Funium's 'Family Village' rewards players by helping build players' family tree

"Family Village" rewards players by helping build their family tree.

Utah-based developer Funium's Family Village is more than just a city-building simulator for Facebook. While players construct their towns and decorate their space, the team at Funium is hard at work behind the scenes building the players' family trees.

Players build cities and fill it with people based on members of their own family. The game rewards playtime with documents from your family history that you can then put in display in your town's virtual "museums," creating an homage to your ancestors and building a virtual family tree.

Collecting and bringing these historical documents into the game is no small task.

Funium's "founders are all from the family history sector," founder Jeff Wells told Polygon. "We've got a lot of family history companies in the Utah valley, including Ancestry.com, and a lot of supporting companies have sprung up."

During Wells' time as CEO of GeneTree, another site allowing users to track their ancestors using DNA, he came up with the idea of making a game centered around collecting family histories.

"Many years ago, I signed up for Ancestry.com on a cold winter night at about 10 o'clock one evening, trying to see what documents I could find," Wells said. "I was up until 4:30 in the morning and I couldn't get enough of what I was finding about my history. I was excited, I built a little family tree, I wanted to show everybody.

"But I had spent five hours on it, and it was hard to share because people had a one or two minute interest. I thought, how can I make this more fun? The idea of a game came to me right then," he said.

Gamifying family history was the best way to do it.

"I love family history and subsequently thought there has got to be more interesting, intriguing, rewarding way to do family research," he said. "Gamifying family history was the best way to do it. We would overlay it with social gaming on Facbeook and a large amount of people can reach it quite quickly. We wanted a game flow that could accommodate building a tree and a village and integrating ancestors into the game."

"It was a labor of love. We hope it will bring families together and helped people understand their own legacies," he added.

Family Village features a character creator and document search capability. User-generated content such as documents players have found independently can be uploaded into the game. Players control their privacy settings, so personal villages can either be open to others or allow family only.

As for monetization, Wells compared Funium's model to that of other Facebook city builders. Some historical documents will be free, but the harder they are for Wells and his team to find, the more they will cost to obtain. Transactions will run from 50 cents to three or four dollars per document. Once the player has purchased that document, it's theirs to share and display in their virtual "museum."

Well's experience as a product merging specialist – essentially observing how things happen in one industry and repackaging it for use in another – has helped him build Family Village into both a fun and marketable game. "We're taking the great atrributes of family history and bringing that into the gaming industry, and both together create a socially valuable product. When you thin of doing family history research, the more you do, the more inetersting and engaging it becomes. Whereas some games have a short lifecycle, the more you play Family Village, the more important and rewarding it becomes to you," he said.

We're taking the great atrributes of family history and bringing that into the gaming industry, and both together create a socially valuable product.

"Monetization levels will continue longer than a traditional game," Wells added. "This is a dynamic and disruptive socially engaging environment."

Currently the game caters more to its North American players, where it is easier to obtain historical records. Wells says that the company is looking towards Europe next and will provide translation services for documents in other languages. Getting documents from Asiatic countries such as China will be a challenge, the founder admits, but Funium is not ruling it out for the future.

"People are drawn to the game at all ages," Wells said of Family Village's audience. "The elderly that have already been gathering information, the middle-aged people just getting into it and who want their families to do sometiing socially valuable. It appeals to everyone."

Family Village is currently in public beta on Facebook.

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