How do you get people to continue to contribute to the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy – and maybe have some fun doing it too? Mother New York has launched "Repair the Rockaways," a social interactive game modeled on Zynga's Farmville to fundraise for the repairs and restoration of the Rockaways in New York City.
The game encourages people to donate money in exchange for "bricks" to construct houses in an environment that looks like the Rockaways. For every 400 bricks, a house appears inside the virtual world. $10 buys you 20 bricks.
The agency's own experience inspired the idea. Many of its employees were affected, while Mother's publishing arm Animal New York uncovered disturbing details about the continuing plight of Rockaways residents, who seemed to be forgotten after the media frenzy around Sandy died down. In fact, characters of the game are modeled after Rockaways real-life residents and activists driving the recovery efforts. The game itself was built by Casserole Labs.
The agency realized that much wasn't being done to properly support the cause. "A lot of disinformation was being spread around, and resources weren't being delivered," said Mother Partner Tom Webster.
While employees were encouraged to volunteer, they were also asked to come up with creative solutions to help those affected by the tragedy. Mother creatives Andy Dao and Stacey Smith came up with "Repair the Rockaways."
The funds raised go to Respond and Rebuild, a recovery effort that seeks to help out storm-affected communities who "fall through the cracks" of traditional services,
The idea was to come up with something that used the strengths of Mother employees. "We're not the bare-handed types," said Mr. Webster. "This was the best way to use what we're good at: being creative."
The game bears a strong resemblance to Zynga's offerings, but Mother did not work with the company on development. The agency initially reached out to Zynga for help and to avoid any copywright infringement issues. Zynga was unable to work on the dev, but did give its blessing on the game. And, in an unexpected turn, the meeting led to a new partnership between Mother and the gaming company's non-profit arm, Zynga.org. Mother will be helping Zynga.org to architect a unified structure for what Mr. Webster dubs "game activism" -- using online games to raise money and awareness for causes.
The biggest challenge in building "Restore the Rockaways" was, ironically, the very thing the project hoped to circumvent: tedious bureaucracy. Respond and Rebuild were out trying to get 501-3C status that would make the organization exempt from some federal income taxes, stalling the game's production schedule. However, the process was so long, and fraught with paperwork, that the agency went ahead and built the game without it.
On Mr. Webster's part, however, the work is just starting. While the game has an upper limit of earning $200,000, he says the real battle is the bureaucracy. "Tens of millions of dollars have been allocated for Sandy relief," he siad. "But the money has to go through the federal system." There are considerations of FEMA, and union labor. "There's a massive amount of paper-pushing that individuals in the Rockaways have to do that they are simply not able to right now," he said. "What I like about the localism of Respond and Rebuild is that it bypasses the bureaucratic bullshit."