Bring on the Apocalypse: Deep City 2030 Devs on Keeping it Weird (and Fun) in Environmental Sims


For the first time, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, a trend the World Health Organization says it expects to grow, with six of every 10 people living in a city by 2030. How urban centers manage their resources and waste will determine the future of our world, which is what city management simulator Deep City 2030 aims to foretell by giving players the reigns in an environmental apocalypse.

Deep City 2030, in development for iOS by Kolody Inc., sends the player to a dystopian (and at times absurd) future and tasks them with sorting out the mess, from very real-world threats, such as diminishing resources, overcrowding, and megastorms, to fictional but equally destructive terrors like giant cats with killer laser beams.

We recently caught up with Chris Lowry from the development team for Deep City 2030, which we last saw at the 2013 Games For Change (G4C) Festival, as he and his team launch an Indiegogo campaign to create a playable demo and prepare for the game’s fall 2015 launch.

What’s happened with Deep City 2030 since its appearance at the 2013 G4C’s Demo Spotlight? What’s new and what challenges still remain?

We were encouraged and inspired by our experience at G4C in 2013. The positive feedback about the edgy humor, and the questions about how we would be able to integrate documentary content, all that helped us a lot as we continued to develop the gameplay concept with our team.

The validation of the Demo Spotlight, being invited and appreciated in New York, was really helpful in our efforts to get new partners on board including first our partnership with the green city nonprofit Evergreen Cityworks. G4C gave us street cred to win some pro bono support from the innovation acceleration agency here it Toronto, MaRS.

Best of all, we met G4C President Asi Burak at the Festival, and he joined our advisory board for Deep City 2030 along with the chief planner of the City of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat, and the CEO of family entertainment company DHX Media, Steven DeNure.

What’s the inspiration for Deep City 2030?

What we have tried to do in Deep City 2030 is to combine gameplay mechanics that work well to keep the player fully engaged and entertained. It’s a hybrid of an open-world strategy game like Civilization, it’s a kind of city-building game like Sim City in reverse, it’s multiplayer with simple effective mechanisms for both competition and cooperation like Clash of Clans, and it offers the latitude to pursue power and be effective by aggressive or tricky means, to see the consequences of your choices in terms of the morale of the population or the reactions of other players, like Fable or the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The design reflects a good understanding of what works and what’s entertaining in a range of games, including triple A.

How does Deep City 2030 differ from previous environmental management sims?

In a word, it’s more fun. We start from the premise that it needs to be entertaining first, and we would subscribe to the motto of Austin Texas – “keep it weird”. In Deep City 2030 energy is the only currency, but that is where the similarity to any environmental management sim ends. It’s impossible to make a smart game about the future that is not about environmental management, but it doesn’t have to be bitter medicine. In Deep City 2030 you can mess with the apocalypse!


Your recent trailer shows a bit of the game in action. Can you describe the flow of gameplay and the actions and decisions players are expected to make?

The player is put in control of a failing city, plagued by pollution, ignorance, and unpoliced streets. Your city has six distinguishable features that are direct representations of City Attributes: Education, Agriculture, Infrastructure and Public Services, Industry, Health, and Power Grid. Players will be able to control and evolve cities across a number of different key touch points (i.e., industry, energy, etc.), unlock special abilities, and harness energy for actions to the benefit or detriment of others. Additionally, players will be able to join player groups called Protectorates that provide additional access to social mechanics and even the in-game United Nations.

As with the real world, there are a lot of methods to get ahead. Cooperative or solo play, righteous or ruthless – all methods will have viable, game-balanced options for success. Energy is the only currency: it powers ambitions such as upgrades and campaigns, is used to expand your sphere of influence to take control of cities, and appeases the Overload in the form of a payment. Achievements will be linked to gameplay, rewarding users with points, badges, unique content, and ideally premium and relevant video narrative material at key events. The achievement system will encourage users to explore all paths of gameplay available (solo, multiplayer, “good” or “evil” play styles, acquisition plateaus, etc.).

Morale is the only metric of conquest. When a city’s morale is run into the ground, they’ll welcome your leadership and protection. Citizens who are happy are resilient to disruptions, negative campaigns, and contribute to the health of your city and domain.


Part of the Deep City 2030 team: (from left to right) Greg Greene of Planet Greene, Chris Lowry of Ecotone, Colin Turnbull, and Tara Luxmore of Kolody.

How did you come to partner with Ecotone Productions, Planet Greene Productions (makers of the documentary “The End of Suburbia”) and Evergreen CityWorks? What percentage of game proceeds will go to Evergreen CityWorks’ programs?

Mark Kolody, Greg Greene, and I put our heads together to come up with a game idea that would be wickedly entertaining and that could make a contribution to our understanding of how cities need to evolve in the future. We’re all storytellers, and at the same time we are all fascinated by the idea of resilient cities and their sci-fi shadow, failed cities.

Greg made a popular documentary film some years ago about the end of cheap energy. Ecotone is my company, and I bring 30 years of production and sustainability expertise to the project. Evergreen CityWorks brings deep expertise on resilient cities to our partnership. They will help us source and manage financing for the project, and when the game is successful, 50% of revenue will go to Evergreen CityWorks programs.

You mention on your website that making Deep City 2030 will cost $500k. Can you break that down for us?

The budget includes all the creative and production talent and costs for the development (15%), story research and writing (15%), to design and build the game (60%), and to do the beta testing and launch (10%).

What kind of support have you received so far, financially or otherwise? What’s helped the most before launching your Indiegogo campaign?

Everyone involved has been putting sweat equity into it for a couple of years. We have received some seed funds from members and friends of the team to cover the hard costs of producing demos and to build the crowdfunding campaign, as well as market research help from MaRS, so pro bono legal support, and a lot of valuable support from our nonprofit partner, Evergreen CityWorks. It has been crucial to be able to accept donations for project development through Evergreen, and this will continue to be important after the Indiegogo campaign is complete. Accepting donations through a nonprofit charitable partner allows us to offer a Canadian charitable tax receipt to donors who prefer that route. So far we have received two donations from angels in this way for a total of $25,000 which Evergreen’s has contributed to development costs as a co-producer.

Deep City 2030 has some, um, interesting characters. Could you explain why disco Jesus, Lazer Cat, and a harp-playing cow appear? How do you create these or decide what to include?

These characters emerge from the fevered brains of our design team. The world is full of people who can build games, but original ideas and design are the pixie dust that makes a good game. LaserCat and Disco Jesus are just the beginning. There are lots more surprises to come when we really get down to building the game over the coming year.

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Combining Art and Science: The Making of Moon Rush, the People’s Choice in Our Shoot for the Moon Contest

[This interview originally appeared on the Schusterman Foundation’s blog.]

Cheng Zhang (right) and Sheri Larimer of the Ohio State University won the People’s Choice Award in the Shoot for the Moon game design contest for their concept Moon Rush.

As part of the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival, the Schusterman Foundation teamed up with Games for Change to sponsor a game design contest. Contestants were charged with designing a game that would support SpaceIL’s mission to the Moon. SpaceIL, a front-runner for the Google Lunar X Prize, is an Israel-based nonprofit organization aiming to land a spacecraft on the Moon by 2015.

Submissions were pared down to three finalists who received two complimentary passes to the 2014 Games for Change Festival, where they presented their concepts in front of a live jury and top funders. Among the finalists was Lunar Rocks, a two-person team from the Ohio State University who presented the game Moon Rush.

For the first time, we opened voting to the public with the People’s Choice Award, which went to Lunar Rocks’ game Moon Rush. Although Lunar Rocks was not selected for the $25,000 grand prize, which went to Theorify for SpaceIL Academy, they were still a crowd favorite as shown by the hundreds of votes they received online.

We also offered three passes to next year’s Festival (2015) to three lucky voters. These randomly selected voters are: Diane H., Melissa T., and Olga B. Congratulations!

Learn more about the People’s Choice award-winning game from Lunar Rocks’ Cheng Zhang, who took a few minutes to answer questions about her experience in creating Moon Rush.

What motivated you to enter the Shoot for the Moon game design competition, and where did you find inspiration to create Moon Rush?

I have a passion for space exploration and astronomy and have accumulated a great amount of knowledge about the Moon, particularly in the historic Apollo mission through my MFA thesis project The Moon Experience.

When I saw the announcement, I knew this is a great opportunity for me to further develop The Moon Experience and to make it more useful and more accessible. I found many things inspired me to create Moon Rush, including the Apollo program, Google Lunar X Prize, SpaceIL’s mission, and popular games such as Minecraft.

Tell us a little bit about your team. Who is part of the team? How did you get together to create Moon Rush?
The Lunar Rocks team includes two graduate students, Cheng Zhang and Sheri Larrimer.

Cheng Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science & Engineering Department at the Ohio State University. Her research interests includes computer games, virtual reality, computer animation, and general topics in computer graphics. Cheng was a software engineer developing commercial software in Silicon Valley for several years and has a passion for space exploration and astronomy.

Sheri Larrimer is an MFA candidate at the Ohio State University studying design with a focus on digital animation and interactive media. In the last week before the contest deadline, Sheri saw Cheng was busy with her proposal and wanted to help so she joined the team.

Finally, Dr. Roger Crawfis is our team’s advisor. He is an associate professor at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at The Ohio State University.


We want to hear more about your game! What does it accomplish? How did you come up with the concept? How does the game work?

Moon Rush tries to accomplish two goals: (1) crowdsource useful, scientific data and creative ideas for SpaceIL; (2) help players to learn the basic concepts of physics, math, and related science.

Our proposed prototype contains a two-module structure based on these two goals. One module is for the SpaceIL team to customize the game and gameplay through loading up different simulation models to the game or filtering out the players’ data that don’t meet the SpaceIL team’s criteria. The other module is for players, which allows players to load up their own designs of rockets, spaceships, or robots in their personal game space. If the designs are promising and approved by the SpaceIL team, the designs are available to all players.

We designed the game with 15 to 25 year olds in mind, and we hope the game inspires the younger generation to think differently about science, technology, engineering, and math.

Our audience doesn’t have to know a lot of about science and math to play the game. However, through the gameplay, the audience should be able to figure out a lot of basic concepts while advanced audiences could contribute reliable, useful simulation data to the SpaceIL team via the gameplay.

What tools did you use to create your prototype and why? How long did it take to create the game from start to finish?

Brainstorming is one of my favorite approaches for prototyping, but specifically, Moon Rush was created with Unity, Maya, and other software. The time to finish the game really depends on the specification of the SpaceIL team. I would say it could take from six months to one year based on the current prototype and current member of the team.

How will the game help the SpaceIL mission to the moon?

As mentioned, SpaceIL mission has two concrete goals – one is for SpaceIL teams to collect useful and reliable scientific data. The other is for end players to be engaged and to promote studies of physics, math, and the related science. Our two-module game design helps the SpaceIL team collect useful data while engaging players to the gameplay and promote science study.

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken personally or professionally? How did it pay off?

The biggest risk I have taken is that taking the design MFA program during my computer science Ph.D. program. In the end, I think it was worth pursuing both art and science in my career.

I know this because my work has been recognized a few times now: Moon Rush won the People’s Choice Award in the Shoot for the Moon game design contest at the Games for Change Festival. The Moon Experience was selected and demoed at the Center of Science and Industry, the science museum in Columbus, Ohio, and in STEAM factory and “The Solar System,” a short educational animation, was adapted by a Netherlands national television program.

If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would like to have dinner with Leonardo De Vinci, Nikola Tesla, or Neil Armstrong. I’m curious how Leonardo used his superb intellect, unusual powers of observation and mastery of the art of drawing to study nature itself, a line of inquiry that allowed his dual pursuits of art and science to flourish.

Who or what inspires you to get out of bed every day?

All good things in the world motivate me to work hard every day.

Tell us one thing about you we might not know by looking at you.

I love gardening. I have more than 20 indoor plants in my home!


On June 18, Schusterman will host its #NetTalks webinar, Gaming For Good, where attendees can learn how digital games can support organization’s mission. Register here to hear from G4C President Asi Burak, Kfir Damari of SpaceIL, and Theorify’s Jasmine Bulin, who will show the latest demo of SpaceIL Academy.

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Social Impact & Sci-Fi: How Shoot for the Moon Contest Winner Theorify Made SpaceIL Academy

[This interview originally appeared on the Schusterman Foundation’s blog.]

Theorify’s director of new development Jasmine Bulin (right) and producer Vince Close won the Shoot for the Moon game design contest with their concept SpaceIL Academy.

As part of the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival, Schusterman Foundation teamed up with Games for Change to sponsor the Shoot for the Moon game design contest.

Contestants were charged with designing a game that would support SpaceIL’s mission to the moon. SpaceIL, a front-runner for the Google Lunar X Prize, is an Israel-based nonprofit organization aiming to land a spacecraft on the moon by 2015.

Submissions were finally pared down to three finalists who received two complimentary passes to the 2014 Games for Change Festival, where they presented their concepts in front of a live jury and top funders.

The winning game SpaceIL Academy was designed by Theorify, a professional game design team specializing in educational and social impact games.

What motivated you to enter the Shoot for the Moon game design competition and where did you find inspiration to create SpaceIL Academy?

We focus our time on making educational and social impact games, and we love science fiction.

When we heard about the challenge, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be a part of the historical SpaceIL moon mission by making a game that celebrates space exploration. We are all a bit nerdy here and were inspired by tropes from science fiction and fantasy like Star Trek and Harry Potter.

Tell us a little bit about your team. How did you get together to create SpaceIL Academy?

Theorify is an indie studio based out of Long Beach, California. Jasmine Bulin, Theorify’s director of new development, and Vince Close, producer, worked on the initial concept and then shared it with the larger team to create concept art and wireframes.


We want to hear more about your game! How did you come up with the concept, and how does the game work?

The core of the game is about flying your custom spaceship to the moon and landing successfully with limited fuel, but there is so much more to the game than that.

Space exploration is cool but it’s also a difficult subject, so we wanted to make ideas about space and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) accessible to a wide audience. You don’t need to be an expert at math and science to play!

In fact, in the game, you play as a cadet at an academy where you level up by graduating through STEM puzzles in addition to completing spaceflight missions, which means you learn a little as you go. The controls are really simple and user-friendly, but winning is not easy.

We hope the game will ignite players’ interest in space exploration, but one of the biggest draws to the game is people knowing that the data collected from their missions will help land an actual unmanned ship on the moon.

The target audience is ages 15 to 25, but we know people of all ages and skill levels will want to play this game to crowdsource as much data for SpaceIL as possible!

What tools did you use to create your prototype and why? How long did it take to create the game from start to finish?

We are developing in Unity3D to build the prototype of our game. We are currently working with Games for Change on a timeline for the prototype and full game. Our initial design and concept for the game took about 2 weeks with an additional month to prepare the color graphics and art for the presentation.

How will the game help the SpaceIL mission to the moon?

In the game you are a SpaceIL cadet. By flying your spaceship to any of the several moons in the game, you are sending data about fuel usage and flight maneuvers to SpaceIL to help find the most fuel-efficient landing options for the SpaceIL unmanned rocket trip to the moon.

What was the most useful piece of advice or feedback offered by the judges? Do you plan on changing some of your design based on this, and if so, how?

Our proposal talked about how the game will develop beyond the prototype. The judges were really positive about the overall concept but wanted to see how we would pare down the idea for the prototype.

We’d like to build the game on mobile, so we need to focus on an alpha version of the game for the prototype and work through the core components like the flight simulations and a puzzle. We are very excited that we get to work closely with SpaceIL, Schusterman, and Games for Change to make the best possible game.

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken personally or professionally? How did it pay off?

The game industry is volatile and fickle, so it is quite risky to be making games, and when the studio was founded, we made a lot of interactive projects beyond games. So when we decided at the beginning of 2014 that we would narrow the focus of our work on making educational and social impact games, we were taking a bigger risk that we didn’t know would pay off. We just knew it was the kind of work we wanted to be doing.

The team in various forms has worked on games big and small, and worked on projects for public media producers and organizations like PBS, so it is a natural fit that we work on something that combines all of our talents. Since we made the decision, we have haven’t looked back. It has been very re-energizing for everyone, and it really affirmed our commitment when we won the Shoot for the Moon Challenge.

What achievement—past, present, or future—makes you the most proud?

Right now all we can think about is getting that unmanned rocket to the moon and how cool that will be. There are some Webbys and some film awards sitting up on our shelf but none of that compares to being even a small part of space history. Sometimes we joke that Jasmine is our Gene Krantz, and we need to get her a white vest to help us launch this game like Gene wore in mission control on all those NASA missions.

Who or what inspires you to get out of bed every day?

We get to get up everyday and make video games and our studio is a block from the beach. When you get to work on something you enjoy doing it isn’t work at all!

On June 18, Schusterman will host its #NetTalks webinar, Gaming For Good, where attendees can learn how digital games can support organization’s mission. Register here to hear from G4C President Asi Burak, Kfir Damari of SpaceIL, and Theorify’s Jasmine Bulin, who will show the latest demo of SpaceIL Academy.

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2014 G4C Festival: Videos of Talks and Photos Now Online!


We hope you were among the 840 attendees who joined us in person for the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival (or one of the thousands who watched our Livestream)! But if not, or if you want to relive your favorite moments, we have plenty of:

  • Videos of talks and panels our YouTube channel.
  • Photos of speakers, workshops, digital and live games, opening night party, networking events, and more on our Flickr.
  • Articles to get you caught up on what happened.

This year, attendees came from a variety of backgrounds: game development and industry (25%), nonprofits, government and NGOs (25%), education (20%), film and media (10%), and a mix of others from business, funding, and elsewhere. Participants led lively discussions around creating and distributing games to raise awareness, to affect behavior, to promote learning, or to build social movements.

From talks to demos, we discussed how to balance artistic approaches to game design vs. an emphasis on evaluation and metrics. We highlighted independent perspectives vs. large-scale industry initiatives. We played, listened, debated, learned, networked, partied, and then brought even more games and fun to the streets of NYC at the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair on April 26.

We hope to hear your thoughts on this year’s Festival and that you enjoy the resources we linked to above and the following recap!

2014 G4C Festival by the Numbers …

840 attendees who came for talks, panels, and workshops from 110+ speakers.

Two-thirds of registrants attended their first Festival this year.

10% of attendees came from outside of the U.S. from 18 different countries.

50% of speakers and 47% of registrants were female.

8 G4C Awards nominees in the 2014 G4C Awards. Congratulations to our winners! Papers, Please took home the Most Innovative Game and Best Gameplay awards, Gone Home won the Game of the Year Award, and Mission US: Cheyenne Odyssey received the Most Significant Impact Award. Play the winners and nominees.

5 live outdoor games from Come Out & Play and Carnegie Mellon University were played by attendees — see players in action!

$25,000 prize awarded in our Shoot for the Moon game design contest, sponsored by the Schusterman Family Foundation. Independent game studio Theorify won the cash prize for its game, SpaceIL Academy. The game Moon Rush won the People’s Choice Award. Try finalists’ demos.

4 in-development projectsNevermind, Off Grid, CyberRun, and Our City— pitched their games to an expert panel of judges who voted on each concept. Nevermind, a 2013 G4C Award nominee presented by Erin Reynolds, took first place.

275,000 people played at the first-ever G4C Public Arcade. Kids and parents came out to visit more than 10 game companies and their games at our arcade at the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair. See photos of the fun.

??? ways to classify types of impact from games. A panel of game design experts kicked off the discussion of the different ways games can have impact and when and how impact assessment can be implemented in designing games. This group will continue this research, which will be shared through a final report. Voice your thoughts or share potential resources by sending them an email.

2 new games announced: GlassLab and NASA gave a first look at their game Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, and University of Washington Center for Game Science Director Zoran Popović unveiled the DNA-designing game Nanocrafter.


Have any additional photos, videos, or thoughts to share? Post them on Twitter or Facebook with #G4C14 or send us an email!

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Companies & Organizations to Meet at the Festival (Registration Wraps Up Soon!)


Time to register is running out: On Monday, April 14, fees will go up as part of late registration, so be sure to get your tickets before then!


There’s so much to see, play, and do this year:

Who will you meet?

And through our partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival, we’re taking games to the streets of NYC with our first-ever G4C Public Arcade.

/// Media & Publishers ///
Cartoon Network
Sesame Workshop
Turner Broadcasting System

/// For-Profit Entities ///

/// Academia ///
Arizona State University
Carnegie Mellon University
Columbia University
Full Sail University
Harvard University
MIT Dalai Lama Center for Ethics & Transformative Values
MIT Media Lab
New York University
Parsons The New School For Design
SVA Design for Social Innovation
The University of Manchester
Tufts University
Yale University

/// Game Companies ///
E-Line Media
Filament Games
Frima Studio
Game Gurus
Schell Games
Valve Corporation

/// Public Sector ///
American Museum of Natural History
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Birds Nest Foundation
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Common Sense Media
Heifer International
Joan Ganz Cooney Center
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Museum of the American Indian
NYC Department of Education
Philadelphia Zoo
Planned Parenthood
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Robin Hood Foundation
Smithsonian Institution
Startup Box
The Code Liberation Foundation
The Museum of Modern Art

And finally, a bit of background on who’s coming to the Festival:

  • New audiences: Two-thirds of registrants are attending their first Festival this year! Meet some of them at our networking events: opening night party, speed networking, meet the experts, morning workshops, and topic tables.
  • Our industry is young (literally!): Half of attendees are 18 to 34 years old. Meet the future creators of social impact and games.
  • International guests: More than 10% come from outside the U.S., representing the U.K., Denmark, Colombia, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, and Israel.
  • Where attendees work: Professionals from the games industry (25%), nonprofits and NGOs (25%), and academia (25%), as well as a diverse representation of funders, start-ups, media, and more.
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Institute of Play Unveils Talks, New SimCityEdu & NASA Games at G4C Festival

By Ilena Parker, Senior Communications Manager, Institute of Play


Institute of Play is proud to partner with Games for Change this year to show festivalgoers just how irresistible learning can be. As a content partner of the Games for Change Festival, we’re bringing a number of talks, activities, and (of course) games to venues around New York City from April 22-24 and 26.

Collaborating for Change | April 22 at 2:45 p.m.

On the first day of the Festival, leaders from our venture GlassLab will take the stage to share how the Lab’s unique collaboration model gives unlikely partners a platform to take a stand against the engagement crisis that is wreaking havoc on our nation’s schools. In the talk, which is called Collaborating for Change, GlassLab will discuss how a multidisciplinary approach can create impact at scale by activating and empowering developers, educators, and a whole host of other collaborators with a role to play in 21st-century learning.

One of GlassLab’s most recent collaborators is NASA. The space agency, with its extensive library of educational resources, has spent decades inspiring people to wonder, to ask questions, and to deeply engage with our world. How can we leverage NASA’s experience and resources to engage kids while helping them develop the skills and ways of thinking that lead to college and career success?

GlassLab will also officially announce and launch the Lab’s second game, a tablet game created in collaboration with NASA. As a much-anticipated follow up to SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! (released in November 2013), this launch is not to be missed by anyone interested in checking out the fruit of GlassLab’s unique collaborative approach – and learning what the future holds for educational games.

Designing for Impact | April 22 at 3:45 p.m.

Also on Tuesday, GlassLab Games Director Michael “MJ” John will join a panel to discuss how commercial games can engage players in social causes. In Designing for Impact: How Commercial Games are a Platform for Engaging Players in Social Causes, experienced game designers will share how they leverage the built-in audience of commercial games to achieve social impact at scale, without sacrificing the game experience or the business results. It’s a fine balancing act between often competing priorities, but when it works, it can provide a powerful and promising way to solve the world’s most complex challenges. The other panelists in this conversation include Abby Speight from, Jude Ower from Playmob, and Oliver Miao from Pixelberry Studios.

Games for Change Public Arcade at Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair | April 26, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This is an especially exciting year to be a part of Games for Change, as the Festival partners with the Tribeca Film Festival to shine a light on what games can do as an interactive medium for experience and expression. The Games for Change Public Arcade will be open to the public all day on Saturday, April 26, during the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair.

At the Games for Change Public Arcade, Institute of Play is proud to present games and activities from the innovative New York City public school Quest to Learn. At this school, Institute of Play game designers collaborate with teachers to develop game-like lesson plans as well as actual games that students play in the classroom. Visitors to Institute of Play’s tent can try some of these games and game-like activities from Quest to Learn to find out how we go about using games in the classroom to engage students and improve learning outcomes. Families can also learn some tips and strategies to use while playing games at home to tap the full learning potential of any gameplay experience.

And of course, GlassLab will also be on hand at the Street Fair with a hands-on demo of the tablet game they designed in collaboration with NASA – the first public demo of the game following the launch on April 22!

Everyone is invited to stop by and play at the Street Fair on April 26!

Buy your tickets before April 13, when regular registration ends and ticket prices go up for late registration.

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Vote for Our Game Design Contest Finalists & Enter to Win 2015 Festival Passes

[ Update: Voting has officially closed, and our the game design contest winners have been announced! Give a round of applause for Moon Rush in winning the People’s Choice Award and SpaceIL Academy for taking home the grand prize of $25,000! ]

Games For Change, in partnership with the Schusterman Philanthropic Network (Schusterman), has selected the final three designs submitted as part of our Shoot for the Moon game design challenge! These finalists will debut their concepts on stage at the Games for Change Festival (April 22-24 & 26) for a shot at a $25,000 cash prize.

Our finalists bring very different concepts and strong experience, with veteran game legend and Game Developers Conference founder Chris Crawford (creator of pioneering games on real-world issues such as Balance of Power and Gossip), and teams from the Ohio State University and independent studio Theorify.

For the first time, we’re opening voting to the public with the People’s Choice Award, which will also be announced at the Festival next month in NYC.

We’re offering three passes to next year’s Festival (2015) to three lucky voters!

Learn more about the finalists …

Moon RushMoonRushThumb1
Lunar Rocks
(Ohio State University)

Strategically navigate your way to the Moon on limited fuel while avoiding unpredictable obstacles such as meteorites. Land at the Apollo 17 site and capture photos of the Moon’s surface. Learn more and play their demo.
Rocket Science
Chris Crawford

An unmanned rocket simulator for finding the ideal balance between engine power and fuel consumption, and learning about rocket engines and how their size affects the mission. Play through different aspects of: rocket design, launch and boost phase, translunar injection, and the landing sequence while preparing for a mission to the Moon. Learn more.
SpaceIL Academy

You have been recruited to train in spaceflight simulations as a cadet at the space station academy. In this animated massively multiplayer adventure with realistic newtonian physics, fly your customized spaceship on missions to nearby moons and complete STEM homework puzzles to graduate and join the fleet. Learn more and play their demo.


The Shoot for the Moon game design challenge was first announced in February in partnership with Schusterman. It calls on innovative game designers to create a space exploration game, which would assist the SpaceIL team in their pursuit to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon, and inspire a new generation of scientists and dreamers.

These submissions were finally pared down to three finalists who will receive two complimentary passes to the 2014 Games for Change Festival, where they will present their concepts in front of a live jury and top funders on April 23.

The winner will be awarded $25,000 by Schusterman, in partnership with Games for Change, to create and develop their winning design. The final game will be featured on the SpaceIL website and help crowd source real data to be used in the mission.

Congratulations to our finalists!

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G4C Meetup Everywhere Spotlight: London

By Patrick Feeney, R3D Pixel

The U.K. has produced a large number of games with strong social messages in recent years. Britain’s well-known public service media companies BBC and Channel 4 have been quite innovative in their mission to keep learning, youth education, science, and the arts alive in Britain. So it is fitting that a fair number of games on the G4C website have been produced by British developers. Yet the landscape for social impact games is a challenging one. As the founder of a British/Dutch learning games studio, I am particularly interested in hearing about the challenges and opportunities for making social impact games in the U.K. I therefore organized a London meetup earlier this month using Games for Change’s Meetup Everywhere website.

Most of the 40 participants were socially conscious developers eager to hear about past and present projects and the experiences of others with funding institutions, partners, and clients. We also managed to line up an A-list cast of speakers.

Speaker Panel:

Sharna Jackson, Hopster

Sharna kicked off the evening with a talk about her years with Tate Kids where she commissioned numerous games to promote science, culture, and the arts. Despite Tate’s size and reputation this was a tale of meager games budgets, attempts to cut corners without sacrificing quality, lining up private- and public-sector funding sources, and burdensome grant application processes that practically required dedicated admin staff. Games for change are often the passionate work of indie developers, but for Tate Kids, the ideal development partners were always studios large enough to weather the drawn-out process of applying for grants from private charities such as the Wellcome Trust.

Wondermind-screenshot1_s Wondermind, one of the games released by Tate Kids to empower learning through interactive entertainment.

Despite these challenging circumstances, some wonderful games were launched, including WondermindThe Secret Dancer, and Airbrush. The question is will those kinds of games continue to get made in the future?

Channel 4, BBC, and Tate seem to be making fewer games now. Philanthropies and large studios in the U.K. are not taking an active interest in educational games the way their American counterparts have been. (I’m thinking here of the Gates and MacArthur Foundations, GlassLabEA and

Jo Twist, U.K. Interactive Entertainment

Jo Twist of UKIE knows all about the challenges for games studios and independent developers. She was here to tell us about the efforts UKIE has undertaken to help smaller British studios survive and also to push the idea of games as a socially transformative medium. This includes lobbying for tax credits and subsidies that will help companies that are too small to be of interest to venture capitalist investors and public relations efforts to counter the common perception that games are bad for society. UKIE also runs a Next Gen Skills campaign to reform the national curriculum and build competencies of the tech and multimedia stars of tomorrow.

When it comes to games with a serious message Jo is doing all she can to support their creation, but she wishes the term “serious games” did not exist. It implies that games that are injected with a strong societal or educational message are qualitatively different from “regular games.” Lots of games that are considered “mainstream” have social messages and educational value also, she pointed out, which is why she believes that games are such a powerful source for good. So why do so few socially conscious games get made and why do they struggle to find an audience?

The consensus among the speakers and the audience was that it comes down to analytics and data. There are no clear measures of effectiveness for social impact games. As a result, serious game designers don’t always know what defines success for their games. Yet the ability to show a body of evidence is key to legitimizing a media spend. Jo pointed out that a study was done on the impact of Channel4’s game hub SuperMe, but these studies are expensive, especially for individual games. The U.S. seems to be taking the lead here with the recent set of studies and subsequent white papers published by the Institute of Play. UKIE has actually been in contact with the Institute whose psychometrics platform for game-based assessment will be available globally in the future.

A_GAMES_1_s Worm Attack!, Nine Minutes, and Family Choices three mobile games which served as companion apps to Half the Sky Facebook game.

Matt Walkins, Mudlark

Global impact is indeed what Matt Watkins and Mudlark were after when they were asked by Games for Change to design three games for feature phones for Indian and African audiences. These are the well-known mobile companions to the Half the Sky Facebook game. They include 9Minutes (on healthy birthing practices), WormAttack! (de-worming awareness) and Family Values (highlighting the value of girls in families).

Matt showed videos of his trip to Africa and his work with NGO partners. In East Africa, simple Nokia phones are used to transfer money and get health advice but game narratives with very personal messages intended for both Indian and African audiences posed a whole set of complex challenges starting with cultural appropriateness and language variations. Despite best efforts to deal with these localization issues, there were still some problematic situations.

The Half the Sky games met with suspicion from certain groups who didn’t agree with the message or were wary of anything that smacked of western paternalism. These problems notwithstanding, the games have generated 80,000 to 90,000 play sessions since 2011 and they have been successful enough that Mudlark has now been asked to create a new batch of mobile games. A formal study of the effectiveness of the games has been published and clearly a lot of work went into distributing them and ensuring their proper use. The games are still being used quite actively as tools for NGO field workers who work with pregnant women and young mothers.

Off Grid, one of four games being pitched at the Games for Change Festival.

Game On

So the U.K. scene for impact games is alive and well despite the challenges of decreasing funding. One of our participants Rich Metson was just selected to present his game Off Grid (about privacy issues and abuse of power) at the G4C Festival in New York next month. This was the first well-attended Games for Change meetup to be held in the UK, with some participants traveling from as far as Sheffield and Doncaster in the north of England who expressed interest in hosting meetups “up North.” So far France and Germany have taken the lead in the European chapter of G4C but members of the London meetup have been invited by Katharina Tillmans of G4C Europe to participate in session proposals for the G4CE events taking place this summer. So look out G4C, the British are coming!

Patrick Feeney is an ex-teacher who is consumed by the idea of self-improvement through digital play. He is founder and CEO of R3D Pixel, a British/Dutch studio based in Rotterdam. R3D Pixel makes educational games for health, language, literacy, and mathematics and is about to launch the world’s first educational endless runner game.

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And the 2014 Games For Change Award Nominees Are …

Get ready to play—the 2014 Games for Change Award nominees are here! Narrowed down from a field of over 140 titles, these eight finalists will compete for the winning prize across three categories: Most Innovative, Most Significant Impact, and Best Gameplay.

The winning games will be announced on April 23 at the 11th Anniversary Games for Change Festival, and one will be named Game of the Year, as the game that best represents all three categories.

You can register for the Games for Change Festival here.

Have questions for the developers of these nominated games? Leave them in the comments, so we can ask them in an upcoming series of interviews with the creators of these games for change.

Most Innovative Nominees

A screenshot from SoundSelf, which was nominated for the Most Innovative award.

These games best exemplify the use of creativity and technical experimentation in a manner that may pave new ways for games for change.

Developer: Robin Arnott / Platform: Mac, PC, Oculus Rift
A collision of centuries-old meditation technology with the videogame trance. Turn off the lights, amp up the volume, and use your voice to fall through an odyssey of light and body.

Papers, Please (Also nominated for Best Gameplay)
Developer: Lucas Pope / Platform: Mac, PC
From the maker of the G4C Award-nominated Republia Times comes a dystopian document thriller, where players take the daunting role of an immigration inspector for the fictional communist state of Arstotzka. You must decide who can enter and who will be turned away or arrested.

Súbete al SITP
Developer: 12 Hit Combo! / Platform: Android, iOS, Web
Bogotá’s new Integrated Public Transport System (SITP) brought Colombia’s capital more mobility but also more confusion: SITP is a complex system with fees varying by bus, time of day, and rider age. With thousands of active players, Súbete al SITP helped the city get up to speed by teaching players how to get around.

Most Significant Impact Nominees

Mission-US_mission3_cast2A screenshot from the Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey, nominated for the Most Significant Impact award.

The games in this category best exemplify impact for a specific social issue with proven actions and outcomes.

Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey
Developers: THIRTEEN, American Social History Project, and Electric Funstuff / Platform: Mac, PC, Web
In the first interactive project told from a Northern Cheyenne perspective, players must react to the encroachment of settlers, expansion of railroads, decline of buffalo, and rise of the reservation system in the 1860s and 1870s.

Start the Talk: Underage Drinking
Developer: Kognito / Platform: Android, iOS, Web
This roleplaying game helps parents build practical skills and confidence to talk with their child about underage drinking in real life.

The Migrant Trail
Developer: Gigantic Mechanic / Platform: Web
Based on the 90-minute documentary “The Undocumented” by Marco Williams and inspired by learning videogame The Oregon Trail, The Migrant Trail provides a first-person experience of the hazards that migrants and Border Patrol encounter along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Best Gameplay Nominees

A screenshot from Gone Home, nominated for Best Gameplay.

These games have shown highly compelling and engaging gameplay that aligns with and reinforces social issue goals. The winning game is one that is also polished in design, functionality, and thematic execution.

Gone Home
Developer: The Fullbright Company / Platform: Mac, PC
June 7, 1995. You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. What’s happened? Unravel the mystery in this story game that challenges you to explore the secrets and artifacts of a family that seems as real as your own.

Developer: Preloaded / Platform: Android, iOS
TyrAnt is a real-time strategy game that teaches the player how ants eat, communicate and, ultimately, reproduce within a delicate and biologically diverse ecosystem. It is among the first of the science, math and English language arts games that Amplify has produced for sale to schools across the United States and, soon, internationally.

Papers, Please (also nominated for Most Innovative)

We thank our talented panel of judges, which featured leaders of the gaming community, philanthropic sector, nonprofits and education, for their lending their time and thoughtful critiques in selecting the award nominees.

Nominating Panel Members:

  • Michael Astolfi, Carnegie Corp.
  • Harish Bhandari, Robin Hood Foundation
  • Karl Brown, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Brian Chung, IGDA NJ
  • Brian Crecente,
  • Ellen Doherty, WNET
  • Jason Eppink, Museum of Moving Image
  • Nick Fortugno, Playmatics
  • Jesse Freeman, Amazon
  • Nina Freeman, Code Liberation Foundation
  • Tracy Fullerton, University of Southern California Game Innovation Lab
  • Nettrice Gaskins, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Robert Gehorsham, Institute of Play
  • Sheila Jagannathan, World Bank
  • Christer Katila,
  • Collen Macklin, Parsons The New School for Design
  • Jude Ower, Playmob
  • Yaniv Rivlin, Schusterman Foundation
  • Haviland Rummel, SCE
  • Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency
  • Abby Speight,
  • Phil Stuart, Preloaded
  • Clive Thompson, Wired, NY Times
  • Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
  • Greg Trefry, Come Out & Play
  • John Vaskis, Indiegogo
  • Pete Vigeant, ESI Design
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Let the Games Begin! Meet Our Pitch Event Contenders

The Games for Change Festival (April 22-24 & 26) will host its first-ever on-stage pitch session in which games in development have the chance to make their case to top funders from the worlds of industry, foundation, government, and private equity. Meanwhile, the Festival audience will get the inside scoop on what just might be the next best games for change.

The four games competing for the attention of our jury:

FHI 360, Engagement Game Lab

CyberRun is a fast-paced, multi-level, action-puzzle game designed to promote and teach Internet literacy. The game uses exploration, narrative, and rewards to introduce the inherent risks of Internet use and teach players to safely navigate complex issues of security and privacy, digital hygiene and online networking, and advocacy.

Flying Mollusk

A nominee from the 2013 G4C Awards, Nevermind is a biofeedback-enhanced horror adventure game that brings you into the dark and twisted world within the subconscious psyche of trauma victims. The acclaimed biofeedback horror adventure game becomes more challenging as you get scared, honing your ability to manage anxiety while taking you on an unforgettable adventure.
Off Grid
Rich Metson, Pontus Schonberg

There are dark and greedy forces creeping into our everyday lives. Civil liberties and the Internet as we know it are under threat. This is the world we live in. Off Grid is a cross between a political thriller and a dark comedy, married with traditional third-person stealth gameplay.

Our City
NetHope, Social Game Universe, E-Line Media

Our City is a city-building Facebook game to be piloted in Jordan, focusing on using the power of social games for civic learning and youth engagement. Players will gain civic knowledge and skills that they can apply in their digital and real-world communities.

Meet the Pitch Event Jury
Drawing on expertise from games, social causes, and the arts, this jury of seven judges will critique and give feedback on each game live on stage.

  • Greg Kieser, Robin Hood Foundation
  • Itzik Ben-Bassat, angel investor, formerly of Blizzard Entertainment
  • Ken Weber,
  • Marc Ruppel, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • Michelle Byrd, Former Co-President of Games for Change
  • Phil Ashcroft Chair, BAFTA L.A. Games Committee
  • Tom Giardino, Valve Corporation


The Games for Change Festival is now one month away! Get your tickets before regular registration ends on April 13, 11:59 p.m. ET. Register here.


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