For the sake of red-coloured envelopes, two behemoth tech companies battle it out to be the rat that gets the cheese…

As the Lunar New Year falls on January 28th, the year of the rooster will be upon us. At this time, a tradition is to hand out red envelopes filled with money to friends and relatives. How much money isn’t important. The act of giving is meant to bring luck, and the usual  amount is 8.88 Chinese yuan ($1.35,) due to the significance of “8” being a very lucky number.

Playing Cat and Rat

In 2014, virtual red envelopes began being exchanged via online payment apps. And like the cat and rat of the traditional zodiac story, two Chinese tech companies have been battling fiercely to win the race.

Alibaba’s online payment app, AliPay was the stand-out market leader before Tencent’s QQ was launched. Their rivalry was dubbed the ‘Red Envelope War’ in the national press. A year later, Tencent managed to grab an audience the size of AliPay’s in just one month. They teamed up with the Spring Festival Gala program (Chinese Central Television’s New Year Special).

By shaking your smartphone when a special icon appeared on screen, you were in for a chance to win big. Despite reportedly ending badly for some users (one user shook his phone so hard it went flying into his TV screen), this innovative game element gave Tencent the edge they needed.

Due to this new massive user base, $2.9 million in virtual red envelopes was transferred between users in the app’s first 24 hours of release. This is especially impressive if you consider that each transaction is usually just over a dollar.

On the Hunt

As Lunar New Year gets ever more digital, the tech companies are at it again, both are launching an AR (augmented reality) red-envelope hunting game this year.

It uses the same concept as Pokemon Go, except that the rewards aren’t virtual. Players are searching for real life cash gifts hidden by friends or strangers. The rivaling companies themselves, as well as big brands like Coca Cola and KFC, will also be hiding prizes over the holiday for their users to seek.

According to Chinese astrology, your birth animal year will be your unluckiest time, so roosters had better grab that cash while they can!

As more advanced technologies become readily available, the worry of losing the true meaning of traditions and festivals is always there. Would you run out on the family New Year’s dinner believing a virtual red envelope was somewhere nearby?

Both companies are hoping that the game will bring people together and encourage communication, rather than hinder it.

But perhaps the chance at grabbing some cold, hard cash will be too tempting for some…