On the record: Apptivism to the rescue

Grace Robinson
22 September, 2013
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Director and head Apptivist, Leigh Marlow, works from home or in local cafés to get the job done.

Envisage a scenario where app meets activism and you’re on your way to discovering what the Apptivist Studio is all about. 

Apptivist Studio is an Australian development company focused on creating charity-based gaming apps for iOS to help promote awareness and raise funds for animal and environmental conservation.

Its first title, Minke Rescue, offers a unique take on the impact of whaling of the minke whale in Antarctica, helping ocean wildlife protection group Sea Shepherd fund the cause by donating a portion of the app’s revenue.

We spoke with Apptivist Studio director Leigh Marlow to find out more about the project.


Is the Apptivist Studio a one-man venture, or a collective effort? Who is involved in the development process?

A bit of both really. I had an ‘aha!’ moment and set about creating a game – Minke Rescue – to raise money to protect whales in Antarctica.

However, throughout the process, I’ve outsourced programmers, illustrators, modellers, animators, web designers, graphic designers and video producers to assist the venture.

So while the initial concept and day-to-day fundraising, marketing and promotion are my domain, I’ve utilised the amazing amount of talent that’s available on an ad hoc basis, ranging from friends to interstate and overseas contributors.

Can you tell us about the term ‘apptivism’ and the philosophy behind it?

Apptivism is a term I coined to represent a form of ‘activism’ using entertaining, engaging and inexpensive games through apps to deliver an environmental or social message. Beyond awareness, we also donate a significant chunk of revenue to a charity raised by the app – 30 percent in total.

What is your main objective/s when creating an app for the iOS platform?

The primary purpose was to create a fun and addictive little game, that people enjoyed playing. The secondary purpose was to educate people about the plight of minke whales in Antarctica and raise valuable funds to help protect them.

In September 2012 Minke Rescue reached No.12 worldwide for educational games in iTunes. So we’re approaching our objectives.

Are devices like the iPhone effective tools to help bring about awareness and learning for charitable causes like animal conservation? How so?

Yes. Part of my inspiration came from the sheer addictiveness of the very best iPhone games. I was determined to find out if – on top of the fun factor – an education and/or charitable aspect could be added to the mix.

An entertainment comparison already exists in the form of movies; while some are mindless blockbusters, others are thought-provoking documentaries with important messages to share. And of course, there’s everything in between. There’s no reason why the gaming industry can’t combine many different game styles with objectives like promoting awareness or raising funds for important causes.

Who plays Minke Rescue? Is it an app for all ages?
While Minke Rescue is considered an educational game, it’s not aimed at youngsters. The graphical content has an element of reality, though it’s the whaling facts that are most confronting. I’d suggest parents explore the game before determining if the game is appropriate for their children.

What do you ultimately want people to take from their experience playing the game? From a gaming perspective: to survive longer as a minke whale in the Antarctic ocean. From an education perspective: to learn about the brutality of whaling, feel good that you’re doing something to stop this slaughter and, perhaps, be inspired to support Sea Shepherd in some other capacity.

How successful has Minke Rescue been in raising awareness and funds on behalf of Sea Shepherd?

Minke Rescue is unique within iTunes in that it’s a game that raises funds for an environmental charity. Sea Shepherd is extremely supportive because the app helps the organisation reach a different audience in a new and original way.

I’m personally encouraged because we have been ranked so highly worldwide for educational games in iTunes. Having said that, while the monthly donation to Sea Shepherd is significant, I’d always like it to be more!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout the development process?
I think anything worth doing provides challenges. In this case, there were many. The main challenge was making sure the game was enjoyable. We spent a lot of time ensuring Minke Rescue was fun, addictive and, most of all, not too preachy.

On a super positive note, I was always encouraged that everyone who worked on Minke Rescue came with real passion and skill. The game was better for every single contributor’s efforts.

Minke Rescue’s vivid graphics help illustrate the plight of the species in Antarctica.


What future apps are you working on for iOS?

I have a couple of idea’s I’m developing. All of which are ‘apptivist’ themed. One of the big lessons I learned from Minke Rescue was to take your time in the early development stages. Spend more time in the beta testing phase to really nut out the gameplay.

Does the Apptivist Studio create apps specifically for animal conservation, or are there plans to look at other charitable causes?

I’m focused on animal and environmental causes. However, if any Macworld Australia readers would like to chat about ways to bring their charitable app ideas to market, they can get in contact with me via Apptivist Studio’s website. I’m more than happy to share any learnings that might be relevant to them.

As an Apple user, what do you like best about the technology and its capabilities?

For me the intuitive Apple OS and seamless integration of devices allows me to realise my creativity with a minimum of fuss. Put simply, I want to spend the bulk of my time thinking creatively, not focused on technological issues. Working with Apple technology allows me to do this.

What inspired you to develop apps for iOS?

My personal iPhone experience: how regularly I was playing and enjoying the games I’d purchased via the App Store. Plus, I was motivated by the challenge of being the first to create a paid charity-based game for the iPhone.

It also helped that iTunes has such a strong reach and engagement with consumers. The platform’s payment gateway, for example, is reliable and secure and this was a very important consideration when developing a fundraising app.

What is your advice to budding developers who are interested in creating charitable apps like Minke Rescue for iOS?

Firstly, go for it! It’s a new market with so many opportunities, and you literally have the capacity to help change the world.

Secondly, if it’s a game you’re creating, once you’ve decided the theme and the charity you’re supporting, treat it as just a regular game. Focus on the quality of the gameplay – and be really honest about how it stacks up against the very best mobile games available.

The charity aspect is not the cake, it’s the icing.



To find out more about Sea Shepherd’s fundraising efforts to help protect the minke whales and other endangered ocean wildlife go to www.seashepherd.org.


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