Yesterday I mentioned that one of the projects I’ve given up is an idea to raise money for charity using video games. I still think this is a useful idea, I just never had the time to pursue it. I want to throw it out here and see what you think. (Yes, you, hypothetical reader!)
The basic concept is to take the obsessive, borderline-addict enthusiasm that MMORPGs generate, and direct that toward charity.
You come up with a game that’s free to play, a game that’s genuinely fun on its own. Then you have certain elements – weapons, armor, spells, items, whatever – that you can buy with real-world money. Lots of games do this already, though it’s a controversial business model. But what if all this “optional upgrade” money, instead of going to some company’s bottom line, instead was donated to, say, Doctors Without Borders, or another worthy organization?
If you were up-front about how the system worked and what its goal was, I think gamers could get excited about it. People love nothing more than feeling good about themselves, and who wouldn’t want to think that the money they spend on their gaming habit – which they might normally feel a little guilty about – is actually a +1 to their Ethics stat?
This model would have to overcome some hurdles. The biggest, of course, is that games don’t design or build themselves, and servers don’t pay for themselves.
There are a few ways to handle this. One is to have only a percentage of the money go to charity, and the rest go to game costs (of course you’d have to be up-front about that too). Another way is to have a subscription fee to cover costs, and only the optional upgrades go to charity. But the former option is less exciting as a selling point, and the latter is a barrier to entry – a major problem for a game you’re hoping will go viral.
Two other options would be to find people willing to donate the necessary time and resources (which would be tough), or to piggyback on the success of an existing game by convincing the creators to add pay-for-charity content. Honestly, that last strategy might be the most realistic.
What do you think? Would you play a game like that? Do you think this could work? Does something like this exist already, and I just haven’t heard about it?