Gregory Hansell wants to make the world a better place, and he wants to do it with video games.
Hansell is the chief product officer at A Better World, a family-run company that’s looking to raise $200,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo for a virtual-world tablet game it reckons can make a real difference.
A Better World for Kids aims to teach children about kindness, giving, anti-bullying, recycling, and healthy eating — things that other kids games neglect to do, according to Hansell.
It’s a nod to the increasingly popular school of Positive Psychology, started by Dr. Martin Seligman in 1998, which examines how to help people lead happy, healthy lives. Studies in the area “show that being altruistic and having a positive attitude lead to greater personal happiness and well-being,” Hansell told me via email. It’s something he feels is relevant to kids, and he’s hoping that encouraging altruistic behaviour helps “bring them joy and a positive attitude.”
“I think kindness and altruism is a largely untapped area,” said Hansell. “There are several educational and serious games for kids that work on reading, writing, math, and even computer programming, but there is not really a focus on kindness, gratitude, giving, anti-bully, healthy eating, and our other areas.”
Hansell thinks these games are missing something that parents really want out of kids’ games: “If you talk to parents, these values are frequently as high on their list of concerns for their kids as reading and math. They worry about raising good, positive, happy kids in a world with what seems like a steadily increasing focus on negativity.”
This positive approach can even help get kids to tidy their rooms, reckons Hansell.
Doing the chores
Getting kids to do their chores is an age-old problem (one that I regularly experience myself), and I wondered how a mobile game was going to solve it.
“We plan to allow kids to earn [in-game currency] Do-Good Gold for real-world good,” said Hansell. Kids can then use this gold to customize their avatar, home, and other aspects of their world.
“With real-world chores, the plan is to allow parents to input chores through a portal site, such as ‘Clean Your Room,’” explained Hansell. “The child will see an area of the game where they can earn considerable gold by doing the chore, and if they signal that the chore is done, the parent gets an email that lets them verify with clicking a link, just as simple as confirming an email address when you first register for a website.”
Hansell has previously trialled a similar reward system in his company’s social Facebook game, A Better World — a virtual world for teens and adults — and he says that it works pretty well. Recent focus groups have also responded positively to the idea, but Hansell’s aware that kids will need pretty big incentives to willingly do jobs they’d usually rather avoid.
“As with any game system and economy, we expect balancing will be important,” said Hansell. “The incentive to do real world chores obviously needs to be greater than, easier, and more fun than virtual good deeds, and so we will balance the economy with that in mind.”
Hansell has a 3-year-old daughter, and he’s well aware of the power of incentives, particularly when they’re based around technology.
“With my daughter, what really motivates her to clean her room are incentives – time on our iPad, watching TV or videos, etc. This is the same with every parent and grandparent I know, and I think it’s timeless. Kids are also used to getting rewarded for doing good deeds, so the concept of getting rewarded for good deeds in a game will make sense to them.”
Getting into doing good
Hansell joined A Better World five years ago, bringing his lifelong love of gaming to a company that focuses relentlessly on the positive.
“A Better World — formerly ToonUps — has always been a company focused on making the world a better place,” said Hansell. “Originally, this was generally in the business-to-business and prosumer [between consumer and professional] marketplaces, and the thrust was using fun and positivity to help bring out the best in training and in presentations.”
Hansell helped A Better World refocus on the then-booming social gaming scene: “I was excited by social gaming’s potential to reach new gaming audiences and such large numbers. I felt that the interactive, immersive, and imaginative aspects of games could be used to bring out the best in people.”
He’s sure that A Better World is doing just that, telling me how the company has received “tens of thousands” of positive notes, posts, and messages from people praising its positive-thinking game.
Monetizing a kids game
A Better World for Kids isn’t just about linking the real and virtual worlds. Kids can also earn Do-Good Gold by playing mini-games presented as jobs. It’s a model that’s already proved successful in A Better World’s Facebook game, according to Hansell.
“Over 2.7 million people have done over 27 million ‘good deeds’ in A Better World,” he said. “Our monthly actives fluctuate between 80,000 and 300,000 given seasonal trends in social gaming traffic.”
Players sharing that game with their kids inspired Hansell to make a stand-alone game: “Many parents told us how much they enjoyed playing A Better World with their kids. From there, we reached out to gaming experts and did some focus groups with kids and parents to gauge their interest and enjoyment. The response was excellent, with many parents loving the concept of the game and many kids enjoying the gameplay and the art, in addition to the do-good message.”
The Facebook game monetizes by selling in-game currency — $100 for the largest pack — but Hansell wouldn’t divulge any actual sales data. A Better World’s targeting 6-11 year olds with its kids’ game, moving away from microtransactions and embracing a subscription model instead.
“Our business model with A Better World for Kids will be largely based on subscriptions, as are the vast majority of kids virtual world games,” said Hansell. “This is a tried and true model for kids’ games with big success stories like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin.”
Hansell’s aware of the unique challenges of breaking into the kids market, however, and he’s keen to point out that A Better World for Kids isn’t just of port of a Facebook game.
“While some art and some of the game areas and features may carry over from the Facebook game in some form, A Better World for Kids is planned as a substantial reworking of the original adults and teens game,” he said. “And we’re working with numerous experts in kids’ game design, childhood safety, and kids’ chat and user-generated content moderation as well as part of our efforts. Our development timeline has us launching in 9-12 months due to the depth of the changes we have planned in the game.”