Published by Grensverleggers magazine, November 2016 (translated from Dutch)

Gaming for a good cause. It’s possible with Internet of Elephants. The social enterprise based in Kenya and the US is using online gaming to interest people across the world for wildlife. Gautam Shah, founder of IoE: “Wildlife should have just as big a following as Lionel Messi or Kim Kardashian.” Game on!

Shah has had a weakness for animals for as long as he can remember. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in the midst of the forest, and was fascinated by the animals that visited his families garden, such as deer and foxes. He went on his first safari at 18 and it opened the floodgates. He has since slept amongst chimpanzees, been pinched by a mountain gorilla, and swam with whale sharks and sea lions. Through his experiences, Shah discovered the beauty and importance of the conservation of wildlife.

Sad photos

The current method for demanding attention for protecting wildlife has a ceiling. Playing into the conscience of people with sad photos and stories and asking for donations doesn’t work in the long run. Shah: “By developing an online game we are placing the subject in the realm of what people already love to do, which is gaming. We use data of real wild animals in the games. So when you play as an elephant, it is connected to the data of a real elephant. Our players don’t mind paying for something they like to do. That appeals more to people than donating out of a sense of guilt.

“We should not just think about what we want, we should think about what people want from us.”

“I think this system is more sustainable in the long run. We can make a difference long term by ensuring that people have a real emotional connection to animals and we achieve that by treating people like customers. We need to ask ourselves: what do people want from us, instead of just asking what they can do for us.”

Animal race

The game has several different storylines, but it all centers around how elephants, tigers, giraffes and other wild animals move about their home territories. Players have to be strategic, because as they cannot control the animal.

For instance in Maasai Mara, a nature reserve in Kenya, you may make decisions about the land in order to increase the chances of animals crossing your territory, thereby scoring points for you.

Another scenario is thinking of the migration of the wildebeest as a race. The first wildebeest that makes it to 1000 kilometers, passes at least one river and stays alive for at least three months, wins.

In every game, the player can rise to a next level with more challenges and more wildlife. It is also possible to make certain purchases possible in the game that will help you get better results. The money raised in the game will benefit wildlife conservation. You can help Internet of Elephants co-create the game by trying it out and giving your feedback.

Business model

Those purchases are an important part of the business model behind Internet of Elephants. Shah: “It works like a circle. We receive data from wildlife partners to build the game. We raise money through the game (through in-app purchases, advertisement and sponsoring) and a large part of the income will flow back to the wildlife partners. The other part will go to the shareholders of our company.

“I hope that IoE will be an example of how virtual reality can interest people in wildlife.”

Who is creating the game behind the scenes? Dutch gaming company Little Chicken. Shah: “ The founder of Little Chicken has been actively involved with IoE from the start. An amazing company that is an expert in creating applied games.”

“In a number of years we hope to have both entertaining as well as educational games. What I can imagine for instance is a revolving globe where you can zoom in and view and follow animals all across the world. I hope that IoE will be an example of how virtual reality can interest people in wildlife and that we will become one of the biggest supporters of wildlife conservation.”