This month, 4Good Games closed its seed financing round and it’s ready to create free-to-play mobile games with social impact. 4Good Games founders Ilmari Hakkola and Markus Eräpolku aim to engage players with purpose. They want to connect in-game actions with real-world impact. In other words, the company wants to make every play session meaningful. We spoke with Hakkola about the challenges of doing something like this and its effect on the mobile game industry. Without further due, let’s jump into the interview.
“When gamifying real-world issues there’s always the risk of being too serious or boring”
Creating a new game studio or publisher is hard. However, what are the challenges of creating mobile games with social impact?
There are several challenges related to games with social impact we are aware of. I’m sure we’ll face more when we are closer to the release of our first game. One of the things is that when playing a game, players are usually trying to escape the reality and not face it. When gamifying real world issues there’s always the risk of being too serious or boring – then again you can’t make real issues too fun either. Finding the perfect balance of fun and impact is quite difficult. When working with different charities and NGO’s (Non Governmental Organisations), there might be a mismatch with their values and with the tone of the game we’re building -but so far the conversations have been good and many understand that in order to be appealing for the desired audiences, we need to think games first.
That’s not the only challenge awaiting 4Good Games
Another issue Hakkola talked about it is related to communicating their concept. Forwarding a big portion of 4Good Games proceedings for NGO’s and charities – to the players. Hakkola also added:
This is one of our key selling points of our game, that achieving a set of in-game targets will result into actual donations for charities and NGO’s fighting real world issues. Apple doesn’t allow charity in their games, which is understandable considering how much fraud there is related to charity. As Apple does not have an ecosystem or infrastructure for tying donations to in-app purchases, there is no way for them to know where the money would actually go -unless it’s their own campaign such as the RED campaign. Because of this we can’t give the players the possibility to donate anything through the game – or even communicate that a portion of their in-app purchases would be donated for charity. However, the idea is that they just play the game, and we as a company will donate the money.
That’s not all
The main problem is how to communicate this in an engaging way but still within the Apple policies. Also at the moment, Facebook doesn’t allow ads which deal with “social issues”, and environmental issues is one of the blacklisted topics. This makes it difficult for us to use the social impact angle in our paid UA. Finally, transparency is one of the key things we need to think of. As we intend to put a lot of our profits away we need to be very clear about how the money flows: what are the company expenses and what are the proceedings for the NGO’s and what is actually done with money. Having a credible team, credible investors and credible partners is a good starting point – but we really need to prove that we’re here for the cause and that this is not just another marketing trick.
4Good Games’ process of making every session meaningful
Making every session meaningful plays an important part in social impact games. When we asked about how 4Good Games are planning to make that, Hakkola said the following:
The metagame will be built around the NGO’s and their campaigns. We have monthly campaigns where players have a collection target of in-game collectibles. Reaching a communal target will unlock a certain amount of money to be given for the NGO’s. The NGO’s can also promote their values in various parts of the game experience. By completing the campaigns, the players will unlock some campaign specific items for their collection. They earn badges for each campaign they participate in and can see what real world actions they have contributed to. Meaningful experiences are not only restricted to the campaigns and real world activities. What we rarely see in mobile games are those little moments of realization and delight that some other great games do. Something unexpected that breaks the pattern of a gameplay routine. The moments like in Journey when you encounter a fellow traveler for the first time. Or in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass where you need to blow the candle, and you actually need to blow to the 3DS microphone. Little snippets of joy that make the experiences unforgettable.
Making the world a better place
Do you think that the mobile game industry can help the world more by leaning to games with social impacts? That’s what we asked and here’s the answer:
I think all businesses need to contribute more towards social impact and making this world better. This should be the driving principle of all businesses – how they can contribute to making this world better and more equal place for everyone. I know it sounds naive, but this is what we need to do. It should be especially in the agenda of the biggest companies with widest reach. They reach billions of people and have tremendous power over how we think, consume and live. They also employ some of the brightest minds on this planet. To really make a change, these companies should look past their profits and really think what they can do so we could consume less and in a more sustainable way.
Hakkola also added the following:
Of course there is a lot of movement in the CSR (company social responsibility) space and companies need to look more responsible as this is what the consumers require nowadays. But it should be more than a necessary evil, they really have all the power to drive the change in the consumer behavior. Games also reach billions of people. Games also have huge potential in giving people information about making more sustainable choices in their life. People want to be sustainable but often within the zone they are comfortable in. We need to provide them with sustainable thoughts and choices that fit their lifestyle. We think the key is to make great games – otherwise no one will play them and the impact will be small.
How can the mobile games industry help your cause?
When we asked this question, 4Good Games Founder said the following:
We hope that we will see similar actions in other companies, and we have – there’s the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) facilitated Playing For The Planet Alliance, formed by some of the biggest gaming companies including mobile game giants like Rovio, Supercell and Niantic, each setting sustainable targets related to their businesses. Supercell founders and employees have also contributed huge amounts of money to fight social issues in Finland. And there’s countless more examples of how games have contributed for social impact. But there’s still a big division between serious games and other games. It would be great to see casual games with massive reach promote more sustainable values. We also hope to see Apple and Google come up with charity integrations in their API’s as donating money for charities through in-app purchases would be a very simple and engaging way for people to contribute. This would be a big step towards really gamifying social impact and integrating it directly to the gameplay experience.
Creating social impact games is not easy. Thanks to Ilmari Hakkola for talking with us and for providing us with much new information about social impact games and the challenges of saving the world. From all of us at Mobidictum, we wish 4Good Games the best in their mission.