CryptoKitties, a game where users breed and trade digital kitties using Ethereum-based smart contracts, has emerged as the latest mark of society’s obsession with rising cryptocurrency values. In some ways, the popularity of the game reflects the skyrocketing values of digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ether. Total sales on the platform created by Canadian startup Axiom Zen have reportedly hit $12 million, according to Coin Telegraph, as some cats with rare attributes have been sold for upwards of $80,000.
Cryptokitties are generated by code, and bred by spending Ether tokens on smart contracts that use two base cats to create a new one. Each resulting cat is unique and persistent, recorded on Ethereum’s public ledger.
While the game has proven wildly popular, CryptoKitties has also been plagued by network slowdowns, little game progression and automated bots that snipe deals. It’s also placing a new load on the currency itself. The game has slowed down the Ethereum network by as much as 11 percent, Motherboard reported last week. But as the first successful game built on the Ethereum network, CryptoKitties’ success has hinted at the greater potential of apps powered by blockchain technology — and given rise to a new wave of cryptocurrency speculation.
Like Bitcoin and Ethereum, CryptoKitties allowed speculators to make a lot of money if they got in at the right time. One of those speculators is Todd, who wished to remain anonymous in order to disclose personal financial details. While we talked, the CryptoKitties site dipped in and out of commission.
Todd is a 30-year-old entrepreneur and software designer from Austin, Texas. He’s also been the owner of 35 cryptokitties, an extension of his broader enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies. Todd first bought around 5 to 10 bitcoin in 2012 (he doesn’t remember the precise amount), when the value of each coin was a little over $10. He also grew interested in ether after its emergence in 2015 and bought the majority of his ether last year. In total, he has 21.5 bitcoin, 305 ether, and a smaller percentage in other cryptocurrencies.
Todd’s been similarly lucky with cryptokitties. His big break came when he purchased an OldLace cat for 12 ether, or around $4,800 at the time of purchase, and later saw the value of the cat rise to approximately 30 ether. “There is kind of a barrier to entry, unless you have like 5 ether to get started with, it’s pretty hard to break in,” he says. “It’s really hard to get going unless you acquire one of the more valuable cats.”
Todd hasn’t had a perfect run of the game, however. On his first day on the site in late November, he mistakenly bought a cat for 0.7 ether that was actually worth 0.03 ether.
He estimates he’s spent 30 ether in total on the game so far, but his Kitty Portfolio, at the time of the interview, is worth 99 ether — a hypothetical net gain of $42,321.15, not considering transaction fees. He even says that the amount he’s made from the kitties has surpassed the total amount he’s made from his IRA retirement account.
Todd’s gains come from partly using Chrome extensions to gauge prices and partly with sheer luck. “When you’re trading currencies, there’s a lot of technical analysis that goes into the charting, but there’s no charting with kitties,” he says, explaining that he often makes decisions based on intuition.
To Todd, cryptokitties are just another way to hold ether, albeit definitely not the most practical way. “As if crypto weren’t speculative enough, this is extremely risky. I’m debating whether or not this is going to be around in two weeks,” says Todd, “Or maybe it’s just getting started, since it plays into that kitschy collectible toy culture that’s been going on for decades.”
As profitable as the business has been, Todd is already trying to get out of cryptokitty flipping. As of today, he only owns 18 cats, with many of his more common cats still up for sale. With the network still unstable, it’s often hard to post listings, and many in the community are worried about whether the game is still profitable.
“A kitty is just another form of a token, like holding another altcoin,” he says, expressing worry that it’s hard to post listings when the network is unstable. “I just don’t want to have this much money on CryptoKitties.”