The social gaming industry is booming. Staggeringly, it comprises a $9 billion market and is the fastest growing segment of entertainment, engaging hundreds of millions of people from around the world daily. With this ever expanding community of players, game makers have an unprecedented opportunity -- a responsibility, some would say -- to do more to cultivate social games as a platform for social good.
The sale of virtual goods within social gaming is a billion -- that's billion with a "B" -- dollar industry projected to reach more than $4 billion by 2016. Virtual goods sold, bought or won for charitable causes are also on the rise, making it hard to deny that social games are an emerging mechanism for connecting everyday consumers with causes that matter to them. More exciting is the possibility that consumers may discover a cause or an organization for the first time through a game, suggesting that the gaming business may have an increasing role to play in introducing consumers to philanthropy.
Many organizations -- a number of well-known charities among them -- have embraced games as an optimal and cost-effective method to engage consumers, particularly millennials. Water.org recently announced it raised $1 million from players of Zynga games like FarmVille2, ChefVille and Zynga Poker. Water.org is not alone -- Save the Children, World Food Programme, Direct Relief and Feeding America have all raised $1 million or more through games. Some nonprofits have even come together to create greater awareness and resources around a common theme, as was the case with Half the Sky Movement: The Facebook Game, which drew more than 1.2 million players and raised nearly half a million dollars in a few short months. These groups are the early adopters and many more organizations will likely follow in their footsteps, making games less of a novelty and more of a staple.
What other signs are there that games for good have arrived? On April 26, leaders within the gaming industry will join forces with Games for Change and the Tribeca Film Festival to put on the Family Street Fair, bringing the power of games for good directly to more than 300,000 consumers. This direct interaction between consumers and the increasingly mainstream community of game developers, innovators and entrepreneurs who are infusing games with social good is an important milestone for an industry seeking to build long-term relationships with players beyond the screen.
Integrating cause-related content into commercial games is a delicate task, a balancing act between the delights of causal entertainment and the seriousness of real world problems. When it's done well, woven organically into a game, players respond. The fact that not all campaigns produce landslide results is not a bad sign; it just means people are trying, and it's early days. In fact, in a recent survey of 10,000 FarmVille players, 60 percent said they had already donated to a charity while tending their virtual crops, and more than one-third of players said they were introduced to a social issue, and given an immediate opportunity to help, through the game. Nearly one quarter of players said they were inclined to give to the same cause again, outside of the game.
We are now approaching an initial tipping point, where increasing consumer interest in exploring real-world issues through games can be met -- and "leveled up" -- through highly engaging gameplay, sophisticated underlying technology and the incredible creative and technical talents of those in the commercial game industry. Whether this is achieved is largely up to the game makers. How will they respond to growing demand from players who have made it clear they want social impact content in their games? By their very nature, social games evoke collaboration, empathy, even altruism. They attract people who are looking not only for friendly competition but who also want to feel connected and to help others. Gamers -- more than 1 billion of them -- are a good group.
Now is the time for the gaming industry to embrace a new kind of corporate social responsibility -- one that leverages its core products and employee talents to create and deliver meaningful social impact. Making games a place where people more frequently connect with and invest in each other is a natural extension of what great games do, and it should be a natural extension of what great game companies do too.
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