Planet Zoo is a construction and management simulation video game developed and published by Frontier Developments for Microsoft Windows. The game is a spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon 2, with gameplay similar to the studio’s theme park game, Planet Coaster. It was released on 5 November 2019.
As with Planet Coaster, critics praised Planet Zoo’s creation tools along with its realistic animal portrayals and emphasis on wildlife conservation. However, the game was also criticized for the complexity of its management and building mechanics, which were deemed to be overly challenging for some players. Planet Zoo continues to receive regular post-launch updates and downloadable content. It was a commercial success, selling more than a million copies in six months.
Planet Zoo tasks players with building a zoo, with 73 animal species in the base game, and 30 new species becoming available through five separate downloadable content packs and the Deluxe Edition. Animals, controlled by artificial intelligence, behave similarly to their real-life counterparts. For instance, wolves adopt a pack mentality and animals of the African plains (such as elephants, giraffe, zebras, wildebeest, and buffalo) can live together in a single mixed-species habitat. Each species has its own requirements and needs that players must satisfy through creation of a suitable exhibit environment and adequate behavioral enrichment. Predators can attack and kill other animals, but unlike in Zoo Tycoon, cannot attack guests. Each animal has their own genome within the game’s breeding system, which reflect its life expectancy, size, health, and fertility and can be passed down through offspring. As such, elements such as inbreeding may have negative consequences on progeny.
In addition to ensuring animal welfare, the player must deal with managing the park as an institution. This includes hiring staff, constructing guest amenities and staff facilities, performing research, and working towards the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Like Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo provides over a thousand building pieces such as benches, lighting, flowers, trees, and items such as individual planks of wood, glass, rocks, and roof tiles. By allowing these items to phase-into and/or lock with each other, the creative player can create elaborate buildings, landscaping, and natural structures such as waterfalls and cave systems from scratch. Custom structures can be uploaded as “blueprints” for other players to download for free and place in their own zoos via the Steam Workshop. Safari, boat, train, monorail, and gondola lift rides can also be constructed throughout the zoo for transportation and to offer guests additional ways of viewing animals. The game features a dynamic day/night cycle, weather patterns, and animal poop physics.
The game features four modes: sandbox, career, challenge, and the online franchise mode. The franchise mode allows the player to build multiple franchise zoos with a shared economy and animals. Animals can be purchased and traded with other players’ zoos through an online marketplace. Regular cooperative online community challenges focused on conservation (such as breeding and releasing as many giant pandas to the wild within a certain timeframe) allow players to receive “conservation credits,” which can be redeemed for new animals instead of regular in-game currency. The game features ten critically endangered animal species and subspecies: the Bornean orangutan, Chinese pangolin, gharial, Himalayan brown bear, Lehmann’s poison frog, Lesser Antillean iguana, red ruffed lemur, West African lion, western chimpanzee, and western lowland gorilla. Increasing the zoo’s conservation rating through the display and release of endangered animals, informational signs, and educational talks is an important gameplay goal.