Hamster Kombat tapping into Iranians’ mobile screens

Hamster Kombat tapping into Iranians’ mobile screens
Iranians are going crazy for a new hamster game through Telegram. / CC: IRNA
By bne Tehran bureau June 10, 2024

A new type of foreign rodent has invaded Iran. This rodent, however, is not physical but virtual, causing alarm among authorities across the republic. It is now a common sight to see people tapping away frantically on their smartphones, immersed in the latest digital obsession, Hamster Kombat.

This recently launched crypto-based game runs through the banned social media messaging app Telegram and has garnered global attention, causing authorities in Iran and elsewhere to urge caution about the new craze. 

Its popularity has surged worldwide, including in Iran, where users are eager to ride the wave. In Iran, however, the collapse of the local currency, the rial (IRR), over the past few years has exacerbated the issue, forcing hundreds of thousands of mobile users to try to earn extra cash in any way possible. 

At the heart of Hamster Kombat lies its simple gameplay. The Exchange section, the game's central hub, showcases a coin symbolising the game. Players tap on this coin to accumulate virtual currency, with real-time updates reflecting their growing wealth.

Nobody knows who designed Hamster Kombat

The game's growth statistics are impressive, to say the least. In just 72 days, Hamster Kombat has attracted 116mn users globally, a feat that has taken years for platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok to achieve. However, despite the game's growing popularity, nobody knows who's behind the app, and there is no whitepaper or team behind it.

With a goal of reaching 1bn users, the game boasts a daily active user base of 31mn, with 6.5mn players concurrently online. Beyond gameplay, the community thrives with 24mn members on Telegram, 13.5mn YouTube subscribers, and 4.8mn Twitter followers, indicating a highly engaged global audience.

Hamster Kombat's meteoric ascent can be attributed to the rapid surge in the valuation of Notcoin, a cryptocurrency that recently witnessed a substantial increase in value. According to Rade, a website specialising in personal finance advisory, this surge, coupled with the opportunity for significant profits, has propelled Iranians who missed out on Notcoin to dive into Hamster Kombat, driven by "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out).

This sense of urgency has significantly swelled the ranks of Iranian users flocking to Hamster Kombat, accessible through the popular messaging platform Telegram.

However, the game's rapid growth has not been without concerns, particularly in Iran. The Iranian Cyber Police have reported numerous fraud cases associated with Hamster Kombat. Scammers have capitalised on the game's popularity, peddling false promises of selling game cards or secret codes that guarantee daily coin bonuses. These deceptive practices have resulted in financial losses for many players, prompting a wave of caution. According to the Cyber Police, 18 cases related to Hamster-related scams have been opened thus far.

Iranian authorities nervous

In response, the Iranian Blockchain Association has issued guidelines to safeguard users. The association advised players against divulging personal information and making payments for what should be free airdrops.

They recommend interacting only with official game bots and seeking guidance from experts within public groups to ensure safe and secure engagement with the game.

Reports from local media outlets in Iran suggest a broader impact on the country's tech markets, particularly the underground ones. Eghtesad Online reported a surge in VPN sales as Iranians seek uninterrupted access to Hamster Kombat.

One VPN seller noted a significant spike in demand, with many buyers aiming to bypass restrictions and capitalise on the game's perceived earning potential.

Kamran Soltani Zadeh, former Secretary-General of the Exchange Union, cautioned against banking on financial gains from Hamster Kombat. He highlighted that while previous digital currencies like Notcoin demonstrated potential for value creation, Hamster Kombat lacks the infrastructural support and clear value proposition that underpinned earlier successes.

He warned that the current enthusiasm might pose challenges, with users investing time and resources into a system without guaranteed returns.

The game's ascent and associated controversies have also captured the attention of Iran's religious authorities. The office of Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani has indicated that earning money through Hamster Kombat is permissible if it complies with national laws, offering a degree of endorsement for cautious participation. Hardline Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has issued a stark warning against such activities, citing the ambiguous origins of these cryptocurrencies and their high potential for misuse as grounds to prohibit involvement.

Heated debate about the state of the economy

The game's popularity has also caused a heated debate online, with people arguing with each other on forums across the country. 

"In which countries are people playing the hamster game? In which country is the value of money and people's income so low that a hamster game matters to them?" one anonymous user wrote online. 

"People are turning to this game because they've lost faith in the traditional economy," said Amir Hossein, a Tehran-based economist.

"When you've seen your savings evaporate in the stock market and your purchasing power decimated by inflation, the promise of easy money through an online game starts to look appealing," he added.

Iran's authorities have issued warnings about the game, urging citizens not to be duped by its promises. However, many Iranians remain sceptical of these warnings, pointing out the government's own role in the country's economic troubles.

"They [the authorities] didn't warn us about investing in the stock market, and look how that turned out," said one user on social media. "Why should we trust them now?"

Despite the risks, the game's popularity shows no signs of waning. For many Iranians, the slim hope of striking it rich through "Hamster" seems more attainable than finding a decent job or building a stable future in the current economy.

As one player put it, "I know it's probably a scam, but what do I have to lose? At least it gives me something to hope for."