I'm happy to report that a few years later I finally was able to get it off the ground (after various unsuccessful attempts at funding via foundations, nonprofits, etc) and am proud to announce it has launched on facebook as a social game for real world change - it's called e-mission - check it out!
Its in "beta" right now as we are still working out the bugs, game mechanics, and friction to get people to take offline action while being online. The user count is modest but many per unit metrics are promising. We hope 2011 will be a breakout year for this game and this new genre of online games with offline impact.
Its been a long road since i first had the idea. My colleague Suzie Mogavero and I worked hard on the concept and tried to attain funding from many foundations and nonprofits but came up empty handed (ironic for a venture capitalist!) Finally, we shared the idea with a visonary leader and now dear friend - nancy lublin of dosomething.org (of which I am now on the board - its the largest organization for youth to make social change) she loved it and took it on as a dosomething project. With her team and other advisors help, the idea morphed into an online social game that feels more like a simulation (e.g. cityville) vs the original pet adoption idea (which we feel didn't have as much depth). I was able to find a great games development team called Gettoutt to bring the game to life. Gettoutt is startup that is pioneering a new genre in social games that combines real offline action. The founder, alan wells, has a superb background as both a product manager at Zynga and an ecology major at UC Davis.
With team in hand, we were able to secure funding from an unexpected source - the US Government! The EPA's Energy Star division has fully funded the development and is our sponsor of the game. They were looking for ways to reach young people with the message of energy conservation - especially to combat climate change - and recognize that online games are where its at. Big kudos go out to the EPA for trying something new and innovative to fight climate change!
A little more on the game....the idea is that you control a habitat (like a city in cityville) and our first habitat is a beach (which our 1000 Dosomething youth advisors voted as the most desired habitat) - where you buy and place plants and animals to make it a thriving ecosystem. In order to earn more coins and experience and level up to get better plants and animals, you perform online actions (e.g. energy knowledge quiz's, read info on recycling), and ultimately offline actions that reduce carbon in the environment (e.g. change lightbulbs, lower your thermostat, walk to school, etc). All the offline actions are measured in actual carbon saved so we know the real world impact from the game. We came up with a cool peer review to check the online actions - you upload a photo performing the action and get your facebook friends to vouch for you.
The game mechanic includes "eco-tours" which bring in visitors and thus coins to your habitat - if it remains healthy. The player must continue to take actions and complete missions as the environment is deterioraring due to increasing carbon levels. The cool thing about an online game is that we can speed up and exaggerate the effects on the environment from increasing carbon levels - which helps people visualize the impact.
Its early days in this new category of "social games for change" and we haven't figured it all out, but I'm hopeful that the game will get better over time and inspire many other games like it. Big thanks goes to all the people who have helped over the years:
Suzie Mogavero (full time leader working with me for six months)
Rich Gruenberger and DLA Piper team (early pro bono legal counsel)
David Perry (helpful game design ideas and connections in the game industry)
Bing Gordon (valuable feedback to Alan and I on game design)
Charlie Knowles and the Wildlife Conservation Network (great ideas around kids and animal conservation)
Hillel Cooperman (early concept work and naming with his firm Jackson Fish Market)
Chris Tacy (advice on design and networking)
Madeline Schroeder and the Mightyplay team (great early work on the concept and helping pitch media companies)
Samantha Skey (marketing wisdom - especially to youth)
Nancy Lublin (CEO of Dosomething who took on the project)
Aria Finger (COO of Dosomething who made it happen)
Alan Wells (CEO of Gettoutt and lead game designer)
Porter Felton (founder of Getttoutt and creative guru)
Cliff Boro (helped a lot on networking and ideas around kids)
Greg Tseng & Steve Sarner at Tagged (marketing promotion of the game)
Suzanne Segermann and Asi Burak of Games for Change (great networking and inspiration on this new genre)
The Energy Star program/EPA
and of course the entire Dosomething.org staff!
(sorry if i left anyone out - do let me know!)
So, do your part and play the game and reduce some carbon...spread the word!