Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of game mechanics and social games – in fact one of the companies I’ve chaired (Creative Enclave) launched the first truly massively multiplayer social game on the Facebook platform in 2007. Back then, Zynga consisted of no more than a handful of staff. Back then people didn’t take social games that seriously.
Today, however, it is a totally different story. Social games are BIG business. Take a look at some of the stats emerging from the S-1 Zynga filed as it catapults towards an IPO: 38,000 virtual items are created within their game portfolio a second. Yep, you read that right – a second!
Zynga has 60 million DAUs (daily active users) and here’s the kicker for me: they conduct 2 billion minutes of play a day!!!
What is that telling you?
Some relatively privileged folks have a ton of idle time?
Play is really pivotal to the human psychi?
But are we at the point in our development as a species and as custodians for our planet where we can afford that much ‘down time’?
We still have people starving by their millions, we still have diseases that could be cured or prevented. Surely, we owe it to ourselves to focus on solving these issues before we embark on such wholesale frittering away of our time?
Yes and no.
YES, playing games like Farmville doesn’t progress humanity.
But also NO: I am not advocating that we do away with play altogether. Far from it. As I said at the outset, I am a huge fan of play.
What I am in favor of is social gaming with a purpose.
What if, in the course of having fun within a game, a user wasn’t only growing their capabilities as a mafia boss or trainmaster, but they were also (or instead) using their brains to help solve seemingly intractable disease puzzles?
Social gaming should help people come together to improve the world we live in. If we are playing games, let’s ensure they have a higher purpose. Let’s ensure they enable us to make greater insights into our pyschi, improving our understanding of our emotions, of our bodies and ultimately moving us to the point where we are not bounded by disease and scarce resources.
Aligned with this insight I want to draw your attention to the move by some of the Twitter co-founders back into The Obvious Corporation. I’ve written a fair amount about Obvious and product factories, but what is really interesting (especially in the context of this post) is the mission statement of the new Obvious:
The Obvious Corporation makes systems that help people work together to improve the world.The proliferation of technology can seem superfluous, but with the right approach, technology can benefit individuals, organizations and society.
It seems that others, like Ev, Biz and Jason are thinking along similar paths.
[As a footnote, I do recognize the great work Mark and the Zynga team are doing in supporting disaster relief. What I am advocating extends far beyond that focus.]