Serious games go beyond entertainment and serve a higher purpose, such as education, training, or behaviour change. They use game mechanics and design principles to engage players and motivate them to learn or perform specific actions.
Serious games have been used in various domains, including healthcare, education, and social impact. In recent years, fundraising games and gamification applications have proved vital tools to raise awareness and provide fun incentives for people to invest in important causes. Game streaming on popular platforms such as Twitch and Youtube is one of the more popular methods. One such livestream raised over $10 million for the World Central Kitchen, which helps communities devastated by various disasters.
In this blog, I’ll discuss how video games can help not-for-profits and charities through various means and across many industries. We will touch on how charity game streaming has changed what it means to fundraise. And finally, I’ll list some key examples and case studies of video games that have achieved the above.
How Serious Games Can Help With Your Mission
Serious games can attract and engage a large audience of gamers and non-gamers alike. Video games are a popular form of entertainment, with billions of people playing them daily. Charities and not-for-profits can tap into this vast audience by leveraging existing games or creating custom games tailored to their organisations' objectives. Here are some ways games can support not-for-profits, based on my experience and some of the latest research:
Games can incentivise players to donate money or take other actions that support the charity's mission. For example, a game could offer in-game rewards or achievements for players who donate to charity, engage with an organisation on social media, or complete other real-world tasks. These incentives can motivate players to take action and contribute to the cause.
Games are inherently engaging and have the potential to capture people's attention for extended periods. By creating fun, educational, and interactive games, not-for-profits can keep people engaged and invested in their cause.
Games can make an emotional connection with players by putting them in the shoes of those affected by the issue. Through immersive experiences, games can help players understand the real-life impact of the cause and inspire them to take action. For example, the game Bury Me, My Love is an interactive fiction based on real stories of Syrian refugees. The game gives players a sense of weight to their choices, and its real-time system draws players into a genuine sense of the character's journey.
Games can be designed to change players' behaviour by simulating real-life scenarios and encouraging players to make decisions that support the not-for-profit's goals. By providing feedback and tracking progress, games can help players see the impact of their choices and encourage them to continue making positive changes.
Games are novel and unique in capturing and retelling stories and experiences, making them a powerful tool for spreading awareness and reaching a broader audience. An IGEA report in 2022 resolved that 74% of Australians feel games connect people. By incorporating social sharing features into their games, not-for-profits can leverage the power of social networks to amplify their message and encourage others to get involved.
Games can be used to raise charity funds by incorporating donation mechanisms directly into the game. Games like Don-Ay, where any in-game action from regular play to watching ads or getting achievements gain points that translate to actual donations. Not-for-profits can also partner with game developers to create limited edition or exclusive games sold or auctioned off to raise money for their cause. Like the popular game, Subnautica ran a special event to raise funds for the Ocean Cleanup Foundation.
Games can be used to educate people on complex issues or topics in a fun and engaging way. By breaking down complex concepts into simple, interactive experiences, not-for-profits can help raise awareness and understanding of their cause.
Games can be a powerful tool for not-for-profits looking to incentivise action, raise awareness, change behaviours, and raise funds for their cause. By leveraging the unique qualities of games, not-for-profits can create immersive, engaging experiences that inspire people to get involved and make a difference.
Charity streaming and why it’s gained popularity
Game streams have emerged as a popular way to raise funds for not-for-profit organisations. These streams involve content creators broadcasting their gameplay online and encouraging viewers to make donations to support a particular cause. Here are some reasons why game streams are an effective way to raise funds for charity and some examples of popular charity streams and how much they raised.
Reach: Game streams can reach a broad audience of gamers and fans passionate about specific games or causes. Streamers can leverage their popularity and social media presence to promote their streams and encourage their followers to donate.
Engagement: Game streams are highly engaging and can create a sense of community among viewers with common interests. Streamers can encourage donations and create a fun, supportive atmosphere by interacting with viewers and creating a sense of connection with their audience.
Cost-effective: Game streams are a relatively low-cost way to raise charity funds. You only need a computer or console with a camera, an internet connection, and a streaming platform like Twitch or YouTube to get started. However, for more quality streams, you’d need things like better cameras, lighting and additional monitors. Streaming is still accessible for anyone to participate and support a good cause and can be cost-effective depending on your audience and set-up.
Examples of popular charity streams and how much they raised:
St. Jude PLAY LIVE: This annual fundraising event encourages gamers to stream their gameplay and raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. In 2021, the event raised over $13 million for the hospital.
Extra Life: Extra Life is a 24-hour gaming marathon that raises funds for children's hospitals worldwide. The event has raised over $70 million since its inception in 2008, with individual streamers raising anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.
Zeldathon: Zeldathon is a charity marathon focusing on the Legend of Zelda series. Over the past decade, Zeldathon has raised over $2.5 million for various charities, including Child's Play and Direct Relief.
Fundraising through game streams has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and for a good reason. With the ability to reach a broad audience, engage viewers, and raise funds at a relatively low cost, game streams have become an effective tool for not-for-profits to raise funds and create awareness for their causes.
13 games that non-profits are using to make an impact
Several video games have successfully used the power of play to spread awareness, educate the public and also raise funds for charities and social causes. Here are a few examples of games and gamification projects helping not-for-profits reach their mission:
Free Rice is a trivia game run by the U.N World Food Programme. For every correct question answered, the dollar equivalent of 10 grains of rice is donated to people in over 80 countries worldwide. To date, Free Rice has donated over $1.8 Million worth of rice, with over 800k players engaging in trivia daily. This is a simple way to engage an audience and support a cause on multiple platforms.
This mobile app lets you choose any charity and start exercising to raise money. Activities can be from walking to jogging to even dancing. You can choose from over 40 charities for causes ranging from children, animals or the environment. Players can also challenge their friends and families for exercise milestones to raise more money and spread the cause overall. Charity Miles and its members have raised over $2 Million connectively for important causes. This app is an excellent example of how gamification of a leisurely activity can lead to excellent results!
This casual simulation and crafting game is about conserving and keeping bees. The game developers, TNgineers, wanted to create a game that shows players the importance of bees to the environment in an intriguing and semi-educational setting. Bees are as beneficial to the gameplay as to real-life environments, so a portion of the game's profits goes directly to international beekeeping and conservation charities. APICO has raised tens of thousands of dollars for these organisations.
Sharmila is a training game created by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to help better educate its employees and cooperating partners to apply a humanitarian protection lens to their work, improving accountability to affected populations. Sharmila aims to create knowledge and awareness of these sometimes hard-to-grasp humanitarian protection and accountability concepts to improve their application in WFP programmes.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
This open-world adventure game focuses on the good deeds and conservation efforts of young Alba, visiting her grandparents on a Mediterranean island. The developer, UsTwo games, is committed to helping reduce their carbon footprint, primarily through their games. While Alba already has strong conservation messages, the developers committed to planting a tree for each copy of the game sold. So far, they have planted over a million trees!
Chernobilyte is a survival horror game that introduced a downloadable digital pack to support the victims in Ukraine directly. The downloadable pack 4 different posters and are priced at $3.99 per pack. All proceeds from this pack are directly donated to the Pure Heart Foundation, a non-profit charitable organisation focusing on humanitarian aid and youth projects.
This mobile simulation game offers a semi-realistic view of the life of an Australian park ranger. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) wanted to showcase Australia's unique biodiversity to young people worldwide. KangaZoo teaches players about actions that lead to positive environmental and social change. This game is an excellent example of how organisations can incentivise action and awareness of important issues through engaging media.
CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience
Members of Delve interactive, the developers of this game, almost fell into homelessness themselves before they came up with the idea for this game. In their words, it is a hate letter to a growing indifference in the world towards the homelessness crisis. The choices in the game are raw and honest and can be emotionally frustrating at times, which makes it a highly effective way of engaging and changing players. Delve Interactive have pledged 20% of the game's profits to feed directly into organisations helping challenge homelessness.
XEOPlay wanted to create a game where players could have fun while making real-world changes. They achieved this with Tilt World, a game whose mission is to end climate change by simply ‘tilting’ the device. The games' activities are mirrored through We Forest, to plant a million trees in Madagascar. XEOPlay is hoping to create change through more play-sourced games for change.
Half the Sky Movement: The Game
The United States Agency created these three minigames for International Development (USAID) in partnership with Games for Change. Each game highlights essential topics like maternal health, child health and girls' education and empowerment. The games were distributed in India and East Africa to raise awareness and education.
ICED: I Can End Deportation
This game was created by Breakthrough, a human rights organisation, to raise awareness about immigration issues. The game puts the player in the shoes of an undocumented immigrant and challenges them to navigate the complex immigration system. ICED demonstrates how new media is an effective tool for human rights organisations to advocate and raise public awareness. The game has partnerships with more than 100 students and community groups, reaching over 28 million people.
Wooftrax is a gamified app that converts dog walks to donations. The app has partnered with many charities and animal shelters, all needing help. This ‘dog-powered’ fundraising concept is one way to provide an easy solution for charities and organisations looking to fundraise and give social sharing opportunities. The app donates 11 to 25 cents to any charity per mile walked, these donations come from private sponsors and companies choosing to support a good cause.
Crab God is a strategy simulation game that focuses on reviving and restoring ocean biodiversity. The game is built on a semi-realistic view of the ecosystems and webs that connect ocean life. The players are encouraged to think about their choices to maintain the balance of life with potentially harsh realities. The game also focuses on micro-donations to encourage players to make real-life impacts.
Serious Games and the Power of Play
Creating a serious game for a not-for-profit organisation can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. By working together, we can create a game that effectively raises awareness about critical social issues and helps drive positive change in the world.
In conclusion, Serious games have the power to engage, educate, and motivate players to take action for social and environmental causes. Video games and gaming streams can also raise significant funds for charities and social causes. By tapping into the popularity of video games and using game mechanics to incentivise positive behaviours, charities can raise funds, change public perception, or progress towards their mission.
As a serious game development pioneer, I am passionate about helping not-for-profit organisations reach their goals through the power of play. You can contact us through the contact form to discuss using games to impact your cause.