How we designed the future of digital pets in just six weeks

Founders Max Giammario and Daryl Lim with their digital pet Shibas

In September last year, our team, ExMachina, participated and walked away as the winner of the Mercury Hackathon: All About NFTs, a six-week blockchain virtual hackathon.

Hosted by Tribe and AngelHack, in association with Filecoin, IPFS and Flow, the event drew over 2,000 participants who were all similarly motivated to flex their skills in a hands-on project related to blockchain applications and NFTs.

We were required to form teams of four, and I (handling business and operations) joined teammates Rachmanto Supatra (full-stack engineer), Tony Soekirman (tech lead) and Dimas Dewantara (full-stack engineer) to create ExMachina.

We were all located in Singapore, Batam, Jakarta, so we communicated via Trello for updates and used CODA for documentation for our collaborative workspace. We also relied on a group chat on WhatsApp to keep in touch daily.

We had weekly meetings every Wednesday evening and would delegate the workload according to our expertise. Tony, Raj and Dimas would work on the technical aspects across development, NFT and blockchain while I took charge of UI and UX.

We were assigned a mentor, Morgan Wilde, a software developer at Decentology. As an industry expert, he provided valuable inputs and advice and pushed us to question and experiment.

We got off to a rocky start when Wilde rejected our initial ideas. He explained that we should develop a product that can deliver value to a broader audience.

Through our brainstorming sessions, we identified a societal problem that had arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how we could use blockchain technology to impact lives positively.

This allowed us to dive deeper into exploring the topic of the rise in cases of loneliness and social isolation, which are mainly attributed to global lockdowns and restrictions on activities.

We discussed ways to tap into an interesting retro technology trend that could solve loneliness in the digital age, especially during the pandemic.

The eureka moment

Then it dawned on me, why not draw inspiration from Tamagotchi, a digital pet from the eighties that was well-loved as a digital companion?

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I had previously done some initial research work with a friend, Max Giammario (product and marketing), who is now my co-founder at MetaPals. We had created a marketing report on how Tamagotchi was popular with kids and with working adults.

It wasn’t just looking after a digital animal, but the emotional connections people formed by having responsibility for it, which meant caring for it and keeping it alive.

With the pandemic accelerating the trend to work and study from home, we’re spending more and more time on computers. And we thought, hey, we could bring the sense of companionship back.

We decided to reimagine MetaPals as a Chrome browser extension, where a user can ‘adopt’ a pet, dress, interact, feed and ultimately take responsibility for it.

We started preparing a business deck outlining our product direction because nothing was beyond the research stage. We knew we wanted to design unique NFTs of our digital pets and started crafting questions about their behaviours and personalities.

For example, we wanted our pets to do various actions like bouncing around the new screen or having a destructive personality. If the pets were ignored, they would start destroying web elements within the browser.

Depending on how active or sleepy each pet is, there were also some unique behaviours like running around energetically or sleeping in an isolated corner. All these various activities were then listed as individual actions that would make up the personality traits of each different pet.

Flow was beneficial for us as it is a blockchain built for next-generation games and digital assets compared with general-purpose blockchains like Ethereum.

In addition to enabling scalability, Flow also improves transaction speeds and is simpler to use as it splits validation tasks into four different nodes:

  • Consensus
  • Verification
  • Execution
  • Collection

It is also very developer-friendly as we can build on other developers’ work, making collaboration seamless and efficient.

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IPFS, on the other hand, was great in empowering creators like ourselves the ability to build and share on the decentralised web, whether it was to deliver content free from intermediary control or minting NFTs that will withstand the test of time.

NFTs in gaming are all about giving consumers actual ownership rights over their in-game components and giving the user a sense of worth and feel from the digital world.

MetaPals is much more than a browser extension

We see it as the first step to bringing life to the Metaverse and are excited to explore new ways to expand the world of MetaPals.

The Meta could quickly become a very stale, colourless and lifeless dystopia used by corporations to get more screen time for their products.

For it to become a true extension of the human experience, through our journey to create a world which we feel people want to join, we realised that we need to bring over the qualities that make us human: love, care, compassion.

There is no better way to do that than through man’s best friend, or any pet for that matter. MetaPals gives a peek into how we can slowly begin transitioning into a hybrid world, a truly immersive experience, not just in sounds and visuals, but with life and emotion.

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