Internet of Elephants (IoE) is a play on words for Internet of Everything. IoE is also a social enterprise based in Kenya that uses unique mobile games, augmented reality, and data visualizations to tell stories of individual animals studied by real conservation organizations and researchers all over the world. It aims to engage people who may not have a previous interest in wildlife conservation.
IoE was started by an American called Gautam Shah who found the rising tech ecosystem in Kenya a great reason to set camp in the country.
Enter The Wildeverse
Their flagship product was Wildeverse, a mobile AR game for tracking and researching apes in the wild. Research shows that 68% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. Games like Wildeverse will help us stay connected to nature.
The beauty of Wildeverse is that it enables players to beam far away wild places to their own neighbourhood and track real wild animals. In addition, the mobile game not only creates empathy between broad audiences towards endangered wildlife but also highlights organizations that support them.
The Unseen Empire
One of IoE’s most recent releases is Unseen Empire. It’s based on an ongoing 10 year-long camera trap study by professor David Macdonald and his team at the University of Oxfords’ WildCRU – Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.
I got a chance to play Unseen Empire and I loved learning about different species. The aim was to reconstruct the camera traps while in search of the elusive clouded leopard. Rather than just read about the study and results, I got to play the role of the researcher.
What’s even more exciting is that the game is based on true events and it informed me as a player on the biggest camera trapping project ever attempted. It’s fascinating how Unseen Empire merges myriad innovations, from scientists figuring out how to follow animal patterns to technologists gamifying the process and giving people outside the scientific and academic world a chance to learn concepts they normally would not know about.
Run Wild With Gaia
Gaia is a wild GPS-tracked mountain lion roaming the Pacific Northwest. Gaia’s story is developed by IoE based on her real movement data.
IoE partnered with Adidas for this particular project. To educate and rally runners around the topics of human impact on wild spaces and environmental protection, Adidas Runtastic launched Run Wild, a global ten-day digital running challenge, on the Adidas Running app.
Athletes who opted into the Run Wild Challenge tracked their total distance (running, treadmill, hiking, walking, virtual running, and trail running) over ten days. And each day they could compare their progress to the distances travelled by Gaia roaming the Cascade Mountains in the U.S.A.’s Pacific Northwest.
It is an interesting approach towards gamifying exercise while addressing conservation efforts and as a result, giving running a purpose beyond physical health.
Think Like The Private Sector
“To achieve large-scale long term success, wildlife conservationists need to think like the private sector and invest in business innovation. As conservationists, we want people to support nature for the same reasons we do. But we must look at things through the eye of our “customers” – those who are looking to engage. This is something that successful businesses would never fail to do.
Disney is an example of a company that has tapped into people’s love of animals as a foundation for its business. Think Zootopia, The Lion King, Jungle Book and Finding Nemo. Zootapia generated $ 800 million worldwide in just one month,” explained Gautam Shah.
IoE noticed people inherently love animals, a growing online gaming market, and also looked for ways to tap into it. They decided to partner with conservationists, gaming, and business experts in order to build world-class games that create a direct connection between people and wild animals. The games leverage friendly competition, status, fun, and curiosity.
Gautam emphasizes that using games to attract a large audience is not the only alternative to the traditional way of fundraising that relies heavily on donations. He challenges conservation NGOs to allocate funds in experimenting with new value propositions and business models.
Gamification for Conservation Report
IoE, alongside Pentaquest and Luc Hoffman Institute, released a report titled using gamification for nature conservation. The purpose of the report was to seek to understand how storytelling and gamification could derive value from and for wildlife. It mapped out current initiatives, theories, and lessons. It also aimed to spark the imagination of people with the same vision to reverse biodiversity loss.
Among some of the initiatives highlighted in the report was Playing for the planet. This is an alliance of 32 studios that collectively reaches more than 1 billion players around the world. It’s commendable how during their green game jam, the studios teach the attendees how to incorporate green activations, nudge positive environmental behaviours, and reduce their environmental impact.
In addition, the studios lead by example by donating and empowering the players to do the same via direct donation opportunities and in-app purchases. They also occasionally pledge a specified amount for every level that players reach during the game jam. These kinds of initiatives empower the players to support environmental efforts without having to donate money.
The report called attention to the reasons why people want to engage with gamification in the first place. “ Gamification works because players want to learn something new or engage in an activity. It’s going to be very difficult to engage people with gamification when they don’t want to engage in conservation behaviour,” said Hashim Nethal.
Hashim is a Marketing and PhD candidate at Bayes Business School in London. He is interested in how technology can be used to improve people’s lives. His research is specifically on gamification and the impact it has on consumer behaviour.
Ultimately one of the recommendations is that gamification should be viewed as one component of the overall solution rather than the single solution to conservation. IoE has done its part in engaging a diverse Global audience through gamified innovations and strategic partnerships. Now it’s time to follow IoE’s lead, innovate and get ways to engage more people towards causes that are meaningful to them.