At Least 17 Reasons Why Your Kid May Be Playing Animal Jam

Geek Culture People
Joi Podgorny
Image: National Geographic

Tell us who you are and what you do.

My name is Joi Podgorny and I am the Director of Community Engagement at Smart Bomb Interactive, creators of various online and mobile games, including AnimalJam.com and Tunnel Town, on mobile. I oversee in-game moderation, as well as all customer service and social media engagement efforts for our brands.

For the uninitiated, what is Animal Jam?

Animal Jam is an online playground targeted toward children where players can become their favorite animals and play in a beautiful and immersive online world – filled with games, interaction and tons of learning opportunities. We partner with National Geographic for much of our multi-media content, so as kids are playing, they can watch videos about animals in their habitats, play games with trivia about the natural world and interact with friends surrounded by artwork inspired by real world flora and fauna.

Animal Jam screenshot
Image: National Geographic

What does success look like for a project like this? Is it simply numbers and registrations? How do you measure engagement or learning?

We definitely look at all the numbers that an average business looks at – revenue, sales, registrations, etc. But with a product that contains community, we are lucky to have other metrics that can gauge success – like engagement on and off the site. The average play session for our players is well above the average for online games – 60 minutes. During that time, they have tons of opportunities to play and interact, and as I like to say – accidentally learn. Players watch over 60,000 minutes of videos each day and read over 275,000 animal and plants facts a day that are throughout AJ.

What are the main federal rules that govern your work?

As a game where players can purchase memberships, etc., we are, of course, PCI compliant with our financial transactions. We also comply with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), but went even further and gained Safe Harbor with the FTC to ensure that we have even more help staying up to date as the laws change within the industry. We chose Safe Harbor through the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), as they also help to ensure that our advertising to children stays within best practices. As we expand into non-US markets, we will seek to achieve similar best practice status within each territory.

And what does COPPA compliance mean for you in practice?

COPPA compliance ensures that we are doing everything we can to keep children’s personally identifiable information safe and secure and that we are keeping their parents aware of what our information privacy practices are. As such, our databases are secure and we have robust filtering systems for our registration, chat and image collection functions. I manage a large team of human monitors, all background checked and thoroughly trained, who constantly verify and improve our rules, guidelines, triggers and settings to ensure we are doing the most we can daily to keep that information secure – both according to the law, but also above and beyond, for the sake of our brand and for the players.

At what kind of scale are you working? How many kids can freely chat with each other?

We have over 16 million registered users on Animal Jam. Our default chat setting is Restricted Chat, meaning that players can interact with each other using only words in our pre-selected dictionary. If a parent decides they would like their child to have more or less freedom in their chatting, the parent can choose to change their child’s chat settings within our Parent Dashboard. For example, should the parent wish to allow their child to type “Yaaaaay!” instead of just “Yay!” they could change the setting to Safe Chat that allows words to be typed outside of the dictionary. Conversely, a parent could choose to limit their child’s interaction to Bubble Chat, which only allows their child to choose from pre-selected phrases. This said, the vast majority of our players (over 80%) are perfectly content using our default Restricted Chat setting.

Our team reviews chat daily to verify our filters and settings are calibrated correctly, as well as to ensure that we are keeping up with new cultural trends and tactics players may be trying to dodge or otherwise circumvent our filters.

You threw my daughter out of Animal Jam when she was making plans to meet a friend for lunch, which I thought was a pretty impressive catch. She thought she had mistyped “duck.” What other kinds of behaviors or activities have you interrupted?

Thanks – I always love it when we can turn a discipline from the game into a positive parent interaction. As far as other behaviors/activities, where do I start? Obviously, for COPPA compliance, players trying to give out personal information is a very high priority – that’s addresses, emails, and phone numbers – but even Skype and other instant messaging usernames, FaceTime handles, and any other methods where players would be communicating outside of the game and potentially sharing that personal info.

While there is no law around it (which most parents are surprised to learn) we are also very diligent regarding inappropriate behavior and conversations, including cyber dating, drugs/alcohol, violence, vulgar language, cyberbullying and anything else we have deemed inappropriate to be associated with our brand and within the younger demographic we attract.

How much grassroots community has grown up around AJ? Do you seek to influence it?

Our fan community is truly epic and it is always a great source of pride when I work on a brand that can inspire one. In addition to the vibrantly engaged communities that we have developed on social media sites, there are many fan-run communities on those same social media sites with numbers that rival our own.

Image: Animal Jam Rush Blog
Image: Animal Jam Rush Blog

Plus, we have thousands of fan blogs and fan sites that act as citizen journalists, reporting on news within our world of Jamaa, including new items, opinions on new content and guesses of what’s to come. We only interact on our brand controlled channels, but the kids know we are paying attention since we respond to their feedback whenever we can via new content features or promotions.

Your site is built in Flash. Has mobile taken its toll on you, as it has for my own games production? What is the technology outlook for desktop-based worlds? HTML5? Unity?

Our goal is to create an enduring and trustworthy children’s property, so we look at mobile as an opportunity. Desktop-based gaming isn’t going to vanish as a result of the mobile revolution, but you’re right – the technology outlook has changed. As a company, we’ve made a big commitment to Unity on desktop and mobile platforms, and we have some Animal Jam stuff in development that we think is pretty revolutionary. Flash still has its place, at least for the next few years. And 2D games will always be around, because there are some great play mechanics that can only be done well in 2D.

After Club Penguin was bought by Disney, there was an explosion of virtual worlds but many have gone by the wayside. Is there still a future for such things?

We don’t really think of AJ as a ‘virtual world’ in the Club Penguin mold. The point of most virtual worlds is to get players heavily invested in one avatar character that represents them to the world, and then advance that character through a social hierarchy or leveling system. Animal Jam encourages players to try on lots of different animal characters, and to distinguish themselves in the world differently according to how they feel like playing that day. It’s a virtual world in the sense that any persistent online environment is a virtual world, but that includes most MMORPGs, too. We think of Animal Jam as a social network and playground, and there is definitely a future for those.

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267 thoughts on “At Least 17 Reasons Why Your Kid May Be Playing Animal Jam

  1. Im 9 and i love AJ but i keep getting cammed plz report Iamthekingofbetas 🙁 he scammed my spike collar ; ( AJ is really messed up sometimes :/ my user is punkn list full BAI lol

  2. no…….i got scammed this fox.scammed. me so this is how it happen i said i will trade u your blue spiked color for my yellow rare spiked color. so he told me he can,t trade then he said i will gift my blue rare color if u gift me your yellow rare spiked color.so i was stupid and gift him it and he lock me out of his den and block me.my user/name is arnj0214 pleas gift me i got nothing…….

  3. user:coolboy98467
    pass:5alev3
    this accent got,s 22 or more rare and non rare spikes colors watch my video it is about how to get rare or non rare spiked colors its a web site

  4. i like animal jam but sometimes it gets boring i like moviestarplanet much more animal jam is fun just not like fantastic if you know what i mean but that is my opinion sooo im not a freak for saying its kinda boring again its my opinion not yours

  5. Dear AJ:

    Ok so i got suspended for ” inappropriate behavior ” because of my brother (real life not on AJ) and i got suspended on Feb. 25, 2015. It has been 4 days since my member account has been suspended. And to make it worse, it got suspended on my B-day. All i want to know is when i will be able to play again.
    ~Yours truly
    Wolvesareagirlsbf

  6. hey does anyone know how much it hurts to get your tounge peirced coz im getting mine done soon and i wanna know
    btw i think animal jam is quite swaggy

  7. Im 14 though, i love animal jam i’ve been playing the game since i was like idk 9 or 11. Why i started to play was because i went through some drama in my family and it just calms me. UH the game is pretty fun i have many close friends like Bluerose454, Lostmyaj, and Ect. Buddy me me my username is , Aparesky821!

  8. i always wonder how to get a headdress this might make your website better friend me i’m: kenzieb000.
    P.S: i’m always on.

    1. OK ppl am 8 and I play a AND my BFF Maddie Gets scale all day ppl some of u ppl Are RUDE and maddle is in my class BTW am dogsrock2006 Plz buddy Meh

  9. i am 12 and i play animal jam bc you meet new ppl and you lean many things about animals. Animal jam is a secure sight and i have never been hacked (thankfully) i am trying to become a member bc i cant get anything good as a non member. If ppl scam then you are worthless and desperate and you are a thief bc you are taking other ppls stuff. my username is cutegirlbree add meh!!!!!!

  10. i play because it keeps my information safe i can have a fun and i can keep in touch with my far away friends!

  11. Parents be warned, this is a stupid idea for kids, especially under 11s. Our 6 year old was playing it for a while, then we noticed she was getting quite addicted to it,, when monitoring some of the conversations, I was greatly disturbed, even if some words are blocked, things can be said in various ways,,,to get through. we made the mistake of letting her use it, don’t make the same mistake, older kids are taking advantage of the younger ones, even more sinister, is who else would be attracted, to a place where lots of young kids hangout, on-line or offline, you know the answer,, how can you be sure who your 6 year old is talking too? and who can honestly monitor it 100% properly, the only way to stay safe is to stay off…..We have contacted animal jam with full details, this site is not right for younger kids…..

  12. Hi everyone, just wanted to say, i COMPLETELY agree with some of you. Animaljam can be wrong in lots of ways with the Sexual stuff, like when a boy does…. yeah whatever XD. Im not trying to be harsh when i say this but:
    THIS IS A LITTLE KIDS GAME PPL!!! STOP BEING SO WEIRD, DOING SEX AND STUFF AND GET.A.LIFE!
    Thats all i wanted to say except that i loveeee Animal jam to death my grandma says i play to much of it but i cant stand being without it, i like reading Warriors also im actually a kit and warrior.
    Kit: Dawnkit
    Warrior: Dawnleaf
    Btw want to tell this story: One time i got scammed by a gumball barrel for my rare worn, rare spike, rare foot-things and lots of other rares, i was SO upset that id dint play aj for a month but then i realize di couldnt live without it and i thank my friend, aeg0905 for introducing me to aj, i wouldnt have had a life without it!!! (Ok, XD jk on that but srsly love aj) and (XD i realized, my initals are also aj lol)
    And if yall wanna friend me, im a member and i have free chat, my user is Luna5567 bye!

  13. I used to LOVE Animal Jam, now it’s a playground for hackers, scammers, and older kids to behave inappropriately in front of younger kids. I am Minecraftmitus and I have gotten hacked by Fman122 before and I cried uncontrollably. Was that my fault? No, it was Animal Jam’s, they don’t have a secure password. Now it’s 2015 and it’s the replay of the “Dark Ages”, Mighty Squad, the new group of hackers. They have amazing British accents though <3, anyways, hacked WIsteriamoon, Julian2AJ, Slushy and alot of other famous AJ Youtubers. Animal Jam needs to secure their website or else they will being getting TONS of emails and skype calls. The staff doesn't have time for this! It's ridiculous! I have learned to get used to the hackers coming now and then. March 26th, 2016, they are going to be uploading pictures of the guy/girls human body into Jamaa. Have fun playing until next time!

    1. No matter how secure Animal Jam is, hackers will still be able to get into it. I mean, I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to put more security because putting more security will make Animal Jam harder to hack into but still, it’s going to get hacked anyway.

  14. I’m going to give my honest experience on Animal Jam as a kid. When I first started going on Animal Jam often, I became very addicted to it. That also led me to having addiction to items, being popular, staying up past my bedtime to play, and a bit of a decrease in grammar/spelling/attitude. I also got distressed often because of scamming, “betrayals” while in adoption, and being in a conversation in which the other person made me feel bad. Often times, I saw players attempting to do this “boy and girl” thing, and sometimes, I even thought of doing it myself. The thing is, I did not even realize that those were having a bad effect and influence on me.

    CONCLUSION: Animal Jam was rather not very educational, as it got me hooked into items more than educational resources. It also had some bad effects on me, such as being influenced in poor spelling/grammar/attitude while interacting online, not getting enough sleep, and rejecting other important activities for Animal Jam. While on Animal Jam, I had a bad enough experience by being tricked, being engaged in a hurtful conversation, and being influenced at times with this “boy and girl” thing. However, it did help me with my interacting skills, as I was always extremely shy in school and didn’t talk with other people so frequently, but it did get me to talk with other people a bit more frequently. I would not recommend this for kids, especially younger kids, because they can have a worser experience, influence and effect compared to mine.

    1. I would also like to say that other people are experiencing this too. On this page, I have seen many comments in which the author claims that they have gotten scammed. In fact, I have so far seen no replies on sharing educational experiences and I could probably say that the majority of the people that have commented here and play Animal Jam talk about their items. There are, too, positive sides to Animal Jam that it can have on children. It did improve my typing skills and I ended up typing faster and with more accuracy than I did before. Any vulgar or offensive language will be censored, which can also be taken to the point of a ban and lastly, children can actually enjoy themselves on it. On Animal Jam, I mostly enjoyed collecting items and I thought it was fun.

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