Before we get into this, close your eyes. When you think of the words "Disney-branded Facebook game," what do you see? If you saw Mickey Mouse, Aladdin or even The Avengers, we don't blame you. The last thing you'd likely think of is The Animal Kingdom. Gardens of Time maker Playdom's next big social game is Animal Kingdom Explorers, another hidden-object game.
When Gardens of Time (GoT) took off around this time last year, Disney and Playdom knew they were onto something. Hidden-object games were a bit of a rarity on Facebook at the time, and this was the company's chance to carve out its niche. Of course, many "inspired" games would follow, so they had to think of something different. And Disney had an idea.
"At first, we the game makers were a little bit dubious about that, so we took a trip to the Animal Kingdom park and completely fell in love with the place," Playdom VP of product and creative director on Animal Kingdom Explorers Eric Todd admits. "That was the moment when we knew that was the game we wanted to make. I felt a little bit guilty, but it was completely appropriate."
While Playdom (known as Disney Social Games when working with Disney properties) already knew that it wanted to create a hidden-object game focused on animals and nature, but it was the trip to Orlando that pushed them over the fence. Soon after, the GoT team began work on Animal Kingdom Explorers. Frankly, not much seems to be different about this hidden-object game from the other two the studio has crafted, aside from theme and production values.
In Animal Kingdom Explorers, players will travel to exotic locations--like Harambe in Africa and Anandapur in India--to rescue animals from poachers by finding them in various hidden-object scenes. Then, players can place those animals in their own wildlife preserve, much like the garden feature in GoT. While the game's mechanics aren't exactly new, they make much better sense in the overall narrative.
It was also important to Disney (and Playdom) that the animals and their locations made scientific sense. So, the GoT team worked with Disney Imagineer Joe Rody and Dr. Jill Mellen, Education and Science Director for Disney's animal programs, to ensure that Animal Kingdom Explorers was communicating the right facts. (Another goal of this hidden-object game is to teach players about the ecology of wildlife as they play.) Both sides had their concerns in regards to time constraints (Playdom) and overall accuracy (Disney), but the result was a success.
"When it came right down to it, when we took the themes to them, we found that they were just incredibly delighted. And what they were able to do was add a layer of additional realism and detail that just made the game richer," Todd tells us. "That collaboration between real scientists and us as game makers was vital."
And this focus on realism and accuracy bleeds through nearly aspect of Animal Kingdom Explorers. Even the game's nature preserve feature rewards ecological accuracy. "We also let you learn where the animals should go," lead producer Patrick Hsieh says. "So, if you take a giraffe and place it the acacia tree, then the giraffe will get a bonus. If you put a lion next to a gazelle, the gazelle isn't quite as happy. So, we're showing you where the animals naturally go in their environment."
Of course, all of the normal trappings of social hidden-object games apply to Animal Kingdom Explorers. Players will get to visit their friends' nature preserves, challenge them with special, timed hidden-object scenes and ask them for help with various tasks. Like all hidden-object releases, this is governed by an energy system with the option to purchase extra energy and other items for real money.
The focus on creating an accurate, beautiful presentation is clear from the hidden-object scenes to players' wildlife preserves. Its scenes are borderline photo-realistic, an absolute plus, but the fact that this is the third hidden-object game from Disney and Playdom raises some concerns. Could Playdom fans experience hidden-object fatigue from Animal Kingdom Explorers, so to speak?
"We're taking the players someplace new, we're giving them a new decorative space, we're adding new mechanics. I've been working in the games industry for, I dunno, 14 years now, and that sort of differentiation, novelty is critical to serving your existing audience," Todd acknowledges. "Players don't really want to play the same thing again, they want to play something new. And that's exactly what we're reaching for with The Animal Kingdom." Animal Kingdom Explorers is expected to launch within the coming weeks, with more information to arrive on Earth Day, April 22.
Are you interested in Animal Kingdom Explorers? Are you tired of hidden-object social games from Playdom or elsewhere? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.