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Gas-Guzzling, Worthless On-Chain Pet Captivates Ethereum Community

After accidentally killing one on-chain critter, the Ethereum community is spending thousands to keep the latest WAGMIGOTCHI alive.

Sep 11, 2021 at 6:17 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 2:22 p.m. UTC

A gas-guzzling side project from an increasingly high-profile developer has attracted the attention of the Ethereum community, but without incentive structures and limited utility, it’s unclear exactly why.

Dom Hofmann, who co-founded the defunct social media video platform Vine, is building a fervent following after the success of a number of Ethereum-based projects and self-described “experiments.” A text-based non-fungible token (NFT) project he released for free last month, Loot (for Adventurers), now accounts for over $200 million in secondary market sales.

While his latest effort appears unlikely to reach the same heights, it does have people paying serious crypto just to interact with it.

On Friday Hofmann announced via a tweet the launch of WAGMIGOTCHI, a smart contract without a front end that allows users to care for a digital pet with various needs. If one of the needs is not met, the pet “dies” and users cannot further interact with the contract.

“WAGMIGOTCHI has four attributes that increment every 50 blocks: boredom, uncleanliness, hunger and sleepiness,” Hofmann told CoinDesk in an interview on Discord, adding:

“The actions play, clean, feed and sleep always reset their corresponding attribute, but will sometimes increment a different attribute on top of what they’ve already gained naturally. For example, feed resets hunger but increments boredom and a little bit of uncleanliness.”

Just minutes after Hofmann released the first version of the contract, overeager caretakers accidentally killed it.

“It was played with too many times consecutively and passed away from fatigue,” said Hofmann.

Take 2

Shortly after, Hofmann released a second version of WAGMIGOTCHI that included smart contractual tweaks ensuring that while playtime exhaustion could bring the digital pet up to the threshold of death, the only thing that can kill it is on-chain inactivity.

The more durable critter is now thriving, but may quickly become among the most expensive digital pets ever: at the time of writing and roughly 16 hours since its publication, caretakers have interacted with the contract 3,300 times, spending over 13 ETH in gas fees worth over $43,000. Meanwhile, in the physical world, a cloned dog costs $50,000.

Aside from participating in a project from Hofmann – who wields growing notoriety as a high-profile (and unusually prolific) developer – it’s unclear what incentives there are to keep WAGMIGOTCHI “alive.” Caretakers earn one LOVE per interaction, which is not a token but an arbitrary number the contract records for each interacting Ethereum address.

To an outsider, WAGMIGOTCHI’s etymology is likely as baffling as its lack of utility.

The name is a portmanteau of the acronym for “We’re All Gonna Make It,” a popular phrase in trading circles used to express bullish sentiments, and “Tamagotchi,” the faddish handheld digital pets from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Add-ons and knock-offs

As with previous Hofmann side projects, developers have mobilized to build a rapidly expanding ecosystem of add-ons and knock-offs. One developer has built an interface that tracks the status of WAGMIGOTCHI and makes interacting with its contract easier, while others have focused on creating more scalable versions of the pet as well as utility for the LOVE score, Hofmann told CoinDesk.

Given the gas costs, scalability is weighing on Hofmann in particular.

“While these projects are generally artistic experiments and it’s the nature of the network, transaction fees are still something I feel guilty about personally,” he said. “I’m looking into other options that I might be able [to] incorporate into future projects.”

Even with the high gas prices, however, people do crazy things for LOVE.

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

Andrew Thurman is a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.

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