WildWorks’ Animal Jam wasn’t all that impressive when it launched on the PC in 2010. It had just six two-dimensional animals, but kids liked it because they loved role-playing as their favorite animals. And a decade later, Animal Jam has 3.3 million monthly active users and a lifetime total of 130 million registered players in 200 countries.
For context, that number is pretty close to World of Tanks’ 160 million users over a decade. CEO Clark Stacey said in an interview with GamesBeat that Animal Jam has generated more than $186 million in revenues to date, and players have logged more than a billion hours of play and 932.5 million item trades. The game charges a subscription fee of $6 a month.
“We’ve got kids who are members from pretty much every country on the planet and now have the game available in six languages,” Stacey said.
The game is the No. 1 grossing app for children ages 9 to 11 in the iOS app store. The community is a safe place for kids with a real-time Safe Chat analysis system that filters out any bad words. It also has a team of live moderators, and it is certified with a KidSafe Seal. The chat system has delivered 43.4 billion messages. All told, the company has more than 120 employees in Utah and India.
During the pandemic, the company has seen growth.
“The reason that we’re still bringing in more kids is that there actually aren’t a lot of games out there that are specifically for kids,” Stacey said. “We built some trust with parents and having some educational DNA in the game with hundreds of hours of nature videos and educational ebooks helped. That’s what makes it a parental resource, where they don’t mind their kids spending screen time with us.”
The mobile version of Animal Jam launched in 2015. The game shifted from Flash-based 2D controls to Unity-based 3D animation. The game has done well as parents look for educational environments for their kids to explore.
“We saw some teachers especially early in the pandemic using Animal Jam as a gathering place for their students,” Stacey said. “The normal Zoom class of third graders is just a hot mess. I think teachers found it easier to have them all meet in a den and Animal Jam as their morning meeting.”
Under AJ Academy, WildWorks has also created free animal ebooks, educational videos, kid Q&As with scientists, in-game science facts, and conservation initiatives with international organizations like Nature Conservancy and Cornell Ornithology Lab.
A couple of weeks ago, WildWorks announced it is the first-ever kids gaming partner for WeForest and agreed to plant one tree for each new Animal Jam membership in April to celebrate Earth Day. This resulted in 16,000 trees being planted in Zambia to support reforestation.
WildWorks was one of the founding studios to join the United Nations Environment Program’s Playing for the Planet Initiative and joined 11 mobile game developers for the first-ever Green Mobile Game Jam facilitated by UNEP.
Into the future
The original platform was relabeled Animal Jam Classic and the company packaged it into a downloadable form. So players who want to reminisce about their childhood can still download and play it. The target audience is 8-to-12, with a majority of the players being girls. Most of the play happens in the summer, with average playtime hitting 70 minutes a day. But it hasn’t dropped as much with the start of school this year.
The team is working remotely, but Stacey said he was surprised at how the staff was able to continue being productive.
One of the biggest activities in the game is trading items such as clothing to make their characters unique. They also trade their own artwork that they create inside the game.
“We have a higher daily trading volume than the Australian Stock Exchange,” Stacey said.
Stacey said licensing opportunities are ahead, and perhaps interaction with brands such as Sesame Street. Early on, National Geographic was a partner, but that ended when that brand changed hands.
Early on, competitors were Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters. The competition is different these days, with games such as Minecraft or Roblox or Animal Crossing commanding more attention.
“We try to differentiate ourselves by making it specifically for kids and not for general audiences,” Stacey said.