Video games often get a bad rap, especially the violent ones – but can they also be a weapon for good? BF Copywriter Lawrence has been looking at some of a growing number of games being used to promote charitable causes.
Last year, a student creative team from London took home D&AD’s new White Pencil award for their idea to promote World Peace Day, incorporating two of the year’s biggest multiplayer video games: Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12.
It sounds pretty brilliant, if a little farfetched. Battlefield Players receive in-game radio messages inviting them to desist from blowing each other to bloody fragments, and unite in a friendly game of football. Where? On a virtual pitch designed to look like a warzone, of course. World War 1 trench-Christmas style.
What’s great about One Day is that, instead of just trying to enlist the usual activist rank and file, it seeks out a new audience for whom global conflict is relevant – and makes World Peace Day exciting on their terms. It reminds me of a similar concept drawn up for Amnesty International that involved a modified version of another military game, Call of Duty.
Both concepts were only on spec however, and probably won’t be developed into real projects. It’s a pity, because an event as big as One Day would have shone some light on the gaming demographic. They might spend their time saving the world as soldiers and superheroes, but can they be persuaded to divert their attention – and their money – to real charitable causes?
Even if your experience of gaming is limited to trying to figure out how to switch the damn thing off as you scream at your kids to go to bed, you’ll probably be vaguely aware that times have changed. The stereotype of gamers as bespectacled virgins cowering from society in their bedrooms has mostly disappeared.
Games have already proved their worth as a marketing tool in the commercial sector. As far back as 2006, American ad agency CP+B was making Xbox 360 games for Burger King using that unfathomably creepy plastic character they created for their TV ads.
And it does seem like the Third Sector is slowly starting to catch up. In 2011, a group of entrepreneurs calling themselves New Charity Era won an award for their mobile app game called Raise the Village. It’s a similar premise to Farmville, a popular Facebook game. Players can give items like tents and food to real-life villagers in Uganda by buying them in the game. From a fundraiser’s perspective, it’s essentially a continuous giving product with an incredibly gratifying donor feedback loop – players can see the effect of their decisions immediately, knowing they’re having an impact on real people.
Verge Games have done something similar with Grumpy Goats, a spin-off of the simple but addictive Angry Birds. They paired up with development charity World Vision to offer players the chance to donate animals to families in need as they flick said emotionally deficient cartoon goats across their screens.
Refugee charity UNHCR have taken a slightly different tack with My Life as a Refugee, a role-playing game that plays out almost like an interactive fundraising letter, allowing users to really get to grips with what it’s like to be displaced from your country. According to the website, ‘players contemplate the same life-changing decisions refugees make in a true-to-life quest to survive, reach safety, reunite with loved ones and re-start their lives.’
Developing your own game might have its fundraising advantages, but it isn’t the only way to reap the rewards of the gaming market. Digital distribution (i.e. downloading) is making the marginal cost of supplying games to consumers virtually non-existent – and that’s an opportunity for game developers and charities to work together. Take a look at the ‘Humble Bundle', an offer that made headlines in November.
The latest in a series of partnerships between digital publishers and charities under the ‘Humble Bundle’ banner, this one allowed gamers to purchase a collection of computer games from developer THQ – at the low, low (or inordinately high) price of ‘pay what you want’. They could then use sliders to choose exactly how their money gets distributed, between ‘charity’ (a combination of The American Red Cross and the Child’s Play Charity), or THQ themselves.
This might sound suicidal for a profit-driven software company, but it makes commercial sense. ‘Pay What You Want’ is a price discrimination strategy that’s proven to work best when you introduce an element of pride, by using a charitable cause.
And besides, most games reportedly earn 90% of their overall revenue within 1 month of their release, so THQ don’t stand to lose that much from giving their old titles away. On the contrary, they’ve created a wave of publicity and added to the fan base for their upcoming games. As a side note, it occurs to me that a deal like this is one of those rare opportunities to form early relationships with the youngsters who’ll form the next generation of givers.
You have to admire the site’s execution. The spinning digits showing the number of bundles sold, as well as a ‘leaderboard’ listing the 10 highest bidders, show a great understanding of gamers’ relentless desire to out-do each other.
While these approaches might be very different from each other, what they all demonstrate is the potential games have to connect charities with a fresh audience. What’s more, it’s a medium that offers endless new ways to involve people in rich, involving and rewarding stories about people who need their help.
Will we be seeing even bigger ideas using the allure of virtual fantasy to promote real-world issues in the near future? As something of a gamer myself (did you guess?), I sure hope so.