I never really got the appeal of people calling for a PvE focused survival game until I saw the Kickstarter for Eco. Despite being more of a rabbit than a wolf, I still consider myself more of a PvPer than a PvE fan. For me, as much as I struggle with the survival genre's usual communities, I get bored to tears playing on PvE servers or attempting to play the game on an empty server. I need people in my games, I need a community, and I need to feel like I can meet people I can get along with, but I also need strife, enemies, and in-game politics that surround the players and their communities. Most survival games have the strife down, but not much else. Eco's solution? Make the environment threaten the players with permadeath on a community level.

Saving a Doomed World


The solution is quite eloquent. While others have suggested that developers should simply make smarter AI that hunts players, the truth of the matter is that most online PvE players really don't want that. I remember quite clearly when a beta build of Asheron's Call 2 added this, and people strongly disliked not only being unable to afk in town, but by having to really strategize about how to attack NPCs. I saw the same thing with some of Rift's more difficult rift encounters. Clearly, there's a reason raiding is usually enjoyed by only a minority of players unless fight mechanics are drastically simplified, as can be seen in World of Warcraft's group finder for raids, it's interactions with the flex system, and the health of raiding guilds.

No, most players really don't want a challenge when it comes to fighting AI in a persistent world, especially not in an online game (sorry Wildstar!). They want the survival mechanics, but without the Walking Dead, "trust no one" feel. How do you do dangerous without encounters or direct PvP? Create a "doubly doomed" world. Eco servers/worlds have finite resources. There are life cycles and food webs to keep in tact. Pollution can wipe out supplies. The price of progress could mean preventing a certain type of resource from ever appearing on the server again. Mess up enough, and your planet might not be able to support life anymore. Since, like most survival games, you at least need to eat to stay alive, ruining your game world is a very big deal.

At the same time though, you can't just leave the server alone and assume everything will be ok. Disasters happen. Massive floods or meteors can wipe out your planet/server. You need to build the appropriate technology to save your planet or both you and your enemies are going to be dead, for good. Sorry, but those cute little deer aren't going to build a rocket themselves.

Using and Abusing the Law: PvE to PvP to Kill Everyone (Including Yourself!)

Eco Webpage

While the game will somehow have a single player option while primarily having a system that relies on players needing to specialize and work together to create significantly complex items such as housing (we've asked the studio, Strange Loop, how that works), the idea is that players work together to build the world. Team emphasis is good, right?

Except, you still have a bartering system. Not just for items, but services. If you service is valued highly, you can get more stuff. If, as a hunter, you can no longer hunt whales (Note: whale hunting has not been confirmed as of this writing), your trading power goes down. Using the game's internal graphs, you can track several factors, such as how whales are dying, where, and how long it might take to bring the species back. Maybe it's not over hunting but some jerk dumping pollution into the oceans. Who knows? But the thing is, the game has laws that (currently) can't be broken.

In Eco, players create their own laws. It's rather in-depth, but it's all player run. If you're getting an Eve vibe, know that the game is internally described as "Eve, but fun." The difference, however, is that, at launch, the game will physically prevent you from breaking laws. If there is a daily cap of killing one whale a day, and you try to kill a second, you'll simply not be allowed to attack that whale. If you want to kill more, you'll need to convince other players that hunting isn't the cause of their population decline, not by devoting your life to grinding, but by using graphs, real life social skills, and debate to prove your point to get other people to change the law.

Even if it is hunting that's causing the problem, if you can present the data in a way that takes the blame away from your cause, maybe blame the coal industry so the value of whale fat as an energy resource goes up. You could potentially corner the market on whales by killing the last whale and hoarding its supplies. It's dirty, and you've doomed your world to be whale-less, but that's an option open to you, not by random griefing but by plotting, scheming, and deceiving a large portion of your fellow server mates. Like the real world, it's rarely a single person who dooms the world, the actions of many, acting not just selfishly, but often ignorantly. In a sense, it makes the game seem like it's part Minecraft with all the building, but part A Tale in the Desert with all the social systems and end of the world (except with in game graphs and tools for teachers).


Now, it should be mentioned that while the word "PvP" does not appear on the Eco Kickstarter, it is something Strange Loop's John Krajewski has brought up. No, nothing about killing people in their sleep, but something the PvE fans might enjoy as a different kind of PvP- detective work. If it's allowed to go in, laws could become breakable. Players would know they're breaking the law, and the server would track it, placing a bounty on that person. Other players could use tracking skills to find the offending player and arrest them, even if they're sleeping (you're always in game, even when logged out), and the game will punish them for their crime. That means if the punishment for killing whales is, say, permadeath, finding the jerk who killed the last whales will be dead, for good, without you having to fight them.

With either physical prevention or tools to (assist players to) carry out the law, Eco seems to give players the opportunity to fight for their world mostly using their words and intelligence to not only stave off hunger, but to develop a society trying to survive together. Having the game execute/maintain laws helps bolster this because, let's be honest, very few players have the time or resources to play police officer all day in a video game.

I say "seems to" because, well, the game has already sort of come out. Eco already received a government grant based on tests they've already done with middle schoolers. This doesn't mean we can play the game now, but we can see how the tech has already been made and balanced for a classroom, which is also going to be used as a commercial product rather than being limited as a tool for a study. It's already gotten the green light on Steam.

Fight to Live, Not to Survive


The most appealing thing to me, as a PvP fan, is that Eco's idea does something that most survival games are not: creating a need for other people to work together, rather than apart. In a traditional PvP game with a persistent world, the game map is only so big. If you don't get along with your neighbors, they can just kill you. They can take your hunting spot. They can prevent you from enjoying the game. You can take it from them, but then you have to keep it, which can be fun, but only for so long. You have to go to work sometime. That's why you form bigger and bigger guilds in order to help make sure someone else can enforce you and your guild's authority. You have guild nations fighting over resources, land, and the right to govern. In essence, you're playing to make a life. With a survival game, I feel you're... well, surviving. I've never felt like I've been able to establish a life.

Eco currently puts everyone in the same ship instead of the same land. The difference is that that ship's sink, and your ship in this gameworld is being assaulted by both the environment and your own crew. You have to work together to make it out alive. You're not living to kill everyone else, but to unite them in a specific effort, for everyone's survival amd to keep your cool buildings, carefully researched farming cycles, and happy democracy safe from a global permadeath system. And yeah, maybe make a tiny profit to build a bigger house once everyone's safe and alive.

Even death is handled different. Krajewski noted in the comments of the game's Kickstarter that:

The only way to permanently die in the game will be from breaking a player-made law whose punishment is set to 'death', in which case your character is deleted (this depends on the extended law system we want to create as a stretch goal though, more info coming). If you get attacked by animals, fall, or starve you'll just be very low health until you nurse yourself back to health with food and rest, or other players that can treat you with specialized skills, but you won't die (you wont be able to do any work though at that level of health).

This puts your fellow player at your mercy, or you them, when they fail. They're not a corpse, but someone laying there, begging for help or charity who literally cannot help themself.

Even offline players can have their presence felt, not just as sleepers, but having stores requesting items or even work (though failing to complete work can lead to penalty fees held in an escrow when you receive the job). There's no hard currency either, so you could trade fish for wood, or maybe meat for assembling a school. In the same vein, player governments can tax constituents whatever item they think is most fair as a basic currency.

This is why the game not only sounds like an interesting video game to play for fun, but a great potential learning tool for the classroom. I know games personally helped me develop my social skills as a kid, especially PvP. While most people think of PvPers are heartless gankers, they also have to know how to turn enemies into friends to defeat a greater enemy. This idea of banding together in the face of a greater threat to fight something, not with weapons but with ideas, is something modern people rarely consider, but with globalization affecting both our ecology and economy (I see what you did there guys!), it's one that needs to be understood, and soon. Games are a great way to experience this, and I'm not the only one to suggest this either. Having students experience this as a class sounds like a really good experience.

The Dark Cloud Looming Overhead


Although there's a lot to look forward to, I'll be the first person to say we need to avoid the hype train and be critical. One of the biggest reasons I feel other survival games fail is because of their server-based nature and great anonymity, and Eco sadly sounds like it will suffer the same fate. The game sounds like it has great potential in education, and could be fun with friends, but community wise, it seems like a gamble just the same. Without any overarching connection between myriads of worlds-- no reputation, no stat tracking-- what stops players from hopping from world to world starting new communities whenever they grief or "lose"?

It's a lofty, "someday" idea, but Krajewski has mentioned being a fan of space as "end game." Again, this would be far down the line, but if other planets could be visited, if there was something connecting all the worlds, that could potentially give the game something other survival games lack. Imagine if "end game" players could bounty hunt criminals based on accounts, following them to whatever server they play on and executing their punishment through time and space. That might help, but that's very far in the future. Maybe Krajewski will drop an update on the EcoNation fan forum. We've tried contacting Strange Loop to see if they can, perhaps, give us a bit more information on the game, so stay tuned! Until then you can find Eco on Kickstarter.