Available on: PC, iPad
We played on iPad
When you hear the name Professor Jellyrobot, you’ll probably think of a…robot of some sort? Well, honestly I’m not sure what you would think, but I’m pretty sure you won’t come up with the right guess. You see, Professor Jellyrobot is a wolf. More specifically, he is my daughter’s wolf and her main avatar in Animal Jam. She loves him and the game. And I love watching her play. That’s why it’s unfortunate that a recent update to the game makes me love it less.
Lots and Lots of Animals
Animal Jam, for the uninitiated, is a free-to-play multiplayer online role-playing game for kids that was developed with coordination from National Geographic Kids. Everything is all about animals in this game. It contains little factoids about animals in pretty much every load screen, and the game also features videos from National Geographic. Don’t let the multiplayer part scare you. Like most other online games for kids, your child doesn’t have to interact with anyone else to play. And you can customize settings to something you feel comfortable with.
You can play the game on PC or iPad. My daughter plays on the iPad. She’s been smitten with the game since we loaded it up for the first time. It’s one of her go-to games, which is saying something. We have upwards of 50 apps for her on our iPad and she only plays a handful on a regular basis. I can’t put my finger on any one thing that makes her love this game because she seems to love every aspect of it.
She certainly enjoys decking out her animals and their homes with a huge number of accessories and decorative items. Taking a look at her animal home, you can learn a bit about her personality. Although items are scattered willy nilly, it’s easy to see that she loves rainbows and lollipops. By looking at her animals, you can see her favorite colors. There’s so much customization in this game, that it gives her the chance to really express herself in a way she’s not often able to do within a game.
Besides the customization and exploration, there are tons of mini-games to play in order to earn gems, the in-game currency. Some of these games take cues from popular video games and give them a cute spin. There are times when my daughter has asked me to help her play the Pill Bugs game, and I’ve found myself playing for my own fun. Earning gems for her is secondary.
I really like this game, but it’s important to talk about the elephant in the room – microtransactions. Animal Jam is free-to-play, but there are premium items that are only available if you buy them with real money. It’s next to impossible for a kid to buy anything themselves without knowing your password, but the premium items are on display next to the ones that can be purchased with in-game currency. That makes things a little tricky, especially for kids my daughter’s age.
Money to Sapphires
For example, she’ll see a certain type of animal she wants to play as and it’s hard for her to understand that we need to spend real money in order to buy it. This actually brings up a pretty big beef I have with a recent change to the game. The premium items used to be clearly marked with how much they cost in real money. Now the premium items can only be bought with “sapphires.” And you can only buy sapphires in set quantities. This means that you can’t just pay your $1.99 and be done. You have to buy 100 sapphires. It’s a common business model among free-to-play games and you can earn sapphires by playing, but it makes things needlessly complicated.
I had been using the premium items to teach my daughter the difference between real money and fake money. It was a great way to give her incentive to earn the money herself by doing chores or other things. She earned a dollar for each thing she did. It was a clear cause and effect dynamic. Now I can’t do that because the game adds in a more confusing step that makes it difficult for her to make the connection between real money and the item she wants in the game. It’s because this connection is no longer direct. Here’s how the conversation used to go:
“Well, Honey, you can’t have that item because it costs $1.99 in real money, which is just about $2. You have to do two chores in order to earn two dollars.”
Here’s how the conversation would go now:
“Well Honey, you can’t have that item because it costs 50 sapphires and we only have 20. To get more sapphires, we would need to buy 100 of them for $1.99. That means those 30 extra sapphires you need cost…” It can be confusing for an adult let alone a kid.
To be fair, this doesn’t change the dynamic of how the game plays, and most parents would probably be fine with it. But I’m annoyed that it’s taken away the ability for me to use the game to teach a real life lesson.
My daughter loves Animal Jam and I like it for the most part. I used to love it, but the change in the premium currency bugs me. But that may not be an issue for most parents. Besides that issue, I love how the game lets my daughter express herself, have fun, and learn about animals at the same time.