What's the Deal with Neko Atsume?

Chances are, if you know more than five people with a smartphone, you’ve probably heard of the game that’s taking over the world. Developed by the Japanese company Hit-Point, Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is an app that’s gained a cult following. According to math: “By the end of last year, the game had been downloaded 10 million times, and it made several critics’ year-end top-10 lists”. Despite its popularity, the actual reason behind its success remains a mystery.

Welcome to Neko Atsume.


In rough translation, Neko Atsume means cat collecting, and that’s really all there is to it. Furnish your backyard with tantalizing cat toys, set out food, and wait for the cats to start accumulating. While they’re visiting, you can watch them play with their toys, and when they leave, they give gifts of fish that allow you to buy even more fun toys and tasty food. Why should such a simple game spark such a loyal following? I’ve compiled a list of six C’s that I hope will help explain this furry enigma.


Costs Nothing

Cat collecting is completely free. For a lot of people, this is a base line requirement for an app, and definitely a reason for the huge number of downloads. If it turns out for some heartless reason kitty collecting just isn’t for you, there’s no consequences for simply trying it out and promptly deleting.



On top of being free, the app doesn’t require data. That means you can play it on a moving plane or when your monthly data allowance has run out. Absolute freedom. In addition, game play only takes a couple minutes at a time, tops. Collect gifts, refill food, watch cats be adorable, take photos, done.



Maybe the true genius of Neko Atsume is the ability to create your own cat paradise. With over 130 play items to choose from, with color and style preferences galore, it’s either an interior decorators dream or worst nightmare. But if I want a hamburger cushion in my Western themed backyard, who’s to say I’m wrong?


My current cat paradise



In the words of smarter people than me: “[Neko Atsume’s] true draw is the power to manage a free market, while indulging in a fantasy of unfettered surveillance”. For some people the joys of Kitty Collecting are “purely transactional.” To them, I say phooey. Have you ever seen two cat butts sticking out of a donut tunnel?

Cat butts: the real reason to play Neko Atsume.


Connecting with other people

Like many cat collectors, I downloaded Neko Atsume because I saw how much my friends enjoyed talking about their cats. Since then I’ve had many a fond conversation about finally spotting Chairman Meow, and have even made some new friends with similar feline inclinations along the way.



Let’s be honest—the cats are the real stars here. They’re cute, low-maintenance, and reward you for simply taking the time to refill their food bowls. Like real cats, it’s an honor if they even just temporarily share their existence with you, visiting their favorite earthenware pot one moment and mysteriously disappearing the next. These curious creatures give the illusion of existence even when the app is closed, and that’s the magic of it. The cats have claimed for themselves their own little world: no technology, no humans, no pressure. Just a few favorite toys, some good eats, and a friend or seven.


Neko Atsume is essentially an anti-game—it requires not even an ounce of competition to enjoy it, and only requires as much attention as you’re willing to put in to it. Maybe it is for this, any, or all of these reason that Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector has found its way into the hearts of so many humans.


Image credits: Emily Stegner via Neko Atsume