On Friday, the Kenyan augmented reality game developer Internet of Elephants launched its latest game in partnership with the conservation science experts from the Borneo Nature Foundation, Goualougo Triangle Ape Foundation, Zoo Atlanta and Chester Zoo.
The new game, called “Wildeverse”, uses AR to create a virtual forest that players can explore to find certain animals — or clues to an animal’s whereabouts.
Though the game was intended to be played outdoors, the COVID-19 crisis forced the team to pivot, creating an option that lets people move about virtually using in-game controls, or walk around in more confined spaces.
The game starts with a chat-based segment introducing players to the gameplay and setting up some context around the virtual environment players will be exploring. Its graphics aren’t focused on recreating a completely immersive jungle environment, but create an abstracted forest and canopy of trees which players explore. A timer keeps track of how long a player takes to complete a mission, which involve identifying certain animals or looking for traces of their presence in the AR-created forest.
Once a mission is complete, the player runs through a scripted interaction with an actual conservationist who helped the Internet of Elephants game developers come up with the concept for the game and provided research assistance and support for the actual animals represented in the gameplay.
The game can be played on any iOS or Android device that support ARKit or ARCore.
Challenges range from searching for the animals themselves or their footprints, food leftovers or poop to looking for illegal human activity and threats to the habitat of four real orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and gibbons.
To make the game, Internet of Elephants developers led by company founder Gautam Shah, actually went to the jungles of Borneo and Congo to speak with conservationists about their work and scout for wildlife to use in te game, the company said in a statement. The game developers tracked several families of monkeys
“Ape populations are being decimated across the world. Wildlife protection will only become a global priority if enough people take an interest. Conservationists on the ground are fighting an uphill battle with the support of only a handful of people,” said Shah in a statement. “We are on a mission to turn the 2 billion people playing games today, into wildlife lovers and supporters of conservation efforts.”
For Shah, the newest launch for Internet of Elephants continues the company’s mission, which began in 2015 when the American-born Shah forsook a career in consulting to launch his AR-based gaming company. Other members of the Internet of Elephants team have equally interesting stories, including product lead, Jake Manion, who had spent six years as the creative director for Aardman Animations, the Academy-award winning studio behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
Shah sees three primary conservation elements to the Wildeverse game. First, he says, it creates a link between players and the conservation societies that the company works with, giving people a better sense of what conservation organizations actually do. The game also forces players to confront issues like forest fires, illegal logging, poaching, and the challenges surrounding conservation work that are exacerbated by development and human consumption changing the composition of the jungles these animals call home. Finally there’s an educational element to the game.
“You really really do learn a lot of juicy stuff and we don’t shy away from getting technical,” says Shah. “All that collectively is about creating a connection between you sitting in St. Louis and someone in Borneo trying to study orangutans,”
Originally, the game was meant to be played outdoors, with a thirty-meter radius of space to get the full sense of the gameplay, but it can work in a small studio apartment in Los Angeles equally well, given the modifications the team made before the game’s launch.
The text component of the game is informative and gives players a chance to learn about the foods orangutans eat, their habitat and their lives in the jungle. The script is slightly clunky, but not tiresome, and is based on conversations with the actual conservationists working in these different forests.
Ultimately Shah hopes to expand the number of habitats and the breadth of the game so players can explore different geographies and learn about endangered species on every continent.
There’s no monetization in the game yet and it will remain free-to-play, but Shah hopes to add some revenue-generating elements as development continues along with multi-player features, he said.
Ultimately, the game is about connecting and educating a new generation to the wonders of nature conservancy through the newest tech tools and gameplay.
“We want to make wildlife a positive, exciting topic of daily conversation for millions of people currently unconnected to conservation. We want to make Fio, Buka, Chilli and Aida celebrities, just like Kim Kardashian, Messi, and Donald Trump,” says Shah. “People’s attention matters so much more than they think.”