29th Jan 2013

How Social Games Are Changing the World

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When you think of social gaming, what comes to mind? Does your aunt constantly send you requests to help her grow corn or raise livestock? Or perhaps she has already moved on to Ruby Blast Adventures or Bubble Safari Ocean?

In either case, it’s no secret that social gaming has the reputation of being a total time sink for players and, often, an annoyance for their friends that receive all of their invitations to “join in on the action!”

All across the Web, though, people are joining forces to create real change through social gaming. Whether they’re jumping on board with games that focus solely on doing good or they’re sticking with the old-school games that now integrate social good elements.

Stealthy startups, gaming goliaths, and benevolent brands are all jumping aboard the social gaming for good train. Here’s what we’ve been seeing lately.

Startups Get Behind World Change

Social good app developers and app networks are popping up left and right, and one company to note is Sojo Studios, creators of social games WeTopia and Joy Kingdom, both free Facebook games that turn players’ points into monetary donations to benefit children’s and animal charities, respectively.

Launched in November 2011, WeTopia has brought tangible change to the world, just by encouraging gamers to play for a good cause. The game made big strides in 2012 alone, including providing: 

  • 1,000,000 days of school for kids in Haiti
  • 7,000,000 liters of clean, safe drinking water in Haiti
  • 700,000 hot meals for children in need
  • 45,000 meals for children in Las Vegas
  • 32,000 hours of nutrition and literacy programs for U.S. students
  • 9,000 papaya and moringa trees
  • 6,500 coats, shoes, and shirts for children around the world
  • 4,000 books for elementary school children
  • 3,400 vitamins for children
  • 1,000 medical check-ups for children in New York and Haiti

Joy Kingdom, focused on animal welfare was also successful in helping out pets and animals across the world, providing - among other things - 53,000 bowls of food for cats and dogs at animal shelters and bedding for more than 7,000 rescruied farm animals, since its launch in October of 2012.

Sojo Studios, a privately-held company, pledges to give up to 50% of its profit to the charities it works with, including Save the Children, Children’s Health Fund, The Humane Society of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society.

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Other startups in the space are following a similar business model, whereas a portion of profits are donated to charity. Launched in beta in December 2012, for example, there is Gramble, a social gaming network that also donates a portion of in-app purchases and ad revenue to charities.

Gramble CEO Adam Palmer points to the company’s mission as an indication of its dedication to social change, “Our mission is to be the most fun and respected social-gaming network in the world and help improve over a billion lives by reinventing the way people donate to charity through games.” Having raised $6.7 million in funding, the network currently features more than 200 games that benefit 10 charities, including The Adventure Project, Camino Verde, Mercy Ships, Soles 4 Souls, and Chernobyl Children International.

Gramble isn’t the only social-good focused gaming company on the market. Mobile app company OneHaze also donates a portion of its profits to charity, but Palmer says that his startup’s focus on social integration set it apart.

Speaking of social, though, you won’t find any Facebook games in the Gramble network. Palmer says the company is focused solely on native applications, as his team sees mobile (and tablets) as the future.

Double Dog Dares For Charity

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While we’re talking mobile, we can’t forget the recently launched mobile micro-donations platform, Budge, which lets friends dish out mobile dares for a good cause.

Hey, I challenge you to wear pink socks to work tomorrow, or else you’re giving a dollar to help breast cancer research. Pretty fun idea, right?

Gaming Giant Zynga Keeps It Real

We can’t forget the social gaming elephant in the room: Zynga. So, what’s the big dog doing? As it turns out, quite a lot. Since launching Zynga.org, its social impact arm, Zynga has run nearly 100 in-game social good campaigns, which have spurred 3 million player contributions and nearly $15 million in contributions from players.

During December 2012, the company launched its Oh, What Fun! campaign, which enabled gamers to “give the gift of play” by purchasing in-game virtual goods, of which 100% of the proceeds went to Toys for Tots. Through contributions from 80,000 players, the campaign raised $745,000, which provided approximately 60,000 toys and books to children in need across the United States.

Zynga.org Executive Director Ken Weber says he’s optimistic about the future of giving through play. “We know from talking to our players and seeing their generosity first-hand in response to nearly 100 in-game campaigns since 2009, that social games are not only a proven way of connecting people but also a proven way of helping others in the real world,” he says.

Zynga is not only creating giving opportunities within its own games, but is also pitching in to help projects with similar social missions, including Half the Sky Movement: The Game, launching later this year, which Zynga has been on board with since the beginning, providing significant contributions.

"We are trying to highlight and accelerate this idea, both through Zynga games and groundbreaking games like Half the Sky," says Weber.

Getting Brands Involved

App developer Social Reality helps brands integrate philanthropy and gaming into their social media strategies, adding the “branded” in-game experience to games created by top developers Zynga, OMGPOP, and 6waves.

Last year, the company worked with Toyota to create a social gaming campaign for the car manufacturer’s 100 Cars for Good app. Based on user votes within the app, Toyota gave away 100 cars in 100 days to the most popular non-profits. 

Social Reality helped Toyota’s campaign gain traction by serving Toyota’s campaign ads to gamers within its network of Facebook games. Gamers who watch such ads gain virtual energy — what gamer doesn’t want that?


What Games Are You Playing?

Have you been gaming for good? If so, what games are at the top of your list? Let us know in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Flickr, Garry Knight

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