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Science & Technology

CryptoKitties: Using The Blockchain For Cat Pictures


OK. This is a story about cat pictures, digital cat pictures called CryptoKitties.


CryptoKitties - people collect them online. They're these little cartoon cats generated programmatically with billions of possible combinations. They've got big-eyed expressions and pouting faces. And users are paying big money for them, even though at first they didn't do very much. But things are starting to change.

ROHAM GHAREGOZLOU: People are making all kinds of add-on games. So you can dress up your kitty. You can take it racing. You can train it in kitty battles.

GREENE: That is Roham Gharegozlou. He's the CEO of CryptoKitties.

GHAREGOZLOU: There's even a social network for kitties where you can give it a personality and start making friends.

GREENE: Friends? Friends for a virtual cat? OK.

MARTIN: The cats have gained traction in part because they're built on a trendy technology called the blockchain. It's a kind of public receipt that logs every cat and who it belongs to. It's the same tech that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are built on. It means the cats can't be taken away or copied or destroyed.

GHAREGOZLOU: Cat pictures on the internet aren't anything new. But until blockchain, these weren't real. You can send copies back and forth, but no one really owns the real thing. There's no way to prove it. And that's what blockchain does. For the first time, a digital item can be real. It can be impossible to counterfeit.

MARTIN: You can even breed them, with each new virtual cat passing along its unique attributes - cattributes (ph).

GREENE: Nice. Humans have paid about $24 million for CryptoKitties since this company launched in November.

GHAREGOZLOU: There was an auction in New York where one of our cats was actually displayed at Christie's New York. And there was a live auction. And the money went to charity, but it was about $140,000 that that specific kitty sold for.

GREENE: Some have turned buying and selling CryptoKitties into a really profitable business. We just hope that if this turns out to be a fad that fades, these kitties aren't going to end up in the cryptopound.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANAMANAGUCHI'S "MEOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.