Little over a year ago, my blog postings on science in games inspired a small private investor to track me down for a chat. We talked about the next big ideas in games and how games connect to the real world. He eventually had me meet a few of his fellow investors to do a quick presentation. Ever since, there's been a slow and irregular back and forth about what could be a fun project to try. In December, they picked one. Sort of.
For those few unaware, "gamification" is a fairly hot topic in certain circles. None of the people talking to me are in games development as such, but they took a liking to the concept. So I now have a little bit of financing to research how to make a game, from this outline:
The game challenges its players to make significant improvements to their real-world lives and surroundings, awarding creative and organized problemsolving of real-world problems.
That's the sum of it. The rest is up to me, to show that this line, and the many concepts discussed while coining it, can be turned into an actually entertaining game, with lasting effects. That should be.... easy?
Work In Progress: The Basic Premise
How do you turn "save the world" into a game? The same way you eat an elephant, I guess: One small bite at a time. The first bite is to turn "improve your life and the world around you" into some form of award system, such as points, achievements, etc. My current thoughts revolve around a real-world version of RPGs, e.g. character building, combined with a strategy game (4X, RTS, whatever) territory concept. In short, build a group of skilled members and level up a clearly defined geographical area. Levelling up an area could boost the value of character traits, or build some kind of faction reputation, opening up new abilities and possibilities.
Work In Progress: The Real-World Connection
The first layout is to have those characters be actual people. Players can join up with various teams (parties, in a way) to take part in projects (an equivalent to raids, maybe?), and players can bring their own allies and skills to the pot. The territories that projects take place inside will likely be based on actual geography, likely something like counties, neighbourhoods, blocks and the like. Specific criteria must be met (and documented) to raise a territory by a level. In short, players join up to level up their chosen (captured?) territory by making certain improvements.
But that's all very nebulous, and not all that original, little more than awarding your child "points" for cleaning their room and taking out the trash. The specifics will be in the actual criteria.
Upgrading players is a bit different. Much of it will basically be training, using tests available through the game to evaluate and even teach new skills. Yes, we're talking edutainment *shiver* The skills will be more practically minded,of course, aimed at boosting the player's efforts in the game, in the short or long term.
An added step as characters, territories and teams progress will be the availability of real-world alliances. Local projects that exist beyond the game, such as humanitarian and charity work, can open up for volunteers from the game, making them effectively NPC allies, or even "mission boards", and allowing their skills to influence players as they try to progress. A local fire department could be the access to extended First Aid training, for example, or wildlife projects could add training in ecology and animal sciences.
Work In Progress: The Technological Platform
This is not going to be simply some graphics on a screen. But that will be a key part of the game! Much of the visuals will likely be inspired by existing strategy games, showing territories, resources, players, and more. This can be boosted with features taken from social media, showing the efforts and challenges of players and territories.
The big question, of course, goes back to that original issue of quantifying progress. Missions/projects will yield reputation, as will player progress, and the total progress of a team will be a possible score for comparison. Recruiting valuable players across teams will be a contentious issue, of course, but there is room for freelancing teams that help across territories. Being responsible for a territory is another possible way to affect a score, with territories yielding more respect as they level up.
In The End.....
This is just the earliest scrape of the surface. To create something sensible, comprehensible, and most of all worth taking part in, the details need to advance far beyond these basic ideas.
But everything has to start somewhere!