How VPK Smart City game was developed

The easiest way to learn is through play. 

This is the idea behind the creators of the VPK Smart City game, dedicated to children and parents alike. By playing, they learn about selective waste collection and the importance of this behaviour in the process of recycling and protecting Earth’s natural resources. Made both in physical format and in a digital version, the game offers a combination of Monopoly and Catan and presents users with ways to manage a smart city, by providing resources and adopting new ways of thinking and engaging. More details about VPK Smart City were provided for Transylvania Tech News by Loredana Suiugan, HR manager for VPK.

You have a background in HR and you’re new to marketing. Yet your new initiative already won an international prize. How did you come up with the idea of this game? What problem did you identify? 

I also have a kindergarten teacher background. That is the source of my approach towards non-formal educational tools. And we won indeed a symbolic prize as an acknowledgment of the business environment towards our tool developed to increase awareness of the importance of waste collection and its impact on our quality of life.

You designed the game to be played by children, together with their parents. What is the social impact you want to produce with this game? 

With a world population of 7 billion people and limited natural resources, we, as individuals and societies, need to learn to live together sustainably. We need to take responsible actions based on the understanding that what we do today can impact our lives and the planet in the future. Children and young people will face the effect of todays climate changes. Therefore, education for Sustainable Development empowers people to change the way they think and work towards a sustainable future.

If you want people to care about the environment, educate them.

What kind of new behaviours do you want to teach with this game?

It became clear that moving towards sustainability requires changes in the way we live/behave (consumption and production patterns). VPK Smart City helps you understand the type of waste generated by different industries and behaviours and how these should be collected separately for recycling and saving resources of the Planet. And you can also develop skills like critical thinking or problem solving during your strategy in filling in City hall requirements. These are invaluable skills that future education systems should sharpen as much as possible.

And we dont limit ourselves here, further actions like a partnership with the City Hall being planned to start this autumn.

Plantropolis, as the project Is called, is meant to go further and teach how to create permaculture tanks around the household waste dump, from biodegradable waste.

What is the social impact you are aiming to produce? 

As the concept of smart cities sought to provide answers to sustainability challenges by combining new technologies with humanist ideals, leaving no one behind.

Smart City, as we named it, teaches you to plan and manage cities, equip them, provide resources, and embrace the necessity of new ways of thinking, citizen engagement, and collaboration.

Have you noticed new categories of users enjoying your game so far?

Physical game was meant to be used in educational activities in kindergartens and schools. The pandemic created the context to go online, aiming to have a new type of user. But its ongoing. it might be that we need different complexity of the game in different playing environments.

From idea to final product, there is an entire roadmap to follow, very specific to game design. You had the idea, how did the final version of the game come to life? 

Over the years, CSR projects have become an integrated part of our strategy, being considered real instruments to develop the local community. We defined clearly our directions: education, health, and environment. And the board game came as a step further for a circular economy, to create a switch in people’s mentality and attitude towards the environment. From here, scrutiny of all aspects (legal requirements, targeted audience, what would this idea mean to our business) to finish the product put on the market, was just a matter of time. We were all in the same boat. 

So, I had the idea…. And then everything flowed to the final results in a much more natural way than I was expecting.

How many people were involved in the development of the project?

The HR team, the person in charge of the environment and the consultant, the waste management partner, the graphic designer, and the product coordinator, the toy producer, and myself. I would say it was quite a team. And thanks for asking it. It is very important to acknowledge the importance of having your team, a team in your boat when developing a project like this. It shows that your project is realistic and can become meaningful.

How did you elaborate the educational part with the game aesthetics, fun, and rewards? 

Working with an experienced board game developer helped me a lot.  After defining the need (cities need to become smarter in adopting a sustainable development model) and setting up the topic (separate waste collection), behaviours that we want to change, main audience ( (kids and parents), game style (a nice combination between Monopoly and Catan), we had all the elements for developing a board game that will ensure spending qualitative family time by learning how can we save the planet.

Even the colour choice had reasoning behind it. As the game has its focus on matching waste – standard colours: red, yellow, green, and blue, these were the ones dominating the game. So we choose a neutral one for our layout. Besides the spectral and graphic underlying reason, these tints of purple are very appreciated and used in modern user interface and go very well with the accents of VPK green and the story engine of the game: green-modern-smart-city.

What kind of user experience did you have in mind when creating the board game design?

We started with a simple objective in mind. A player who finishes the first game has to associate very quickly the four colours of waste. And of course, a smart city is a clean city. More than that, to start recycling you need a plan. Its a management issue, a system and we wanted to echo this in our game.

We also set a goal to keep the game challenging both to younger and older players, everything in a language-independent environment.

What came first: the physical game or the digital version? 

As I was mentioning before, the physical game came first. As an element of one of our planned CSR programs, meant to drive our focus on Planet Earth and make us ACT NOW.

As pandemic conditions didnt allow us to meet with children in their school environment, we found a way to access it via Tabletopia. The same platform where we were testing it initially.

Game design is creative and technical. Which was the most challenging part and why?

Game developers had to understand how legal requirements could be translated playfully, and still following the technical requirements of a board game.

The world we live and work in is becoming increasingly uncertain and complex, with more and more changes coming our way, the impact of which is not always clear. To thrive in such a volatile context, we at VPK rely on our vision. We want to go beyond compliance – we focus on innovation. And this board game is the best example of it.

Are you working on new features? 

Yes! We would like to add extra challenges by including all types of household waste in the list. And some organic farm concepts, as one of these waste, can turn into compost. 

We aim to contribute to growing smart and strong communities, and further projects should include basic elements to ensure sustainable development.  And of course, we will need to improve the online version of the board game.

During my visit to Bucuresti. At Playground Carturesti (creative workshops for children), I already had a question from a boy, if he can come with new feature proposals.  So, there is a lot of potential.

Where can gamers find your product? 

We are continuously launching activities linked to smart cities (smart government, smart mobility, smart environment, smart citizen, etc) and you can get a board game by participating. Only by acting you can make the difference. 

Right now, we are running a drawing contest Orasul meu este Smart City” where each participant will get a board game (a physical one). But you can continuously play it by clicking on our web page for VPK Smart City