What does that mean exactly? It means you play in a multiplayer world that has the possibility of being permanently destroyed, resulting in server-wide perma death. What’s more, the reason it’s destroyed would be the players’ own fault. It’s not that different from our own world in that way.
It works like this: a new server is started, and players enter at the beginnings of civilization. There’s a world-destroying cataclysm looming, like a drought or a flood or a meteor heading for the Earth, several real-time weeks away. In order to prevent that catastrophe from happening, you need to build a civilization and advance technology and resources to the point that the crisis can be averted.
However you’re not alone in this world. Besides the other players, you’ll be sharing the world with a detailed wilderness simulation full of plants and animals. They simulate 24 hours a day, living out their lives with or without human interaction, growing, feeding and reproducing. Together they form an ecosystem rich with resources, resources that you must use to survive and develop a civilization.
However, these resources are finite. Chop down every tree and fail to plant more? They won’t be growing back. Hunt every elk for food? They’re now extinct. Pollute a section of land with mining runoffs? Your crops are poisoned. This ecosystem is your only lifeline in a race against time, your source of resources that will either prevent humanity’s destruction, or become the source of its destruction when the group squanders its resources.
Thus you’re facing two existential crises simultaneously: an external threat that you must avert, and the threat of causing your own destruction. A rock and a hard place.
To solve this you’ll need to collaborate among a group of dozens of players (and eventually hundreds or thousands of people as we grow the game). You’ll need a strong economy that generates resources that can build the civilization, but that does so in a way that doesn’t destroy the ecosystem. You’ll need to make key decisions as a groupas to the best approach to do that, and the game provides you a tool for that, a virtual government.
In Eco you can propose and vote on laws that then become physical limitations in the world. Limit the number of trees each player can chop down per day to 10 for example, and they will be physically prevented from chopping an 11th. To aid in arguing for these type of decisions, the player can use data collected from the ecosystem simulation, using graphs and data as support for laws. Together these features create an extremely powerful tool, a way for the group to guide itself and align its interests in the face of impending crises.
It won’t be an easy journey. Despite everyone occupying the same world and having the same interest in its survival, individual incentives will make for vastly different positions. Is your character a lumberjack specializing in cutting down trees for their livelihood? You’re likely going to have a different idea as to how many trees should be allowed cut down than others. We’re all in this together, and yet the only enemy is ourselves, the individual’s needs vs the group’s.
Will you find a balance? Will your world survive, or be lost and wiped from existence? Eco is possibly the first video game where your character can actually save the world, because the alternative is for once possible.
Within the coming months, we will be running a Kickstarter campaign to get this game jump-started, followed by early-access immediately after. We’d like to invite you on this journey, helping spread the word about the game, supporting our Kickstarter, and then participating in development, actively shaping the direction we take.
I believe games can be a lot more than they typically are, they can take on rich real-world topics with a depth and meaningfulness that rivals any other form of media, and we want to push how games are thought of with Eco. Many games are designed to allow the player to escape their world, we want to make a game that does the opposite: a game that engages the player deeply with the real world through a concentrated virtual recreation of it. I believe this can have effects well beyond just entertainment. I hope you’ll join us down this unexplored path.
John Krajewski is Studio Head of Strange Loop Games and designer of Eco. At Strange Loop he specializes in designing games that allow players to socially interact within complex simulations. Strange Loop is working towards bridging the gap between games for entertainment and games with purpose.