Hey all, it’s been a crazy week for us, where not only did we have the Steam Release, but a giant grant proposal to submit (which is 112 pages of FUN!) for a future project.
It all combined into a really epic time, with exciting developments like our login servers crashing shortly after we open the Steam floodgates (fixed now, but that was a wild ride).
Now that it’s out there and the dust has cleared a bit and people are discovering it at a much higher rate, it’s a good time to take stock and think about the future of Eco and where we want to take it in Early Access. And before looking to the future, it’s always fun to look to the past:
It looks like a completely different game over these three years, and basically it is (aside from the fact that you still have an axe and can chop down trees, so much else is totally different). That we were able to communicate our idea with our rough visuals in our Kickstarter and build a dedicated community over the years has been one of the best experiences I’ve had, and we’re super grateful to all our backers. It’s rewarding to hear they’re satisfied with what they invested in.
So it may be a surprise to some, but Eco is planned to have a big educational slant to it, and we want to make it a game that can be played by a classroom. We don’t openly advertise this to the gaming market, because ‘educational game’ has become synonymous with ‘something nobody would voluntarily play’. I personally think that’s a tragedy that people have made that connection, as the connection between fun and education is what’s most important in learning. So, we’re a little stealth with that aspect of the game to avoid fitting into preconceived notions of what ‘educational’ means, but it is one of my goals to gradually remove that stigma (which also exists from the education side, where many educators are skeptical of games having educational value).
There’s a ton we want to do with the game in education, most specifically we want it to be this virtual world that runs alongside your classroom, where you apply what you’re learning, and that generates context for school work. So as you’re learning ecology, scientific argumentation, civics, statistics, or many other topics, a teacher can have an Eco server running in the background that kids play out of the classroom, and the server will email the teacher dynamically generated context from what’s happening in the class, making it fodder for discussions and further study.
At a basic level, it provides what I think is the biggest missing piece from education: an immediate reason ‘why you should learn this’. Here’s our grant submission video where I and my brother Jeff (who works on Eco too) explain the project:
So a big piece of Eco’s future is fitting into classroom models, which is a very *very* different market than entertainment games, with much more complexity around reaching customers, but I think that’s also a huge opportunity to do something that could have a big impact on how we educate kids, and how we think about the roles of that. Focusing on inspiration over rote knowledge, making inspiration a key metric. We also want to make other games that cover other subjects eventually creating a whole universe of virtual worlds that cover every topic taught in school. That’s a long ways off for now, though, but it’s what we’re working towards.
It’s a combination of really awesome and really stressful to see streamers picking up the game and inevitably finding (sometimes hilarious) bugs, but also super useful for seeing how other people are experiencing the game. It’s unique kind of joy when they ‘get it’ and it all makes sense, and then equally torturous when they struggle on something you were convinced was straight forward. Illuminating, in any case. Some of the streamers on Twitch who’ve been playing Eco below.
GiantWaffles in particular did a ‘stress test’, letting the community come in and play, which pretty much gave us a heart attack, but it held up surprisingly well, until the lag got unbearable. It inspired Eric our tech director to go through and do some turbo-optimizations, though, and we might be able to support 100 people in a server soon (fingers crossed).
Last thing I want to mention is the Eco Road Map, which right now is on Trello but we are in the process of creating a community site for it, where we lay out what we’re planning to work on and solicit community votes and comments on what they’d like to see. We’re really hoping to bring all these new players that Steam has exposed to Eco, into the fold, as there is a pretty awesome community growing around Eco, and the patience and thoughtful feedback we’re seeing from players as we get this big ship up and running has been quite heartwarming overall.