A Big Energy Company Wants You to Go Green by Playing a Smartphone Game

NRG's 'Path to Luma' aims to make learning about renewable energy as fun as 'Candy Crush Saga.'
(Image: Courtesy NRG Energy)
Aug 25, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

One of the more popular mobile video games these days has nothing to with honing your war craft, committing grand theft auto, or crushing candy.

It’s about green power. And it was made by a giant energy company.

Since its release on Aug. 13, NRG Energy’s The Path to Luma has been downloaded 1.4 million times. (In comparison, the mega-popular Candy Crush Saga was downloaded 10 million times in four weeks in 2012.)

The free game—which challenges players to help a robot named SAM save the Chroma galaxy from pollution by solving a series of puzzles using renewables—aims to educate players about different kinds of carbon-free energy along the way.

(Image: Courtesy NRG Energy)

“A big motivation is getting people to talk about clean technology and its availability to be part of the immediate solution,” said Daniel Keyes, one of five NRG Energy employees who designed the game. Chicago-based Phosphor Games Studio worked with the team to turn its ideas into pixels.

Given that people spend about six minutes a year thinking about their energy use but are constantly glued to their smartphones, the team thought a mobile game would be an ideal way to engage the public, according to Katie Ryan, one of the NRG staffers who worked on the nine-month project.

To rid the Chroma galaxy of pollution, players must progress through 20 puzzles—one per planet. While a swipe of one’s phone or tablet screen will spin each planet and reveal more of its surface, tapping on another spot will give SAM the tools to complete the mission. On the first planet, for instance, a tap charges the robot’s spear with solar energy.

In later challenges, SAM must activate hydro, waste-to-energy, battery storage, and carbon capture technology to clean up the planets. Only when all 20 planets are pristine can civilization be restored.

“As the levels get increasingly complex, you learn about the different types of trade-offs of the technologies we feature,” Keyes said. “You come to a better understanding of the complex ways the technologies interact and complement each other to reduce the carbon footprint of our electricity generation.”

NRG operates fossil fuel power plants but in recent years has made a big push into renewable energy.

The idea for the game was created in response to NRG’s Innovation Co-Lab competition, in which employees are encouraged to develop projects to get the public thinking about energy in new ways. Ryan and Keyes’ team pitched NRG executives on the game concept and were granted about 10 percent of their work time to develop the project.

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Keyes, who works on solar power plants at the company’s San Francisco office, says that another goal was to introduce the NRG brand to a new generation of consumers.

The game—which does not explicitly advertise NRG products or services—is not meant to be a revenue generator, he said.

NRG doesn’t really know how much people learn about renewable energy after playing the game. But Keyes points to tracking data showing that more than 98 percent of those who download the game have played it an average of 30 minutes or more.

“It tells us people are connecting, understanding, and taking something out of the experience,” he said.

Players can learn more about the renewable technology featured in the game by visiting The Path to Luma’s website. Keyes hopes NRG can get the game into the classroom by partnering with educators who can design a companion curriculum about renewable energy for teachers.

“I hope that the aha moment people take away is that ‘I have the ability and the power to do something when it comes to clean energy,’ ” Ryan said. “I hope they’ll connect the dots and realize it’s their personal responsibility to do what they can.”