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How Playmob is gaming for a better world

CEO and co-founder Jude Ower on the power of playable ads to affect real social change

For all of the games industry's amazing and generous charitable endeavours, from Special Effect to Humble Bundle, it still contributes less money than any of the major entertainment industries.

When you consider that gaming is now on par with sports with an estimated global revenue of $149 billion in 2017, it's a difficult pill to swallow that the generosity of games is even outshone by that of the traditional software industry.

Of course, as an industry, we are moving in the right direction. Awesome Games Done Quick raises mountainous piles of cash for worthy causes each year, as do collaborative in-game fundraisers like War Child's Armistice.

But money, irrespective of how much, can only take a cause so far. Ultimately, it needs people who care. This is where games are uniquely positioned to make an impact beyond just inspiring generous donations, but inspiring people.

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Jude Ower MBE, co-founder and CEO of Playmob

Enter Playmob, a games-for-good organisation that connects charities and socially conscious brands with gamers through the games they play. Playmob has aligned itself with the UN's global goals for 2030 and is using playable ads to push those messages out to people in a way that engages them.

Speaking with GamesIndstry.biz, CEO and co-founder Jude Ower detailed what Playmob is trying to achieve, and how the organisation's approach sets it apart from traditional charity efforts fuelled by in-app purchases.

"A lot of brands have a strong purpose, they just need platforms to communicate it on," she says. "We think gaming gives a brilliant interactive experience for players to understand what the brands do, plus also building stronger affinity with the actual brand.

"At the same time, for gamers it's not annoying advertising about buying more chocolate or installing another app. It's actually purpose driven. So we're hoping that it's an enjoyable experience overall, and trying to increase engagement with gamers."

"A lot of brands have a strong purpose, they just need platforms to communicate it on"

Consumers are barraged with advertisements almost every hour of the day from every conceivable angle and, as a result, they are slowly becoming inoculated. Advertisers have to get more creative in order to pique the interest of your average tech-savvy millennial. From auto-playing videos through to customised ads built from obsessively harvested data, advertisers want to engage the consumer for as long as possible but that's harder than it's ever been.

It's curious then that games are so rarely considered for this purpose. Even the most rudimentary video game can engage a consumer for longer than the most sophisticated conventional ad. This simple fact serves as the basis for Playmob's work but, rather than selling a pair of trainers, its selling an idea.

Over the years, Playmob has been responsible for a number of projects raising awareness of environmental issues in particular. Working alongside Ocean Generation, Playmob has enabled the production of three games highlighting looming ecological catastrophes.

The Big Catch, Playmob's first endeavour for Ocean Generation, had the player swimming around as a dolphin cleaning up plastic in the world's oceans. Players could see how many tonnes of rubbish they had collectively cleared in the game and when it reached a certain milestone, it would trigger a real life beach clean-up.

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The Big Catch is one of three playable ads developed in partnership with Ocean Generation

It's a straightforward game with an easy to understand message and has a tangible impact on the real world. The ad itself has been played by more than three million people, with an average playtime of one minute and 13 seconds. When combined with the clever use of terrifying statistics, that's an immensely powerful tool.

Another example is Playmob's most recent effort, The Last Straw, which hopes to change consumer behaviour by driving home the worrying reality that in the US alone, over 500 million plastic straws are used each day and that only 5% of plastic produced is recovered and recycled.

When we loop back to traditional philanthropic efforts taken by the games industry, most notably profits from specific in-app purchases going towards charity, we can see a number of real success stories where millions upon millions of dollars have been raised for worthy causes.

It's worth noting that charity events fuelled by in-app purchases also greatly benefit the developer. From player retention, engagement, and active users, through to simply making players more comfortable with the idea of visiting the in-game store and purchasing DLC - these charity events bolster almost every metric by which developers measure the long-term health of a game.

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Based on this, there's no denying that more developers should consider running such events. But Jude Ower argues that the in-app purchase model has its own drawbacks in terms of time and cost to the developer. Playable ads, however, simply plug into the advertising pipeline and generate revenue for any developer running them on its game. Of course, as Ower suggests, the goal should be both systems running in tandem.

"Playable ads have more benefits because you're making an impact," she says. "You're not asking players to spend any money, you're getting the engagement. Plus it also tells the story of why the cause exists and why the brand has this purpose, and that's quite hard to convey in just buying an item.

"One of the things we found over the years is that we would have lots of players buy an item but they had nowhere to go after that if they were interested in the cause. Through a playable ad you can give them more information, direct them on to somewhere else where they learn more about the brand, it's purpose and the social issues they are helping to address, giving them a platform to engage further.

"An integral part of our business is purpose, and we give a percentage of campaign costs back to causes, so as well as learning about the issue, people who engage are contributing to making a real world difference just by doing what they love, playing, and at the same time this helps brand move from 'brand say' to 'brand do' by delivering impact."

Understandably money remains the lifeblood of any charity, no matter its aims or methods. However, games have always been at the forefront of technology and innovation. The wildest imaginings of science fiction authors are often first developed in games before they do anywhere else, dating right back to early artificial intelligence which serves as the bedrock for the great leaps forward taken by Google's DeepMind. The same can be said for modern virtual reality which, originally developed as little more than a gaming peripheral, has now become a remarkable tool for modern science.

The same could be said for Playmob's playable ads. While still relatively small compared to the size of the games industry, Playmob's ads are reaching millions of people. If the industry were to fully endorse this concept, the path would be clear for charitable organisations to effectively engage and activate arguably the most socially conscious generation in history.

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