What if I told you that it was possible to get nearly 20 MILLION views/plays for a well thought out, nicely executed, message packed game? Sounds crazy, I know, but Joel Bartlett and his team did just that when they created Super Chick Sisters – a game focused on educating people about the cruel treatment of chickens.
Back in March I got a chance to catch up with Joel while at SXSW in Austin, TX. We talked games, games, games. Check my interview (video at bottom) to hear more from Joel.
Who are you, and what do you do at PETA?
I’m Joel Bartlett, the director of marketing at PETA.
What role do games play in PETA’s online strategy and how has that role evolved over the years?
Much of our strategy is to engage with people online—whether they are already PETA supporters or people who have never even considered animal rights—and games are a vehicle for engagement. Over the years, our online gaming strategy has become more complex—there’s more to it than just creating a fun game.
We now create games to meet different organizational needs. We have created simple yet fun games around the holidays just for our members, and we also create more complex parodies that are meant to reach new viewers through placement on game-hosting sites and media.
How many online games has PETA created?
We have created about 25 online games.
Some were very big, but many have been smaller, simpler games. You can find many of them here: http://www.peta.org/interactive/games/default.aspx.
Did you build the games in-house, or have you worked with various agencies to have your games built?
We have created most of our games in-house, but we did work with MCM Net on our Super Meat Boy parody, Super Tofu Boy, and we have worked with This Is Pop on the peta2 game Breasts, Not Animal Tests.
Since you’ve worked with agencies, who would you recommend? What would you recommend that others look for when selecting an agency?
Because PETA is a nonprofit, cost is a huge factor to consider when we screen agencies—but we also look for game developers who understand our edginess and who can bring creative, unexpected ideas to new games. I recommend that you find an agency that compliments the style of your organization and that can deliver on time and on budget.
Which online game has been the most successful? Why?
Our most successful game is New Super Chick Sisters, which is the sequel to our original Super Chick Sisters.
In the sequel, Princess Pam has been captured by evil Ronald McDonald, who plans on making her a part of his unhappy meals. As our parodies of Mario and Luigi move through the levels, the player learns facts about McDonald’s cruelty to chickens and about our campaign against the restaurant.
The game was released in the fall of 2009 and has had more than 20 million plays.
What are the key elements in creating a successful online game?
We have had our greatest success in creating parodies of popular games.
They work because people are entertained by parodies of characters they know and love, and they also bring continued traffic from search results. People may search for “Cooking Mama” and then find our parody, Cooking Mama, the Unauthorized PETA Edition: Mama Kills Animals, where they are exposed to information about raising and killing animals for food.
For us, the key to success is creating a game that is fun so that people will want to play yet learn something about animals in the process.
What type of impact and results have you seen from your games?
We have received an enormous amount of media attention for our biggest games, and they have reached millions of people who may never have considered animal rights before.
Our most recent game, Super Tofu Boy, was covered on MTV, G4, Kotaku, Joystiq, and many more sites—which led to nearly 2 million plays during the first three months after the launch. That’s nearly 2 million people who were exposed to facts about veganism. Most importantly, we saw that hundreds of players went on to sign our pledge to be vegan or to order our free vegetarian/vegan starter kit.
It’s this impact on individuals that is most important to us.
How do you know when to pull the plug on a game?
Once we’ve started the process of making a new game, we don’t pull the plug on it. If it’s not coming together as planned, we’d make as many changes as needed to make it work. Whether it’s the game’s structure, text, illustrations, or something else, we’d look at it from all angles and make it work.
If an organization was thinking about creating their first online game, what tips would you give them?
Start with a great idea. It has to be a game that people will want to play, a game that people will want to share, and a game that will convey your mission.
How should other organizations measure the success of their gaming efforts?
Visits to the game and plays are obviously important, but at PETA, we go beyond those metrics.
We also measure how many players go on to take a meaningful action for animals. Many of our games have “bonus” cruelty-to-animals footage embedded in the game or offer links to our free vegetarian/vegan starter kit, or they ask people to sign our vegan pledge.
I would urge other organizations to include something measurable that is directly related to their mission and use that as one of the primary measures of success, along with how many people they reach with the game.
Want to hear more from Joel? Check out my live interview with him at SXSW 2010 in Austin, TX