‘Stray’ — the videogame where you play as a cat — is breaking the internet

The new cyberpunk cat game for PlayStation and PC has already set a Steam record for indie studio Annapurna Interactive. It sparked a feline frenzy online, with even real-life cats transfixed by the game footage.

The cat is out of the bag — and probably all over your Twitter and TikTok feeds.

“Stray,” a new videogame for Sony’s SONY, +1.20% PlayStation and Microsoft MSFT, +1.06% Windows, lets players explore a subterranean, cyberpunk city as ginger tabby that’s trying to claw its way back to its family.

The $29.99 third-person platform adventure and puzzle game — from French development studio BlueTwelve, and published by Annapurna Interactive — has drawn plenty of hype since it was first teased during the 2020 PS5 reveal event. (A newer trailer released on June 2 has already been viewed more than 1.7 million times on PlayStation’s YouTube account.)

And now the long awaited “cat game” is here — and players and their feline friends are already obsessed.

Some mild spoilers follow: The gist of the game is that you play a lost, stray cat navigating a subterranean city populated by robots. The goal is to get back to the surface world, where your feline friends live. Your stray soon teams up with a sentient drone named B12 (who can talk to the humanoid robots for your cat character), and the two of you explore the city and solve puzzles to find your way home, discovering what happened to all of the humans along the way — while also avoiding hungry monsters who want to eat this cute kitty up almost as much as the players do.

“Stray” was trending on Twitter TWTR, +0.28% on both Monday and Tuesday, around the game’s launch, drawing more than 363,000 tweets by late Tuesday afternoon. It was still up there on the trending list Wednesday morning, now with 524,000 tweets and counting — although some of those were related to the South Korean boy band Stray Kids, as well.

And perhaps the most adorable early trend featured gamers posting videos of their own cats being transfixed by the nameless, pawed protagonist.

There’s been so many of these clips being passed around that it’s inspired the @catswatchstray Twitter account, which has been retweeting clips of kitties that appear to be memorized by the videogame cat onscreen.

“Stray” was also posting big numbers for a “little” game on Steam, the cloud-based gaming library. “Stray” had 62,963 concurrent players at its peak on Tuesday, according to Steam Stats. Independent video game analyst Benji-Sales tweeted that “Stray” broke the concurrent player record for any Annapurna Interactive game on Steam on Tuesday, making it the studio’s biggest PC launch ever.

“I absolutely cannot over emphasize how incredible these numbers are for an indie title,” he wrote. “HUGE hit for Annapurna Interactive and BlueTwelve Studio.”

The BlueTwelve Studio game developers weren’t immediately available for comment. But they revealed in a PlayStation blog post that they took care to make the stray at the center of the game look and feel as much like real cats as possible. (Well, except for showing cat buttholes, apparently.) And the finished product seems to be resonating with real-life felines and their humans, alike.

Some dogs were getting into it, too.

The PlayStation blog post also introduced the three cats that inspired the game’s leading feline. They include an orange tabby named Murtaugh, a former stray, himself, who was found under a car in Montpellier, France. He now lives with BlueTwelve Studio’s co-owners. And a hairless Sphynx named Oscar was the muse to the main cat animator — who reportedly animated the cats by hand, not with a motion-capture suit — to nail down the subtleties of a feline’s movements when it runs, jumps, scratches, “boops the snoot” and climbs. Both cats were regular visitors inside the development team’s studio. “Having real cats under our noses during the whole development was of course extremely helpful in many ways,” the blog post said.

Early reviews of the game have been largely positive — the Washington Post dubbed it a “meow-sterpiece,” and the Verge called it “one of the best games of the year so far.” But some critics have also said that the game doesn’t always “land on its feet,” so to speak, and its charm can wear off quickly.

Still, much of the highest praise has been lavished on how well the developers caught the feeling of being a cat — from the way the in-game strays stretch when they get up, rub against one another, scratch trees or nonchalantly knock over bottles as they walk by, to the fact that there is a “dedicated meow button.”

Which is perhaps why “Stray” has been like catnip for gamers to share on social media — home of the cat meme. After all, there are millions of cat videos on YouTube GOOGL, +0.08% — and more than 18 million uploads of videos related to cats have already been uploaded in 2022, according to YouTube global data shared with MarketWatch. And this is more than three times the number of videos uploaded during the same time period last year.

What’s more, searching “cat meme” on Google draws about 198 million results. “Cat memes” is also Googled twice as much as “dog memes,” according to Google Trends data shared with MarketWatch. And search interest in “cat videos” surpassed “dog videos” in 2013.

There’s even a growing body of YouTube videos targeted toward cats (aka “cat TV”), featuring footage of birds and squirrels to keep felines occupied while they’re home alone. Maybe now cat owners can also leave the “Stray” loading screen or opening gameplay tutorial running for their fur babies, as well.

Post courtesy of Market Watch

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