Always Listen to User Feedback, Even When it’s From Kids

August 18, 2015

9:00 am

I don’t know if many of you play video games, but I’d bet you’ve heard of the free to play (F2P) monetization model. That is, the majority of games can be downloaded and played for free but revolve around purchasing in-game add-ons or currency to unlock the full playability of the game.

You can’t deny that the model works, but at the same time most people I talk to about it tend to dislike it. It’s not a raging hatred, more just like upset grumblings, and I totally get it.

There are some developers out there who side against the status quo F2P model, and one of them is WildWorks. You might remember the name from our SXSW interview series where we sat down with Clark Stacey, CEO.

He and his team have built an immersive, online, web based game for kids called Animal Jam with strategic partner National Geographic. To date they’ve syndicated services to over 35 million users in 228 countries: it’s the number one web based game and social network for kids.

“Our success with Animal Jam suggests that there is an underserved demographic attracted to social networking – a demographic that Facebook and Google bar their doors against,” says Clark Stacey, CEO of WildWorks. “Kids want to connect with their friends online, but parents want them to do so safely and with supervision.”

It’s an interesting stance, and admittedly one I don’t consider all too often: kids do in fact want to make the most of social networking. By hammering down the safety and security of the platform, WildWorks can give them a realm to connect that parents won’t have to worry about.

The security of the platform is one of the central pillars of Animal Jam, and it’s something that Stacey doesn’t play around with. In game, the entire world is moderated by employees: it’s almost like a digital babysitter for the game world.

Given that they’ve had such success with Animal Jam, WildWorks has hit a point where they could look towards mobile optimization. To that end the team announced the launch of their first iOS iteration, Animal Jam – Play Wild!, this week and promise future Android releases over the next month or so.

Yes, Animal Jam – Play Wild is F2P, but at the same time Stacey and his team have committed to not going down the traditional rabbit hole with their game. Rather, players will have the ability to play every feature of the game at launch, and the in-game currency can be gathered by simply exploring and interacting with the world.

The WildWorks team will be releasing premium animal avatars every four to six weeks, but purchasing them also gives kids educational e-books about the specific animal. You see, the one instance where you would spend real world money on the game actually provides an educational reward – you’ve got to respect that.

“We believe Play Wild! will not only elevate the production values applied to apps for kids, but will revolutionize the way those apps are monetized and offer real, demonstrable value to both parents and kids,” says Stacey.

The team tells me that as they keep evolving they’ll add more lands, animals, mini games, and customization options. WildWorks is also planning to localize the game into nine additional languages as they expand further.

Looking at the app’s testing period, nearly 50,000 players requested access to the closed beta that could only allow 10,000. As Stacey tells me, with a gleam in his eye, the anticipation for the final release is expected to be extremely high, and the team is hoping to see download numbers in the millions despite having no plans for paid user acquisition.

The game might be designed for kids, but Stacey and Wildworks are handling Animal Jam like grownups. Take note, all you game developers out there: this is how you successfully monetize a F2P game in the modern age. At some point you have to let your work speak for itself instead of relying on ridiculous in-game spending options.

Image Credit: Animal Jam Facebook page


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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America's Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He's the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he's off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing...or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach. Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988