The Earthers Pitch
by Beau Cronin Saturday, October 29, 2016

Most of this dev diary will describe what is happening with Earthers development, but I wanted to start with a basic pitch for what Earthers is and why I believe it needs to exist.

Earthers is a multiplayer simulation game whose underlying dynamics are provided by state-of-the-art climate and economic systems models - literally, some of the same codes used to generate IPCC forecasts. In each game iteration, a group of players (about 20) come together to navigate the years from present day to 2100.

Earthers is motivated by the observation that climate change is primarily a collective action problem, not a tech problem. Yes, the ultimate solutions will (I believe) be largely tech-driven, but the real challenges are understanding what will work (and what won't), deciding to do it, and implementing those actions in the context of our planet's diverse societies and political regimes. Yet existing "climate communication" efforts have failed in substance; if this were a legacy business, entrepreneurs would be licking their chops. As a result, climate change's cultural mindshare today is a bit like the Olympics - dramatically but infrequently relevant, remote from everyday life, filled with obscure and inaccessible content - when it needs to be like Twitch: a daily habit, under my complete control, populated by my friends and those I admire. There is so much else that should be tried here, and Earthers leverages many of the deep tech that Google is already using to transform so many other areas of our lives.

With all this in mind, Earthers has two equal requirements:

  • It must be fun to play and addictive, able to compete directly with the likes of Minecraft, Clash of Clans, and Overwatch on both engagement and scale. It is not spinach, or a "game for good"; people play it because it's the best option available to them.
  • To the greatest extent possible, what works in the game must transfer to the real world. This is what sets Earthers apart from Sim City or Civilization - the dynamics are as real as our current state of scientific knowledge will allow. So maybe not quite Ender's Game, but players will be directly training themselves to tackle the challenges we face.

Earthers is all about scale: it will be a success if and only if it achieves both broad and deep impact on the place of climate change in global culture - not just awareness of the dangers and likely outcomes, but visceral, embodied understanding of possible solutions and how to make them real.

Some key aspects of the game, as currently envisioned:

  • Earthers is beautiful and engaging, available through both touch and immersive interfaces.
  • The basic game mechanic is turn-based (probably one model year per turn), where the action space consists of technological, social, and policy interventions that the players must debate and commit resources to.
  • The outcomes of previous game iterations are explicitly surfaced in various ways, so that game play evolves over time as the state of collective knowledge improves. A strong result soon after launch will be laughable two years into the game's life.
  • Earthers is natively and deeply social, with game states and player accomplishments being directly shareable on the relevant platforms - everything is linkable and defaults to public. Earthers gameplay, achievements, results, and lessons learned will be deeply woven into everyday internet life - well beyond the core playing audience.
  • Preventing climate change is, from one perspective, simple: just shut down the global economy. For this reason, Earthers game states are scored according to both environmental and quality of life measures - one of the major challenges is to find solutions that satisfy both requirements.

This is a project I feel driven to pursue, literally, for my daughters' sake. We are running out of time for effective action, and collective understanding and consensus are the roadblocks.