Wheel of fortune. Millions of users are tapping on a cartoon hamster in the hopes of earning real money in a new Russian game craze — Novaya Gazeta Europe
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Wheel of fortune

Millions of users are tapping on a cartoon hamster in the hopes of earning real money in a new Russian game craze

Wheel of fortune

Hamster Kombat / YouTube

Hamster Kombat, a new cryptocurrency game that has taken the Telegram messaging app by storm, has lured in millions of users with the promise of fast and easy money, even if Telegram itself stands to gain far more from it than would-be crypto traders.

On Telegram, nearly 40 million followers eagerly wait for game announcements. On YouTube, some 24 million subscribers tune in to flashy videos hyping up the game and promising monetary success if the subscriber can only avoid the “TOP 3 Crypto Trading mistakes” or use the “3 Biggest Hacks in Crypto”.

Hamster Kombat appeared on Telegram in March and quickly gained widespread popularity. In the last month alone, the game’s online presence has increased rapidly, breaking the record for most YouTube subscribers gained in a single week at over 11 million. Hamster Kombat’s creators reported last week that 150 million people around the world now use the game daily.

“Unleash your inner CEO!” the game’s Telegram channel reads when users sign up to play. Hamster Kombat is a Telegram-based app, meaning that players sign up via the messaging service itself rather than through their phone’s app store.

The game follows a “tap-to-earn” model, encouraging users to tap on a cartoon hamster to earn coins. With enough virtual coins, the users can grow a pretend “crypto exchange” run by their hamster. The end goal is to reach the tenth level, transforming their hamster, who fittingly dons a suit and tie, into a CEO.

The game’s creators promise to list the hamster ($HMSTR) token on a real crypto exchange, prompting users to set up entire “hamster crypto farms” in the hopes that their accumulated riches can actually turn into real money. The developers say they will withdraw hamster coins to TON, a blockchain network owned by Nikolay and Pavel Durov, the founders of Telegram, and begin trading them on real crypto exchanges.

While it’s not known for certain who owns the game, The Bell, an independent Russian media outlet focused on economic policy, reported earlier this week that Russian IT entrepreneur Eduard Gurinovich was behind it. Gurinovich is the CEO and co-founder of CarPrice, a successful Moscow-based technology startup, but not much else is known about him.

Hamster Kombat / YouTube

Hamster Kombat / YouTube

It is unlikely that most players will benefit from the game. Nonetheless, according to Alexey Bragin, a Russian technology expert, the game’s popularity will likely be quite profitable for Hamster Kombat’s developers. “Popularity among users, especially those so loyal to the game, can be monetised in hundreds of different ways and generate impressive income,” he told Russian news outlet RTVI.

Telegram and its creators are the most obvious direct beneficiaries of the hamster craze, according to The Bell, which pointed to both the huge increase in traffic and the additional advertising revenue it provides, citing one source who estimated that the game could be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a day for the messenger.

The game’s success would also contribute to Telegram’s own blockchain and its ultimate goal of becoming a “super app” consolidating multiple services into a single giant network much as China’s WeChat has done, The Bell wrote. Although critics have argued that WeChat’s practices are monopolistic, the market for super apps only seems to be growing.

This means that the app’s likely goal is to hold a massive ad campaign for Telegram, The Bell’s sources said, and not to actually turn the hamster coin into a “real” cryptocurrency. Still, even if the $HMSTR becomes listed, users with millions in hamster coins are unlikely to earn much from it.

Notcoin, another Telegram “tap-to-earn” game that preceded Hamster Kombat and was promoted by Telegram CEO Pavel Durov, landed on Binance and other crypto exchanges in April, currently trading at $0.01452. The game’s developers stated that they would convert 1,000 in-game coins to one $NOT coin that can be traded on Binance, meaning that even players who earned millions of in-game coins stand to earn no more than a few hundred dollars.

The distribution of crypto tokens to each user will depend “on earnings per hour and other activity parameters,” and not on the number of coins in each account, Hamster Kombat said in a vague announcement on X earlier in June, which indicated that even if the hamster coin is listed, it would be likely to follow a similar model to Notcoin.

The Russian authorities have voiced their concerns about the app, and the Bank of Russia even placed Hamster Kombat on a list of companies exhibiting signs of being a pyramid scheme in June.

Russian lawmakers have also been sceptical of the game, noting that it posed “certain risks” to players, even if tapping on the hamster “isn’t illegal in itself”. “Tapping your finger on your phone screen is your own business,” State Duma Deputy Sergey Gavrilov conceded.

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