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SBIR Pulse Edition #4: A Virtual Game Environment for Ecosystem Learning in Schools: An Interview with Eco Creator John Krajewski

Post Date:
December 07, 2015
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The 2015 ED Games Expo - on December 9 in Washington DC - is only days away. The Expo will provide a forum for 30 developers to demo their SBIR-support games for learning to attendees, who will play the games. Hope to see you at the Expo!
This issue of SBIR Pulse highlights one of the game developers who will be demo’ing at the Expo –Strange Loop Games out of Seattle, Washington. With a 2015 award from the SBIR program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Strange Loop Games is developing Eco, a multiplayer ecosystem learning game.
We interviewed Strange Loop Games’ founder John Krajewski to learn more about the Eco game.
SBIR Pulse: Describe how the concept for Eco originated?
JK: Eco was conceived as a society simulator, where actual people playing roles. It’s 'The Tragedy of the Commons' as a video game, and having real people attempt to overcome that. We wanted to give players the chance to experience things across space and time that are too large to easily perceive in reality, to participate in a government, economy, and ecosystem where their individual impacts are significantly larger and more apparent.  We believe creating that experience and giving players tools to understand it to be intrinsically educational, and the experiences one has within it can be very applicable to reality.
SBIR Pulse: What has the SBIR award done for Eco?
JK: With our SBIR award, we are able to build a version of Eco that can be used explicitly in educational settings by students and teachers. It lets us realize the full potential of what we believe is a promising idea and new direction for educational games.
SBIR Pulse: Your video demo highlights the elaborate environment in which game play occurs. What are some of the things students do in Eco?
JK: Students need to specialize in various skills, and use those to contribute to the group.  They need to participate in the economy by performing the work they're best at, and trading with others to make gains.  They need to work to understand their environment and how it works, and make complex decisions within a group through the virtual government.  All of this will be happening in the context of a shared, fragile world, which is irreversibly affected by the actions of the players.
SBIR Pulse: What skills do students learn by playing Eco?
JK: Armed with that information, students able to discuss with their peers about what should be done, presenting statistical evidence gleaned from the simulation to make their arguments to their peers and propose laws which would affect what is allowed in the game.  Our goal then is to connect the knowledge required in the game (understanding of ecosystems and economies) deeply to a social and collaborative context.
SBIR: What R&D stage is Eco at now and when will it be ready to be played in or out of schools?
JK: We’ve released a build to early customers and have got a lot of great feedback. We’ll be continuing our R&D through next year, and beginning our evaluations then, hopefully with a large player-base to work with. We’ll follow up to launch officially in early 2017.
This interview was produced by Ryan Eppley of the Small Business Administration and Edward Metz of the Department of Education.
About SBIR Pulse
SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech start-up ecosystem. This ecosystem includes business experts, investors, incubators and accelerators, government and political leaders, and of course – entrepreneurs themselves. The interviews provide readers with perspectives on how SBIR is impacting small businesses, driving innovation, and leading to technological solutions that improve local economies while addressing national priorities. The interviews also provide information that the SBIR community can use on different programs and initiatives.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. Via these programs, the federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. Over the past 30 years, SBIR/STTR has been a springboard for many breakthrough innovations including 3-D printing, minimally invasive robotic surgery, and LASIK technology, and has driven advancements in fields such as nanotechnologies and educational games for learning (link is external). For more information on the program across the 11 Federal agencies that operate programs, please visit For timely updates and resources follow us on Twitter (@SBIRgov) to stay connected!

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