How social gaming uses virtual giving to get real results

One of the most encouraging and exciting applications of social gaming is the ability to leverage its massive popularity to generate contributions to causes and humanitarian crises. We saw this in January this year when Zynga created limited edition items in FarmVille, FishVille, Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker that were purchased by users from 47 countries with proceeds going to victims of the Haiti earthquake.

This was the first time Zynga gave 100% of the proceeds from the sale of virtual goods to charity, in this case the World Food Program, and it should serve for a model for social gaming in the future. In the end, Zynga generated $1.5 in donations with Farmville users donating over $1 million.

The limited edition items created across the four games had a Haitian touch including Haiti white corn in FarmVille, a Haitian drum in Mafia Wars, a Haiti fish in FishVille, and a chip package inZynga Poker. Further, links for donations were promoted on Zynga’s other games including Café WorldPetVille,, and the site.

Too often relief efforts are frustrated by donor fatigue, limited government resources or even public fear. We see all three factors impacting the relief funds being raised for the 20 million victims of the tragic floods in Pakistan. This is where social games can help by stepping into the void and leveraging the global reach and fun of the games to help generate donations on short notice.

Obviously the same dynamic has enormous potential over the long term. NPD Group reports that 1 in 5 adult Americans played social games in the last three months. Add to that gaming’s adoption among kids and factor in future generations growing up with Facebook and social games, and you can see how it can become a mainstay of collective giving in the future. What’s more, it’s great PR for the brands and even the players get to collect assets that aid them in the game.

The use of new media technology to help others is the next stage in the necessary integration of living and giving. As Don Pallotta explains in his insightful book, Uncharitable, the separation between the lives we live and the comparatively small charitable donations we give, mean that we can’t meet the crises we face with necessary force.

My hope is that in the future technology and social business will enable sustained, social giving. Not only do games like Farmville make it fun, but we all get to enjoy the most selfish reward of all – the knowledge and feeling that you helped others.

Do you agree gaming companies show use their popularity to do good? What about the social networks themselves?