2011-11-18

Co.Exist

WeTopia: What Would Happen If Zynga Made Games For Good?

Instead of spending money to buy a fake online cow, players of WeTopia advance by buying a real cow for real farmers in the developing world.

Games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars are mindless fun, but they don’t exactly contribute anything to society. But the same demographic that plays these games the most (women between 35 and 55) is also the demographic that is most likely to get involved with a cause or charitable organization. That’s where online entertainment startup Sojo Studios comes in.

Sojo is launching its first Facebook game, dubbed WeTopia, today. From the looks of it (and from testing it out), WeTopia seems like it could become an addictive destination. But this game has a purpose outside of racking up gold coins and accumulating property. As players finish activities and tasks in-game, they collect a commodity known as "joy"—and that joy translates into donations for nonprofits around the world.

Sojo Studios founder Lincoln Brown first became inspired to create a game with a mission after noticing that the media coverage of Haiti’s devastating earthquake died down just a few months after the tragedy. That lack of coverage corresponded with a drop in giving to the cause. Brown thought: "There had to be a way to create better giving experiences."

In his mind, a better giving experience would consist of a scalable platform where users could see where their money was going and who it was helping (i.e. you gave $20 to a certain community in Haiti and it helped build a library). It had to be uplifting, empowering, and possess staying power. "No one likes to be asked to give lots of times," says Brown.

And so WeTopia was born. The vision was so powerful that Brown was able to lure veterans of Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Google, Disney, and top social gaming companies to help out.

On the surface, WeTopia looks any other community-building game. By adding buildings, shops, and crops, players collect joy, which can be used both for in-game rewards and to give to nonprofits like Heifer International, The Children’s Health Fund, and Soles4Souls.

As in other games, players can purchase Facebook credits to spend in-game and move faster through WeTopia. This is one source of revenue for nonprofit donations. But players don’t have to buy anything to donate; WeTopia also earns money from advertisers. Sojo Studios has a policy in place to never give less than 20% of its revenue to nonprofits. Over time, that percentage will grow. "We’re not going to be profitable day one," says Brown.

It’s not as if other companies haven’t attempted to create games that do good in the real world. But "there’s not one shining example of a game for change that has had tremendous impact," explains Brown. Can WeTopia be that game? Check it out here and decide for yourself.

Sojo Studios

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4 Comments

  • Firewatershores

    "what would happen if zynga made games for good?" sweet seeds for haiti, cityville crops for japan earthquake relief, tornado victim relief, various mafia wars campaigns (seen a few here and there), and whatever else they have on zynga.org.  
    i'm not saying saying zynga is a huge philanthropist, but the the article completely ignores a lot of relevant facts, right from the first paragraph.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Thanks for your comment. I still wouldn't say that Zynga is making "games for good." Players have the option to purchase special goods in-game that contribute to charitable causes, but that's completely different from WeTopia's model, where players don't have to spend any of their own money to contribute--they just have to play the game.

  • Jack Lyness

    The game strategy and methodology seems identical to a Zynga game. Identical. Ariel, is there support for Wetopia from Zynga?

  • Nathaniel Tice

    I am glad to see a social media game with a purpose. Looking forward to exploring it and its design. Thanks for the review, 8D