Over the years of covering the virtual worlds industry, one of the highlights has been seeing grass-roots fundraising efforts. Using my own country of Australia as an example, significant amounts of money have been raised for the 2009 Bushfires and this year’s series of calamities in Queensland. There’s already planning under way for events to support those affected by the horrendous events in Japan over the past week and Linden Lab are doing their bit as well.
Add to that ongoing initiatives such as Relay for Life and you have a well-established means of making a difference. All of these examples come from Second Life, but at a wider level some serious initiatives are starting to see the light of day.
One such initiative is being driven by a leader in the social gaming sphere, Zynga. Creators of the (in)famous game Farmville amongst others, Zynga.org is devoted to raising money for worthy causes, using Zynga’s worlds as the vehicle. It marries two very powerful forces: virtual goods and a desire to help others. Using the current Haiti disaster as an example, 1.5 million dollars was raised and significant amounts are expected for the current tragedy in Japan:
Twelve hours after the earthquake struck, on Friday, March 11th, 8pm pst, Zynga launched in-game initiatives that made donations possible across a number of our most popular games, including: CityVille, FarmVille, Zynga Poker, FrontierVille and Words with Friends. Vampire Wars is now live with a campaign, as well, and YoVille and FishVille will soon launch theirs.
The impetus for doing non-profit work is always multi-faceted. Aside from the obvious aspect of being community-minded, most companies also know the good PR such activities draw. The huge number of social virtual world users is an obvious area where demonstrating good corporate citizenship is increasingly important. Zynga because of its size has drawn some substantial criticism over some aspects of its games / worlds, and initiatives like this help balance the equation a little.