Forget Time Traveling, Disney’s New Facebook Game Has Players Poking Through Nature

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Disney’s Playdom had a hit on their hands when they released their time-traveling, object-finding adventure Gardens of Time, which eventually (and contentiously) topped Facebook’s list of most recommended games in 2011. The question for the team then was, well, what’s next?

User research had players responding positively to nature, so when the time came to craft a follow-up to Gardens of Time, the team decided to trawl the Disney IP vault for something that would fit that nature-conscious bill. After being reminded of a certain wildlife-themed Disney theme park in Florida, Animal Kingdom Explorers was born.

Playdom’s VP of Product Eric Todd mentioned that this nature-friendly tack is what they hope will set the game apart from their scores of competitors, though area of appeal is likely a bit different than in their previous games. I’ve played a bit of Gardens of Time in my day, and what kept me coming back was the steampunk-y narrative thread that tied together what otherwise would have been the digital equivalents of pages from an I Spy book. Animal Kingdom Explorers skews a bit more toward the realistic, with players joining the Global Wildlife Research team, a rag-tag group of nature lovers devoted to finding and protecting critters in far-flung reaches of the globe.

The mechanics of the game are terribly straightforward, and refugees from Gardens of Time will have an especially easy time getting into the swing of things. At the game’s heart, you, well, find animals. Some are well hidden, some aren’t — you’ve seen this before. Education is more of a focus this time around though, as Todd explained that Gardens of Time players enjoyed learning about and getting glimpses into eras gone by. In Animal Kingdom Explorers, players will come across scores of animal names and trivia to add to their mental cache.

As expected, there’s more to do in the game than just find a few wayward (and well-hidden) critters — like in Gardens of Time before it, players can carve out their own corner of the game world in the form of a nature preserve. At the center of each player’s preserve is a bit of the Animal Kingdom park itself — iconic Tree of Life, in all its strange, thick-trunked glory. Eagle-eyed players may also spot the inclusion of a few other Disney-specific nods, like a rock formation that looks awfully like something out of The Lion King…

Todd tells me that in-jokes and references to existing Disney properties are visible throughout the game, and players could eventually see more official appearances from the Disney crew if the right opportunity presents itself.

The game has been in full production for about 5 or 6 months now, with an official launch slated for the coming weeks. The timing certainly seems right though — Gardens of Time peaked at around 17 million monthly active users, which dropped to about 8.5 million MAUs when they made Facebook’s list. Now it’s down to 6.5 million, perhaps signaling that their players are ready for something new.