Zynga Gets Slammed Over Haiti Donations – Deserved or Exaggerated?

If a company is not entirely transparent in it’s charitable dealings, it could cost it’s reputation, especially when inaccurate rumors start to spread.

via Mathew Ingram at GigaOm:

If you want to see a Twitter mob in its larval stage, just do a search on Zynga or Farmville and Haiti and you will see one emerging over a report that the social-gaming company kept 50 percent of the money that it raised in donations for the country in the wake of a devastating earthquake. The report originally appeared in a Brazilian magazine called Superinteressante, which did a feature on Zynga and Farmville and mentioned in the piece that it had only given 50 percent of what it raised to Haiti. That was in turn picked up by a leading Brazilian newspaper called Folha de Sao Paulo , which said that Zynga had admitted to only sending 50 percent of the money it raised for Haiti to that country.

That story got written about in several places around the Web, including at Social Media Today (in a post that has since been removed and replaced with a different one featuring an altered headline) as well as at the opinion site True/Slant, where Marcelo Ballve — a former Associated Press reporter in Brazil — summarized the Falho story about how Zynga had misled Farmville players into thinking 100 percent of their donations would be going to Haiti for earthquake relief (he has since posted an update). The story was also written up at Gawker, which also repeated the allegations.

The Folha story, however, blurs together two Farmville campaigns to raise money for Haiti: One was set up before the earthquake, and specifically said that only 50 percent of the money raised would be sent to Haiti (a screenshot is embedded below). The second, which involved the purchase within the game of special “white corn” for a user’s farm, said that 100 percent of the proceeds would be sent to earthquake relief. According to an emailed statement from a Zynga spokesperson that I’ve embedded below, this is exactly what happened (a similar statement has been posted at the bottom of both the True/Slant post and the Folha story, and referred to by Gawker, but not by Social Media Today, although the latter has since posted an update and apology). The initial campaign for Haiti raised $1.2-million for the country, and the subsequent “white corn” campaign raised an additional $1.5-million.

Meanwhile, dozens of Twitter messages are still being posted every minute (based on a recent survey of the social network) saying that Zynga “admits to keeping half the money it raised for Haiti,” despite the repeated efforts by Zynga CEO Mark Pincus to rebut such claims through his own Twitter account. The eagerness with which people seem to believe such claims could have something to do with the language barrier between the initial reports and those who have repeated them — but it could also be a result of some negative press that Zynga has received in the past, alleging “scammy” behavior related to lead-generation offers within its games.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Rusty Boxcars.

via gigaom.com

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Is this backlash deserved or exaggerated?

Personally I was turned off by Zynga’s Haiti campaign before I finished reading the first paragraph of the Press Release that hit the wires 48 hours after the January 12th earthquake:

Starting tonight, Zynga (www.zynga.com) will run a special relief campaign in three of its top games that reach over 40 million users daily.

It seemed to me that this blatantly took advantage of PR Newswire and others’ waiving of distribution fees for Haiti earthquake-related news.

I was speculating but I’ve always been skeptical of such campaigns by hard-to-trust startups. I was impressed by Zynga’s earlier partnership with the World food Programme over the holidays but hadn’t seen any mention of its results.

You can’t be too transparent when acting in the wake of any disaster. While Zynga made no mistake in clearly mentioning it’s user base (both daily and monthly) the press release — especially if it was distributed gratis — should have elaborated on Zynga’s existing relationship with WFP to avoid any fingerpointing / confusion.

Beatles Rock Band Unveiled

So cool, I had to post it. 45 songs — I may have to buy a game console for the first time since Sega Genesis way back when.


Ten of the songs were revealed, according to GameSpot: I Feel Fine, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Day Tripper, Taxman, I Am The Walrus, Back in the USSR, Octopus’s Garden, Here Comes the Sun, Get Back, I Saw Her Standing There.

Watch the full Beatles Rock Band trailer below:

EA Scrabble Goes Live for N. American Facebookers. Scrabulous Killer? Hell No.

I’ve been toying with EA Scrabble on Facebook for the past week or so as a beta tester and I must say, I’m underwhelmed. It is slow, clunky, overly stuffed with graphics, and in many ways reminiscent of a Flash landing page that just slows everything down. Mattel launched Scrabble for Facebook over 3 months ago, and obviously it wasn’t a priority for EA (who licensed the games digital rights in North America) to put up a practical solution that would appear to be not just taxing on any old computer, but most definitely on a mobile device.

ea scrabble on facebook

That said, I haven’t had much opportunity to play against anyone *I know* so if you’re interested, hit me up on facebook and i’ll invite you into a game!

Until then, I maintain that the simple, straightforward and more Scrabble-like interface of Scrabulous is superior. And I’ll keep playing my current standby, the Boggle-like game Scramble.

Mattel Launches SCRABBLE® Facebook App Outside North America

Talk about late to the game and then having the table pulled out from under you. What’s the point? Just gauging the interest? Still in cahoots with the developers of Scrabulous or perhaps working on some sort of partnership / licensing agreement?

Either way, before bothering to read the articles on the first-ever Hasbro-licensed online Scrabble game (in both the NY Times and Mashable), I figured I’d just launch right into it. I never imagined it would stack up in anyway to Scrabulous, but, as a Social Media experiment, felt it was my duty to at least try it.

Not until AFTER I installed the App on my profile do I get the following message:

scrabble facebook app

The Scrabble legacy is a complicated one. Turns out Mattel has worldwide distribution rights, ex-US and Canada, whereas Hasbro controls the game in North America, as Rafat Ali explained at PaidContent. Mattel partnered with Real Networks last year to produce “casual games,” and purportedly either take over, co-opt, or otherwise undo Scrabulous, however, Hasbro, for its share, has a conflicting digital agreement with Electronic Arts.

I’m not gonna lie about my location just to play your silly game — after all, I’ve got the deluxe, tangible edition right here. Just please don’t make Scrabulous go away!

Engaging Visitors With ‘Serious Games’

cross-posted at the Knight New Media blog

Michael Skoler of America Public Media’s Center for Innovation in Journalism (and director of APM’s Public Insight Network) showed us how Minnesota Public Radio incorporates serious games to further engage listeners and site users.

Skoler exhibited 2006 Select a Candidate, Minnesota Fantasy Legislature (see “commissioner” Bob Collins’ league notes), and The Real Agenda.

So what are “serious games” and how can they function as tools of engagement for news/political Web sites?

Some think these “serious” or “ubiquitous” games will be fundamental to harnessing collective intelligence. A lofty goal, but one that could essentially lead to a more utopian, user-policed and controlled message boards and forums on a Web site or portal.

“The future of collective play: Fostering collaboration, network literacy and massively multiplayer problem-solving through alternate-reality games,” was the title of Institute for the Future researcher Jane McGonigal‘s keynote at a recent Serious Games Summit. McGoningal argues that collaborative, puzzle-like games will become integral to humans’ tendency to imagine and strive for a “best-case scenario future.” Further analysis of McGonigal’s keynote can be found here and here.

A great resource for game ideas, analysis and conception is at the Serious Games network on Ning. Ning, co-created by former Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen, is a portal that enables any casual Web user to create their own social network (see my as-yet-undeveloped, Thelonious Monk-inspired rhythm-a-ning). See also, the CALT encyclopedia.

You may have heard of Cruel 2 B Kind, the latest ubiquitous gaming craze taking over the world. The name of the C2BK game is “benevolent assassination,” an extension of McGonigal’s theory that all Internet users share a desire for “a life more worth living” (read more on this here. Click here to watch the game in action or find out for yourself Saturday in Santa Monica.

Another example of serious games seriously at work was the USC Center on Public Diplomacy‘s Reinventing Public Diplomacy Through Games Competition. This contest attracted submissions from around the world dealing with topics ranging from interactive after-school programs to discussing international water issues to simulating the Israel-Palestine conflict. Even the awards ceremony was simulcast in Second Life. I encourage you to read more about the project and the winners here.