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Klang Games on: designing the politics of virtual worlds with Professor Lawrence Lessig

Berlin-based studio Klang Games is developing Seed – a massively multiplayer online game made with Unity and SpatialOS. In Seed, players manage the lives of a group of characters in an emergent, player-run planetary colony.

In a recent interview with gamesindustry.biz, Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, posited that “if 100 million people entered simultaneously into a virtual world, that would cease to be a game, that would be a country.” Virtual societies with their own economies and politics could certainly have a profound influence on the way the world works. In some virtual societies, people’s jobs and positions have already started to become more valuable to them than their place in the “real world.” At least one game developer is committed to exploring these concepts further; SpatialOS partner, Klang Games who are teaming up with Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig.

The studio’s project is a massively multiplayer online game called Seed that’s being built in Unity with SpatialOS. Seed will be both an engaging multiplayer experience and a simulation of human behaviour in an emergent, virtual society – a planetary colony formed by refugees from Earth. Lessig, an esteemed author, founder of the non-profit organisation Creative Commons and former candidate for a US presidential nomination (among many other roles and accolades), has joined the project to co-design the complex political structures underpinning the game. “Seed will give players an extraordinary opportunity for engagement and creativity as players. I am eager to see whether we can give them the same opportunity for engagement and creativity as players in a community,” said Lessig.

From monarchy to anarchy (and everything in between)

Lawrence Lessig has unparalleled experience writing about the freedoms of our democracies and specifically how the internet has changed the world. At Improbable, we’re especially excited to see how Klang Games translates his ideas and insights into deep and emergent experiences in the game.

At the moment, Seed is still early in development but Lessig was able to comment in a recent interview with VentureBeat on the kinds of virtual society governance he’s considering. “What we’ve been talking about are ways to give people in the game options for how they’d like that governance to happen. The options range from the simplest, most minimal—basically, from as little government as possible, to things like monarchy or different forms of democracy. You can randomly select people for office. We want to enable, in the lowest-cost way possible, the lowest number of cycles, to enable these different options, and see how these worlds evolve. Which ones work well? Which ones cohere with the kind of gaming that’s happening?”

Given the phenomenon of “griefing” in online games, (playing the game to spoil the experience for other players) you could be forgiven for being a little wary of an online game that will be implementing such strong political principles. What will stop players behaving like monsters? Doubtless some will find a way to do so, and we will certainly see sections of Seed’s gameworld being run by warlords, gangsters, tyrants and oligarchs.

Equally, we hope that players will band together to explore the communitarian side of politics, taking the positivist Lockean view of human nature rather than the pessimistic Hobbesian structure. Perhaps the groundwork of Professor Lessig will provide safe passage for emergent democratic, communal or laissez faire systems in the gameworld as well. As with many SpatialOS games that utilise a large-scale persistent world, it will be very much up to the players to build their community and define its rules.

It’s not all “Game of Thrones”!

However, we aren’t suggesting that Seed is entirely a political game. Although it shares a strong resemblance with real-time strategy and city sims, Seed is also heavily influenced by titles like The Sims where the majority of gameplay revolves around managing the happiness of a group of player-controlled characters.

“We’re building a virtual world filled with vast, player-created communities where every player-action has a repercussion in the game world.” explained Mundi Vondi, Klang CEO and Co-Founder. “For example, a player might chop down a tree, which affects the planet’s ecosystem. This wood can then be sold on, which has an impact on the economy, and if the player chooses to, use the money to bribe another player, which affects the balance of power. We create and provide the tools and incentives to build these communities…the rest is up to the players,” explained Mundi Vondi, Klang CEO and Co-Founder.

This means that politics will probably be more of a naturally emerging force than a gameplay mechanic. A persistent gameworld means that when food, for example, is eaten, it will be permanently eaten until more is grown, stolen or won. The ways in which players divide resources and the choices they have to make for their characters to survive will have long lasting consequences.

“Obviously the game they’re (Klang Games) building isn’t a governance game, but what everyone realizes is that, especially when you invest such an incredible amount of your time and energy into building places for playing a game like this, you need some confidence about how the place will evolve,” Lessig said in the VentureBeat article.

If you want to get more of an idea about the kind of worlds Lessig is looking to enable, you can read more about his ideas on his blog.

A socio-political MMO built with SpatialOS

With Lessig now on board, Klang Games are in an even better place to build their complex MMO. SpatialOS technology provides the indie studio with the tools to do the heavy lifting of the scaling and cloud hosting of Seed’s enormous and persistent gameworld. The studio are also strengthened by the acquisition of Eran Hilleli, who will be leading the art direction. Hilleli is known for his polygonal animations, like Between Bears (below.)

Additionally, the studio has recently announced additional funding from the Greylock Partners’ Discovery Fund, the Unity founder David Helgason, and the activist and investor Joi Ito. Find out more about Seed and read an early interview with Mundi, on the Featured Games page.

New website and sign-up details

Klang Games are pushing towards the creation of an early playable version of Seed for early 2018. To keep up with the latest news on the game, check out the website where developer diaries and other forms of content are on the way. Be sure to join the mailing list to be among the first to set foot in the virtual world when test versions become available.


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