Zynga, the owner of addictive Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, launched the "Sweet Seeds for Haiti" with the goal of lifting hundreds of impoverished Haitian families from destitution. It may just be working.
By channeling the power of its hundreds of millions of active players across multiple browser-based games, Zynga hopes to be the first major success story in the field of "virtual awareness." Pixels and Policy investigates.
Collecting Digital Dollars for Real Relief
Zynga's FarmVille isn't the first virtual world to put its weight behind promoting social change, but its effort counts as one of the largest, most coordinated initiatives in recent memory. A report from VentureBeat explains:
With Sweet Seeds, users buy sweet potato seeds with their virtual
currency, which they earn in the game or pay for with real money. About
50 percent of the proceeds are donated to nonprofits in Haiti: FATEM.org and FONKOZE.org.
San Francisco-based Zynga also has a similar program in its YoVille virtual town simulation game with 140 million inhabitants.
Between YoVille and FarmVille, Zynga has captured over 200 million potential donors and a total of over $487,000 in donations to Haiti's most vulnerable citizens. The seeds cost 25 "Farm Dollars," the equivalent of just $5 USD, with the catch that they can only be planted for a week. After that, players must re-purchase the "license" to plant these super spuds.
Zynga's bet on virtual potatoes isn't as risky as it might seem – players are willing to shell out money for seeds despite the availability of free crops because the "profit margin" of the Haiti seeds is higher than most "free" crops. Players rush to get an edge over millions of their friends in the race for ever-higher "farm levels" despite the fact that the money gained from the Haiti seeds has no real value.
By mixing fun and social responsibility, Zynga has helped lift over 500 Haitian children and families from poverty, according to FATEM charity president Jacky Poteau.
The Meaning of Social Action in the Metaverse
Zynga isn't the first to leap into the fray of social activism. Back in August, thousands of Second Lifers donated over L$250,000 to United 4 Iran, an activist group committed to promoting democracy after what many regarded as a sham election.
After violence in the streets made real-world protesting a death wish for Iranians, hundreds moved into the virtual world to hold protests and stage candlelight vigils. The impact of these rallies was so great that it attracted the attention of CNN and other world media outlets, providing Second Life a new burst of publicity and further condemning Iranian violence.
Pixels and Policy asks: Do virtual worlds have the capacity to create measurable change in the world by promoting social activism as a core tenet of the Metaverse?