Like birds, zombies and games involving bleeding fingers, the zoo has proven itself to be an unexpectedly lucrative genre of game for smartphones. With Tamagotchi-like nurturing required, zoos are family-friendly and they happen to monetize well because humans have this irresistible impulse to collect objects like virtual animals.
Unsurprisingly, that means a wave of zoo titles are coming. The first in what will be a couple of them coming down the pike is TeamLava’s Zoo Story.
Like we’ve said before, TeamLava does not tend to produce the most original concepts, but it’s a studio that knows how to break a game into the Top 25 and keep it there. One-half of Redwood Shores-based Storm8, TeamLava focuses on casual games appealing to a female demographic. The whole company has three games among iOS’ top 25 grossing titles in the U.S. today.
So in Zoo Story, the plot is basically what you’d imagine. Run a zoo by buying animals and collecting revenue as visitors stop by. But unlike Pocket Gems’ Tap Zoo, which is the reigning champion of zoo games and is the highest-grossing title in the U.S. today, TeamLava’s Zoo Story has all sorts of other added complexity.
For one, players have to feed their animals. The more they feed the animals, the more revenue they make. Secondly, they also have to grow their own crops to feed the animals, so Zoo Story’s zoos have farms too. The refreshment stands and amusement rides also earn revenue just like the animals, (which they don’t in Tap Zoo). There’s also an energy mechanic that winds down every time the player takes an action like collecting revenue from an animal. There are just a lot of other balls to juggle in this game, for better and for worse.
“What we’ve tried to do is scale the number of activities you can do,” said Johnny Coghlan, Storm8’s vice president of business development. “We want each activity you to take to have more of a reward. We don’t want to churn and burn our players.”
Because Storm8 will cross-promote this title heavily to its existing base, which is already familiar with farming mechanics, Coghlan says the added complexity shouldn’t be a problem.
Like Tap Zoo, there’s a breeding mechanic so after players buy two animals of the same species, they can use them to breed more. But Zoo Story shows the baby animals in their artwork. There is an in-game currency that players earn through their zoos and a paid currency, Gems, just like in all of TeamLava’s games.
The social features are a little deeper than what Pocket Gems has at the moment. Players can not only visit each other, but they can “tour” each other’s animals, earning extra experience in the process. TeamLava is bringing this game simultaneously to the iPad and iPhone.
As for Android, the company has a couple of titles there already. They turned in-app billing on for Restaurant and Bakery Story when Google rolled the feature out to consumers last month. Coghlan said TeamLava has been happy with conversion rates so far, even though he wouldn’t share specifics. All of the company’s Android titles do not use advertising; they are solely reliant on in-app purchases for revenue.
Storm8 is one of the top-grossing independent mobile developers that hasn’t taken venture funding to date. It has close to 50 employees.