Klang gets $8.95M for an MMO sim sitting atop Improbable’s dev platform

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Berlin-based games studio Klang, which is building a massive multiplayer online simulation called Seed utilizing Improbable’s virtual world builder platform, has just bagged $8.95M in Series A funding to support development of the forthcoming title.

The funding is led by veteran European VC firm Northzone. It follows a seed raise for Seed, finalized in March 2018, and led by Makers Fund, with participation by firstminute capital, Neoteny, Mosaic Ventures, and Novator — bringing the total funding raised for the project to $13.95M.

The studio was founded in 2013, and originally based in Reykjavík, Iceland, before relocating to Berlin. Klang’s original backers include Greylock Partners, Joi Ito, and David Helgason, as well as original investors London Venture Partners.

The latest tranche of funding will be used to expand its dev team and for continued production on Seed which is in pre-alpha at this stage — with no release date announced yet.

Nor is there a confirmed pricing model. We understand the team is looking at a variety of ideas at this stage, such as tying the pricing to the costs of simulating the entities.

They have released the below teaser showing the pre-alpha build of the game — which is described as a persistent simulation where players are tasked with colonizing an alien planet, managing multiple characters in real-time and interacting with characters managed by other human players they encounter in the game space.

The persistent element refers to the game engine maintaining character activity after the player has logged off — supporting an unbroken simulation.

Klang touts its founders’ three decades of combined experience working on MMOs EVE Online and Dust 514, and now being rolled into designing and developing the large, player-driven world they’re building with Seed.

Meanwhile London-based Improbable bagged a whopping $502M for its virtual world builder SpatialOS just over a yearago. The dev platform lets developers design and build massively detailed environments — to offer what it bills as a new form of simulation on a massive scale — doing this by utilizing distributed cloud computing infrastructure and machine learning technology to run a swarm of hundreds of game engines so it can support a more expansive virtual world vs software running off of a single engine or server.

Northzone  partner Paul Murphy, who is leading the investment in Klang, told us: “It is unusual to raise for a specific title, and we are for all intents and purposes investing in Klang as a studio. We are very excited about the team and the creative potential of the studio. But our investment thesis is based on looking for something that really stands out and is wildly ambitious over and above everything else that’s out there. That is how we feel about the potential of Seed as a simulation.”

Article: https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/16/klang-gets-8-95m-for-an-mmo-sim-sitting-atop-improbables-dev-platform/

Klang Games raises $8.95 million for space colony online simulation - Exclusive

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Klang Games, a Berlin-based game development studio, has raised $8.95 million in funding to support Seed, an artificial intelligence-driven massively multiplayer space colonization online simulation.

The online game will use Improbable’s SpatialOS platform, which provides the infrastructure that allows small development teams to create massive simulations.

Northzone — the early-stage venture capital firm behind Spotify, iZettle, and Avito — led the funding round. Earlier this year, Klang Games also received a funding round that Makers Fund led. Other investors in that round included Firstminute Capital, Neoteny, Mosaic Ventures, and Novator. To date, the company has raised $13.95 million.

“We’re truly humbled to have secured the Series A for the development of Seed, a project that we believe will play an integral role in the next generation of social simulations,” said Mundi Vondi, CEO of Klang Games, in a statement. “We are honored to share our vision with Northzone, and are more excited than ever to tackle this very ambitious project.”

Original backers of Klang include Greylock Partners, Joi Ito, and David Helgason, as well as original investors London Venture Partners.

“Klang has everything you’d want as an early stage investor — massive vision, experienced team, and an incredible early version of the product. We’re thrilled to be partnering with the team to help bring Seed to market,” said Paul Murphy, partner at Northzone, in a statement.

Seed is a continuous, persistent simulation where players are supposed to colonize an alien planet through collaboration, conflict, and player-to-player interaction. Using unique gameplay based on managing multiple characters in real time, characters live on after the player has logged off, allowing the world of Seed to be a living, breathing entity.

The founders previously worked on titles at CCP Games, including Eve Online and Dust 514.

By building on the cloud-based SpatialOS, developers can use standard tools and game engines to design, build, and manage games that go beyond the limits of a single-server architecture. It allows for a swarm of hundreds of game engines, running in the cloud, to cooperate together to simulate a world much larger, richer, and with more players than any single engine or server could.

Ex-CCP Games developers Oddur Magnússon, Ívar Emilsson, and Vondi founded Klang in Reykjavik, Iceland. It has since moved to Berlin. In 2016, the studio launched ReRunners: Race for the World for iOS and Android.

Article: https://venturebeat.com/2018/07/16/klang-games-raises-8-95-million-for-space-colony-online-simulation/

Seed, Klang's ambitious EVE-like MMO, teases scale of interconnected world

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Seed is a hugely ambitious in-development MMO that echoes EVE Online, Rimworld and The Sims. Developed by Klang Games and powered by Improbable's SpatialOS tech, its persistent simulation is inspired by Facebook and its construction and management systems pull from the likes of Dwarf Fortress. Its hugely ambitious, and its latest trailer teases the scale of its interconnected world. 

That's featured above, which the developer's Jonathan Baker says is designed to "offer a glimpse into the world of Seed and hint at some of the project's possibilities, allowing for the community to envision their own playing ambitions."

Baker says the short above aims to showcase the connections between characters—known as 'Seedlings'—and their environments. "Everything is connecting to everything else," says Baker of the trailer's overarching message. "And that these connections - physically and theoretically - can multiply."

When I spoke to Klang Games co-founder Mundi Vondi about Seed last year, we discussed how these interconnected characters will help reduce grind. This excerpt is interesting:

Players can control up to ten players. A lot of game design that's usually very tricky—like sleeping, disease, mental issues, ageing—they're pretty difficult if you're one character. But when you have ten you can actually do something with it. One can be sleeping, one can be somewhere else and so on. A lot of grind gets solved with this, so they basically work autonomously. They set their routines, and so they look through that and work on what their priorities would be. 

We're basically grouping together all these players and we can basically throw loads and loads of players into it. This means that we can hopefully, one day, have players building their own businesses and ultimately we want to see a world where people have furnished apartments, people are walking back and forth from their jobs. 

Seed does not currently have a release date, but Klang says it will keep the community updated about its future test plans via its website and Discord

Article: https://www.pcgamer.com/seed-klangs-ambitious-eve-like-mmo-teases-scale-of-interconnected-world/

Seed is a hugely ambitious in-development MMO that echoes EVE Online, Rimworld and The Sims

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"MMOs have come to a halt, so far as innovation is concerned," Klang Games co-founder Mundi Vondi tells me. "With Seed, we hope to change that."

To say Seed is ambitious is an understatement. Within minutes of booting up its pre-alpha demo, Vondi has namechecked The Sims, Dwarf Fortress and Facebook as just some of the driving forces behind its persistent simulation. Its universe is said to be "driven by real world emotion and aspiration", which in practice aims to one day craft an MMO world with, potentially, millions of residents. Building colonies from the ground up parallels the workings of Civilization, while the potential for story-generation echoes Rimworld. Within, characters will live out their virtual lives whether the player is present or not.   

"If you think about Facebook, imagine your profile was removed every time you logged off," says Vondi. "That's how most MMOs are today. I think this will add the network effect that the likes of Facebook has, so we're trying to learn from that."

Hailing from a fine art, production and filmmaking background, Seed marks Vondi's first professional videogame project. Klang's other cofounders, Oddur Snær Magnússon and Ívar Emilsson, though, are ex-CCP employees who both worked on EVE Online. It's this collective experience that informs Seed's goals—even if what I'm shown isn't quite as sophisticated as what's promised down the line.

Powered by Improbable's cloud-based SpatialOS tech, the hands-off demonstration I'm given kicks off with a group of humans touching down on a foreign planet 1,000 years after Earth has died. From here, a familiar colony sim-building routine unfolds, where the player issues their AI-controlled civilians with tasks and directives such as gathering vegetation for food, or foraging materials for base-building. It's all very management-heavy, but Vondi assures me variables such as player mood and emotion are at the forefront of every decision you'll make. 

"Even at this early stage in growing a colony, your civilians can get bad feelings that affect their behaviour—sleeping on the ground, for example—and these feelings can drive them towards certain traits," says Vondi. "If they're feeling great, they might become enthusiastic about the job, but on the other hand if their mental health gets really low, they might turn depressed or into alcoholics and other things like that."   

From the outset, Seed lets players choose whether they wish to join an established community, or if they'd rather go it alone in the wilderness. Vondi reckons the latter should only apply to veterans of the genre, however those entering active societies should be wary of player-formed governments, judicial systems and economic infrastructures. Conflict sounds inevitable within the latter, and while it's unclear how confrontation will be resolved (or, crucially, if it can be resolved), maintaining good relations with your neighbours is of utmost importance.   

"The sad part about most MMOs is when players enter the game, when they enter a player group or a clan, it takes a long time," explains Vondi. "A lot of players leave before they get that full social MMO experience. One of the things we do differently here is start you off in a community—you're immediately a part of a group from the get go. This should make everything easier, particularly for new players."

Speaking to Vondi's last point, I suggest that grind is something new MMO players tend to struggle with. With something so multifaceted, I ask what measures Seed has in place to combat this. 

"Players can control up to ten players," he replies. "A lot of game design that's usually very tricky—like sleeping, disease, mental issues, ageing—they're pretty difficult if you're one character. But when you have ten you can actually do something with it. One can be sleeping, one can be somewhere else and so on. A lot of grind gets solved with this, so they basically work autonomously. They set their routines, and so they look through that and work on what their priorities would be. 

"We're basically grouping together all these players and we can basically throw loads and loads of players into it. This means that we can hopefully, one day, have players building their own businesses and ultimately we want to see a world where people have furnished apartments, people are walking back and forth from their jobs." 

Vondi returns to the idea of permanence in the player's absence by outlining a hypothetical scenario. Here, the player has signed out of the game and one of their characters has gone drinking in their local in-game pub. Inebriated, the character gets into a fight, gets into trouble with the law, and winds up in jail. By the time the player signs back in, their character is a few hours into an overnight stay, depressed and shunned by their peers. Vondi suggests real world notifications could alert the player to their characters' actions which they may or may not be in a position to respond to.

From here, the player might decide to rehabilitate their beleaguered pal or abandon them entirely. With nine other companions, perhaps it's best chalking this one off, or even swapping them out for a better behaved replacement. Substituting and maintaining multiple characters however raises the question: what sort of business model will Seed employ?

"We tie our payment model through our characters," says Vondi. "Because we're simulating our characters continuously, they take up a certain amount of the CPU. That's where we try to monetise: you basically pay per life, and you buy Seed implants. We want to open it up in a way that players sell these Seed implants on the player market. In theory, this should work well. But it could be a total disaster [laughs]. I can't confirm that either way. 

"That would allow players to play completely for free while others are buying perks or implants and then selling them through the player market. The price will obviously fluctuate, so if someone is overselling implants, someone will eventually undercut them and [stabilise] the market. That's how we try to balance that out. Players who have a good set up, who are making a lot of money in the game can actually use the soft currency to buy those implants."

Since first showcasing Seed to the press at Gamescom in August, Klang has grown the game's landing planet surface by "roughly 2,000 percent" and has applied a new AI system that allows its characters to behave more organically. 

Day-to-day, adding terrain and designing a new modular, streamlined building system takes priority, while long-term goals include the aforementioned player market and a character health system—which considers different forms of injuries and disease, and the knock-on effects these might have on colonies. "Once the health system is more structured," says Vondi, "we can focus on combat, as combat obviously affects health."

Again, Seed is a remarkably ambitious undertaking that, despite looking and sounding great at this stage has a very long way to go. If it can achieve half of what it hopes to, it will be onto something good—my main concern is that it's  reaching too high.

Klang Games is however aware of the pressure it's putting itself under, and is cautious to avoid becoming overwhelmed.     

"One of the biggest challenges of creating Seed is to make sure that we don't fall into that trap; this is something we have to constantly be mindful of," admits Vondi. "We're first focusing on the core systems in order to get them right. But, it's all about the balance between polishing the core experience and delivering on new features. 

"Throughout the development process, we're making new discoveries, which is extremely exciting! We're making sure that the core playing experience will be fun and functional as soon as possible, but at the same time, keeping an open, flexible mind to adapt to new findings."

As it stands, Seed hopes to enter beta testing in late 2018, and will pursue full release after that. 

Read the article in full here: http://www.pcgamer.com/seed-is-a-hugely-ambitious-in-development-mmo-that-echoes-eve-online-rimworld-and-the-sims/

Seed with SpatialOS – the MMO to Teach You Life

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Almost a month and half ago I spent a good couple of days at EGX. During this time I got to look at a number of games. A fair few of these I’ve covered, but with so many I haven’t yet had the chance to talk about. On my first day there I spoke to and looked at a number of titles linked to SpatialOS, an impressive platform from Improbable.

The first title I looked at was Seed, by Klang Games. Klang Games started an impressive five years ago and at that point was a labour of love by three developers who were working on EVE Online at the time. What’s incredibly interesting about this game is the plans it has in place on how you actually work in the world.

Seed was described to me as a colony based game in a similar vein to Dwarf Fortress or Rimworld. As such, rather than controlling the specific people within your colony, they are completely controlled by AI. You, of course, will be able to nudge them in a certain direction without giving direct orders.

One of the major features of Seed is the permanence of the world you inhabit. When you’re in-game you’ll be guiding your colony, setting things to build, setting up businesses and arranging production lines. You are, of course, not the only colony in the world. As you expand and the world expands with the number of people playing Seed, your colonies will merge with others. Much like how the real world developed, villages combine and merge into towns. These towns become cities.

This is the major USP of Seed. Unlike other colony builder games, it’s an MMO. As you merge and grow, your control will still be of a limited number of characters. More important is the fact that as you are logged off, your characters stay and function in the game world while you’re offline. While you’re offline, I was told by a member of Klang that you would have the ability to defer control of your characters to other players.

You’ll even have the ability to hire other players’ characters to man your factories, farms and such. These characters, as yours will be limited, will be the fuel of the economy and world. Your expertise may be in the gathering of resources. You will mine the stone and chop the wood. This can then be sold onto somebody who processes these raw resources and then sells them onto somebody who manufactures them into the components that make up the buildings in the world.

Klang also aim to give the ability to keep in touch with your characters while you’re not inside the game. The aim will be to interlink the PC title with a mobile application. This application will allow you to keep an eye on characters stats on your phone. In addition, there will be an aim to link to the in-game chat through the phone application.

Including these is one other incredibly interesting part of Seed. Klang aim to use seed as a tool for understand society as a whole. There will be a number of systems in place that control the communities that are created. Trade that has a direct impact on the world and the finances but where communities set their own prices. Furthermore, they can even completely remove themselves from the global trading system (think North Korea).

Of course there is a risk of conflict between communities. I directly asked this question when talking to Oddur Snær Magnússon, one of the co-founders of Klang. During the conversation he indicated that combat will of course be included, much like you would find in the real world. Combat and conflict will be slow and require a significant amount of effort and resources to mount an attack on another person’s colony. For defence, you will of course be safer in a group and larger community.

One other incredibly interesting part of Seed is the systems of governance that controls the world. Klang have been working with a Harvard law professor, Lawrence Lessig, on a way of setting virtual laws that these virtual characters will have to follow. Each community will have their own governance style. From a dictatorship to a monarchy, possibly even Democracy.

The scale of such a game is impressive to even think about. This is where SpatialOS comes in. SpatialOS allows the cheap and efficient use of processing power which scales to the size of the game. As more players play the game, the world will grow as needed. The more active a particular area of the game is, the more processing power is dedicated to it. Essentially, rather than having fixed costs for the developers, these will scale as needed.

At the time of writing, Seed was hoping to enter a closed beta early 2018. I, for one, am looking forward to it. The concept of effectively rebuilding civilization from the ground up, working with and against other players, sounds incredibly compelling.

Read the article here: https://wccftech.com/seed-with-spatialos-the-mmo-to-teach-you-life/

The games chasing EVE’s vision of a single shard MMO

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Taken from the full article: The camp is full of little people. They wander to and fro, doing their allotted tasks. This is Seed, an MMO colony builder that’s still very early in development (and no connection to the 2006 game of the same name). It could be described as “Rimworld but multiplayer” or maybe “The Sims but on another planet where the other Sims families don’t like you”. I’m only presented with a video demo for now. The tiny polygonal folk move robotically, just like the testbots of Dual Universe, but they aren’t aimless.

“These characters should wake up soon,” says Mundi Vondi, one of the co-founders of Klang, the studio behind the game. “So yeah now he’s set up a little camp, she’s doing some farming, he’s lighting a fire…”

As the player, you’ll have a family of up to ten characters – a Crusoe-like clan who crash down on a fresh and habitable planet 1000 years after Earth’s demise. Each AI-controlled family member can be given priorities or directly tasked with something, like cutting down all the trees in an area or painting a house. You can band together with other families – players, in other words – to form large colonies, where groups can form their own small governments, make rules or set taxes. Or you can start off in the wilderness of this planet by yourself, although Vondi says this is “not reccommended for new players”. Because conflict is again part of this new frontier, and once again, it is all happening on a single shard.

“I think to begin with it will be very chaotic and bloody and people are going to be just like… burning everything down and destroying each other,” he says. “But then out of those… out of that chaos… that’s the hole that a more sophisticated civilised community arises, that benefits from the order and kind of like… ultimately calms down a lot of that chaos.”

Exactly how combat or warring will work isn’t fully explained. From the demo it looks to be firmly a managerial game. The family is crowding around a ghostly outline of a planned house, slowly building the walls and windows and door frames and floor. Each of these people will have needs and relationships, says Vondi. Some of them might be unhappy because they have had their heart broken by a character from another player’s family. Some of them might go to the bar and get into a fight with someone from their own colony. Klang don’t just want the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – food, shelter and safety – they want discord and challenge to arise from a lack of love or entertainment too.

“Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress are kind of like the games in this genre that are most noticeable. I guess Oxygen Not Included as well. But it’s like a very exciting genre and there isn’t really… There’s no multiplayer version of it, so that’s where we’re kind of coming from.”

But EVE Online is also (once again) a talking point. This time, two of Vondi’s co-founders have actually worked on the infamous interstellar war simulator, each of them with CCP for eight years.

“So in EVE obviously they had wars with thousands of players fighting and whenever that would happen it would just ripple across the entire games industry and game world and you’d hear about it… EVE is very hardcore, but it offers an amazing experience, and amazing stories come out of that, and I think we can all agree we’d love to be a part of that but we just can’t all afford the time to be there. So we’re trying to open that up and offer that experience to a wider audience, is one of the goals. So we’ve got also some inspiration from Sims…”

They’re hoping to make the tribal disagreements of Seed more noob-friendly, in other words. Unless you aim to start off your own colony (again: not recommended) you’ll be asked to pick from an existing band of players right at the start, to throw your lot in with a crowd of players who may already be veterans of the planet. Those colonies might have loops of activity in place to ensure everyone is supplied with food and so on – an advantage in a world where your family members will continue to go about their day even if you as the overseer haven’t logged in.

“I mean if you leave them with nothing in the forest and you go away for a week,” says Vondi, “you’re probably going to come back to them being dead, but if you have a nice house and you’re collaborating with other players who are all building this cute little village together, your characters are working and you’ve kind of made sure that there’s a loop in there which completes their food needs and where they sleep and all that, you might come back and they’re just super happy and fine.”

Seed is being built with something called Spatial OS. It’s the same technology behind Worlds Adrift, another MMO of airships and grappling hooks (something I’ve previously written about). Like the crowd behind Dual Universe these developers are not shy of hyperbole. One of the lines on Seed’s website says: “Every move, thought, or decision made by a player will have a knock-on effect and impact the colonization and overall structure of the planet.” It’s unusual to see a game’s promotional material claiming that their town-planning sim can be affected by mere thoughts. But what they mean, Vondi tells me, is that the game will hit player colonies with sizeable environmental problems, should the humans start to harvest resources and become industrially unsustainable. I ask him if maybe, just maybe, they are being a little too ambitious. He laughs.

“To start off with – probably yeah, too ambitious. And a lot of these things, a lot of these features that we want to do, come after we launch so… on launch it’s very focused on basic survival, building small little towns, making them function and then as the game grows, we will add mass transit and rockets to harvest meteors or whatever – we have an infinite scope, and that’s the kind of landscape that we’re coming from of course, that me and my colleagues have come, from EVE – still in development after fifteen years.

“How far we go into global warming or whatever is yet to be seen; I think maybe those kind of elements don’t necessarily have to be there on launch because those are like really grand scale effects and we can add that in as an update down the line.”

These are familiar sounding goals. As far back as 2003, Wurm Online promised that its settlers would have finite resources and that problems would arise for any server population that over-farmed. Seed doesn’t go that far. Resources will regenerate, trees regrow and mines may offer rock or fossil fuels at a similarly regenerative rate. But that pitch remains – “grand scale” effects, self-policing communities, thousands of players on the same world.

Klang (and others) have faith that the technology they’re using can handle that load. As with Dual Universe, it’s big talk. But the fact remains: I still haven’t seen a finished product with masses of players putting significant stress on a game like this without causing problems. Even in Worlds Adrift – the airship MMO running on the same technology – the physics janks out, it chugs to a grinding FPS rate, and crashes frequently occur. That’s maybe to be expected in any early access game but it does demonstrate that this particular recurring boast – thousands of players interacting in a continuous single shard – still needs to be proven.

Like Dual Universe, the greener, brighter Seed is also pre-Greek alphabet. Klang’s video of a skeletal management game with work-in-progress models and UI may be a good pitch (it’s certainly interesting to a Rimworld fan such as myself) but you can’t prove the potential of an MMO when the whole world is devoid of players and instead populated with robots. You can talk about farms, colonies, attacks, defences, trade deals, resource grabs, monopolies, cold wars and the simulation of any other kind of industrial revolution or societal collapse, but as promising and intriguing as the technology looks, it remains largely unproven.

And that pre-release criticism extends to any other game that blurted out its own praises in the halls of Gamescom last week. In this post-N* M*** S** era, when many other developers seem to be toning down their rhetoric (if only a smidgen), huge promises like “every thought simulated” or “you can make a space station thousands of kilometres large” almost seem designed to court skepticism. I look at the mingling robots of Dual Universe and Seed and want to think: cool, this is something people should get into. But all that comes is a desire for perspective and calm, for less boundless enthusiasm and more explanation of a game’s likely limits. Ambition is good, and without it, it’s unlikely EVE Online would have been made. But even EVE Online knows when to slow things down.

Read the full article here: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2017/08/30/the-games-chasing-eves-vision-of-a-single-shard-mmo/

Think The Government Is Doomed? See If You Can Build A Better One In ‘SEED’

Games are a potent way of looking at the world. We use the language of teams, scoring, plays, and counter-plays to describe warfare, politics, the law, and more. Dutch sociologist Johan Huizinga went so far as to say that games are the defining human activity in his 1938 classic, Homo Ludens.

But outside academia, games are rarely used as tools for understanding society. Berlin-based independent studio Klang aims to change that with its upcoming massively multiplayer simulation, Seed, which is early in development.

The whole idea is that we want the game to spin out of what the players decide to do and create

To add weight to Seed‘s intellectual ambitions, Klang brought on one heck of a ringer. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig is a world-renowned scholar of constitutional law, a liberal political activist, and onetime presidential candidate. He’s spent a career studying governance in the abstract, and helping to shape it in the real world. Now he’s applying that experience to developing the in-game political framework for Seed.

We spoke to Lessig and Klang co-founder Mundi Vondi earlier this summer about Seed and the team’s ambitious goals for pushing the boundaries on what games can do and be.

PUTTING THE “SIMULATION” BACK IN THE SIMS

Describe any game as “massively multiplayer,” and most gamers will likely make a few assumptions. You run around killing things for experience points, gathering loot, and cooperate with teammates to kill a big enemy at the end. That’s weirdly specific description for a term that really only describes how many people can play, but that’s how dramatically World of Warcraft’s success has reshaped the industry.

Seed will look nothing like the MMORPGs you’re used to. In the game, You control several characters living in an upstart community as part of an effort to populate a new planet in a new solar system. You are responsible for your characters’ health and happiness. You have to make sure they have a roof over their head and food in their belly, such that they and their community can continue to grow and thrive.

Unlike conventional online games, Seed will keep running with all of its denizens 24/7, whether you’re actively playing or not. “This was essential to us,” Vondi explained, “because online communities tend to turn into ghost towns when players are offline — for more than 90 percent of their daily lives they’re not actually in the game.” For Seed to really work as a simulation, it can’t have only a fraction of its population present at any given moment. This is because absolutely everything in Seed, from the environment to every item bought and sold, is driven by players.

In practice, it’s a massively multiplayer take on The Sims. You only control the characters indirectly, however, setting tasks and schedules for when they should work, sleep, and enjoy free time (similar to systems in management sim games like RimWorld). Artificial intelligence, taking into account any number of mood-affecting factors, will determine what the characters actually do from moment to moment, which is why the player isn’t necessary for their continued existence.

“What we’re going for basically is that there’s a lot of Butterfly Effects that we’re building up,” Vondi said. “So you can imagine for instance a character that doesn’t sleep in a bed because the player didn’t give him one, so he doesn’t show up to his job the next day, and the restaurant where he works gets in trouble because they’re short-staffed, which might affect another person who’s eating there, and so on — it has a trickling effect.”

Other online games, such as EVE Online and Albion Online, have experimented with managing player-driven virtual societies before, allowing players to shape the in-game world through economics — production, supply, and demand. This allows for dynamic in-game systems, but within prescribed boundaries. What separates Seed is the extent of the control players will have over all the systems of governance and economics. Players within communities will collectively decide how they want to govern themselves, ranging from major decisions like whether to be a democracy or a monarchy, to more fine-grained policy-making like open carry laws and income taxation rates.

POLITICAL ANIMALS

As a world-renowned scholar of political science, this is where Lessig’s expertise comes to bear. He helped design the systems for how communities in Seed will make these collective decisions, mapped out a conceptual paper of these options and trade-offs earlier in the year, and spent the month of July embedded with the studio in Berlin to help flesh it out in practice.

More than just an interesting opportunity for experimentation, Lessig sees this a way to give players a direct hand in shaping their play experience into what they want:

“Obviously people don’t come to a game like this to practice model U.N., they come to play and build communities and I really think about the governance as a kind of utility that we offer them to make it so that their gaming experience will be more rewarding and more fruitful.”

Lessig and Vondi both said part of the impetus behind Seed is the tenuous state of many democracies around the world. Lessig recalled their first real meeting about the game the morning after President Trump’s election.

“I remember that morning feeling like things seemed so hopeless, and it was a wonderful escape to be at the Seed studios talking to developers about what we can do with it…

“We’ve got real challenges with democracy in the real world. At least in my country it’s not working well, if at all. So what was really intriguing to me was the idea that here we could create an environment where there could be many tens of thousands of experiments with different forms of governance. It might be that we can actually learn something about which forms work best in this context, and it might be that that helps us understand something about the same question in the real world.”

Using Seed as a tool to gain understanding about societies is built into the foundation of the project. Vondi explained how the game will launch with tools designed for collecting and modeling the huge amounts of data that Seed will produce.

“I would love to see people outside the game take all that data and build models to look at it more deeply than what we would think to do, and that’s the exciting part,” Vondi said. Social scientists and other researchers have already found ways to squeeze useful information out of existing online games, but Seed will be the first game built from the ground up with this in mind.

As a scholar, Lessig is particularly interested in building a game that “would help political scientists and constitutionalists think about what’s the relationship between these forms of governance and the kinds of activities it encourages.” Down the road, he road, he hopes data from the game could even be studied.

BLUE SKY THINKING, BIG TENT DEVELOPMENT

“Games aren’t anymore just these simple entertainments,” Vondi mused, “but they can be tools for understanding, which is an elevation from your average story- or action-driven experience.” He mentioned the famous Corrupted Blood Plague from World of Warcraft — when a boss’ contagious spell ended up accidentally escaping a dungeon and infecting the game in a way that epidemiologists found perfectly matched how real-world diseases spread — as an inspiration for Seed: “Obviously that was a mistake, but if that was to be the focus you could take it much further. It’s going to be a simulation, rather than a fully controlled game.”

Although Vondi’s co-founders came from EVE Online developer CCP, he himself has no professional gaming background. His background is in fine art, production, and filmmaking. He feels that bringing in more outside perspectives like his own and that of Lessig will be instrumental for helping games escape, “the stigma that they are all driven by nerds and male-oriented adventure-seekers.” While Vondi and Lessig are of course nerdy men themselves, their interests in Seed seem unrecognizable next to the power fantasies of typical, mainstream video games. Vondi hopes that bringing a high-profile intellectual like Lessig into gaming will set an example for others outside the field to come and add their voices.

For Lessig, the project extends beyond his professional interests and into the personal as well: “Frankly, my closest connection to games right now is the obsession of my sons. I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old” – “Hello!” a young voice interjects into the call — “they’re here playing a game right now. Just watching the fascination and the way these games take over their whole perspective and their life has been both interesting and worrisome. I’m eager to get into a project that gives me a closer touch to that part of their life.”

Lessig is one of those rare academics willing to put his money where his mouth is, running for the Democratic nomination in the most recent primary on the platform of campaign finance reform he’d been developing through his scholarship. Seeing the powerful effect that games have on his children gives Seed compelling personal stakes for him, as he recognizes the immense potential for both growth and abuse in the flourishing, young medium.

Video games are at an exciting turning point as a medium. Seed is very early in development, but it presents a fascinating vision of gaming’s potential future, designed from the ground up as both entertainment and a tool for the social sciences. It will be available on PC in some form in 2018.

To view the article in full, visit: https://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/seed-mmo-interview-democracy-lawrence-lessig/

'Governance in the Real World Is So Fucked:' Lawrence Lessig Is Working on an MMO

‘Seed’ will allow players to build a society together, from the ground up.

Robinson Crusoe is an instructive fable for politics. Not because Crusoe forged a utopian world for himself using a few tools that survived a shipwreck, but because, as Marxist economists have noted, most retellings of the story ignore where the tools came from. Crusoe was a slaver, and political-economy tends to ignore its spoiled seed. Utopias are rarely what they seem on the surface.

An upcoming online multiplayer game called, coincidentally, Seed , will cast players as so many Robinson Crusoes, thrown into a virtual world with few pre-set parameters where they are tasked with forging a robust political system. The game's political mechanisms are being designed by none other than Lawrence Lessig, the legendary constitutional scholar who unsuccessfully ran for president last year.

Lessig isn't chasing utopia with Seed, but he is intensely interested in finding out what happens when people are given the skeleton of a trade economy and left to their own devices. Maybe, just maybe, something better than what we have now in the real world will emerge. Or maybe not.

Seed is still in the works and won't be released until 2018, but the idea is to have players control in-game characters that exist in communities with other players. These avatars live out their lives in simulation even when players aren't online, and each real-world week is a year in the game. These communities will be given immense latitude to determine the terms of their political existence, from monarchy to direct democracy.

These communities will also trade with each other within an economy that will be initially pre-programmed, but will eventually give way to player rules as communities trade with each other and set their own prices. Some communities may even opt out of this global capitalist trade regime entirely. It's worth noting that several of the co-founders and staff of the game company behind SeedBerlin-based studio Klang, also worked on EVE Online , an interstellar multiplayer game that features a robust in-game economy.

To find out what it means for Lessig to work on this project in the age of Trump and fascism on the march, and how Seed can give us insights into real-world politics, I chatted with Lessig and Klang CEO Mundi Vondi over Skype.

Motherboard: We're in a very tense and tumultuous political moment. What does it mean for you to design a game like this in the age of Trump, and after your own presidential bid?

Lawrence Lessig: The evolution of this project is quite funny. I was actually in Berlin the day after the election. I woke up that morning to see the results, and had this meeting set up with Mundi and his team to talk about the game. And it was a surreal feeling, like, governance in the real world is so fucked. We have to start thinking about how to build it in the virtual world.

Obviously, I have strong views in the real world about how to build democracy. But in the virtual world, I'm not interested in pushing my personal views. I am really interested in creating a platform where people can choose these very different forms of governance, and my hope is we can step back and see what works. If we have 100,000 game communities out there all choosing their own forms of government, and we have five stable forms that they were choosing between, data scientists could say, "Jeez, democracy with randomly elected leaders is killing every other form of governance!" That would be very interesting and valuable, I think.

Will the Seed community be moderated if, say, it gets brigaded by 4chan and anti-semitic or explicitly Nazi imagery makes it into the game? 

Mundi Vondi: I think we need to stay open to the trolls and all that grief. Obviously, with anything super brutal like Nazi or racist propaganda, we can remove those players from the game. But when it comes to them playing as brutally as those dictators acted, we need to allow that to see the results and effects. It's important to allow really harsh gameplay. I'd imagine that it will start off very chaotic, and players will be on a rampage, and out of these ashes a more civilized community will arise because the benefits are always going to be greater—you naturally gain by being more organized. As the game grows we'll see more reasonable communities.

Lawrence, in an op-ed explaining your presidential run , you wrote that democracy is not a utopia. There are concrete antagonisms to address and steps to be taken in order to dig ourselves out of the hole we're in. Is Seed a game about political utopias, or political fantasies?
 

LL: I don't think it's utopian in any sense. The effort in creating and maintaining communities in Seed is real effort—it's not a simple gift. But I think we can learn a lot about what sorts of governance structures help people to flourish in these spaces. Maybe that doesn't translate to the real world, but maybe it does. I think that the opportunity to have this massive experiment in different forms of governance, simultaneous and real, is pushing us in the direction of improving our forms of governance or at least giving us a map of how to improve them. That's what's most interesting to me.

So, Seed focuses on collective decision-making. In politics, laws are a form of collective decision-making, but we often don't think of collectivism with regards to that and many people actively reject ideas of collectivism when it comes to governance. What do you hope players will take away from being forced, basically, to consider their political choices as being part of a larger collective? 

LL: The extent to which collective decision-making affects your day-to-day living inside of Seed depends fundamentally on what the political structure of your community is. If you decide to have a monarch, then all the decisions are made by the monarch and you don't have any ongoing daily decisions. You could live in a representative democracy like Germany or the US, where you spend time deciding on your representatives and then they make decisions for you. But that might seem burdensome to some people, so they might choose a different form of representative democracy.

One of the options that I hope we implement is a representative democracy, but like in ancient Athens, all the leaders are randomly selected and they have to spend a cycle making decisions for everybody. That way, there's no politicking but it is representative. These are the kind of trade-offs that we want to enable so the community can decide how many cycles they want to spend on collective governance versus the other cool parts of the game.

MV: We're putting a lot of weight into how these decisions affect your gameplay. You don't just buy a new character and they pop into existence; you have to breed and raise them, and send them to school. As a player you should feel close to your character, so if they're being pushed around by some asshole who's governing, you'll get mad about that. There's all kinds of things you'll be able to find out—even if a monarchy is successful, you might have very low happiness. "Playing with fire" is one way to look at it, but having a tool where we can pick out some of this information is very valuable.

How optimistic are you about the politics of Seed , versus real-world politics right now? 

LL: I'm more optimistic about the politics of Seed than the real world, because the interests that have corrupted the real world are entrenched and powerful. But they haven't had a chance to develop in Seed. i think it starts with a little bit of a blank slate. But, it's not a guarantee, and who knows how things will develop over time? But my expectation is that we'll start in a better place.

Source: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/lawrence-lessig-is-working-on-an-mmo-game-seed?utm_source=mbfb