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Game Changer: Why We Make Games With Real Giving Impact

Two years ago, I dropped everything in my life to start a self-funded mobile game publisher. I had played games, but I knew nothing about game development. I knew nothing about publishing or app stores. But I did know two things: I wanted to change lives, and I knew how to do it—using smartphones.
When my youngest son returned from Ecuador, where he built schools in remote mountain villages with Free the Children, he experienced firsthand the barriers that too commonly keep children around the world from getting an education. He spoke often about Javier—a 10-year-old boy who walked three hours to school in the morning and three hours home at the end of the day, trying to understand every step of the way how this daily ordeal could possibly improve his lot.
As we thought about the hardships facing children like Javier, the question grew far beyond simply “how can we help this child get to school?” It became about all of us. How could we expose people that couldn’t spend weeks in a country like Ecuador to the reality that my son experienced? To the reality that Javier exists in?
So began the Global Gaming Initiative, a for-profit mobile game publisher that donates the proceeds from its digital creations to a very select set of worthwhile causes. More than a vehicle for giving, GGI is a mouthpiece—a conduit for telling a story, raising awareness, and incentivizing the kind of concrete results that the Javiers of the world need. We like to call it “change in your pocket”—it’s always with you, and you can connect at anytime.
The qualification standards to be a selected GGI charity are very strict. The charity must provide a tangible good—a measureable, physical product that positively affects the lives of their recipients.
Our first game, Sidekick Cycle, benefits World Bicycle Relief, which delivers bicycles to students and workers across Africa. Dependable, sustainable transportation is transformative for societies. It is quite literally a vehicle for education, for economic growth, for better access to health care. It changes lives. To date, WBR has supplied more than 125,000 bicycles to developing nations; each bike costs $134 dollars, so for every 387 downloads, we can afford to send another bike to a child in need. Pretty amazing, huh?
Why is a tangible item important to us? We design each of our games around a “feedback loop” that continuously shows the impact of the community’s contributions through play. Building a feedback loop into a game isn’t easy. It can be preachy. It can be intrusive. So, after you buy our game, we thank you for your support and show you how your purchase has contributed to the donation of a bicycle. As you progress through the game, we keep a running total of bicycles given to WBR based on the total number of game sales. This applies when you make an in-game purchase, as well.
The integration is subtle, yet transparent, informing rather than interrupting. It’s your link to other human beings, made manifest, and it’s at the heart of everything we do.
Sidekick Cycle will be in the Apple app store for iOS devices in June; an Android version will follow a few weeks later.\n
Image via (cc) flickr user\n

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