How businesses can leverage games to drive social change

Glenn Gillis, CEO of purpose-driven-games-developer, Sea Monster

By Glenn Gillis, CEO, Sea Monster

Games are one of the biggest entertainment categories in the world today. Globally, video games are worth more than US$242 billion and are expected to be worth nearly US$584 billion by 2030.

Over the last two decades, gaming has also become so much more accessible. Once restricted to arcades, TV consoles, and desktop computers, today, gaming has become commonplace thanks to faster broadband speeds, better devices, increased penetration of smartphones, and innovation in graphics cards and monitors. As of 2023, Newzoo reports a staggering 3.22 billion gamers worldwide, projected to increase to 3.32 billion by 2024.

Those numbers should hardly be surprising given how wide the scope of gaming has become. Whether you spend a few minutes here and there on the latest mobile puzzle game or spend hours immersed in hyperrealistic 3D environments, you’re a gamer. That variety also means that the age range of gamers has never been greater, running the full gamut from kids to nonagenarians and everyone in between.

Of course, games aren’t necessarily just a fun pastime. Educators and academics have long known about the potential of games to drive learning and develop skills. Now, more and more organisations are also increasingly recognising the role that games can play to help them better connect with their audiences and ultimately drive positive social change.

The power of positive social change

That’s important because the need for businesses to find meaningful ways to drive positive social change has never been clearer. Research shows that consumer brand preferences are increasingly driven by an alignment of their own values and brand purpose. It’s also true that engaging in initiatives to foster positive social change can enhance a brand’s image and, in the long run, help draw more people towards it.

While the desire to see brands drive positive social change is prevalent across generations, it’s especially important for younger consumers. According to 2022 research, 73% of Gen Z consumers buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values. In other words, as Gen Z and later generations make up an increasingly larger portion of the consumer population, driving positive social change will only become more important for brands and businesses going forward.

Games as drivers of social change

Games offer a particularly powerful way to connect people with a brand’s story and a brand’s purpose. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that games are lean in experiences that demand attention far more than any other medium. Unless it’s truly exceptional, you can drive past a billboard without even noticing it. Radio ads are all too easy to tune out, even when you’re driving alone, and if by some chance you find yourself watching a traditional TV station, chances are you’ll be too immersed in your phone to notice what happened in the ad break.

Even newer forms of media aren’t exempt. How many of us skip through the ad breaks in our favourite podcasts or ignore the sponsored reels on TikTok that make their way into our feeds? We’ve become so conditioned to ignore all but the best or worst of ads that even well-intentioned ones meant to educate and drive social change achieve very little. And if an entertainment platform gives us the option to remove ads, many of us do. YouTube now has more than 100 million subscribers to its premium, ad-free option and Spotify has more than 236 million paying subscribers.

Another benefit that games offer when it comes to driving social change is reach and accessibility. If an organisation were to roll out an in-person financial education programme in schools or workplaces, for example, the cost and logistics would be immense. Games, on the other hand, simply need to be available on the devices and platforms that people use most.

That’s becoming increasingly easy to achieve, too. Brands wanting to drive social impact through games no longer have to build standalone apps. Instead, they can build games within platforms like Minecraft or Roblox or even achieve app-like functionality through a game hosted on the web, allowing instant access to huge communities of people with none of the friction and inconvenience caused by yet another app download.

It’s no wonder then that some of the world’s biggest brands have already leveraged games to drive social change in line with their brand purpose. Successful examples of these kinds of games include Farmtopia (Nestle), V-Land (Essity Mexico), and Chow Town which we created for the South African bank, Nedbank. Farmtopia, launched in 2022, sits within Minecraft and gives users insights into the real-world sustainability challenges faced by farmers. V Land, meanwhile, sits within Roblox and aims to normalise menstruation as a topic of conversation, and Chow Town aims to help young people learn financial basics

Building lifelong affinities

So, if your organisation is looking to promote your brand purpose and drive positive impact at scale, think twice before opting for the traditional route and producing another billboard ad campaign or launching another in-person activation. These activities can play important supporting roles, of course, but if you really want to capture people’s attention, get them to meaningfully engage with you and your brand and help you drive the change you want to create in the world, then you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that beats a game.

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