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Virtual goods yield real returns for Christchurch

Virtual goods yield real returns for Christchurch
Gaming for a good cause: New Zealand’s largest online social gaming company SmallWorlds has raised $38,000 by selling limited-edition virtual goods to thousands of players.
SmallWorld's limited-editions capes

The sale of virtual goods is contributing to the Christchurch earthquake relief effort for the first time in New Zealand.

Kiwi online social gaming company SmallWorlds has raised $38,000 for the International Red Cross through purchases on its online virtual reality game.

Players were able to purchase a limited-edition cape for their online characters to wear in support of Christchurch.

Each cape cost the equivalent of US$4.95 in the game’s currency, and all of the proceeds were donated to the cause.

Members of the game’s community also organised their own online charity events, memorials and messages of support.

A memorial space, dubbed the Christchurch Requiem, was created inside the game, and this was decorated with virtual candles for victims of the quake.

SmallWorlds was launched in 2008 by entrepreneurs Mitch Olson and Darren Green, who won the top Social Computing prize at the Adobe MAX awards in 2009.

“We have a strong online community, and when these disasters struck we asked ourselves what we could collectively do to help,” says 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,” he says.

Following the earthquake in Japan, an artist memorial space was set up within the game inside a Japanese prayer garden, in remembrance of the earthquake’s victims.

The site currently has 6.5 million registered players worldwide.