Hamster Kombat takes Telegram by storm, helping app’s crypto ambitions

The Bell

A Russian-developed mobile game linked to the world of cryptocurrency has proved a mega hit for Telegram, providing a big boost to the app’s founder, Pavel Durov, and his own blockchain project. Hamster Kombat, a simple game in which players pound their phone screens to generate virtual currency, has surged to 150 million worldwide users. The Bell looked into its mysterious origins and talked to sources close to the game and Telegram about its future.

  • The premise of Hamster Kombat is simple enough. Users play as the hamster boss of a crypto exchange platform have to make it as profitable as possible. That starts off as repeatedly pressing a picture of a hamster to earn in-game currency, though the tasks gradually become more complicated. The game is set up to maximize engagement — players need to be logged in for three hours a day to ensure they can advance, and missing a day means progress is lost.
  • The game is so popular in Russia that as well as inspiring a host of memes (dedicated to lovers of “tapping the hamster”) it has attractedofficial attention. “It’s crazy. People are downloading Telegram just to play it,” said one of The Bell’s sources in the Telegram game market. The game’s official Telegram channel has almost 37 million followers and since May 24 its YouTube channel has gained more than 23 million views. There has been widespread media and blog coverage in Russia and Bloomberg even wrote about the “Hamster CEO,” as a possible “killer app” for the crypto industry.
  • The game’s phenomenal popularity is easy to understand. Not only is it straightforward to play, but there is also the chance to profit once the in-game currency starts to circulate on crypto exchanges. A similar “clicker” game, Notcoin, hyped by Telegram founder Pavel Durov, has already delivered on that promise. In late April, almost six months after its release, Notcoin’s virtual currency started trading on the world’s biggest crypto exchanges. Experts say that top players could earn several hundred dollars for their efforts. Hamster Kombat is also believed to be preparing for a crypto listing, but there is no concrete information. Plus, only a select few will actually be able to cash-in: early adopters, influencers going big on referrals, and, of course, the game’s creators.
  • The Bell discovered that Eduard Gurinovich, a serial Russian IT entrepreneur who set up the CarPrice and CarMoney online auto and finance platforms, had a hand in Hamster Kombat’s development. Telegram itself is also a major beneficiary of the game’s success, a source told The Bell. Durov and his service needs these kinds of games because they generate huge traffic, said another source close to the developers. The gaming audience is larger than Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, and VK, its top social media platform, combined. 
  • Hamster Kombat is “turning over” several million dollars in advertising revenues a day, one source claimed. Crypto exchanges are the biggest backers and pay when users click on links, watch clips or install wallets. “Basically, this is a huge advertising platform for crypto exchanges. There simply wasn’t anything like this before,” the source said. Exchanges pay handsomely for new users, with the going rate at more than $100 per person that signs up.

Why the world should care: 

For Telegram, viral clicker games are more than an opportunity to profit from the crypto advertising boom. They also help promote its own TON blockchain and the platform itself as a user-friendly alternative to the App Store or Google Play, another source close to Telegram told The Bell. Durov’s long-term vision is to create something resembling China’s WeChat, or a super app that offers different services within a single platform. On that front, Hamster Kombat’s success is the “biggest free advertising campaign in history,” one source told The Bell.


Support The Bell!

The Bell's Newsletter

An inside look at the Russian economy and politics. Exclusively in your inbox every week.