The Games Nonprofits (don’t) Play

Carnival Games

Confession, I have never played any of the Facebook games people love so much. Most notably FarmVille or the recently released CityVille. I imagine if I decided to play the game, I’d probably get hooked, but I detest the requests and updates that end up on the my wall, and I don’t want to do that to my friends. I guess I’m a curmudgeon like that.

I was a little amazed today when I read that CityVille reached 6 million users in 8 days, a feat that took FarmVille 46 days to achieve. Clearly, in it’s third major outing Zynga has  a pretty good formula under it’s belt. Even more astounding is this stat that indicates that FarmVille, which is a little long in the tooth at this point, is still out performing television giants like Sunday Night Football and Glee. Impressive numbers for sure, but nowhere near Activision’s Call of Duty:Black Ops which moved 5.6 million units in it’s first day, grossing $360 million in sales. But despite it’s massive online audience (400,000 people playing as I write this post on the Playstation Network, and probably the same on XBox Live and PC) Black Ops is missing a key ingredient - social connectivity. FarmVille and CityVille offer social mechanisms that let you help your friends and your friends help you build better farms and better cities in an ongoing game, not 10 minute episodes of mayhem.

As this Mashable post points out, advertisers are salivating at the prospect and opportunity to get into the social gaming market. The non-profit world isn’t quite there yet, but like Facebook and Google Ads before it, I’m sure we’ll be jumping into the fray before long.

Missing from the conversation about social gaming though are the opportunities for non-profits to participate in the development with big game houses. What could a non-profit who works on sustainable development achieve in terms of public education to a non-core audience in CityVille alone? My assumption is that contributing to the development of the gameplay design instead of virtual billboards, a non-profit’s message would be better assimilated. A virtual PSA about LED lighting in your real home seems less compelling than earning a reward for using LED lighting in the city you are building. Add to those personal rewards the socialcasting nature of these games, and a non-profit couldn’t ask for a better “tell a friend” feature.

There is a bigger discussion about whether or not gaming changes behavior - as a gamer that discussion seems riddled with slippery slopes - and whether the impact of that investment can be measured. But I’ve gone on long enough.

There is a great opportunity here for the non-profits and game houses to partner to create something better and more meaningful.

[Photo Credit:  Some rights reserved by jami0821]