“It is, without a doubt, the very worst video game I have ever played,” comedian Paul Saunders told the New Yorker magazine. He was talking about the video game Desert Bus. A creation of the American illusionists Penn and Teller, the game requires the player to drive a bus for eight hours across the desert, from Nevada to Las Vegas. It was designed as a comic riposte to anti-video-game politicians, who claimed that games should be “more like real life”.
Sadly, the game was so successful at demonstrating how dull total realism would be that no one wanted to release it. For more than a decade, Desert Bus remained little more than a rumour on gaming talkboards. Then a strange thing happened. In 2006, the game resurfaced. Comedians Graham Stark and Paul Saunders decided to play Desert Bus for charity. Under the name Desert Bus For Hope, a team drove the bus for four days without pause. They raised $22,805 for the charity Child’s Play, which works to improve the lives of children through play. Penn and Teller even sent the drivers lunch from a local Chinese restaurant.
Almost by accident, the group had created the idea of Gaming for Good. Today, thanks to game- streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming, charities and gamers are working together constantly through gameathons and other interactive campaigns, raising millions for good causes as well as awareness of important issues. “Before the pandemic, I was sceptical about the benefits of gaming, but innovative charities are showing us a world of new fundraising possibilities” commented digital expert Zoe Amar in a recent interview with Third Sector.
This is Gaming for Good. And it’s massive. In 2020, gamers using the Twitch platform raised $83 million for good causes; and Twitch is only one game-streaming platform among many. For charities looking to work with pro gamers, the opportunities are as good as limitless.
Gaming for Good: key tips
But if your charity hasn’t worked with gamers or used video gaming as part of a campaign before, how should it get started? Here are five top tips from the Salesforce.org Gaming for Good podcast:
- Do your research: understand which games and gamers will resonate with your target audience. Play the games yourself before you invest in a concept. You don’t want to discover that what seemed like a great idea on paper, translates into a boring or unplayable real-life experience.
- Choose the right games for your cause: for instance, the charity War Child runs an annual campaign called Armistice, in which players of online wargames are encouraged to adopt peaceful playing strategies — and to make a donation.
- Partner with influencers to create a buzz: work with your gamer partners to build anticipation and create a buzz well in advance of your event. Influencers in gaming have dedicated followings that you’ll have a hard time reaching in other ways. Work with your influencers. And bear in mind that top gaming influencers are as sought after as celebrities in any field, so be realistic.
- Be authentic: being true to your brand but also to your medium and your audience. This can be tricky, as gaming culture is often edgy in a way that can make some brands nervous. Work out in advance how you can collaborate with your influencers in a way that’s true to your brand.
- Plan for longevity: don’t rely on one big hit of activity, such as a one-off streaming session. Keep up your campaign’s momentum with regular communications, updates, prizes, micro-purchases and more. Once you have an audience, stay in touch and nurture it for future events and campaigns.
To find out more about how streaming, e-sports and engaging with the gaming community can help charities raise money and awareness for the causes they champion, check out this handy guide for best practice tips and advice.
It goes beyond the stereotypes around gaming to look at what really makes gamers tick, and how charities can engage with them to make the world a better place. Topics covered include how to get started with Gaming for Good, plan an effective campaign and build your following, as well as how charities such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, No Kid Hungry and Women Win have used gaming to raise money.
In 2020, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) staged a seven-week e-sports tournament, called Gamers Without Borders, featuring elite gamers from countries around the world. The event brought in more than 15 million viewers and raised over $10m for seven charities, including the NRC.
Check out Gaming for Good: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits for more insider tips and case studies.