Recent Developments and Trends
in Keychain Virtual Pets

An Illustrated Report
Part 2 of 2

by Gary Polson
© Copyright 1997 Polson Enterprises

Virtual Pet Design & Consulting Services


  1. Specially Shaped Cases

    Early clones copied the "flattened egg" shaped case of the Tamagotchi. Soon, the case shape began to evolve and minor variations such as a textured dinosaur egg began to appear. Some added a dog or dinosaur shaped head to the top. Then the basic "flattened egg" shape began to change. Some became much flatter and took on the shape of the face of a pet or basic geometric shapes. Dog houses and fish tanks began to appear. Now, many cases assume the shape of the pet itself.


    Ganbare !! Inuda-kun

    Virtual Pet


    DNA Fish

    Electronic Pocket

    Baby Monster

    3 in 1

  2. "Several in One" Virtual Pets

    In an effort to make one pet appeal to more users, manufacturers created "several in one" virtual pets. Some early 8 in 1's could be a chicken, dog, cat, and 5 other forms. Then came 9 in ones, 10 in 1's, and "Octo-Pets." Even pets in cases shaped like the pets themselves began to appear as "several in one" pets.

    8 in 1

    9 in 1

    3 in 1

  3. Reality No Longer a Necessity

    Early on, the pets held somewhat close to reality. As special shaped cases evolved, and manufacturers tried to rapidly expand their product lines, reality tended to be overlooked. Dinosaurs found themselves living in dog houses, wearing scarfs, drinking tea, an using toilets. One dinosaur appeared in a heart shaped case. These "stretches of the truth" resulted from attempts to rapidly incorporate new characters into existing games and housings. Ganbare! and Gyaoppi were early examples of dinosaurs that wore scarfs and took showers. The recently released Wedding Pet dinosaur has a baby sitter.


    Electronic Pet

  4. Virtual Pet Names

    The basic U.S. names of the pets often contain words selected from three groups. It begins with a selection of one or two words from the words: Pocket, Little, Virtual, Electronic, Cute, Lovely, Sweet, and My. This is followed by a word description of the pet: Kitty, Kitten, Puppy, Doggy, Dino and Baby. The name is sometimes ended with the word Pet.

    Japanese phrases that often appear in virtual pet names are: tamago, chan, and gotchi. Some Japanese words are "sounded out" such as in "Yuki Penguin" (yuki means "snow" in Japanese).

    Many of the pets were originally made for the Japanese market. This often results in the names being a little "messed up" in translation. Love Chu (for Love You) and Romi & Julle (Romeo & Juliet) are examples.

    Romi &

    Love Chu


    Yuki Penguin /
    Dinkie Penguin

  5. Time for School (pause, hibernation and mute buttons)

    Many Japan and U.S. schools banned the pets due to the noise and distractions. Some children had no place to leave their pets to be tended. Many left their mom's or dad's in charge of their "little friends." Some businesses opened "Virtual Pet Day Care Centers" to care for pet's belonging to their employee's children on school days. Other "Day Care Centers" were independent businesses.

    Pause buttons, hibernation buttons, and mute buttons began to appear. The "Wedding Pet" has a "babysitter" that puts the pet to sleep (pause mode). These developments helped children take care of their pets while they were in school.

    Back of
    Mulder & Scully

  6. Copyrights ???

    As the pets expanded to many different shapes and applications, some began to resemble well known copyrighted characters (Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, 101 Dalmatians, and others) . China is often challenged for its disregard for patents and copyrights. We do not know if these specific pets are in violation of copyright laws, but we assume that several pets of this nature are.

    Guappi Duck

    Mickey Life


  7. Cases With Built in Covers

    Several pets now sport a "Beam Me Up Scotty" feel from their hinged cases. Some have the controls in one half and the display in the other. Others just have a snap down cover like a ladies "compact". VR Creatures' dinosaur pet has a closing cover that makes the entire pet egg shaped.

    ? Panda


    Pocket Biscuit

  8. Colors, Transparent Colors, Stripes, Spots, and Camouflage

    Many pets are now available in several colors. Transparent colors (see through cases with some color in them) have become very popular. This may have been due to Bandai limiting production quantities of the Tamagotchi transparent cases and making them rarer. People began to think transparent = rarer = better.

    The U.S. Tamagotchi Version 2 has introduced a number of striped units, one with leopard spots, and even some with camouflage. The many variations and themes appeal to collectors and to users as well.

    Dreamy Pals Pets

    My Little

    My Little

  9. Who's Got The Instructions???

    Several children do not have a good set of instructions for their pet. They either lost them, never received them, or they are in Japanese.

    Some manufacturers and enthusiasts have posted instructions for their pets on the internet. Some are poorly "scanned in" and very difficult to read. We encourage manufacturers to post legible, "easy to understand" instructions for their pets on the internet.

    Since this article was written, we have posted instructions to several virtual pets on our Instructions Page.

  10. Pets From the "Seedier Side"

    Just as pets can be used for good, they can also be used to illustrate the "other side". Some human based pets have occupations or characteristics that might not be viewed as "the best choices" by parents. Rikou Rikou Chan can grow into a less than perfect youth if you do not take good care of him. A Tamahonam Gangster Pet was announced that drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and stabbed people. It was "toned down" before release after a public backlash.

    Tamahonam Gangster

    Rikou Rikou

  11. Linkable Pets

    Some pets can be linked together either physically with their cases or with a cable. This allows the pets to interact, fight, play games with each other, develop friends, mate, reproduce, and do all kinds of neat things. It opens up a whole new dimension to the pets. Early virtual pets were one person devices. Now you can interact with your friends and their pets. Love-Chu was an early linking virtual pet. Mulder and Scully are a pair of interesting cats that link to become friends, lovers, wedding, and pregnant. Now Bandai is bringing out some new linkable pets called "Osu-chi and Mesu-chi". The "Wedding Pet" released in October 97 is a dinosaur pet that links its case to other units to mate.Things are changing very fast in this area.

    Digi Demons

    Mulder &


  12. Collectors Editions & Keychains

    As more people began to own several pets, and many adults became involved as well, collectors editions began to appear. This was first hinted at when Bandai limited the production of certain colors of the Tamagotchi making them rare and more prized. Many of the pets were sold either in a box that would not indicate their color or by mail order or over the internet and the buyer received whatever color was "in the box". Some began offering the rarer color pets at premium prices. Now special collectors editions are being "minted". The Hong Kong Commemorative Tamagotchi actually comes with a numbered certificate of authenticity.

    Many collect the pets in "unopened boxes." Tamagotchi boxes are made in a manner that requires you to "rip off" part of the top to remove the pet. I am not sure if this was originally an "anti-theft" approach for stores, or a means of indicating the pet is unopened to collectors.

    Bandai released several special Asian Edition Tamagotchi for the collectors market. The units are being built to represent the culture of certain countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines). These units appear to be built for sale in the U.S. as the packaging is in English. Bandai recently introduced a Tamagotchi in a white case with red buttons and green accent around the screen for the 1997 Christmas season. It is very beautiful.

    Some collectors focus on changes in the keychains themselves. Some pets have been made with different types of keychains. Link type chains, beaded chains, and clip on type chains have been observed.

    1997 Hong Kong

  13. Improved Sound and Clocks

    Some of the early pets had VERY LOUD sounds. The newer pets still make plenty of noise, but they don't require earplugs.

    Sound quality is improving from "Beep Beep" or "Peep Peep" to much more life-like sounds. Romi & Julle (Pocket Love) may have been the first pet to have "meowing sounds" in July 1997. Mulder and Scully are another example of near "life-like" kitten sounds.

    Most of the original pets used 24 hour clocks and most American children were a bit confused. Recent pets, such as the VR Creatures series of pets use 12 hour clocks with A.M. and P.M. labels.

  14. "The Sun Never Sets on Virtual Pets"

    Many pet packages now bear the CE mark (indicates conformity to the legal requirements of the European Union Directives) and instructions in several languages. Our Virtual Pet home page receives thousands of visitors daily from over 30 countries. Special models are being built for sale in many countries. The sun never sets on virtual pets.

  15. Virtual Pet Accessories

    Bandai launched a number of accessories for the Tamagotchi. Fobs for the keychain, lunch boxes, stickers, books, memo pads, pencils, tissue boxes, towels, hats, T-shirts, socks, and even underwear. We recently spoke to their licensing group and they reported over 20 companies are involved in the licensing efforts.

  16. Expansion of Virtual Pets to other Media and Forms

    The Tamagotchi has expanded to a CD-Rom game, a Nintendo Gameboy version, a board game, and now Cybies (small bean bag type stuffed animals) representing the various life forms. Java versions of the Tamagotchi game run on the internet. In Japan, mobile telephones called Tamapitchi also allow you to play the game.

    Tiger Electronics recently introduced "Friends". These keychain games are very close to virtual pets, but yet different. They are based on TV and movie personalities such as Star Wars characters, Sabrina's Cat, and Babe the Pig. They come in small cases similar to virtual pets. "Friends" play several new games but do not require the constant care and attention of virtual pets. They are more of a "friend" than a pet.

  17. Recent Observations

    New functions and utilities just beginning to appear include:

    • LED's on the pets. O&K Industrial Company's "Mini Tyranno" has a night light feature. Pocket Penguin uses his LED eyes as a silent indicator to tell you when he needs attention.

      Pocket Penguin

    • Fast Aging / Fast Raising - Some users do not want to have to go through the pets growing stages each time to reach the adult stage. Some children share pets with their brothers or sisters who allow their pet to die. The original user doesn't like having to spend time going through the early stages of the pet's life over and over. Some have been resetting the clocks to make their pet age rapidly. They set the clock up to just about bedtime, let the pet go to sleep, then set the clock up to almost time to wake up and let the pet wake up. Each time they do this the pet advances a day. Octo-Pets has a function that turns seconds into minutes and the pet then ages an hour a minute. Once the pet reaches the desired age, you can return to normal timing.

    • Pets Used for Teaching - We have had inquiries from several firms developing pets for teaching and instructional purposes. Virtual pets can be used to teach youth to do certain tasks, and what happens to them when they do or do not do them. They "get your point across" in an entertaining and non-threatening way. Pets can be used in adult teaching situations as well..

    • Infrared beams as a communication link between two pets. This is method is already being used in some Japanese keychain games and we expect it to enter the keychain virtual pet industry very soon.

    • Long life (1 year batteries).

    • Sensitive Cases - The Angelgotchi from Bandai has a case that is sensitive to your tapping. Your taps can call the pet or scare aware an evil bat that tries to take your pet's candy.

    • Talking Pets - November 18, 1997 Playmates Toys announced the TALKING Nano Pal. We expect talking pets to spread like WILDFIRE!!

    • AAA batteries - November 18, 1997 Playmates Toys announced the TALKING Nano Pal and that it would have AAA batteries.

    • Friends vs. Pets - In December 1997 Tiger Electronics is to release a group of toys called "Friends" that are very similar to virtual pets but require less care. They are based on popular TV and Movie characters.

    • Several pets on one screen at once- 26 January 1998 GigaPet announced GigaPound Pet which could have up to 4 dogs at once to care for.

    • Secret Codes- 26 January 1998 GigaPet announced Looney Tunes Pet with "secret codes".

    • Respond to your voice- 26 January 1998 GigaPet announced Looney Tunes Pet and GigaPound which respond to your voice.

Leisure Activity Funnel Chart

Steps to the Purchase and Use of a Pet

This is not really a trend, but it does explain what is happening as people begin to adopt virtual pets as a leisure activity. It explains the various steps people go through and why they have selected virtual pets instead of some other activity.

I published the "Leisure Activity Funnel Chart" to illustrate how people adopt various leisure activities. It is based on many studies of certain areas (the references are with the chart) and pulls all this information together to form a visual graphic that illustrates the process. The chart was originally designed to illustrate the activity of boating, but it certainly applies to virtual pets as well. It does a good job of explaining why people would select virtual pets as an activity and how they would move through the various steps to purchase it, use it, and becoming a real "Virtual Pet Enthusiast".


Below is a list of the trends I have observed:

  1. At First There was ONE, Then There Were NONE
  2. Pets for Boys Too
  3. Rapid Proliferation
  4. Death and Dying

  5. Complexity of the Pets is Increasing

  6. Better View of What is Going On (Displays)

  7. Specially Shaped Cases

  8. "Several in One" Virtual Pets

  9. Reality No Longer a Necessity

  10. Virtual Pet Names

  11. Time for School (hibernation and mute buttons)

  12. Copyrights ???

  13. Cases With Built in Covers

  14. Colors, Transparent Colors, Stripes, Spots and Camouflage

  15. Who's Got The Instructions???

  16. Pets From the "Seedier Side"

  17. Linkable Pets

  18. Collectors Editions & Keychains

  19. Improved Sound and Clocks

  20. "The Sun Never Sets on Virtual Pets"

  21. Virtual Pet Accessories

  22. Expansion of Virtual Pets to Other Media and Forms

  23. Recent Observations

Leisure Activity Funnel Chart (Steps to the Purchase and Use of a Pet)

You can use the list of trends above to build a list of attributes to design into a "cutting edge" pet. We have listed the traits of a "cutting edge" pet below. Manufacturers - does your current pet have these characteristics? Pet Enthusiasts - how does your pet stack up against this theoretical super pet?

Additionally the pet needs to be interesting, robust in construction, well packaged, "cool" and affordable. These demanding characteristics certainly make life tough for "cutting edge" virtual pet designers.


I think these trends plus the Funnel Chart paint a very good picture of the virtual pet industry today. As I said at the front of the article, no pets have all these trends and some have none. If you are looking for an advanced pet, look for one with several of these trends and you should find one that will be a challenging companion. Also, things are changing very rapidly. There are already many new developments that have not made it to the retail stores. Its a great industry, lets all work together to make it a greater one.

Please click on the "Mailbox" at the bottom of this page and let us know what you thought of this article.


Most of the photos in this article come from our Virtual Pet Home Page. On it we do a better job of crediting specific photos to their original sources. Most of these photos originated on other web sites and many of them have been altered by us. We would like to credit a few of the web sites that have been major resources for the photos in this article.

Additional special thanks goes to Robert Worne, at Robert's Museum (see link above), for assisting with the accuracy of this report and for his many insightful historical comments.


Please let us know what you think of this article, if you have observed some additional trends, disagree with some of ours, or have any comments at all to make.


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