Gaming for Good: how charities can benefit from the richest sector in the entertainment industry

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If your vision of gamers is some kind of underground-dwelling community of vampiric energy-drink guzzlers, useful perhaps for helping unlock your iPad but little all else, then allow Salesforce's new documentary-style podcast to alter your mindset.

Over 40 minutes, Gaming for Good shares the secrets of various charities and nonprofit organisations that have used gaming to raise gigantic funds for their cause. And with the industry currently valued at around £137 billion – a figure only set to rise according to market research agency Newzoo – there is huge scope for more collaboration.

In the podcast, Will Bond, aided by figures from charities such as War Child UK and Child’s Play, explores how gaming has already been used to promote good causes, but also tackles the issues such as approaching gamers to represent your cause and how to deal with mistakes and the inevitable spontaneity of your donors.

Gaming for Good also helps dispel the myth that gaming is the preserve of a nerdish subculture, near impossible to permeate if you even had the inclination. Bond makes the point around 9.2 million people are reported to spend more than three hours playing Candy Crush every single day – that’s people like you, your boss, your mum and your gran – and that it is this variety not only in software but also in audience that has seen gaming outgrow film, music and TV to become the biggest sector in the entire entertainment industry.

One means of fundraising highlighted by the podcast is live streaming. Peculiar though it might seem from the outside, watching other people play games is massive business. Live streaming platform Twitch has 2.2 million broadcasters every month, being viewed by a whopping 15 million active users every single day. If you can find a gamer sympathetic to your cause, you may be able to negotiate they spend some time taking donations for your charity.

"This is a lot like traditional sponsorship," says Nick Scott, Head of Partnerships at War Child UK. "Just in the same way that we would ask somebody to do a marathon, and they would go out and say, ‘Right, today I’m going to dress up in this silly costume if you donate to me’; in the same way, you’re seeing live streamers do online challenges, engaging with their community and asking people to sponsor."

But initiatives such as Child’s Play’s Desert Bus for Hope – a marathon of users playing obscure 90s game Desert Bus, which is often considered to be the most boring in the world – prove you don’t necessarily need professional gamers on board to make an impact. Running since 2007, Desert Bus for Hope has raised more than $700,000 since its inception by building its own dedicated community, with the annual streams accompanied now by "dramatic readings, improv sketches, musical numbers and niche nerdy auctions".

Gaming for Good also looks into how you can work with games developers themselves to include your message within the infrastructure of a game. Micro transactions, for example, are an intrinsic part of online gaming; in some countries it is legally classed as gambling, given the nature of purchasable ‘packs’ that hide their contents, but swapping guaranteed rewards for a charitable donation can pay dividends.

War Child UK has worked with tens of studios to create in-game items as part of its award-winning Armistice campaign, creating a win-win where gamers are able to promote causes in which they believe, gain kudos for doing so, and the charity gains publicity and funding.

"It’s not something where you should expect a quick fix," Nick Scott says in Gaming for Good. "For us it’s quite strategic, it’s quite long term and we’ve gradually grown that, but it’s a huge industry. It’s by far and away the biggest entertainment industry right now, and there are a lot of people connected to it who, like everyone else, want to support good causes."

To hear more about winning strategies for incorporating gaming into fundraising, as well as advice on how to avoid the various pitfalls, you can listen to the full Gaming for Good podcast on the Salesforce.org website.

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