My career started in massively multi-player online games and it stayed there for a long time. At some point about eight or so years out, I got tired of making products that helped adolescent boys sit around all day fantasizing of being a swashbuckling dragon slayer hero on a horse in tights whilst attempting to save a poor lass in distress, etc. Eventually I ended up working in virtual worlds, and now I'm that social media guy. As former game industry professional and current social media professional with a fascination with technology and social good, I've been following one company in particular called Games for Change.
Yesterday I read an article about how the New York Times blogger and reporter extraordinaire Nicholas Kristof had decided to build a "game for change" with the assistance of Games for Change, that would be much like the Zynga games we see in Facebook today that are of such incredible fame. Zynga's street valuation is just slightly higher than none other than EA's valuation. Pause for a moment: EA, the granddaddy, largest game company the world has ever known (pretty much) that has dominated games for longer than I can remember outpaced by Zynga, a little dinky casual game company that lives wholly within Facebook? Do you see how massive Zynga's audience must be? It is. And Nicholas Kristof wants in, but he wants in for good reasons, literally. Supposedly, it will be some type of casual virtual world like game that lives in Facebook (and elsewhere according to the article) and is a click-for-good model in which users will be able "... to make micro-donations to humanitarian efforts worldwide as well as contribute to causes in other ways. "
The analysis: First, have you ever played a Zynga game on Facebook like Farmville or Cityville? If not, let me assist: Have you ever been to Vegas? Remember those mornings in the Luxor or the Venetian, bags in tow, hauling one's behind to the airport, hungover like a hangover has rarely been explored in adult life, i.e.: still slightly drunk? You blew your cash, you dipped way into a few credit cards and you're thinking "I will never, ever come back to this godforsaken hell hole" and right then at 6 a.m. when you feel like there isn't a rock ugly enough for you to crawl under, you see a 75-year-old grandmotherly woman choking down a filter-less Pall Mall ordering a cocktail at a slot machine with 15 credit cards that she's cleverly punched holes through and attached to a big silver key ring and she's swiping at that one armed bandit like it ought to be a new Olympic sport. Whatever keeps her there doing that, that's the essence of Zynga games.
I don't think people who play Zynga games are bad. Just like I don't think the grandma in Vegas is bad. They're just sad. So, if Mr. Kristof's point is to get money from the digital version of sad grandmas and funnel those resources out to help the world, darn it, I'm all for it! That's good money going for not now going for good. I will leave out, at this point, the analysis on the off putting irony that in our world we must play games in order to be enticed to do good, and that human suffering should never be viewed under the rubric of "play." I mean it sincerely when I say: a business designed for good is just that, good. So keep your eyes open, get your game face on, virtual goods for social change is around the corner. Some call it "slacktivism," but I call it "clicktivism" and if one click makes someone's life genuinely better then that's probably more than I can say for all the clicks it took to write this blog post.