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Micmali is running with the idea of saving the world through video games. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign today to raise funding for a mobile game called World Agent BRAC that will teach people how to make loans for the poor in Bangladesh.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based Micmali is working with the nonprofit group BRAC, which works in poor nations in Asia and Africa (along with Haiti). It will donate a portion of game proceeds to help microfinance education in Africa. This effort is part of a growing movement of games with charitable intentions, dubbed “games for change” or “serious games.”
Other games in this sector include Global Gaming Initiative’s Sidekick Cycle, Half the Sky, GlassLab’s educational version of the city-building SimCity, and titles from social game publisher Zynga via its nonprofit foundation.
Micmali is out to show that games aren’t just about violent entertainment. And while it has a serious intent, Micmali insists that its title will be entertaining and beautifully designed, sort of like a SimCity set in a developing nation. It is a city-building game where the player becomes a loan manager for the nonprofit BRAC in Bangladesh. The player has to figure out how to build stronger communities in various slums by making microcredit loans to deserving borrowers. As the town grows and the loans are repaid, the player moves up the BRAC corporate ladder.
By loaning money to residents, players help them launch skilled businesses like in the real-world: tailoring services, auto repair, farming, herding, grocers, cobblers, and so forth. The game world has variables that can affect the lives of those in the game, such as variations in population, time, food, water, and electricity. Players can’t make loans to everybody, so they have to focus on lending money to those who will repay it.
The title is the brainchild of Zak Morimoto, who started a charity after the big earthquake hit Japan in March 2011. He ran a campaign to raise money and send books to children in evacuation centers. Morimoto decided that gamers could be encouraged to spend money based on empathy with people who need help. So he decided to make a game that would give gamers an experience of feeling empathy for those who are suffering around the globe and give them a way to support those people in the real world. Morimoto worked with George Hara, chairman of the Alliance Forum Foundation, to flesh out the idea.
“In my travels to Bangladesh, I was originally surprised at how upbeat the poor people living in slums are,” Morimoto said. “People in first-world countries get the idea that poverty means beat-down, uninspired, overall sad communities, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“We wanted to start with World Agent BRAC because microcredit is working in India and could make a huge difference in other areas of the world. In addition to raising money to help educate people in other impoverished regions about micro-finance, the game will help humanize the face of poverty for consumers in more well-off areas.”
Prior to Micmali, Morimoto held an executive position at Japanese mobile game company DeNA as well as Canesta, which Microsoft acquired in 2010.
World Agent BRAC should debut in the second quarter on iOS and Android devices. The company has one full-time employee, Morimoto. But it has interns in microfinance and business, and it receives help from the Alliance Forum Foundation, Hoplite Research, and BRAC.
A portion of profits from the game will go toward microfinancing education in Africa.
Micmali has raised $100,000 to date. The game is being built with the Unity 3D game engine.