2012-09-12

Co.Exist

Seeds: A Microlending Game Where Farmville Meets Kiva

Instead of giving your dollars to Zynga to make your virtual farm grow faster, what if the real dollars you invested in a virtual game went to help a real entrepreneur?

You don’t have to search for long to see examples of game designers focusing their talents on games that do social good. WeTopia, a popular Farmville-style Facebook game that lets users send donations to nonprofits around the world, even has endorsements from Justin Bieber and Ellen Degeneres. But the newest game for good—Seeds—has a microlending twist.

Created by a team that includes award-winning game designer Brad Wiggins and Amanda Wixted, the former Tech Lead of Zynga’s iOS team, Seeds gamifies microlending—a practice popularized by Kiva that lets people loan small amounts of cash (on the order of $25) to borrowers in the developing world, most of whom lack a credit history.

The idea for Seeds came to founder Rachel Cook, a former equities trader, after reading an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times about the positive effects of microlending on women. Before launching Seeds, Cook worked on a documentary on the subject called The Microlending Film Project. Now, instead of just chronicling the impact of microlending on women, Cook hopes to encourage participation.

The Seeds project consists of two components: a game and an API. The game (a rudimentary version is in the Apple app store) asks users to rebuild a crumbling civilization, monetizing impatience (users can level up faster by buying virtual dollars with real money) and sales of virtual goods. Proceeds are reinvested in microloans.

"All money goes into specific pools designated for different types of businesses. We make decisions about how to disperse that," explains Cook. "We’re mitigating risk by building partnerships on the ground." Seeds is already working with multiple organizations in Kenya, including one that does asset financing (in this case, farmers are given heifers that function as collateral for loans).

The second piece of the project—the API—is intended to be used in other, more established games. "The overall ambitious idea is going beyond what Seeds as a game is," says Cook. In Second Life, for example, the API could allow users to donate money to Seeds with the purchase of virtual goods.

Seeds is currently raising money both to build out the game and the API on Fundable. "The prototype [game] is very much a gamified microlending platform, and the game we’re seeking Fundable funds to build is very much an immersive game," says Cook. The ultimate goal, of course, is to build a Zynga-style addictive game that keeps microloans flowing.

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