TreesPlease Games is coming out of stealth today with the debut of its Longleaf Valley game where you can play to support planting trees in the real world. The company has also raised $8 million in funding.
Founded by veteran game developer Laura Carter and cofounder Jamie Stowe, the company has made a free-to-play mobile game with merge puzzle mechanics. And it teamed up with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant trees in the real world for players who hit achievements in the game. The game is available on Android and iOS today.
“We’re now officially breaking cover and announcing the launch of our game Longleaf Valley,” Carter said in an interview with GamesBeat. “It was a clear vision which was to build games that can make a difference in terms of climate change. Our aspiration is to plant millions of trees and create a movement around the biggest threat for us all, which is climate change.”
Started in 2019, the London studio’s mission is to make meaningful games that can be good for the planet and are loved by millions, said Carter. The game has been in soft launch around the globe and it’s available now. The feedback from players is good and it is performing well.
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Carter says the aim of the game is to be satisfying, relaxing and cathartic. It does that with a merge mechanic where you can combine seeds to make a sapling and then saplings to make a tree a so on.
“It’s like cleaning up and organizing,” she said. “The metagame is what really drives the player progress, and so we have the theme of the game around protecting and restoring a national park that has fallen into disarray. It’s polluted. It’s ruined by this corporation, and you play as this inspirational female scientist character and her lovable sidekick, Jim, who are working together to kind of restore the park and rescue animals.”
For Carter, this goes way back to when she was three or four years old. She knocked on doors for raffles to raise money for charities like Greenpeace. She did volunteering in her 20s while she was building a career in games.
“I saw the opportunity to bring the two passions together,” Carter said.
She was general manager of external development for CSR at Natural Motion and started the company. Stowe was previously a design director at King’s studio in London.
Carter started the company at the end of 2019 with the vision of making a game that could make a difference in terms of climate change. At the outset, for much of the first year, it was just Carter and her cofounder Stowe, who is design director. Lakestar came in early on a pre-seed round.
“It was just Jamie and me and a concept and they really took a leap of faith in us,” Carter said.
During the pandemic, they set up a hybrid model for some people to work in an office in person and the rest working remotely.
“I was really inspired by the way that the audience for games has really shifted so much into this mass market where everyone’s a gamer now,” Carter said. “And that we could really use free-to-play to be a good news story, and to be something very exciting to create a movement around a climate-themed game.”
TreesPlease believes in creating games that players love and enjoy that also make a difference while they play. The team of 15 combines experience from a breadth of studios, bringing together free-to-play and casual gaming experts from across the industry, united by a common goal to use their experience to enact change for the planet. The company hopes to have 20 people by the end of the year. The company has drawn a lot of veterans in part because of its cause.
Carter previously worked at NaturalMotion, Square Enix and PlayStation. She founded the studio with the vision of inspiring gamers to become a force for good. Driven by the huge scale and potential of the games industry to drive positive change, she saw the opportunity to bring together her own passion for protecting the environment and animals with her experience in the games industry. The studio believes in giving players the chance to do something meaningful and impactful with their playtime.
Lakestar led the first pre-seed, with a second funding round between Lakestar and March Gaming raising an additional $3.5 million in funds. March Gaming led the second round. Angel investors from across the games industry (including David Helgason (Unity) , Chris Lee (Activision/Media Molecule), Shaun Rutland (Hutch) and Will Stephens (Fusebox)) also joined in the funding.
“We met Laura when she first started TreesPlease and was yet to raise money,” said Mika Salmi, managing partner at Lakestar VC, in a statement. “When we heard about her concept to create a game where playing caused a positive impact on the Planet, we were quickly excited. The kicker for us was that Laura and her early team were world class game developers. As investors, we knew that creating a good game must come first but the big win is that the games they create are doing good and make the players feel good about their playtime.”
How it works
Players are not required to spend money or make donations to plant trees. Players can, however, plant trees more quickly by spending money in the game. If players run out of energy, they can refill that by spending money and they can buy special packs. They can also view rewarded ads.
When players make progress on quests and in the metagame, TreesPlease gives them tree tokens. Once they fill up that tree token bar, the player has enough to plant a real tree. At that point, TreesPlease makes a donation to Eden Reforestation Projects for planting the tree.
“We want the player to really feel in control of that,” Carter said. “It’s really exciting to make it feel like a destination where players can come play the game and actually feel a tangible impact from actually playing it directly.”
Eden Reforestation Projects has already planted over 300,000 trees working with players in the soft launch.
Eden Reforestation Projects plants trees on behalf of players where the trees are needed the most. The game proposition follows a ‘Play It, Plant It’ principle. The gameplay style sits within the rapidly growing merge category, with a core mechanic of merging seeds to make saplings and saplings to a tree, working as an expression of the core idea of building, growing and restoring.
Longleaf Valley’s narrative focuses on restoring a once-thriving park that has suffered the effects of corporate greed and climate change. As players progress through the game they are able to plant trees in the real world simply through playing, fulfilled by Eden Reforestation Projects.
TreesPlease will use the funding to invest in the success of their debut game through user acquisition, continuing to build a team and ongoing development of the game.
Creating a movement
A number of games like Subway Surfers, Angry Birds and more have been adding the theme of fighting climate change and other titles have an environmental focus. Carter wants to get players thinking about these issues every day.
The company is targeting more than a million trees planted at the end of the year. For the game to make a real impact, it needs an audience of millions, and the company plans to use some of its funding for user acquisition.
With a casual audience, the conversion rates from free to purchasing tend to be lower, but there is a bigger market of players to target. Carter admires the United Nations’ Playing for the Planet project, which encourages games to fight climate change.
“I like the idea of ‘green nudges'” to get players to take action. The key strategies include raising awareness of climate change and environmental issues. But the focus is on keeping the games light and accessible, as opposed to super educational, while still making the games meaningful for players.
“By changing hearts and minds, you can affect consumer behavior and consumer perception, and that’s what changes how people spend money,” Carter said. “But if you go too hard with that message, you can lose interest because people play games to have fun.”
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