New Zealand’s largest online social gaming company SmallWorlds has raised $38,000 for earthquake relief by selling limited edition ‘virtual goods.’ 6197 players of the game from around the world purchased a special cape for their game character to wear to show their support, with all proceeds going to the International Red Cross.
This is the first time ‘virtual goods’ have been used for fundraising in New Zealand.
Each cape cost 2000 gold coins in the game, the equivalent of US$4.95. In addition, members of the game’s community also organised their own online charity events, memorials and messages of support.
"We have a strong online community, and when these disasters struck we asked ourselves what we could collectively do to help,” says SmallWorlds co-founder Mitch Olson.
"Games have sophisticated economies of their own. Even though we’re dealing in virtual goods that only have an impact inside our game, sizeable amounts of real money are involved. Just like in real world economics, scarcity and a good cause make something valuable, and our players were happy to buy capes to raise funds this way.”
SmallWorlds players also organised their own activities of support, including online messages of support, a ‘Christchurch Requiem’ space containing virtual candles for the victims of the quake, and an Artists Memorial for Japan set in a Japanese prayer garden. One user organised an art auction with donated digital art, which led to 98 capes being sold.
SmallWorlds can be played for free and players earn gold by completing missions which is then spent on customising their avatar, decorating virtual rooms and buying special items. Many players also choose to buy more gold and items using real money.
100% of the proceeds have been donated to the International Red Cross to support their relief work after the 22 February Christchurch earthquake and 11 March Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Launched in 2008 by entrepreneurs Mitch Olson and Darren Green, SmallWorlds is New Zealand’s largest social gaming company with 6.5 million registered players. SmallWorlds currently employs 35 staff and plans to create 20 new jobs this year.
Games on social networks earned over US$1 billion last year, and are expected to be a US$5 billion industry by 2015. Over 300m people play games on Facebook alone each month.