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How Riders Republic mobilized its players for the first digital climate march

Ubisoft Annecy's Boris Maniora explains how the developer encouraged gamers to engage with reforestation

This article is part of our Games Industry Goes Green series, in partnership with Playing for the Planet

When the Riders Republic team attended the Green Game Jam in 2021, we had no idea it would lead to the creation of Riders Republic Rebirth, an in-game event featuring a reforestation activity and a virtual climate march – the first ever to take place in a video game.

Boris Maniora, Ubisoft Annecy

The Jam, hosted by the UN Environmental Programme’s Playing for the Planet Alliance, is an annual event aiming to bring together video game creatives to brainstorm new ways to inspire players to take action for the planet. Each year’s Green Game Jam has a theme, and 2021’s event was centered around conserving and restoring forests and oceans. As the Riders Republic gameplay director, I instantly knew we had a unique opportunity to bring the topic of reforestation to life for our players in a fun, yet meaningful way.

Riders Republic is an outdoor sports game developed by Ubisoft Annecy, a studio located in the heart of the French Alps. Everywhere you look in the studio, you see mountains. It’s a great inspiration for our team, especially since most of the Riders Republic developers are outdoor sports and nature enthusiasts. When developing the game, we wanted to honor this amazing landscape by reproducing several U.S. national parks, including Yosemite and Bryce Canyon.

Creating a game that would help our players develop and foster a passion for nature, biodiversity, and the great outdoors was integral to our approach from the beginning, so we were excited to take it a step further with Project Rebirth.

Project Rebirth is an ongoing two-week-long centered around the concept of digital reforestation. Here is a quick rundown of everything we created for the experience:

  • Reforestation: Players could collect and plant seeds, growing trees to create a new forest in the game (which will remain after the event ends)
  • In-game Climate March: On July 30, players were able to join together for a virtual demonstration for the planet
  • Desert Bloom: A special mass race with themes around climate change
  • Rebirth Base Camp: An in-game headquarters we created specifically for this event where players can socialize and interact in new ways
  • Rebirth-specific emotes: Players could use a special drum and megaphone to show their support for the march and interact with each other
  • In-game banners: Players could attach banners with messages to their backpacks
  • Special outfits: Those who completed the march got an outfit that can be worn in the game even after the event members of the Republic, to express themselves, so we wanted to create outlets to facilitate that.”
The goal of Riders Republic Rebirth was to get players thinking about and engaging with reforestation efforts

Why we believe video games are the best tool to protect the environment

A lot of the brainstorming work for the Rebirth event was completed during one of France’s COVID-19 lockdowns, so all of our meetings happened online. The lockdown actually gave us the idea to focus on an in-game march because we weren’t allowed to gather together in person.

We think that the concept of in-game demonstrations can be a powerful tool in the future. For younger audiences, video games have already proven to facilitate communication and self-expression; Gen Z is the largest player audience base in the video game industry. This makes video games an ideal platform for demonstrations about societal topics, and we hope the idea of the Climate March sparks a desire to host more online demonstrations in the future.

Project Rebirth demonstrated the potential of video games as a platform for creating change in the real world

Video games provide the opportunity to create a collaborative and interactive means for deepening our understanding of the environment and sustainability that no other media can really do.

First, video games allow for immediate or near-immediate gratification – we can experience the consequences of our actions or reap the benefits of our hard work in little-to-no time. In the Rebirth event, players can collect seeds to plant trees in the game. Not only is this a way for players to reflect on the importance of reforestation with their in-game actions, but it also demonstrates the positive impact reforestation can have: the trees grown during Rebirth will remain in Riders Republic permanently, and players can watch as wildlife returns to this area.

To take things one step further and demonstrate the actions we can take for the planet offline, the Riders Republic team also partnered with Ecologi to plant more than 300,000 trees in the real world. We hope participating in this event will encourage players to learn more and get involved.

Video games can also have a profound emotional impact on players. It’s possible that some of our playerbase for the in-game march may have never participated in a similar demonstration in real life, but the virtual event can help them experience the same emotional pull they would away from the computer. We crafted this event to encourage players to realize the power of gathering as a community. It demonstrated the potential of video games as a platform for creating change in the real world that’s just as powerful as gathering in the town square.

The virtual march took place in Riders Republic on July 30

The march as an outlet for self-expression

Riders Republic is such a fast-paced, adrenaline-packed game, we had to ask ourselves how we were going to engage players during the march: that was the biggest challenge for us. First, we wanted to create a massive social experience. We based the design and player experience of the march on our pre-existing systems and features so we could feature 64 players joined by a crowd of NPCs.

The march wasn’t something with a set goal or activity to complete. We wanted to create outlets for players to get together and express themselves in different ways. First, we created two Rebirth-specific emotes players could use as they moved about the space: a drum and megaphone for players to show their support for the march and discover creative ways to use these tools to interact with the environment and each other.

The in-game banners for their characters' backpacks bore different messages, which meant players could get together and combine them to create bigger messages or amplify them depending on their inspiration. We also created special outfits for players who completed the march, which can be worn in the game even after the event. All of these elements combined to create a sense of unity around our theme, while providing individual ways for players to show their support.

An Industry United for the Environment

UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance has been integral to our success: they helped us develop our messages and communicate them to our players in a fun and creative way. We also worked closely with internal teams at Ubisoft that research how games can have a positive impact on players’ lives. They have helped us at every step of this adventure, from organizing the event, to developing it, to workshopping exactly which topics to address.

During the conception phase, I especially appreciated the chance to collaborate and share feedback and ideas with other game studios during the Green Game Jam. It really showed how we are coming together as an industry to fight climate change, protect the environment, and make a difference. Everyone we met was very open and shared great feedback that helped improve the activation concepts.

Our team worked hard to create several special features in the game – we modified an in-game location, created a new base camp and mass race event, and provided creative ways for players to express themselves during the Climate March. None of these efforts could be possible without the entire Riders Republic team or the constant support of the Playing for the Planet Alliance, all our fellow members, and Ubisoft’s CSR and research teams.

Ubisoft Annecy created several new emotes and other functions to give players additional ways to interact with each other during the event

Continuing our Green Activation Journey: What's Next?

The march was a first step in an iterative process to offer similar in-game experiences in the future. Participating in a Climate March is a real change from the typical player experience and it’s been very exciting for us to explore these uncharted territories. After the Climate March and the Rebirth activation, we’re gathering feedback about player experience, and we’re identifying the potential improvements for next time.

As for what’s coming next, we are honored to have received the Media’s Choice Award for Phoenix, our 2022 Green Game Jam activation concept, which we will implement in the game in the future.

The objective of that activation will be to demonstrate the devastating impact of wildfires and teach players about strategies to reduce their size and frequency. And just as we have seen real wildfires take communities around the world by surprise, this activation will appear in game without forewarning: players will log on to find the sky has an eerie glow and that their character has to wear a gas mask. They will need to act fast to fight the fires and protect the Republic.

As we get to work on delivering this ambitious new idea, I’m confident that our experience with Project Rebirth and the first in-game Climate March will empower us to continue helping our community come together to act for the planet.

Want to join us? Registration for the 2023 Green Game Jam is now open! Sign up here to join our growing community of studios and developers who are passionate about driving change in our industry.

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