilitates charity live streams, said it identified two campaigns with the game.

For his part, Gepson from Nebraska reached out to a resident of the state capital Omaha 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 narrated to viewers watching live on the platform Twitch as his cat character batted another cat’s tail and danced along railings.

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“If I found out my cat was outside doing this, I’d be upset,” Trey said, as his character jumped. Moments later, a rusty pipe broke, sending the tabby down a gut-wrenching plunge into the darkness.

“That is a poor baby,” Trey said sombrely, “but we are OK.”

A US$25 donation followed the fall, pushing the amount raised by Trey for the Nebraska shelter to over US$100 in about 30 minutes. By the end of four-and-a-half hours of play, donations totalled US$1,500. His goal had been to raise US$200.

“This has opened my eyes to being able to use this platform for a lot more good than just playing video games,” Trey said.