When it comes to the kids though, safety comes first and a children MMORPG was the last type of game I would consider letting our children play (actually, second last. Violent games are definitely last). However, with issues comes solutions, and many companies have now created MMORPG games that not only are fun to play, but are also child safety first. One example is Animal Jam, created in partnership with National Geographic.
About 3 weeks ago, we were introduced to the game and was given an opportunity to try out the members only section as well (it's normally free to play, or you can pay to access additional features). I had a good look at the Parents section on their website, and after having a go at the game myself, I thought it might just be okay for Abby to play it.
It took us until now to publish the review because we couldn't really trial the game every day as she would have liked. Abby even missed the opportunity to try out the Members Only features (we were given a week's free trial to try it out) because my silly PC decided to take a break. Nevertheless, with the lovely PR's kind offer to let Abby get another week's free trial, we finally managed to get to play enough (I think. The game is fairly big!) to write up this review, and hopefully it can give you an idea of why we are happy for Abby to continue playing the game during the holidays.
|The virtual currency in Animal Jam consist of Gems (normal) and Diamonds (special)|
|Members only parties and adventures|
Animal Jam is a MMORPG game created in partnership with National Geographic, which is free for children to play. Players can explore the world Jamaa, go on quests with others, learn facts about animals and nature, adopt pets, play games and earn Gems, use them to buy things to decorate their own character and their dens, make friends and trade, etc etc.
Children, with parents' consent and payment (£4.95 per month, or save by paying for 6 or 12 months), can also become a member, which gives them full access to thew whole game. It mainly allows them to have access to all virtual pets and character options (more about this below), as well as all the accessories and Dens that are available for them to buy (using virtual money). It also allows them to access members only games and adventures.
|Left: parents section|
Right: Parents' Dashboard
With children's online safety and privacy in mind, children's account creation and game play can be tailored by the parent under the Parent's Dashboard, and the game's creator WildWorks has also set up other safety measures to protect children from online bullying, and give plenty of reminders for children to protect their real life information and be nice to other players. You can find out more about their game here and Parents section here. It is recommended that parents read the Animal Jam Rules together with their children as well.
By default, children's in-game chat are restricted, which means that they are limited to what they can type in the in-game chat. Members, with parents consent (by changing the setting in the Parents' Dashboard), can have a less restricted chat option as well, but like all the other chat options, what they type are filtered and moderated, and typing offending messages could get their account suspended.You can also have an option of Bubble chat, where children can't type but can choose words to express themselves from a list. You can find out more about the chat options here.
Children can make friends in-game and add them to their buddy list. With the in-game settings, children can set Jammer Wall (for players to leave messages that stays, like a messaging system) or Den visitors to buddies only, so that only buddies can write on their wall and visit their den.
I'm quite happy with Abby to chat to others using Restricted Chat, because it gives her the chance to practise typing and have the opportunity to social as well while still being protected. I however have chosen to disable trade, gifting, and Jammer Wall for now for my own peace of mind.
Abby is free to buddy other players, but she's quite sensible and since she hasn't really played much, nor played with specific friends for long enough, her buddy list is still empty.
|Left: Members can access more character options, but they will require virtual payment to create|
Right: Adopting a pet
When players create an account, they start with choosing an animal to represent them in Animal Jam. Instead of creating their own character name, Animal Jam has an in-built character name selection system. Players can either let the game pick a random one for them, or they can go through the 3 wheels to choose one they like.
For the account information, I would recommend not using their own date of birth, nor putting any real life information in their username and password, just for that extra security measure. It's important for us parents to remind them not passing these information on to other players, even if they know each other in real life.
There are 8 basic characters to choose from, and more options (really nice ones too!) for members. It does require virtual money to pay for them though. Players can create more than one character, and they can do so anytime in the game. It's helpful to have a character each for land, sea and sky so that they can explore the whole Jamaa. Unlike other MMORPG, players doesn't need to log out from the game to change character, they can just swap inside the game, which is really helpful!
Once a character is created, players can then customise them in-game.
Players can also adopt a pet (or many pets) along their journey, and customise them too. Members can also have access to all the pet choices available.
|Right: Players can change the colour and pattern for their character in-game|
There will be a simple tutorial at the beginning when players first landed in Jamaa, and they will then be left to explore, but further instructions will be given when they explore a feature for the first time.
Den and Shopping:
Through adventures and playing games, players will earn gems (Diamonds can be earned by spinning the daily wheel when players log into the game, or through becoming a member where they will be gifted one Diamond per week), which they can then use to buy things. They can buy a new Den, furnishings, and even clothes and accessories for themselves and their pets.
There are many shops across the whole Jamaa, and each continent will have something that matches to that continent available. There are also themed items available during events too.
Adventures has to be the biggest part of a MMORPG to me. There is one main story line, where players are to defeat Phantoms that has invaded Jamaa, and each adventure has its own story and mini quests. Players can join or host an adventure, although sometimes you can go on one on your own as well.
During adventures, players can earn Courage points and level up. Adventures require a certain level of Courage to go on, so it's good to start from the beginning. Players can also "go into a deep sleep" after being hit by Phantoms 3 times, but they will wake up at the nearest statue (I forgot his name...). Abby is really scared of the Phantoms though!
There are hidden treasure chests scattered around the map (it's good to check the map often, which is located at the bottom right corner), so exploring the whole map will give the players more treasures. Banishing a Phantom will give Gems as well, and by finishing a mini quest, players can earn a treasure chest that has a higher amount of Gems inside!
There are assorted games in Animal Jam that are really fun to play, and perfect for players to earn Gems if they don't want to go on Adventures. There are a lot of different games, including finding hidden objects, or dress your character and the best dressed wins, etc. The good thing is that you can play a game over and over again until you want to stop. So you can keep playing and earning Gems! And if you are bored of one, there are many others to choose from! For players who are trying to save up for an item to purchase in game, "farming Gems" isn't difficult at all, and it's fun! Much more fun than what we had to do in the adult MMORPGs...
Games can be accessed through the Animal Jam screen, or you can find games during a journey. Sometimes you'll find games that gives double the amount of Gems too!
The main point of Animal Jam is to encourage children to explore the map and learn about animals and nature after all. Making earning Gems easier will definitely help encourage them to go around the world to find their favourite things to buy, and the more places they visit, the more they will learn.
Players around Jamaa are learning about animals and nature all the time, even though they didn't realise. I really like it that they include actual pictures of creatures and facts when a player comes across the animated version. Players might not necessary read through all the facts, but I'm sure if they see an animal that they are interested in, they will stop and take a longer look!
Players will also come across the chance to learn through adventures and games, such as a quest asking for a fruit without giving the actual name, or during the Hidden Objects game where you have to match the name of an item to the item itself. I have learned a couple of new words in that game too!
Events and Updates:
Like many games, if there isn't a constant update and new things to do, it can get boring easily for players, especially children. Animal Jam has plenty of events going on, especially something that matches the real life events like Halloween and Christmas, and they are constantly finding new things to update, for example adding new items and improve features. This is what keeps players going!
Animal Jam on the Go:
If you are like me and rather not have the child on your PC all the time, Animal Jam is now available on iOS as well for free. I do hope that they will create one for Android soon!
Overall, we think that the game is educational and fun to play. I like it that they keep children's safety in mind when designing the game, without letting it compromise the social aspect too much. We as parents do have to play our part as well and constantly remind the kids not to type personal information in the game, and not to click on other things on the PC (Animal Jam itself is advert and spam free) like my unfinished blog post...
Membership wise, I think £4.95 a month is fairly reasonable. That's about the price I will be happy to pay for a children's subscription box, and it's only £3.32 per month for 6 months membership or £3.16 per month for 12 months. It's not asking for further in-game purchases (you can buy additional in-game currency, but why not teach them how to earn and save up instead?) either. I think for children who really like the game and want to earn and save up for members only items, the 6 months or 12 months membership could make a lovely birthday and Christmas present.
At the moment we are trialing a few games at the same time, but Abby is happy to come back to Animal Jam whenever she's allowed. She is scared of Phantoms, but she loves shopping in the game and has been busy saving up. I think we won't be going anywhere during the Christmas holiday!