The Culture of Kongpanions: What’s in a Name?
Synapse joined the Kongregate family on October 2, 2017. When we were first granted access to Kongregate’s Slack rooms I joined several player-focused chats for both camaraderie and commiseration. Many of the rooms featured ways to engage or support players, but it was the #whos-that-kongpanion room that gave me an instant sense of culture and connection with the company.
Kongpanions are collectables found on Kongregate.com; each Kongpanion is charmingly designed by staff and obtained by players who complete at least one "Badge of the Day" during the week. Players can earn additional prestige by collecting at least five in a week, granting their Kongpanion a crown -- AKA a "Shiny." Developers can use the Kongpanion API to use these adorable companions as characters in their games, and they are tied once a year to larger Quest events.
I joined Kongregate.com in 2008, so I remember when Kongpanions were released to the general public. The excitement for something new on Kongregate was overwhelming, and collecting Kongpanions turned into a competition among my group of friends. There is a certain flair that Kongpanions bring to the site; between the punny names and geeky trivia it’s easy to fall in love.
"#whos-that-kongpanion" is the Slack room where Kongregate employees gather to name and give personalities to upcoming Kongpanions. Armed with the experience of a player, I joined the chat with little knowledge of the history and culture surrounding it.
The first Kongpanion I encountered was Izzy.
Izzy is an employee’s cat who lost her leg in a traumatic incident. I had no prior knowledge of the accident or Izzy, but I was instantly connected to her and my heart warmed hearing about her recovery. I was quick to learn that Izzy was not the only Kongpanion based on real-life pets. In fact, there are Kongpanions for employees, their pets, inside jokes, and even developers. Kongpanions run deeper than a player experience -- they have cultivated deep company culture.
Kongpanions fall into one of three categories: cultural references, company tributes, and things that are just plain cute. Currently, there are thirteen “Kong Pets” featured as Kongpanions (Nola, Tater, Gizmo, etc.), over twenty Kongpanions honoring or referencing employees, and too many puns and jokes to count.
Many Kongpanions reference employees; being associated with a Kongpanion can produce a sense of pride and belonging. Whether it’s a pet, hobby, or general homage, Kongpanions are a way for other employees to recognize each other. It’s a permanent, very visible way Kongregate acknowledges an employee’s many contributions to the company.
“I collaborated on the naming of Nom Chompsky and Zapod Peablebrox; those were two of my favorite Kongpanion naming experiences,” said Assistant Community Manager JohannasGarden. “I adore the Luna Kongpanion because she is named for my daughter.”
The description for the three-legged Izzy solidifies the fun and entertaining space the room creates -- “I gotta be honest, I’m stumped.” The room is flooded with amazing/awful puns and jokes. The thing is, I think we have more fun coming up with Kongpanions than players have collecting them.
“I'm a huge fan of sneaking in pop culture references either through the names or description,” said Danilo De Leon, Project Manager for Platform Content. “Victor's description touches on three rappers and an anime. Lil' Halp with the Blade Runner reference. Lemmy and Motorhead. It's a neat Easter egg for those who happen to catch it.”
There’s a sense of honor and family that comes with naming Kongpanions at Kongregate. As a group, we all want to make the site a fun place for our players, but the importance of Kongpanions has expanded beyond just player-facing culture. It’s a part of us as a company -- a cute, compact history of who we are and where we’ve been.