Bondee downloads from the App Store are increasing in Asia
Lunar New Year is usually a time for frenetic socializing. That year, a parallel madness began online when the Metaverse app Bondee exploded across much of Asia in mid-January.
Social feeds filled with screenshots of 3D-modeled, pastel-colored virtual interiors and prompts to “add me to Bondee!” Users obsessively shared images of their digital avatars and homes in the Bondee metaverse — complete with activities like camping and sailing to partake in with as many friends as you could persuade to join.
Bondee’s popularity was overwhelming. Within two weeks of the app’s release on Apple’s App Store and Google Play on January 17, downloads surpassed 2 million. In the last week of January, it ranked first in weekly downloads in Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan, according to data.ai.
But for such a young app, Bondee’s rise to fame has been tumultuous. Privacy concerns have been growing among users, fueled by rumors of data leaks – debunked by app creator Metadream – and by reports of Bondee’s ties to a Chinese developer. Users also threatened to uninstall the app after discovering plans to launch non-fungible tokens (NFTs), prompting a quick reversal by Metadream. It’s a far cry from the quiet, early-pandemic obsession with the Animal Crossing game, where the biggest problem was making enough consoles for people to play.
Bondee presents itself as a metaverse, but more closely resembles a simulation game from the 2000s. “Bondee is like… if MSN and Habbo Hotel had a baby,” said Tan Qian Hui, a 28-year-old art director rest of the world.
Bondee combines a nostalgic early 2000s format with social networking elements. Users’ digital avatars can interact with each other on the home page—lounging in a chair, petting a cat, standing around—or leaving notes with their friends when offline. Jump into a friend’s virtual room and there you can do the same. In addition, a player can participate in activities – from sailing in the virtual ocean and collecting limited edition items to entering a private chat with a friend’s avatar and sharing “party mode”.
Several users in Singapore told rest of the world that the app is a convincing middle ground between simulation games and an existing metaverse like Metas Horizon Worlds. Unlike The Sims or other virtual simulation games, Bondee is designed for mobile devices.
“In [games like] The Sims, you play a very strong god character,” said Eugene Tang, a 27-year-old media professional from Singapore rest of the world. “In Bondee, on the other hand, you play a version of yourself with friends.”
Users control their characters’ play, like in games of the likes of Roblox or Minecraft, but the main goal is to socialize. Users also highlighted the visual appeal: in contrast to the chunky polygons of Meta’s virtual world, Bondee avatars are appealingly detailed, smooth, and bubble-like.
“If the avatars looked like the ones in Roblox or Minecraft” – stylized pixels – “I don’t think Bondee would be as successful as it is now,” Tan said. “The style suits a mass audience.”
The online response from Bondee users was quick. Some declares to stop using Bondeeand one named Bondee the next “Crypto Ponzi scheme like [Axie Infinity].” Soh Wan Wei, founder of Ikiguide, a consultancy for companies interested in the metaverse, said rest of the world the behavior could be described as “collective trauma” — resistance to anything crypto-related after the 2022 industry crash.
Not more than a week later, another storm erupted: users in Singapore and Malaysia claimed Bondee mishandled their credit card information after being notified of unauthorized bank transfers after installing the application. “Bondee is a dangerous app that can steal your personal information from your phone!” said an App Store reviewer on Jan. 27.
Metadream has roots in Singapore and China. According to its ACRA regulatory filings, viewed by rest of the world, Metadream was incorporated on September 9, 2022 as a private company in Singapore with registered offices in the city centre. The documents state that one of Metadream’s directors is Chinese Yang Yuxiang, who lives in Shanghai. However, Chinese media reports that he is also the CEO of Yidian Zixun, a Chinese news aggregator rest of the world could not independently confirm that it was the same person.
Bondee isn’t Metadream’s first foray into the Metaverse. In May 2022, the company acquired social metaverse company True.ly, earning full ownership of its intellectual property rights to “further develop and internationalize the creative concept,” according to a statement on its website.
Truel.y had previously developed the Zheli app, which – prior to its acquisition by Metadream – had taken a similar path to Bondee before a dramatic crash. (Zheli was then operated by Yidian Zixun, the news aggregator, according to its WeChat page.) It was a popular social app in China, with nearly 1.9 million downloads since launch. But its ascent was “embroiled in controversy” – similar reports of user privacy violations, data leaks and system crashes led to its complete removal from Chinese app stores after a few weeks.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a Chinese-made app or not, said Bryan Tan, technology, media and telecoms partner at law firm Reed Smith rest of the world that users must comply with privacy policies. He observed that Chinese companies are subject to increasingly strict data protection laws.
“The fines imposed on Chinese companies have been staggering, making them quick to adjust to international standards,” he said.
In the same emailed comment, Metadream said, “Bondee and True.ly are two independent products and will continue to evolve independently.”
It’s not yet clear if users are so unnerved by rumors of data risks that they’ll stop using the app. “So many innovations, be they apps or any kind of technology, are owned by the Chinese, like my beloved TikTok, but that doesn’t stop me from using it,” said Joell Tee, a 25-year-old finance expert. To rest of the world.
Bondee’s ability to weather his rocky beginnings remains to be seen. Soh, the advisor, believes that with all the hype it’s received since its launch, Bondee is in a favorable position, but notes that the company needs to work hard to placate a fickle younger generation.