Video Games With a Purpose

In past columns, I’ve highlighted how gaming is a form of entertainment and an escape from boredom and pain. But what if games could be developed with models that served society in a greater capacity? What if gamers could make an impact on society’s ills every time they played a game? What if the juggernaut game industry adjusted its trajectory slightly and provided an entertainment outlet that makes a real impact on real problems — like cancer?

What if I told you this is already happening?

First, view the media coverage of correlations between gaming and society’s problems for what they are: sensational, misguided, and sometimes malicious attempts to gain readers and viewers through fear-mongering.

Truth is, a new age is dawning in interactive entertainment. Games are beginning to serve philanthropic purposes and change the world in which we live…for the better.

A Game Fights World Hunger, a simple Web-based vocabulary game, educates its players and raises funds to fight world hunger. FreeRice challenges players to define words in a multiple-choice quiz. The game enhances a player’s vocabulary while the site’s organizers donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme for each word the player gets right. Most notably, the game’s primary revenue stream is through advertising. For marketers the game affords a channel to reach a large audience and to create a media plan with a purpose. Not only do dollars spent within this advertising platform deliver eyeballs, they also go to a good cause.

AMD Changes the Game

Another notable cause involves the AMD Foundation and its AMD Changing the Game initiative. The initiative is designed to help youth in the middle- and high-school levels harness the power of digital games with social content while learning education and life skills. Through the process of developing and playing their own issue-themed games, AMD Changing the Game participants will develop essential skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.

At the same time, students will explore critical thinking, problem solving, project leadership, and contemporary themes of social responsibility. Attention to these critical developmental areas will in turn help participants expand their future educational and professional opportunities as citizens of the 21st century.

Baseball Game Helps Cure Cancer

As I write, my company is quickly approaching the launch of an initiative that unifies our baseball game widget, the frenzy of the World Series, charities funding cancer research, and community-conscious advertisers in effort to raise $500,000 in the fight against cancer. (Disclosure: my company is donating time and other resources to develop the initiative, game, and associated content and ad delivery mechanisms. Beyond our pro bono work, hard costs will be covered through a portion of advertiser budget for program management, Web site and game operations, bandwidth, ad serving, and other operating costs.)

Here are the game’s details:

  • Game: This is a free online homerun hitting game. Gamers select the charity they want their play to benefit. Points earned in the game convert to charitable donations. A dynamic leaderboard showcase will highlight the top players. Here’s a view of the game:

    Homerun Hitting Game

  • Gamers: Anyone who has access to the Internet can play. Registered players will accumulate points that convert to real donations. Players can also donate directly.
  • Marketers: Marketers will play their part through media buys and a point match program. They’re allocated in-and-around-game media placements in relation to their media buy. Media buys will also convert game player points into financial donations to participating charities. Advertising opportunities include:
    • 0:15 pre-, mid- (7th swing stretch), and post-roll video ads

    • Dynamic in-game scoreboard messaging
    • E-mail and data capture with opt-in opportunities
    • Newsletter and press release inclusion
  • Beneficiaries: Leading 501(c)(3) charitable organizations raising funds for cancer research receive the donations.
  • Promotion: The following strategies and tactics will be employed to increase awareness and participation:
    • Participating Web site embeds

    • Social media distribution of the game widget
    • Search engine marketing
    • Media buys

A new age is dawning in the game industry in which games become a platform to assist worthy causes. A time is fast approaching in which games form a symbiotic relationship between consumer and marketer, benefiting each while serving a far greater purpose. It’s an age in which the world becomes a better place due to games, gamers, and marketers that get in the game.

Thanks for your mindshare.


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