Lunar New Year is normally a time for frantic socializing. This year, a parallel craze kicked off online, as the metaverse app Bondee exploded across much of Asia in mid-January. 

Social feeds began to fill with screenshots of 3D-modeled, pastel virtual interiors, and requests to “Add me on Bondee!” Users obsessively shared images of their digital avatars and homes in the Bondee metaverse — complete with activities like camping and sailing that you could embark on with as many friends as you could convince to join.

Bondee’s popularity has been stunning. Downloads jumped to over 2 million within two weeks of the app’s release on Apple’s App Store and Google Play on January 17. In the final week of January, it occupied the number one spot in weekly downloads in Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan, according to figures shared by 

Yet, for such a young app, Bondee’s rise has already been turbulent. Data privacy concerns have spiked among users, fueled by data leak rumors — refuted by app creator Metadream — and by reports on Bondee’s links to a Chinese developer. Users also threatened to uninstall the app after discovering plans to roll out non-fungible tokens (NFTs), prompting a quick reversal by Metadream. It’s far from the placid, early-pandemic obsession with the game Animal Crossing, where the biggest issue was manufacturing enough consoles for people who wanted to play.

Bondee pitches itself as a metaverse, but it more closely resembles a simulation game from the 2000s. “Bondee is like … if MSN and Habbo Hotel had a baby,” Tan Qian Hui, a 28-year-old art director, told Rest of World

Bondee combines a nostalgic, early-2000s format with social-networking elements. Users’ digital avatars can socialize with each other on the home page — lounging in a chair, petting a cat, standing around — or leave their friends notes if they’re offline. Hop over to a friend’s virtual room, and the same can be done there. Beyond that, a player can engage in activities —  from sailing the virtual ocean and collecting limited edition items to entering a private chat with a friend’s avatar and going “party mode” together. 

Several users in Singapore told Rest of World that the app is a compelling middle ground between simulation games and an existing metaverse like Meta’s Horizon Worlds. Bondee is designed for mobile, unlike The Sims or other virtual simulation games. 

“In [games like] The Sims, you’re very much playing a God character,” Eugene Tang, a 27-year-old media professional in Singapore, told Rest of World. “Whereas in Bondee, you’re playing a version of yourself with friends.”


Users direct their characters’ play, as in games like Roblox or Minecraft, but the main aim is to socialize. Users also highlighted the visual appeal: Unlike the clunky polygons of Meta’s virtual world, Bondee avatars are appealingly detailed, smooth and bubble-like. 

“If the avatars looked like those 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 moment that Metadream tried to introduce more Web3-friendly metaverse elements, however, users rebelled. It began with user tweets that surfaced around January 21, screenshotting portions of Bondee’s privacy policy. The screenshots showed that, on a now-archived page, Bondee had stated users could eventually make in-app purchases in the form of B-Beans, an in-game currency, which could be spent on NFT products on the platform. 

Online reaction from Bondee users was swift. Some declared that they would no longer use Bondee, and one called Bondee the next “crypto ponzi scheme like [Axie Infinity].” Soh Wan Wei, founder of Ikiguide, a consulting firm for companies interested in the metaverse, told Rest of World the behavior could be described as “collective trauma” — resistance towards anything crypto-related after the industry crash of 2022. 

No more than a week after, there was another storm: Users in Singapore and Malaysia claimed that Bondee had mishandled their credit card information, after they were notified of unauthorized bank transfers following the installation of the application. “Bondee is a dangerous app that can steal your personal data from your phone!” said a reviewer on the App Store on January 27.  

Metadream later updated its privacy policy to remove any mention of NFTs, clarifying in a statement that it does not currently collect any financial details of its users upon sign-up, and that rumors were “false and untrue.” In an emailed comment to Rest of World, the company also said that the “so-called ‘information leak’ [was] misinformation, and [the company had] collected evidence to hold relevant rumor-mongers accountable.”

“Bondee is like … if MSN and Habbo Hotel had a baby.”

Metadream has roots in Singapore and China. According to its ACRA regulatory filings, seen by Rest of World, Metadream was incorporated as a private company in Singapore on September 9, 2022, with offices registered in the city center. The documents state that one of Metadream’s directors is Chinese national Yang Yuxiang, who resides in Shanghai. Chinese media report he is also the CEO of Yidian Zixun, a Chinese news aggregator, though Rest of World was unable to independently confirm that they were the same person.

Bondee isn’t Metadream’s first metaverse foray. In May 2022, the company acquired social metaverse company, staking full ownership of its intellectual property rights to “develop the creative concept further and internationalize,” according to a statement on its website. 

Truel.y had previously developed the app Zheli, which — prior to the acquisition by Metadream — had followed a similar trajectory to Bondee, before a dramatic crash. (Zheli was then operated by Yidian Zixun, the news aggregator, according to its WeChat page.) It had been a popular social app in China, with nearly 1.9 million downloads since launch. But its rise was “mired in controversies” — similar reports of violation of user privacy, data leaks, and system crashes saw it removed from Chinese app stores completely after a matter of weeks.

Whether or not one uses a Chinese-made app, Bryan Tan, a technology, media and telecommunications partner at law firm Reed Smith, told Rest of World that users need to pay attention to privacy policies. He observed that Chinese companies are being increasingly subject to stringent data protection laws. 

“The fines imposed on Chinese companies have been eye-watering, so they are rapidly falling in line with international standards,” he said. 

In the same emailed comment, Metadream said: “Bondee and are two independent products and will continue to develop independently.”

It’s not yet clear whether users are disconcerted enough over data risk rumors to stop using the app. “So much innovation, be it apps or any sort of tech, are owned by the Chinese, like my beloved TikTok, but that doesn’t deter me from using it,” said Joell Tee, a 25-year-old finance professional, to Rest of World.

Bondee’s ability to ride out its rocky beginnings remains to be seen. Soh, the consultant, believes that Bondee holds a favorable position with all the hype it’s garnered since launch, but notes that the company will need to work hard to appease a fickle younger generation.