Zeptolab, creator of the wildly successful Cut the Rope games, announced today that it is introducing players to the world of CATS (Crash Arena Turbo Stars). Similar to the puzzle game that launched the company, the gameplay for CATS is deceptively simple—except instead of solving a puzzle to drop candy into an adorable monster’s (Om Nom) mouth, players are tasked with building battle machines driven by cute kitties with attitude.

Although Zeptolab released Pudding Monsters in 2012 and King of Thieves in 2015, the Cut the Rope franchise remains the company’s biggest hit. In CATS, players assemble and upgrade their machines using parts that include wheels, drills, shovels and missile launchers. Once constructed, they pit their machines against creations made by other players. The two vehicles attack each other automatically until only one is left standing. Most battles are done in under ten seconds, making it very easy to participate in a string of championship matches for leaderboard rankings. Players then win additional parts to further improve their machines.

Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman of Zeptolab, sat down with [a]listdaily to talk about the new game, which is expected to launch for iOS and Android in April. We discuss the new free-to-play mobile releasing amid the ongoing success of Cut the Rope while amazingly avoiding making cat fight jokes.

Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman, Zeptolab
Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman, Zeptolab

What is the new game, CATS about?

CATS is a game where you assemble your own fighting machine and battle other people, impersonated as mean street cats. Essentially, the game is about building a machine that will fight other machines. The machines fight automatically, and there are championship rankings for you to progress using different machines and parts.

What lessons did you learn from the Cut the Rope franchise that will help you promote CATS?

Currently, the mobile games market is very mature and it’s very difficult for new players to come in with new games unless they have huge marketing budgets. Cut the Rope established Zeptolab as a gaming brand and we continue—as a company—to show our fans that every time we release something, it’s going to be interesting and exciting. The success of Cut the Rope told us that branding is very important in this business. Therefore, we’ve grown the Zeptolab brand so that you’ll want to play every game we release.

As a result, I think we enjoy a very high viral effect for our games. So, we spend less in terms of marketing to attract the same amount of users that other people (without the brand credit) have to. The importance of branding in games was the biggest lesson for us. We think of every new game as a franchise that will continue forward.

How do you let people know when a new Zeptolab game is releasing?

We’re making sure the industry and the proper news outlets knows about the game. We also have a huge number of people who play our games every month. So, there will be a cross-promotional mechanism, of course. Plus, we will try to get influential gamers to tell their friends. If a game has huge viral potential, then it’s important to get information about new Zeptolab games to the most interested players who will tell other about it.

Will the game include any social features?

You can play against people on Facebook, and we’ll also have things like clans coming. We’ll add more features after the game releases, just as we do with our other games. For example, Cut the Rope is almost six-years-old, and we continue to make new features and levels for it. The same went for King of Thieves, and the same will go for CATS. There will be an update every month with something new and exciting.

Will you be able to brag and show off your machines?

That’s a very big thing. We’re integrating a lot of interesting features right now that will allow you to brag. It’s interesting to show those fights, so naturally, we will make a way to share them with the world. Not just pictures, but I think videos of fights will be very interesting for people to see. We’ve already seen people uploading footage to YouTube with the soft launch.

Are there plans to support larger tournaments?

Yes, eSports is something that we’ve certainly been thinking about. Once we launch the game, we’ll understand the community’s appetite and provide the proper features for bigger competitions. We think the game has a lot of potential for this type of interaction.

Cut the Rope has Om Nom as its mascot. Will CATS have a similar mascot?

Yes, CATS has . . . cats. For example, there’s Uncle Tony. He’s a wise-guy that guides you through the process of fighting other cats. We’re already doing stickers and things with him, so I think he will be the mascot for the game.

Will you be taking advantage of any merchandising opportunities at launch?

We’re waiting for the game to catch on first. Merchandising is something that is in addition to the main gaming business. So, we don’t have any merchandising plans at this point.

What is the monetization model you’ll be using with CATS?

There will be both in-app purchases and advertising. In some cases, you will have a choice to either wait [for parts], pay or watch advertising—just like what we did with King of Thieves.

How do you plan to engage players for the long-term, especially after they’ve reached the top of the leaderboards?

There’s always somebody coming behind to defeat you, so you can’t rest on your victories forever. There will be others who will come and displace you. There isn’t a place where you can say, “I’m number one forever.” You can only be number one for a certain period of time, so you’ll always have to be on your feet, changing up your car with upgrades.

Once you fight other cars, you’ll modify yours to withstand them and fight them better. The more you play, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more things become available to you. There’s endless interest. You can earn different stickers and badges for being the top or longtime player.


How will updating CATS compare to Cut the Rope?

With CATS, we’re looking to update every month. Cut the Rope is different because it’s a puzzle game that has an end, so you build up content so that people can play it more. Updating CATS won’t just be about new body parts, machines and weapons. There will also be new game modes like tournaments and other things we have up our sleeves. I think any big game with multiplayer needs to be updated constantly. King of Thieves gets updated about every two months.

How would you describe the Zeptolab game brand?

Zeptolab is about fun, quality and innovation. We try to find new and interesting game ideas from a mix of different ideas. Then we grind them through a mechanism—we call it the innovation process—to make sure the players will enjoy it. Then, when we finally release the game, we make sure that the quality is top-notch. Every time you get a game from Zeptolab, you should expect innovation, fun and quality. That’s what we strive for and we think that once we do that, the world becomes a bit better. People smile more.

Is it difficult to live up to the success of Cut the Rope?

It’s always tough in any business, especially in gaming, to follow-up a mega-hit with other hits. We don’t think of the new games we do as the next Cut the Rope. But we do think of them as huge games that will be popular with millions of people. Cut the Rope has touched a billion people and King of Thieves has 50 million downloads. We’ll see where CATS is going to go. But I think that the game will be big enough. Not as big as Cut the Rope, because that game was a revelation—swiping your finger across the screen to cut a rope for candy was a “wow” moment when it came to interacting with hardware. We’re obvious past that point. So, in order to innovate and offer something fresh and exciting, we come up with interesting and new gameplay along with different scenarios for the games.

We think that, regardless of how big this game is going to be, I think it’s going to carry the Zeptolab brand forward as a fun, quality and innovative game.