Updated 26 Jan 2017: Animoca Brands announced that it has signed a one-year renewable exclusive license and distribution agreement with Axiom Zen to publish CryptoKitties in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The Hong Kong-based mobile game developer did not disclose any further details about the launch in the press release.

Axiom Zen, a Vancouver-based innovation studio, is launching its flagship Ethereum-based game CryptoKitties in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The company has signed a one-year renewable exclusive license and distribution agreement with Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based mobile game developer, to publish the blockchain game.

Benny Giang, one of the co-founders of CryptoKitties told TechNode in an interview that the team plans to first roll out the mobile version of the game for iOS in the Greater China region, then the rest of Asia. However, there “are a lot regulations in play… This means we cannot guarantee the launch of CryptoKitties.”

Some of you might have heard of CryptoKitties but have little knowledge of what it is or why people are so obsessed with it. So let’s back up a minute.

Blockchain, a distributed and decentralized ledger technology, has been booming in recent years. Cryptocurrencies and smart contracts like Bitcoin and Ethereum networks are only a few of the applications that run on blockchain. CryptoKitties is the first and one of the biggest blockchain-based games. It is also the most popular smart contract system on the Ethereum network.

Much like Pokemon and baseball cards from back in the good old days, CryptoKitties are collectible pieces of art. What is so special about the game is, well, players can collect, buy and sell virtual breedable cats instead of playing cards (almost like that other classic, the Tamagotchi).

CryptoKitties’ virtual marketplace (Image Credit: CryptoKitties)

The game was launched only a few months ago, but within weeks the game went viral and became so popular that at one point it completely overloaded the Ethereum network.

Many crypto enthusiasts in Asia have been left out of the CryptoKitties fever, but not for much longer.

The team is still working on the Chinese translation for the name “CryptoKitties,” but it is certain that the mobile app will be in the Chinese language. There will also be Spring Festival-themed Fancy Cats–kittens with distinct visual attributes that are harder to collect and more valuable.

Launchpad to China and the rest of Asia

While blockchain-based technologies and applications are evolving fast, many countries’ crypto regulatory measures are slow to catch on.

Mainland China’s recent crackdowns on cryptocurrency thwarted Axiom Zen’s original plan to launch CryptoKitties in the country. “We are in the middle of negotiating partnerships with game publishing companies in mainland China, but with the recent crackdowns it may take much longer to get to the mainland.”

With so many uncertainties, the team feels they have to navigate through the changing regulatory climate as they go. “So far we’ve been in conversations with quite a lot of people who are located in Greater China. We are working with lawyers from both sides—from our end in Canada and in Greater China to figure out what’s the best way to proceed.”

Despite the challenges, the team is set to take their first step into the Asia market. “Hong Kong has a lot of involvement of blockchain products that have connections to Korea and Japan, and it’s a global hub for a lot of these new projects.”

Tapping Asia’s potential

It is not without reason the startup is so certain about the untapped potential in Asia—even though the game is not yet optimized for Asia, a large percentage of CryptoKitties players are from the region—a close second only behind North America—and specifically, China. “We already have players in these countries, we just need to support and build the community there to make the game more accessible.”

The startup sees the Spring Festival as the golden opportunity. The team has been building a lot of features and functions that are specific to the Greater China market.

A scalable solution

The game currently has more than 320,000 players and it is still growing fast. For mobile app games in China, having millions of users is not uncommon, but “for a blockchain game that is really big,” Giang explained, “If we’re talking about the blockchain, Ethereum can’t handle millions of users at this point nor can any blockchains available now that are in full production.” In a way, the scale of blockchain games really rests on the development of the blockchain technology.

So this begs the question, can Ethereum handle the kind of volume that Chinese market entails? “We are now working with a lot of experts in scaling… They are working actively to build these solutions.” And there will be increasingly more blockchain-based games coming out. “Since we launched CryptoKitties we’ve created a team at Axiom Zen who are specifically focused on exploring long-term scaling solutions. That is something that we take very seriously.”

Future of gaming

Crypto-collectibles are unique because via smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, the ownership of these items or gaming content is tracked and will dwell forever on the digital ledger. “The way we see it is that these are pieces of art where in a hundred years or five hundred years, these kitties will be like the Mona Lisa…” Five hundred years into the future, “somewhere around the world people will have these kitties—art pieces that they bought a long long time ago,” Giang explained.

Although many people see CryptoKitties as an investment vehicle, that is not why the game was created. “The main thing for us is that it is a game that is educational. We want more people to learn about blockchain and that’s kind of our overarching goal… [CryptoKitties] should be a learning vehicle, and that is what we’ve always said since the beginning.” But at the end of the day, some people see the value in profitability, others see in it the sheer enjoyment of collecting unique art pieces, it’s really up to the market to decide what it is.

Nicole Jao is a reporter based in Beijing. She’s passionate about emerging trends, news, and stories of human interest within the world of technology. Connect with her on Twitter or via email: nicole.jao.iting@gmail.com.

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