Microsoft Studios' zoo management sim, Zoo Tycoon, will allow players to help real-life animals and zoos in need, studio manager Jorg Neumann told Polygon during a recent press event.
In Zoo Tycoon, players run a virtual zoo of their making. As they become more successful — a feat accomplished in part by raising happy animals — players will have the chance to release those animals into the wild. According to Neumann, achieving this ultimate goal will have a real-world impact. Microsoft Studios will choose a cause or zoo, and then rally players together by challenging them to release specific animals.
When enough of the chosen animal is released, Microsoft donates money to a related charity. The company has a certain percentage of its profits set aside for just such an occasion. Neumann told us the company partnered with National Geographic and several conservation efforts to help fight animal-related causes worldwide.
"It's the first time that their mission is going into the virtual world," Neumann said. "For us as the virtual people, it's the first time we're giving something back."
Part of the studio's goal in giving back includes educating players, especially the young ones, on how to properly treat animals. According to Neumann, this is best evidenced in the game's caging system, which won't allow you to put carnivores and herbivores in the same cage.
"With zoos, [there are] two ambitions," Neumann said. "One is education and the other is conservation. As we talked with these zoos, they said it's good for kids to understand if I try to put this antelope in here ...."
The end result isn't pretty.
"We want to teach people to actually take care of animals."
In the game's full sim mode, neglecting animals also comes with negative side-effects. In the most extreme case, in-game organizations will actually remove unhappy animals by the chopper-full.
"It's a good consequence, given that we want to teach people to actually take care of animals," Neumann said. "It's an important thing to really get that."
Zoo Tycoon launches this month for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. For more on the game's animals and zoos, check out our interview with Neumann from Gamescom 2013.