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Zoo-opolis may not be the most successful project I’ve ever taken on- but it may be the single most meaningful one of my career. It didn’t bring in the numbers we needed to keep it viable and, well, it didn’t win any awards. But it was a massive undertaking and one of the largest projects and achievements that I’ve ever worked on. Over the course of the fifteen months my team of eight worked on the project I learned so much and the successes and failures of the project reshaped my attitudes and approaches to team and project management.

Created as a Flash/AS3 browser game on Facebook, Zoo-opolis boasted a pretty amazing feature set on launch:

  • Players could create fully custom zoo’s where they could set change and alter everything: layouts, terrain, characters, creatures and objects within the creature enclosures.
  • Collection was everything. It combined elements of Pokemon with those from a zoo game to really drive home getting all the creatures. Representing creatures not just as game objects but also as cards really compelled players to invest in trying to collect everything.
  • Everything mattered! The amount of space you gave animals, how many or how few companions were in the exhibit with them, food, enrichment objects and so on had a big impact on how happy your creatures would be and thus how successful your zoo would become.

That said, Zoo-opolis also had some big things going against it. First and foremost, the project didn’t have much of a vision, or funding, beyond initial release-  this was pretty much a death sentence for a game designed to be a “service” more than just a one time experience. Additionally, it lacked features that players had come to expect in other more established titles such as “Quests” and clickable items on the screen that the player can pick up every few minutes. Without the the runway after launch to address the problems that revealed themselves Zoo-opolis was ultimately doomed.

But I learned so much and this project was one of my favorites to be a part of. Not only was I the only back end programmer (primarily PHP) and the technical lead of the project but beyond that I discovered a growing interest in project management and how to more effectively lead teams to build successful projects. Zoo-opolis was an incredibly ambitious game and I’m overwhelmingly proud of what my team and I accomplished.