Meet theBlu, the FarmVille of the Sea

By Devon Glenn 

It may function as a 3D version of a FarmVille game, but theBlu‘s creators had Pixar films in mind when they designed the Web application that shows marine life in ocean habitats around the world.

Co-founders Neville Spiteri and Scott Yara were looking for a way to turn their love for the ocean into a globally shared experience, said Spiteri. They launched theBlu on May 4, 2012 in New York City’s Times Square, where people first caught a glimpse of the artwork on electronic billboards overhead.

Inside theBlu, players meander through a simulated ocean where clownfish and barracudas move through an ever-changing seascape to an original score by Los Angeles composer Kevin Brough. There, the players can click on more than 100 species in 8 habitats to learn more about them. “You’re not in an aquarium,” said Spiteri. “You really feel like you’re in a vast ocean.”

A social enterprise, theBlu works with charities like OceanElders and WildAid to educate the public about the world’s oceans and provide funds for conservation efforts. Similar to Zynga’s FarmVille, theBlu’s players can purchase different species of fish that swim along the sandy bottom or coral reefs, a portion of which will go to charity.

If it’s anything like its pastoral predecessor, theBlue will spread socially as users log in with their Facebook accounts and post their activities on their Timelines. Right now, theBlu’s base of Facebook users is modest compared to that of FarmVille, which is currently averaging 21.4 million users per month, according to AppData.

But Spiteri said his plans for the app are cinematic in scope. The developers and artists at parent company Wemo Media have Hollywood film credentials as well as backgrounds in game development and marine biology.

For World Oceans Week in June, Andy Jones, who was the animation director for Avatar‘s Academy Award-winning special effects team, created a blue whale for the app that people could follow online as it swam around the world.

In the future, theBlu will become even more like an animated documentary, adopting a hybrid form of storytelling that also incorporates social media elements. It’s “going to look more like Facebook meets Pixar than an MMOG,” Spiteri explained.

TheBlu is currently available for download on PC and Mac, but a mobile application is also in the works. For now, theBlu doubles as a cool screensaver.