Animal Jam may be free, but it doesn’t operate on a classic freemium hook-'em-in-and-bleed-'em-slowly-dry model.
“We’ve found that one of the most popular conversion tools for our subscriber base are our avatar animals,” Stacey said. “If parents buy their child a wolf avatar and then their kid stops playing Animal Jam six months later, they can keep the related ebook. Even after our game passes out of their favorites, kids will still have something they can actually use. It’s a unique value proposition for parents.”
Although Animal Jam works with affiliate networks like Commission Junction and blogs like BlogHer to get the word out and has even experimented with YouTube pre-roll, there is no advertising in the web version of Animal Jam, and Stacey said he plans to keep it that way in the forthcoming mobile app.
“We’re seeing more and more kid games out there that have entirely ad-supported businesses models, but we haven’t gone down the in-app advertising route,” he said. “We consider it part of our covenant with parents to not try and sell their kids cereal or something like that.”
WildWorks is clearly doing something right with Animal Jam – revenue for the game will be about $30 million this year – but user acquisition in the kid community is far from easy, let alone complying with legislation like COPPA.
“Kids are extremely difficult to reach on the web and just as much so on mobile, because most of the places you would generally go to get authentic and legitimate installs would be social networks, and young children probably shouldn’t be on there,” Stacey said.
In preparation for the big mobile push planned for Q1 2015, Animal Jam tested a stripped down iPad app last December that enabled players to generate gems for their Animal Jam accounts. “We generated hundreds of thousands of downloads over a single weekend just by announcing the app on Animal Jam,” Stacey said.
But Stacey and his team envision what he called a “slow burn” for the coming launch of Animal Jam’s full mobile experience.
“We’re not looking to push this quickly up the charts,” Stacey said. “Of course there will be some typical in-app purchases available, but it’s not going to just be about buying another avatar. We’re not focusing on the currency. Our bread and butter is not about monetizing a currency that kids can spend in the game. Our focus is on parent-approved purchases that have educational value tied to them.”