EXCLUSIVE: Harrison Ford Helps Develop Environmental Facebook Game 'Ecotopia'
With more 300 million people playing Facebook games daily, new Los Angeles-based game studio Talkie has teamed up with Harrison Ford and Conservation International to blend social gaming with going green both virtually and in the real world.
Ecotopia, which launches this spring on Facebook, is a free-to-play city-building game that integrates cinematic storytelling and requires players to perform real-world green initiatives to earn virtual points for in-game advancement. The game will expand to additional online platforms later this year.
"I'm excited to be involved with Ecotopia because I see it as a great way to engage millions of people in our fight to protect our planet by taking action online and in our daily lives," said Ford, vice chairman of Conservation International. "As we work to address the most fundamental issues facing humanity, I think Ecotopia will help get people involved in a way that is fun, educational, and meaningful."
Talkie, which was founded by Chris Swain, director of the video game design study program at the University of Southern California Games Institute, is developing Ecotopia in association with Conservation International, a global nonprofit organization that leverages strategic partnerships to protect and sustainably manage nature for the long term benefit of people.
"As a passionate supporter of Conservation International's work, this game represents a refreshing new way to engage millions of people in addressing critical environmental issues and finding solutions that work for the wellbeing of humanity," said Ford.
Larry Bond, chairman of Talkie, said Ford was involved in the development of the new game by providing thoughts on how key environmental issues could be integrated into the interactive experience.
"The idea was a byproduct of the passion that both Chris (Swain) and I share for the environment along with a conversation that I had with Harrison shortly after he returned from a U.N. meeting on climate change in Nagoya, Japan last fall," said Bond. "Harrison explained the crisis that our planet was facing on the loss of biodiversity. That was the catalyst to create a game that was not only really entertaining, but also have a profound impact on our world."
In this eco-friendly game, players begin with a dirty, uninhabitable environment and must generate resources by completing in-game missions. Resources are then used to develop a sustainable city that players can customize to create their own utopia. Players can also connect with their Facebook friends, sending gifts to each other and visiting neighboring maps to perform helpful actions. Each month, new villains will be introduced to an ongoing story line that players will battle against to fight for a clean environment.
"We allow players to enter their real world green acts -- such as composting -- and get in-game credit," said Swain, CEO and founder of Talkie. "That means if you car pool you get Sustainability Points, Money Savings, and Power Savings that you can spend to get further in the game world. You get a low number of points for doing a real world act, but we give you a big bonus if you also upload a picture of yourself doing it. Then you get the real points if your friends verify that you did it. This is a system we call 'social proofing.'"
The game world integrates video into the experience through Ecotopia TV, where videos from Conservation International appear along with user-generated videos. Talkie will sponsor monthly conservation contests to further encourage players to get involved in green initiatives. Swain said that all aspects of the green game world interrelate to deliver one cohesive experience.
The game's messaging aligns with Conservation International's initiatives, which support nature's ability to protect our climate, food, fresh water, health and cultural security. The organization, which has staff and partners working in nearly 40 countries around the globe, is committed to preserving the contributions of all species on Earth, conserving healthy landscapes and seascapes, empowering local communities and promoting sustainable economic development.
"Ecotopia makes being green fun and adds a dash of social status," said Swain. "We track the real carbon savings created by each act and can tally the total environmental impact made by our players."