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It’s no secret that climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. While scientists say there’s still an opportunity to mitigate the impact, that deadline is rapidly approaching. Industries with widespread influence and reach have a responsibility to do their part in creating awareness and inspiring action.

Video games can be a powerful platform to engage a global audience in the fight against climate change by raising awareness, fostering empathy and calling players to action. With more than 3 billion active gamers worldwide, the games industry reaches nearly half the planet. This presents a unique opportunity to promote climate education and mobilize highly engaged fanbases.

I firmly believe that it’s our responsibility as industry leaders to use our platforms for good. Here are three ways gaming companies can engage their extensive player bases.

Amplify pro-climate messages with in-game activations

While traditional entertainment like film and television offers a passive viewing experience, video games are unique in that players must actively participate to progress the narrative forward. The hands-on component of gaming yields a high level of player engagement, giving developers a unique advantage to reach and mobilize audiences at incredible speed and scale.

One way to achieve this is through in-game activations, where studios can organically incorporate pro-climate messages. These can be as light touch as making subtle changes to the existing gameplay or environment, or messaging can be more deeply integrated into the gameplay with new levels, storylines and characters themed around sustainability.

Take Supercell’s mobile title Hay Day, for example, which held an in-game event educating players about the connection between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. Along with publishing a cookbook, Supercell set a community goal of filling 150 million truck orders of soil. Players exceeded this goal with 165 million truck orders, and Supercell made a donation to train 10 real-life farmers in regenerative agriculture practices. The studio saw a 5 percent increase in daily active users from the challenge, signaling a true appetite for green in-game activations.

At SYBO, we created an in-game event, Play 2 Plant, to empower players by laying the groundwork for climate action. Thematically, we changed Subway Surfers’ environment to transform from grayscale to full color as players progressed through the game. We also partnered with climate organization Ecologi to plant a tree for every player that participated, resulting in more than 500,000 trees planted to date. In another activation, the iconic Subway Surfers runner picked up trash instead of the usual game coins. What we learned from both activations is that green initiatives don’t need to be strictly educational. Creating a fun and lighthearted experience that organically fits within the universe of our game drove player engagement that exceeded our expectations.

Mathias Gredal Nrvig is the CEO of SYBO

Partner with organizations that have specialized knowledge and resources

It takes a coordinated, collective effort to reach and inspire players around the world. That’s why partnerships with nonprofits, brands and other external organizations are crucial to achieving this goal.

When a studio decides to build a game or initiative for environmental impact, partnering with organizations that offer relevant, specialized expertise and resources can ensure a well-informed strategy rooted in authenticity. When aiming to drive donations or other outcomes, it’s important that both the gaming studio and organization are aligned in values and impact objectives. Be sure to sync on crucial questions like, what portion of the revenue will go to the charitable partner? How will funds be used? Will the players buy items in-game or make donations themselves?

Minecraft’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy demonstrated how value alignment creates a positive uplift. The studio and nonprofit created a joint activation to bring awareness to the plight of mangroves, which included an in-game challenge to restore a mangrove forest. The more players that planted, the less dangerous the threat of climate change became within the game. Minecraft creators also hosted charitable live streams that not only educated viewers about The Nature Conservancy’s efforts but raised funds while entertaining viewers.

This collaboration serves as a powerful case study about how these partnerships, when well-executed, can promote education without compromising the integrity of the game or player appeal.

Leverage social media communities to band players together

Gamers have formed extensive communities on social media to bond over mutual fandom. Recently, TikTok has fostered an especially engaged fanbase with gamers. Last year, gaming content drove 3 trillion views on TikTok, which reached roughly half of the platform’s total monthly users. What’s more, players are already consuming climate-related content on the platform. In a recent survey, nearly half (over 47%) of gamers shared that they gather their information about environmental issues and climate change on social media.

The immediacy of TikTok and other social platforms allows developers to interact directly and intimately with players. When used properly, social media can act as a real-time “focus group,” where studios can test concepts before implementing them in-game and receive valuable community feedback in comment sections and direct messages. Subway Surfers has garnered nearly 8 million TikTok followers, and oftentimes when we post promotional content about an upcoming update – including green initiatives – we’ll see an almost immediate surge of downloads for the game itself. Leveraging the power and reach of social media can not only drive awareness and traffic to your activation, but it can build deeper affinity with players who have a genuine connection with your initiative’s cause.

Additionally, studios can invite players to show off their gameplay and promote user-generated content with hashtag challenges, rewarding participants by planting a tree or making a donation. This provides a catalyst for fan participation in climate action and discussions. It’s important for developers to design in-game activations with platforms like TikTok in mind. That means tailoring them to be visually appealing and easily captured with TikTok’s editing tools, filters, stickers, music and effects to incentivize user-generated content that’s suited to a platform’s existing interface.

Looking ahead

While there’s no silver bullet that can turn back the clock on climate change, there’s still more that can be done. The games industry has the potential to be an integral partner in that fight. Games aren’t just something to pass the time – they’re a powerful cultural megatrend that can make a genuine impact. Now is the time for the industry to use their influence to point the world in the right direction.

Mathias Gredal Nørvig is the CEO of SYBO, the mobile games studio best known for creating the hit game Subway Surfers. He is also co-authoring the forthcoming book, “Gaming for Good,” with Jude Ower, founder and CEO of PlayMob.

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