Zoo Guardians: Interview with JumpStart Games CEO Jim Czulewicz

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“Zoo Guardians” is a new augmented reality mobile game that promotes conservation by educating players about 58 different species of animals. Aimed at an audience of 9 and up, “Zoo Guardians” was created by JumpStart Games in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. The game enables player to build zoos, care for animals, and embark on adventures. Yet its coolest feature is the ability it gives users to interact with realistic 3-D representations of wildlife via augmented reality. As players expand their zoos, Smithsonian animal experts and conservation scientists provide advice concerning ways to help animals thrive both under human care and in their native habitats. Best of all, “Zoo Guardians” is FREE and available to download in the App Store and on Google Play.

Jim Czulewicz is the President and CEO of JumpStart. Having previously worked on major projects including “School of Dragons” and “Neopets,” Jim is an expert at funds management, merchandising, and sales within the games and educational industries. He previously worked with iconic Mattel brands such as Barbie, Hotwheels and more. Jim recently discussed his experiences overseeing the development of “Zoo Guardians” via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in the toys and games industry and how did you break into the business?

Jim Czulewicz (JC): Out of college, I was eager to become a programmer (even working my first summer to develop a financial system for a small group of home lenders in San Diego). Turns out that sitting behind a desk was not for me, so I switched careers and became the Director of Merchandising for Broderbund Software (working on “Myst,” “Prince of Persia,” “Print Shop” and a host of other products).  It was during this period and in working with some extremely talented people that I decided that the video game industry (and more importantly, the children’s/educational video game industry) was where I wanted to be.

MM: You initially worked with Mattel, so how did that esteemed position come about?

JC: Through a number of acquisitions! The Learning Company (that of Kevin O’Leary fame acquired Broderbund & Mindscape) and soon after Mattel acquired The Learning Company.  I was one of the few from the original that went through all the acquisitions.

MM: How did you get involved with JumpStart?

JC: I was brought into JumpStart Games (originally Knowledge Adventure) to assist with the sales and marketing efforts surrounding some new launches and to assist with some console game launches (Wii and Nintendo DS) under the JumpStart brand. During my tenure at JumpStart Games, I have had the privilege and honor to work with some extremely talented individuals in all facets of the video game industry including development and distribution. Quite a few of them continue to work at JumpStart Games on the new Zoo Guardians project as well as a few of our other JumpStart branded products.

MM: What inspired the creation of “Zoo Guardian” and why did you decide to make it free to download?

JC: Our game designers and producers are always looking for new content and opportunities that will allow us to educate and entertain kids of all ages.  In the case of Zoo Guardians, through discussions with the teams at Smithsonian National Zoo and the Conservation Biology Institute, we learned that there was a void of entertaining games that educate on conservation, animal care and the science behind it all. There are some unheralded heroes that work with endangered species all the time, and our hope is that we encourage a few users to explore a career in wildlife conservation (or at least have them learn a bit along the way by playing a really fun zoo builder game). As far as launching the game as Free to Play, ultimately the goal is to get more and more users into the game environment and start their quest down their own Zoo Guardian path.

MM: How did you choose the 58 animals highlighted in the game and what do you most like about its play pattern and educational merits?

JC: We worked closely with the zoo staff at the Smithsonian National Zoo to choose 58 of the world’s most vulnerable species pulled from a variety of diverse biomes around the globe. We love the play pattern of “Zoo Guardians” that involves learning about what increases the wellness of these endangered animals and nurturing them to a point where they can be relocated back to their native region of the world.

MM: How do you envision this game evolving?

JC: There are many exciting new features planned for “Zoo Guardians” in the future. Additional animals, biomes, habitats, enrichment items and other zoo enhancements are all in the works. In addition, we are always looking at ways to expand from the home/consumer market into the schools and home school market where we see great opportunities to develop learning content that can be used in various ways. Stay tuned!

MM: What can people expect from JumpStart in the future? Can you tell us any forthcoming news?

JC: We are always looking for opportunities to utilize interesting content (like Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise to drive the gameplay and educational elements behind our “School of Dragons” product) and hope to announce a couple of new products surrounding some well-known brands in the near future.  In addition, we are working on expanding our capabilities with our JumpStart Academy Math and Preschool/Kindergarten products to assist parents, teachers and students during the current pandemic protocols regarding online teaching.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

JC: Ultimately, we are always striving to keep JumpStart Games and our products in the forefront of users’ minds, whether it be for educational purposes or enrichment, and hope that players not only enjoy themselves but learn something new while they are playing. There have been times when I have been out in a public setting and while explaining what I do, I learn that they used one of our products such as JumpStart or MathBlaster growing up, and they have fond memories of those times. In the end, those are the moments that really reinforce what we do and make me proud of all the individuals that do all the hard work for JumpStart Games!

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To learn more about “Zoo Guardians” visit the official website.