The world of gaming is always on the brink of something new, something vast, something that promises to change how we play and interact in virtual spaces. I sat down with John Krajewski, the man behind the unique and forward-thinking game, Eco. The conversation shifted from the nuances of game development to the larger, looming concept of the “metaverse.”
“I’m the founder and CEO of Strange Loop Games,” began Krajewski, detailing his journey from working on AAA titles at prominent companies like EA and Midway to establishing his own remote studio. Today, with an impressive team of 32 people, they’re working on Eco, a virtual society game built inside a self-contained ecosystem.
The premise is thrilling: “You are building a virtual society inside of an ecosystem,” Krajewski explained. The world of Eco is rife with decisions, all of which impact the environment. From building technology, establishing an economy, to creating a government, players are tasked with advancing their world to protect it from an impending meteor strike.
But, beyond gameplay mechanics, Eco speaks to a much larger industry trend: the emergence of the metaverse. For many, the term “metaverse” invokes images of Facebook’s attempts at creating shared, expansive digital spaces or the flashy, crypto-backed virtual worlds of other companies. Krajewski offers a more tempered view.
“[The metaverse is] not just a theme park you go into… but like you’re going there, you’re building this life in a sense,” he said. He envisions a system where players are not just passive consumers but active citizens of these worlds. Rather than generic experiences, these spaces become organic communities built by the players.
Krajewski is not alone in this belief. As we’ve seen from the enduring legacy of games like Second Life or Ultima Online, there’s a rich history of virtual worlds in gaming. These worlds, which existed long before the “metaverse” became a buzzword, often focused on player agency, organic growth, and the establishment of digital societies.
Yet, what sets Eco apart, and perhaps what hints at the future of the metaverse, is its focus on interconnected worlds. “This is what we’re building with Eco,” Krajewski said. He imagines a galaxy of interconnected worlds where players define how the connections work, suggesting a vast, networked universe where one’s actions in one world might ripple through many others.
Despite the ambition, there are challenges ahead. As the gaming industry grapples with the meaning and potential of the metaverse, it’s essential to remember the roots. At its core, it’s about creating captivating, immersive spaces where players want to spend time. It’s a challenge that Krajewski and his team at Strange Loop Games seem more than ready to take on.
To those looking for the future of the metaverse, it might just be found in the evolving worlds of games like Eco. For in these spaces, players are not just participants but pioneers, shaping and reshaping digital societies with each decision they make.
The Opportunities and Challenges of Gamified Learning
In an age where virtual realities are captivating our attention more than ever, the way we engage with games and their potential impact on learning is shifting dramatically.
“In a 24-hour day, many individuals are becoming increasingly attracted to virtual worlds,” Krajewski observed. “But there’s a fine line between using these platforms as beneficial learning tools and as mere distractions.”
The allure of video games has always been about escapism and achievement. Players often find a sense of accomplishment within these digital realms. Yet, there’s a growing concern that for some, these virtual victories might be replacing real-life accomplishments. “It’s essential that games offer a sense of achievement relevant outside the virtual space,” Krajewski says. “Games should not just be a distraction, but a tool that provides value both inside and outside the gaming environment.”
This idea is epitomized in games like “Eco,” where players must collaborate to run governments, debate policies, and see the consequences of their decisions on various societal aspects. “The relationships that players build inside of a game are relationships with real people, making them intrinsically valuable,” he added.
But it’s not just about time spent in these virtual spaces; it’s about the quality of that time. “Not all screen time is created equally,” he noted. Whereas games that promote mindless violence might not offer significant value, others that foster creativity, connection, and learning can be instrumental in developing critical skills.
One crucial area where games are making waves is in the field of education. Traditional pedagogy often struggles with engagement, relying on grades as the primary motivation. In contrast, games are intrinsically motivating. Recounting personal experiences, Krajewski cited the game ‘Civilization’ as an eye-opener, turning a once dull subject like history into a passionate pursuit. “Games can form a better motivational framework that we shouldn’t ignore with education,” he said.
But the landscape of learning and motivation is changing. With AI technologies making rapid strides, and the information age turning students into consumers wanting immediate answers, there’s an urgent need to adapt. The future remains uncertain. “We don’t know what roles we’re going to need 20 years from now,” he pondered. The focus should not be on specific skills but on nurturing curiosity and adaptability.
As we navigate this evolving terrain, perhaps the future of education is not about replacing traditional methods but integrating games as a complementary tool. In a world where ‘curiosity is king,’ game-based learning offers a compelling avenue for fostering a lifelong love for knowledge and exploration.
Virtual Worlds and Social Connection
In the modern world of gaming, the lines between player and spectator, reality and virtual reality, are becoming increasingly blurred. With platforms like Twitch allowing viewers to have a say in the in-game decisions, there is a growing emphasis on collaborative and participatory experiences.
“We want to keep expanding the idea that audiences are not just passive spectators. Imagine a streamer having a galaxy of connected virtual worlds and viewers not just watching, but participating, playing, and interacting in real-time. It’s a step towards merging the audiences, creators, and participants,” Krajewski said. The exact potential of this integration remains to be seen, but it hints at a richer and more connected gaming experience.
This sentiment resonates with the growing hunger for connection in the digital age. As social media platforms continue to proliferate, there’s a palpable yearning among users for genuine human interactions. The pandemic only intensified this feeling, with increased social isolation and a sudden pivot to virtual interactions. Even in a post-pandemic world, the residue of this experience lingers.
As a parent, I shared, “It was easier for me to make friends and be outside during my childhood. Now, with the ease of digital access, my teenager struggles to break out of his comfort zone and connect in real life.”
However, this isn’t just a tale of woe. There’s an undeniable allure in the expanding universe of online games. Krajewski nostalgically recalled childhood adventures, “I remember growing up, going through trails in the woods behind my house, going on rope swings over ravines.” But then, he posits that for many today, video games have become the new territory for exploration and self-development.
It’s not just about escapism; it’s about forging real connections. With advancements in gaming technology, players can now have meaningful relationships online. Features that analyze a player’s facial expressions and translate them onto their game avatars are in development, bridging the gap between the virtual and the real.
However, not all is rosy in the virtual realm. With the rise of VR, there is a debate brewing about its place in the future of gaming. “I see VR as just another way to connect to these virtual worlds. It’s not for everybody. But AR? That might just be the game-changer,” Krajewski opined.
There’s also concern about the potential negative impact of such immersive experiences, especially on the younger generation. As children grow up in a world where the lines between the real and the virtual are constantly blurring, the long-term effects remain uncertain.
Early Access, Funding, and Platforms
In the heart of the bustling world of game development, every decision made by a developer or a studio impacts not just the immediate future of their game, but also the community and market at large. Krajewski opened up about the multifaceted world of game creation, sharing his insights on early access, community feedback, funding choices, and, not least, the behemoth platform, Steam.
“For those considering early access,” he began, “understand the mutual benefits it presents.” He mentioned how it’s an opportunity for developers to obtain essential feedback while giving the players a chance to be heard. “The community’s voice is invaluable; it helps shape the game,” he remarked. This iterative approach to game design – release, get feedback, improve, repeat – can be a pragmatic strategy for developers to bootstrap their way through the development process, all while nurturing a passionate player base.
However, early access is not without its financial implications. By sidestepping traditional funding routes, developers can use the revenue from early access sales to finance the game’s ongoing creation. “It’s like an escalator,” he explained. “As we level up the game with the funds from early access, we also escalate our revenue potential.”
But beyond the game itself, the relationship with the platform is just as critical. With platforms like Steam taking a significant 30% cut from game sales, developers might question its worth. Yet the developer believes the audience that Steam brings to the table justifies that cut. “Steam is more than just a platform; it’s a community, a marketplace, and a discoverability tool all in one,” he said.
While the significance of platforms like Steam is evident, there’s been a notable evolution in the indie gaming scene. From the pioneering days where individuals like the creators of “Super Meat Boy” could shine, the landscape now seems to lean more toward seeking publishers, a more traditional approach, reminiscent of the AAA space. With it comes the challenging balance between financial backing and creative control.
But publishers are not the only avenue. Krajewski hints at an industry that’s matured significantly in recent years. There’s a vast forest of funding options available to budding game creators, ranging from indie publishers to venture capital investments. “It’s all about finding the right path that aligns with your vision,” he advised.
While funding is one side of the coin, distribution is the other. Steam, despite its dominance, remains a bit of an enigma. The platform is so deeply entrenched in PC gaming culture that it can sometimes seem as if it operates on auto-pilot. He praised Steam’s dedication to not only the large AAA studios but also to the indie developers. Despite Steam’s colossal presence, its roots in supporting indie developers remain firm.
There was an undertone of admiration when he spoke of Steam, especially its dedication to the indie community. Despite its marketplace dominance, Steam doesn’t rest on its laurels. “It’s like they’re still in touch with their indie origins,” he said. This appreciation of culture and community is perhaps what makes Steam stand out, offering both developers and gamers a platform they can trust.
For game developers standing at the crossroads of funding, development, and distribution, this conversation offers a peek into the vast, intricate world of game creation. It’s a reminder that in the dynamic realm of gaming, understanding the landscape, from early access nuances to platform intricacies, is as crucial as the game itself.