MEET THE DEVELOPER
Loving Cats for a Living
The makers of the iOS game Meow Match take kitties very…purrsonally.
Connect by Color & Relax Games
On a drizzly Seattle morning, five developers of Meow Match file into a glass-walled conference room on the 23rd floor of an office building for a weekly staff meeting. The idea is to plan and troubleshoot for their overpoweringly adorable iOS puzzle game, which allows players to feed, costume, and coddle a litter’s worth of cartoon kitties.
There’s artist Caitlyn Patten, wearing a baseball cap shaped like a whiskered cat head. Her job is to sketch the game’s felines as they frolic on various adventures. A gondola date, for instance.
Programmer Tom Johnson is also in the room, sipping from a black coffee mug with two pointy ears that he molded himself. He works on gameplay mechanics, like making the cats climb furniture.
At the end of the table: Brianna Ogas, who handles customer service, sitting in front of her whiteboard doodle of a cat with eyes the size of milk saucers.
The meeting begins. Gazing down from the projector screen is a genteel cartoon kitty wearing a bow tie and monocle.
“I just briefly wanted to show this totally lame thing I did,” says designer Ian Scott. Up pops a cat wearing bunny ears as part of an Easter promotion.
Nobody thinks it’s lame. Because to work on Meow Match is to adore cats, both personally and professionally.
Production director Jessica Brunelle easily qualifies. On top of experience working on post-apocalyptic games Empire Z and Battle Beach for Meow Match’s parent company, she has lived pretty much her entire life with a cat (or two): the wild tabby Fido, who clawed her thigh and then ran away, the fluffy rescue Copernicus found hiding in her garage, fat orange Frank who became her wingman after college, and father-and-son duo Galactus and Merlin, who live with her today.
Now she leads Meow Match, a game driven by a story that, as she puts it, “unfolds with miniature, cat-size drama.”
Players win in-game currency for matching three puzzle pieces (little red birds, say, or maybe blue fish), then use that currency to spoil the cats with snacks and toys.
Along the way the cats explore the world and discover their true destiny. As an example, consider the case of Sterling: “He’s this white Persian,” Brunelle explains. “He was born into a country life, but he’s a city cat at heart and dreams of going to New York someday. And he finally gets an opportunity to go there as part of the story line. He wants to either be a decorator or work in fashion.”
To reach Sterling, players need to complete a lot of levels. Like maybe 500 or 600. Meow Match currently has about 900, and the developers keep making more, because their most hardcore players are already at the end.
Keeping up with the demand requires a lot of work—and meetings like this one. The team runs through analytics, then moves on to discussing customer-service tickets. But Meow Match tickets are rarely typical.
“It’s completely different from every other game we make,” Ogas says. “Some people just send streams of emoticons, no message. We also get a lot of ‘I love this game. I love cats.’”
Now a new photo appears on the screen: A gamer has submitted a customer-service ticket featuring a photo of a black-and-white cat underneath a jacket. There’s no context, no engineering bug to squash, no user problem to solve. It’s just a cat picture.
Brunelle says, “Awww.”