Monday, 10 January 2011

Social Gaming offers huge opportunities to the NHS, Government and the Big Society

A new study published by gaming market researchers, Newzoo, found massive uptake in the use of Social Media games, such as FarmVille and MafiaWars, during 2010.  Numbers rose 66% in the year, with over 250 million people now playing worldwide. The study also showed a downturn in console game sales, indicating that the free, online games, played through websites like facebook and Bebo, are the new kings of the hill.

So, why is this relevant to us here? The one word answer, which seems to crop up everywhere in recent times, is engagement. These games connect to people and connect people to each other. Not only that, but they do it on a very regular basis, with many people logging into their Social Media accounts on a daily basis. As we discussed in a previous article, this can be extremely useful in encouraging behavioural change.

In that article, we looked at research into these games' effectiveness, specifically in delivering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  We also recently spoke about an application to help sufferers of anxiety and depression, but apart from these, there doesn't appear to be a great deal going on around this area in the UK. That's to say, not that a search through Google has been able to uncover, so if there are any we've missed, we would love to hear about them.

Across the pond in the US, it's a different matter, where many companies are already delivering better health outcomes via gaming. HopeLab is a non profit Social Enterprise founded by Pam Omidyer, the wife of  eBay founder, Pierre Omidyer.  Founded in 2001, HopeLab looks to how technology and gaming can be used to improve health in young people.

HopeLab's first product, Re-Mission, is a traditional PC based game aimed at young Cancer patients. The game is available for free, worldwide. A study conducted by the company found that...

"... participants given Re-Mission maintained higher levels of chemotherapy in their blood and took their antibiotics more consistently than those in the control group, demonstrating the game’s impact at a biological level. Participants given Re-Mission also showed faster acquisition of cancer-related knowledge and faster increase in self-efficacy."

Moving into the realms of Social Gaming, HopeLab's latest product targets that problem area which the Coalition Government is particularly interested in, namely, child obesity. Zamzee is based around an online rewards system, where physical activity is tracked via a keyfob, then uploaded to a personal profile on a dedicated website. These points can then be traded for real and virtual items, such as new avatars for user's profiles and gift vouchers. The project is due to be rolled out later in the year and will also incorporate mobile technology.

Something similar would certainly be possible via facebook et al, and fits perfectly with David Camerons ideas on 'nudging'. Social Gaming is far from the exclusive domain of children, so could be an extremely powerful platform by which to deliver nudges and the related incentives aimed at tackling a range of Public Health concerns.

There's also another way in which Social Gaming could contribute to the Big Society. Again, America sets the example, with the new Social Gaming company, CausePlay, about to launch a number of innovative products. These integrate advertising into Social Games, as do most, but the difference is that a percentage of revenue is donated to a specific good cause, related to the game. This effectively means that each time a player logs in, they raise money for that cause, as well as having their awareness of the cause raised.

The first game to be released, will be Hospitopia, donating 10% of profits to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Should this get anywhere near the usership of CityVille, which, with over 84 million active users, has just become facebook's biggest ever application, then the money raised would be huge.

Having the good cause attached would only help uptake and fits with the idea shared by the Government and Business, that company's should work with other sectors to make a bigger contribution to Society. With budgets for the Third Sector and the NHS tight (to put it mildly) any additional funding would be welcome and that offered by Socila Gaming could be substantial.  With the Coalition looking to how they can encourage the population to donate more, via signs at checkouts and further options at cashpoints, this would offer them the chance to feel like they are helping, without dipping in to their already barren pockets.

All in all, the potential benefits of Social Gaming are massive. Hopefully, it won't be too long before serious efforts are made within the UK to take advantage of them.

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