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Zynga: How the virtual world can save the real world

April 12, 2011 Comments

I’ve written in the past about the great relief efforts of Zynga to aid the earthquake victims in Haiti. At the time I saw this as a powerful demonstration of what could become a consistent and transformative force for positive change in our world. In the shadow of the tragic consequences of the tsunami in Japan, Zynga and its game players have once again demonstrated a leadership position that should serve as an inspiration to other brands.

In less than three weeks, Zynga players banded together to raise more than $3 million for Save the Children’s Japan Earthquake Tsunami Children in Emergency Fund, as well as Direct Relief International. In a short twelve hours after the deadly tsunami hit, an initiative was launched across 8 games to raise money for relief – with 2 games following suit. What this demonstrates is not just the ability of social games and virtual goods to be enlisted in the service of emergency relief, but their critical ability to respond and scale quickly to match the scale of a disaster. This can serve as a powerful tonic to donor fatigue and fundraising shortages in the face of a series of natural disasters.

Such fundraising efforts can also be tactical. In just 36 hours, Zynga players raised over $1 million – followed by a Twitter “flash fundraiser,” that leveraged a live SXSW Interactive event – rallying top celebrities, including Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher and the Jonas Brothers, to tweet for the cause.  Adding more star power, Lady Gaga upped the ante donating $750,000 to the fundraising initiative with Save the Children through the sales of her Japan Prayer Bracelets.

The power of this approach is the marriage of the fun of social games with the contributions they generate through virtual goods. In the case of the tsunami relief effort, players had the opportunity to donate within games, or using a direct link, with 100 percent of the purchase price of these virtual items being donated to the fund. Here are some examples:

· Café World: Players could place Japanese inspired decorations in their Café to benefit the initiative.

· CityVille: Citizens could plant a limited edition sweet potato crop to feed their population and stock their restaurants.

· FrontierVille: Players could buy a limited edition Kobe cow to place in their frontier.

· FarmVille: Farmers could plant a limited edition daikon radish crop that never withers.

· FarmVille China: Farmers could purchase a medicinal herb.

· Mafia Wars: Players could purchase a limited edition Japanese Fan.

· Treasure Isle: Players could purchase a Shiba Inu to proudly display their support for Japan on their home island.

· Vamps: Players could purchase limited edition items within the game.

· Words With Friends: Players could donate directly by clicking on a Save the Children button inside the game.

· Zynga Poker: Fans going for a royal flush could donate by purchasing access to a VIP table.

· zBar: Players could donate directly by clicking on a Save the Children button inside the bar that sits across the top of their game on Facebook.

Such critical relief efforts are so simple to execute yet so powerful because they leverage gaming dynamics that then escalate the contributions to social causes. By making this possible, Zynga serves as a powerful example of a We First approach to business and social responsibility.

Such emergency relief efforts are merely the tip of the iceberg as the exponential growth and player appeal of gaming can be systemically linked fund-raising to improve the lives of millions in the real world. As the number of gamers explode around the world, as the amount spent on virtual goods increases, and as the importance of virtual currencies rises, the virtual world has the potential to become the most importance resource for rebuilding the real world.

Do you believe gaming should be used to deal with real world crises? What more do you think game makers could be doing?

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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