Premature Evaluation: Eco


Premature Evaluation is the weekly column in which we explore the wilds of early access. This week, Fraser’s joining a civilisation and facing down a meteor in environmentally-conscious sandbox Eco. But mostly he’s building a terrible house.

The worlds of crafting and survival games are big balls of resources waiting to be exploited. Normally. Not so in Eco, where the world is a vulnerable, reactive globe that requires respect and nurturing. And only a wee bit of exploitation. It looks like a pretty Minecraft, but while it shares most of its fundamentals, Eco is as much simulation as a crafting sandbox, complete with an ecosystem that can be irreparably destroyed by human interference.


Eco’s ethical approach is antithetical to your typical sandboxes, which tend to encourage ceaseless consumption and expansion. In Minecraft, if you need 100 logs you just go out and get them. Your only concern is time and inventory space. In Eco, deforestation is bad for the air you breath and the animals that once called the forest home. Before you go chopping down trees, then, you have to consider the impact on the environment.

Hunting, mining, industry — everything a civilisation needs to progress from the Stone Age onwards can harm the world. But civilisation is also the only thing that can save it. There’s a meteor heading towards the planet; a threat hanging in the sky that only advanced technology and teamwork can stop.


Being mindful of your impact on the environment, and trying to reduce it, is just the first and most basic of the four systems that civilisations and individuals probably should consider employing if they’re going to survive the impending hunk of ice and rock hurtling through space towards them. It’s accompanied by a mountain of graphs, maps and charts that simplify a lot of the real science behind things like climate change and ecological collapse; the civilisation system itself, where players band together and use their specialisations to avert disaster; and laws, with elected mayors creating civilisation-wide rules like restrictions on citizenship — and thus population — and limits on what woodland areas can and cannot be chopped down.

These systems almost serve as a succinct environmentalist’s manifesto. Awareness, data, grassroots activism and legislation. While Eco is not the first green game, it’s certainly the one that presents the ideology with the greatest clarity. Like most of its sandbox peers, it eschews demographics, but if you ever wanted to teach a kid why we need all these dumb bins, this is shaping up to be the game to do it.


Of course, it’s not an environmentalist’s manifesto; it’s a crafting sandbox and contains all that this normally entails. Digging, mining, endless crafting tables and chests, ugly log cabins and a great deal of walking around in the wilderness — you know the routine. And Eco’s simulation leanings means that even something simple like gathering resources has an additional layer of complexity.

Resources aren’t these abstract things that exist only in your inventory. If you chop down a tree, the wood doesn’t suddenly just go into a pocket dimension until it gets turned into something else. So you need to physically carry the stone, wood, iron — all the hefty stuff — in your hands, which limits how much you can bring back with you. That means there’s a hell of a lot of running back and forth between crafting tables and resource spots. However! It’s a surmountable obstacle. With a bit of research and crafting, you can make a cart to carry all your stuff, but you also need to make paths and slopes, and that means you need to start learning some new skills.


As you get experience and level up, you’ll get skill points that can be used to do everything from improving the speed at which you chop wood to unlocking advanced mechanical engineering. Books can also be created, letting you actually learn the recipes these skills unlock. It’s a lot of work to make a dirt path, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the crafting list get moved around. I shouldn’t be able to make a cart before I can even slap down some mud.

When you heap the environmental systems on top of all this, it does start to become bewildering. In single-player games especially, there’s just too much to tackle, even with the exceptionally generous cadence of skill points that you get for playing solo. You can become a jack-of-all-trades, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that Eco is designed for groups. A civilisation of one doesn’t have a great chance against armageddon.


Eco’s civilisations aren’t just disconnected groups of people who can choose to work together if they fancy it. In multiplayer, where skill points come more slowly, players absolutely need each other. If you’ve dedicated your life to carpentry, then you might have an enviable house and workshop, but you’ll soon run out of plants and animals to eat and thus have to resort to farming. Without farming skills, however, you’ll end up spending all your time just doing subsistence farming, putting your carpentry work on the back-burner. Or you could get help from your friends.

If someone is focused entirely on farming, then someone else can specialise in engineering, constructing the civilisation’s roads and industry, without needing to worry about running out of energy. With more free time, people can get working on big projects: windmills, tree farms, a really huge bridge to nowhere. But with time constantly passing, even if nobody is in the server, Eco is likely best played with a regular group, or at least on a server with some organisation.


Taking a break from my own projects, I hopped between worlds like a dimension-jumping vagabond and indulged in some sightseeing. I had a nosey around in some neat little towns and solitary homes, but they all looked a lot like the world I’d come from, and not that far off my own solo world. Everything built out of wood, buildings just scattered around — a low-key medieval vibe running throughout.

The race to save the world doesn’t fit comfortably with more creative endeavours. Everything you make is impermanent and the world fleeting. If you can get by in a boring wooden house, then why spend time building something more elaborate? Especially when any time you waste is time that could have been spent helping your civilisation avoid annihilation.


I definitely think there’s room for brief sandboxes where you can get a clean slate every few days or weeks, but if they’re to inspire any sort of real creativity the grind to get everything needed to fuel that creativity has to be a bit more easy going than your standard crafting game. Eco makes the grind more pronounced. And that’s completely unrelated to the environmental elements. My very first building project almost put me off picking up a hammer ever again.

I had to build a log cabin, of course. That meant constantly jogging between trees and my crafting table as wood was transformed into hewn wood, my first building material. Like all starter homes it looked like it was made by a particularly unimaginative five-year-old, but it was serviceable at least. Making a cabin is a necessity because several key crafting tables only work if they’re indoors. Place them outside and you’ll be able to set up tasks but they’ll not actually do anything.


So I had my cabin, with my shiny new carpentry table set up inside. I wanted to let all the woodland critters know that important stuff was going down in my base so I decided to create a sign, then trotted off to get some more wood. When I got back, nothing had happened. My crafting table didn’t have enough room. It turns out that every crafting table has this weird arbitrary rule about how much free space it needs in the room. This one table had an entire cabin to itself, but that still wasn’t enough. So it was back to the woods with me, murdering more trees for my extension.

With every new table, regardless of size, the building had to be extended. I must have spent hours just gathering resources to build crafting tables and renovating my hideous cabin. Let me tell you, it is not a barrel of laughs. And it’s all a bit fiddly. Lots of fixing mistakes, trying to reach awkward places and blocks taking up the whole screen. If I was building something more exciting than a hut, maybe I could grin and bear more of the faff and clumsiness, but building even that has taken around 60 years.


Eco is one of the boldest crafting sandboxes I’ve come across, and smartest, but despite its ambitions it’s still very much beholden to the same tired, old gathering and crafting cycles we’re all very familiar with. The big picture stuff, forging a civilisation and saving the planet, that’s utterly captivating, but that’s not what the moment-to-moment action is like. While a meteor is homing in on your world and your mayor is making decrees, you’ll probably be trudging back into the forest, axe in hand, or standing near a crafting table waiting for something to finish being put together for you.

Eco is out now on Steam for £23.79/$29.99/€27.99.


  1. satsui says:

    Let me get this straight: You’re actually able to do things in this game? If so, that’s quite an accomplishment compared to other “minecraft” games.

  2. cpt_freakout says:

    Too bad about the grinding – being too heavily invested into the ‘sim’ part makes this game seem like a job. Sounds like we’re finally going to start getting mutations of the survival thing that lean towards mutual aid, though, and are not just vehicles for misanthropy, however fun they might often be.

  3. Vasily R says:

    I’ve been watching a let’s play of this game trying to decide if I want it. And it all just seems so painfully grindy, as you say in the review. Might just not be the game for me, as I’m not a big fan of tedious busy work on grind.

  4. treat says:

    I discovered and looked into this yesterday. As a real-world restoration ecologist, I’ve been waiting a long time for a game that might do the subject justice (the same goes for evolution simulators). That right there is just the problem: ecology is far too complex–and, frankly, our understanding of it somewhat lacking–to translate into a “game” that prioritizes systemic ecological mechanisms under the umbrella of *fun*.

    To be clear, I haven’t played the game. Partly due to an aversion toward early access but mostly because it doesn’t appear that it’ll satisfy any category of desire I’d hope it would, at least not yet.

    1) As a game, it appears incredibly monotonous and long-winded. A massive time commitment with little moment-to-moment gratification.
    2) As a simulation (this I have no way of verifying without playing the game), it’s likely to be either too simplistic or too complicated for the intended number of players. Chiefly, I simply don’t think there’s enough interest among ecologists, green enthusiasts, or crafting/survival fans to sustain the kind of player base this game seems to require.
    3) As a learning tool, again, it seems too long-winded. I could see this eventually being a useful tool to teach general ecology in a high school level Earth Science course if it were *dramatically* streamlined. Dedicating an entire week’s worth of in-class study to playing this game isn’t only borderline unreasonable, it’d still only be less than 6 hours of individual play time total. Eeking some sort of lesson out of a video game within time constraints isn’t just difficult, the logistics of designing the lesson are untenable.

    While I admire that this game looks to be shooting for an “us vs. ourselves” rather than an “us vs. them” mindset, I think this is exactly the kind of game that needs to aim for strict constraints and brutal feature vetting. E.g., cut the asteroid and skill system. A focus on attempting to maintain some semblance of ecological equilibrium on a small scale (something akin to a vivarium) while growing and sustaining a small population of players may be both more immediately enjoyable and accessible.

    That said, one of the biggest draws for me was the idea of robust statistics depicting the flux of the little virtual world. I hope that’s something they hang on to. Unfortunately, I just don’t think the interest exists for this type of game right now, at least not in the current state of its trajectory.

    • grimdanfango says:

      I wonder about the interest side of things – as a thirty-something lifelong gamer, and with vaguely green/hippy leanings, this thing appeals to me greatly – I only wish I had a completely free month to pour into it, like when I was an idiot teenager :-P

      If they could expand the game to include roles that don’t actually require a whole bunch of playtime, and could mostly be focused on keeping an eye on proceedings through a web-interface, perhaps dropping into the game-proper only for a couple hours a week, I think I’d be well up for jumping in.

      As it stands, it sounds like the time investment is just more than I can realistically spare.
      I wonder if that could be a sticking point… it seems the sort of game that would appeal to a slightly older audience, but seeminigly requires the sort of grind that only misspent youth can provide :-)

      As is now my go-to line for pretty much all games since Factorio… I reckon this game could stand to be a little more like Factorio :-P
      Let us build the systems, not *be* the systems.

      • treat says:

        That was exactly my thought. When I looked into this last night, a negative Steam review on two friends taking ~30 hours just to get a cabin built stuck out. It’s not only that I personally don’t have time for that, I don’t feel like *anyone* does. I’d be happy to buy in just to poke around a few servers and see how things have developed but I expect I’d be disappointed. Likewise, I’d love to play with the systems just to see how they respond, whether environments can be set toward recovery and to what extent recovery is successful, what kind of trophic cascades might be implemented, and so on, but I feel like even that would take more time than I’m willing or able to devote. I just hope that if they can’t make this work, they can at least pivot into a more autonomous simulation that can be used as a tool, if not just a toy.

  5. greener says:

    I’m the kind of player who doesn’t just chop down every tree and madly mine the crap out of everything in other survival games because I wouldn’t. So the idea of this game definitely appeals.

    But I’m not seeing a great deal of fun factor yet. Or major points of difference which appeal to me. The multi-player and skill specialisation thing is a negative in my books. A big part of the appeal of sandbox games is that you can do anything.

    Bottom line – I can play all my currently owned survival / sandbox games in an environmentally responsible manner.

  6. Aetylus says:

    This game strikes me as rather Eve-like:
    – A lot of time spent on little boring things made MUCH more meaningful by how they tie into some larger metagame.
    – And also a game I look anticipate reading about other people playing, rather than playing myself.

  7. Xantonze says:

    Interesting school material, perhaps?

  8. DodgyG33za says:

    Come here Eco. And you Ark and Rust and 7 days to die. And the other survival games hiding at the back.

    Now listen carefully.

    If you are going to fill your repetitive mechanics you should either make them fun in some way or have some way of automating the grindy bits either with machines or minions.

    What do you mean it isn’t possibe? Look at modded Minecraft. It was such a success in part because it did the latter. So much so that many people preferred it to vanilla.

    What’s that Rust? No you shouldn’t take it as a excuse to leave it to the modding community.

    • Artist says:

      Come here, impatient player!

      Now listen carefully: If you dont like the mechanics of a game go and play something else! But dont blame the game that its no fun for you. You decide about your fun, so stay responsible for your decision.

      • MajorLag says:

        You’re right of course, he should just not buy the game and never say anything about why he doesn’t buy the game or what might be remedied to change that. He certainly shouldn’t offer his opinion to anyone looking to make a similar game who might want him in their audience. Consumers are best neither seen, nor heard.

  9. JohnK says:

    Eco dev here, wanted to mention one of the major things we’re still working on adding is more vehicles for all mechanics: plows and harvesters, mining drills, cranes, logging vehicles, fishing boats, oil depots. Currently we have just the excavator in but we’ll be adding these in coming updates.

    So after the early game you won’t be doing work by hand, but will step up to making huge impacts on the game with technology, which in turn has big impacts on the environment. With the skill system that is time-based instead of action-based, there are roles for players of varying commitments as well (taking part in the economy and government rather than performing labor). The arc of the game is that your economy and laws grow with your technological power – at the beginning your effects on the ecosystem are minimal, but as you advance you can affect it in massive ways, and if your laws and elected leaders aren’t up to the task of controlling that it could have a devastating impact.

    Thanks for the review!

    • brucethemoose says:

      I didn’t see this in your Discord (maybe I should ask there), but how high up the tech tree are you planning to go?

      Will we see nuclear reactors someday? Agricultural machinery? Hydroponics? Recycling?

      Grinding seems to be a common complaint, so adding more tech and some end-game automation means you could compress the earlier stages a little bit.

      Other than that, I’m quite impressed by everything ya’ll stuffed into this game.

      • JohnK says:

        Sky’s the limit with the tech tree, to present day and beyond. Nuclear is a planned addition. We also want to fill out the mid game with new systems for animal husbandry, pipes and sewage, oil pipelines, etc

  10. B3tanTyronne says:

    Darn, and there was me thinking this was about the 1986 Ocean survival game `Eco`.

    • Kefren says:

      I used to play that on my Amiga! Frustrating yet also mildly fascinating. I soon discovered the genes to unlock for insect flight, the only way to avoid random deaths when something you couldn’t see or avoid trampled on you.
      I played Wizball more.

  11. Evan_ says:

    Played it with a few friends. The excitement of the planet and building things faded after two evenings, left us only with labor. The economy-simulation is a wonderful concept. On such a small world, we felt the impact of our civilization.. But keeping it at bay meant even more work. And that was work we -had- to do.

    I’m having a hard time telling why I found labor tedious. I have 15 hundred hours of pointless ‘work’ across Minecraft and Factorio, but I never thought of it as work. Maybe here it bothered me because I had to do it for the planet and it’s civilization.

    On the other hand, forming a civilization with buddies was a wonderful experience. We had to coordinate, cooperate.. And we had to make sure people did their share of work selflessly in our lovely communist utopia. It builds character, that’s for sure.

    I feel this game reaches it’s full potential on a big map with multiple player groups and a strictly slow skill-gain, so an economy could form with currencies and eco-friendly laws and such. Yet to play that way, but I’m convinced it will be as challenging, fun and painful as people can be – so very.

    Don’t judge this game in single player, it’ll get you to miss the best part. Get your buddies, and aim for the biggest server you can find.

    • JohnK says:

      We’re currently optimizing the server to support 16 square km maps and 100 simultaneous players, so this will definitely be an option.

      Goal is by the end of the game if you succeed you’ll have used machinery and vehicles to mine entire mountains and cover half the world in farms, large scale planet transformation that can very easily destroy the ecosystem.

      • Siimon says:

        Is it feasible to play this with a small group of semi-regular players, privately? eg. No more than 5 people total, playing one or two sessions a week where there may only be 2-3 players on at once.

        Is there an ETA for when more automation machinery will be added?


        • Evan_ says:

          I can answer the first: it’s totally cool. Our only difficulty was to find a rate of skill gain speed that didn’t make us wait much for new tech, but still required us to specialize. But the host can tweak that on the fly.

  12. corinoco says:

    I’ve been looking for a sequel to SimEarth for oh, what is it, oh about 25 years. SimEarth was a great game, if you’re into ecology and simulation and whatnot. I always hoped Spore would be the replacement, sort of SimEarth & Civilisation rolled into one (I would buy the special gold-plated edition of THAT!) but sadly not.

    This looks like Minecraft meets SimEarth. I hope it’s good, but I don’t like the look of grind.

  13. Ghostwise says:

    From the comments in Premature Evaluation articles, I consistently get the impression that people do not understand this whole Early Access thing.

    How often have we seen people angrily, stompily swear they won’t buy a game ever – based on reports about mechanics in their alpha or beta state of development and balancing ?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Most of those comments are still in development. I’m sure any logical inconsistencies will be ironed out in the final version.

  14. clockworkerr0r says:

    This is such an intersting idea for a sandbox game! I love how the choices you make while trying to move forward and survive actually makes a difference and effects the environment around you. It really gives the player a sense of responsibility for all their actions. It seems like there are a lot of really unique games coming out this year though. Another game that I’m really excited about is Nova Nukers. It’s a competitive multiplayer that has a unique spherical stage design. I’ve never seen another multiplayer that used that kind of design, so I’m curious to see how it will do during gameplay. I’m also excited to try out the weapons because they’re supposed to effect the game’s environment.

  15. identiti_crisis says:

    “While a meteor is homing in on your world and your mayor is making decrees, you’ll probably be trudging back into the forest, axe in hand, or standing near a crafting table waiting for something to finish being put together for you.”

    And this is what ecological problems feel like to the average person, I’m sure.

    It’s also funny that you have to convince a bunch of other people to go along with you before you can make any real progress!

    It sounds like this would be better as a management game, play as the “mayor” and be some kind of eco-friendly autocrat. If that can be done without bypassing any of the emergent “economy” stuff. Then you can try different approaches and see in short order what works and what doesn’t, according to the underlying simulation.

  16. mineshaft says:

    WeI have gotten from the Stone age to the blast furnace in about twenty hours of single player. Here are some thoughts.

    I’ve appreciated that you can’t craft everything from the jump if you have the materials. You spend low tier materials to advance on the tech tree. The tech tree opens skills that make it cheaper and faster to craft things, and allow you to craft new recipes. Some of those new recipes are workshops in another crafting discipline. The new workshops allow you to craft higher tier materials.

    This is learnable and doable, even though it might be nicer to have some tools like an actual technology tree visualization that shows you or your world advancing along the graph. I also felt like the professions and required materials for interdisciplinary cooperation usually made sense, which is quite a feat.

    If you like min maxing this will be an intriguing game for you. The slog in the systems is meant to be defeated with technology, ie climbing the tech / craft / skill tree optimally. Also, you should often be multitasking. There is a lot to get done.

    I was used to Dwarf Fortress workshops, so the idea that you need certain space or materials to plant a workshop was not foreign to me. You also only need to learn this once.

    One thing that is still kind of odd to me is the storage system. It is hard to tell how close stockpiles need to be to other storage or workshops for their contents to be interchangeable. As my house and workshops grew, my stockpiles started being inaccessible and I had to create a little storage network. Kind of strange! It also would have been nice to be able to sort, filter, or compact storage. “Where did I put those tomato seeds, oh I put them in three different linked chests.”

    A related concern is “where do you craft that?” Today, you have to visit each workshop one by one and scroll through the recipe list if you forget where or how to craft something. Text searching your “memory” for skills and recipes you’ve learned seems natural, as does text searching the tech / skill tree. All it prevents is forcing me to go look up something in a wiki.

    This game felt like new Minecraft to me, so I haven’t looked up the inevitable wikis and guides. But kudos to the developers, I never felt like I had to. It was well documented enough that I felt like I could go in fresh.

    • JohnK says:

      We’re planning an ‘ecopedia’ as an extension to the tooltips, so you can visualize, bookmark, and pin the info you need. Basically an in-game system to plan better, and also connects to the economy (ie, you can see what gaps in the market exist for a given recipe, or how many people are capable of crafting a particular item, let’s you find niches to work in)