Mundi Vondi, Co-Founder and CEO of Klang Games
Mundi Vondi is the Co-Founder and CEO of Klang Games, a Berlin based gaming studio that is currently developing SEED, a large-scale, persistent virtual world. Taking place on the planet Avesta, SEED aims to provide players with a vast and engaging world that inspires collaboration and community building. With us, Mundi speaks at Klang’s office in Berlin about the process of creating SEED, and how Klang is incorporating diversity into the game’s development.
Why did you choose to found your studio in Berlin instead of Iceland?
We started in Berlin because back then Iceland had just gone through an economic collapse and the country was in an odd state financially. You were only allowed to bring money into Iceland and not take money out. Also, it is harder than people realize to move people to Iceland, so getting talent there tends to be quite challenging. At the time there wasn’t a lot of competition in Berlin, which obviously has changed a lot since then. But we felt that we could be a place for people who wanted to live in Berlin but couldn’t find any opportunities in game development. Besides logistical reasons, we chose Berlin, which is a huge European design hub, because it is so rich in diversity and culture. It is the perfect place to get inspired! We love how it acts as a center where so many different cultures and backgrounds come together to influence each other. We take pride in the fact that the vibrancy and diversity of Berlin has impacted our company and our product. Also, it’s just one straight flight back to Iceland.
Besides your office in Berlin you offer the possibility of remote work. What are the benefits and challenges of a team spread across the country? What’s your studio culture like?
With remote work, the sense of community is a lot harder to keep together. Communication becomes more challenging and sometimes people start to think that something is up or that they’re not a part of the group. They don’t realize that these feelings are due to the fact that we’re all remote, and that it takes extra effort to communicate. On the other hand, the flexibility is great. Being able to work from home or even in a different country helps break up an otherwise monotonous routine. We have taken these lessons we learned from remote work during the Pandemic and have used them to change our company policies for the long term. Now our employees have the ability to both work from home and abroad for longer periods of time, which we think is a huge perk! As far as our studio culture goes, at Klang we aim for as diverse of a studio as possible. We want as many different types of opinions and life stories to affect the product. We’re proud to say that, of our 70 employees, there are over 30 different nationalities. I like to think that we’re a little bit crazy, it’s not your average workplace. People are very passionate and opinionated about the product, which means people get emotional sometimes, but I think it is a good thing.
You have worked in fashion design and production, the fine arts, graphic design and the film industry. What made you switch to the games industry? And how does your experience in the other creative fields influence your current work?
I’ve always been a gamer and a total nerd. For me, the ever growing opportunity in games goes far beyond what you can do in other fields. It’s really an accumulation of all of the other fields. It’s almost like mixing all of the other stuff I was doing together in one pot. There’s music, art, fashion, everything, all these areas are in games. On top of that I just really love multiplayer games where you build stuff together, and there isn’t a lot of that out there. Once Ívar (CCO at Klang Games), Oddur (CTO at Klang Games), and I became friends we started talking about the future of games, which led us down the path to the idea of SEED. That was also a big driver for my switch into the games industry, we are just so in love with the idea of SEED.
Please tell us more about SEED, your game that aims to “reinvent what it means to collaborate online”.
Collaboration is a really interesting topic that we are exploring with SEED. It’s also something that we believe could solve all of humanity's problems. However, there are challenges. People have opinions that clash, some people are self-centered, some manipulate others. This all can create an environment that opposes collaboration, which is something we see in real life. But we are excited by this challenge and the fact that it’s such a real issue. The game aims to help people build systems in order to bring them together and have them collaborate when all odds are against them. People are going to fail, and we want that to be a reality in the game. It’s not a utopia and we want there to be real consequences to people’s actions. It’s through these consequences that collaboration becomes even more important.
Societal systems often work towards creating mutual incentives that give people roles. That’s what we do with the Seedlings. The Seedlings need things and those needs are an opportunity for players to provide for society.
What’s your process of creating a game like SEED? How do you make something that is deep and meaningful while also being captivating and entertaining at the same time? In a gaming world that is mostly a free-for-all, how do you get the players to collaborate?
Our goal is to create a mirror of society and humanity. We want to evoke different emotions in our players, emotions that you’re more likely to find in other forms of media than in games. Games tend to be fantastical but they don’t often touch on the elements of everyday life. For example, in a game it’s rare to see the main character sitting down to have dinner. This is because people would rather be running around and racing fast cars than doing something mundane. Although this can be thrilling, with SEED we want to inspire authentic human emotions. It is much easier to trigger these emotions in people when they are faced with a relatable character instead of a hero. For this reason our Seedlings are as human-like as possible. They’re fragile, they socialize and sleep, and they like certain types of food. There are also real consequences to their choices. These are all things that people can identify with, which creates a deeper, more meaningful experience. As for collaboration, incentives are really key. Also, in SEED there are a lot of win-win scenarios, which fuels collaboration. For example, if you’re running a business in the game you can always hire more Seedlings from other players and you can always sell more things to other players. This in turn creates more opportunities for the community.
How do you fill a game that runs all the time with enough life and content?
The players really are the content. The content is emergent in SEED. It’s very different from games like World of Warcraft, which relies on constant content being authored by the studio. That creates what we call a content treadmill, where the studio is stuck in an endless uphill battle of trying to provide the players with enough content. Because players usually consume content faster than it is produced, this leads to a lot of repetitive content. On the other hand, SEED is a simulation where the players build everything (businesses, jobs, characters). They create this interesting environment that grows and doesn’t have an end to it. We are also exploring how we can continuously tear down content so it's a constant uphill battle for the players to keep making, fixing and improving their environment. Of course, we will still need to produce a lot of content and have content updates, but it isn’t as big of a challenge for us as it is for other games.
You state on your website that you want to “explore the future of humanity through various forms of media”. How do you do that and what have you achieved so far?
SEED is simulating a human society on a bigger scale than we’ve ever seen before. Also, it’s multiplayer, which we think is the exciting part because it brings in all of the human chaos. To further elaborate on this we created a podcast, in which we interviewed experts on all kinds of fields that are related to SEED, from the future of politics to brain implants. We want to do a lot more of that, as well as conducting our own research and bringing our community along. We’re also working on an epic backstory that will use our findings from our work to create a fun narrative surrounding the game. We are developing SEED in a transparent way that hopefully will allow us to use our data to understand how societies emerge.
The world of Avesta can be seen as a society experiment. Can you speak about the game design and how it serves to increase diversity and inclusion? Do you have guidelines for the developers to strengthen that favorable direction?
We want SEED to be an inclusive space where players can feel safe being themselves, or whatever version of themselves they want to be in the game. Like other aspects of the game, self-identification in SEED is done through tools that players can use however they want. For starters, players have full control over how they express their gender, and this goes beyond the binary of male and female. Additionally, unlike other games, there is no default skin tone. Instead of creating pre-determined genders or skin colors, we give our players all the materials they need to fully express their gender identity and skin color without limitations. We’re also working towards inclusivity when it comes to age and ability. When it comes to the players, we want to foster a warm and inviting community. In order to achieve this we design systems that foster collaboration of groups and will work to minimize any kind of discriminatory or hateful behaviors in the game.