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Mobile Games Bring Social Change to Developing Worlds

by Taj Sheriff

Posted by  on Friday, November 16th 2012     

The Half the Sky Movement is excited to announce the release of three mobile phone games in India and Kenya. These new games are designed to educate women and girls about essential health issues, increase awareness about gender equality, and empower them to bring about social change in these areas. Family Choices game aims to increase the perception of girls’ place in and value to families, with a focus on keeping girls in schools; 9-Minutes introduces players to the key do’s and don’ts of having a healthy pregnancy; and in Worm Attack!, players work to rid themselves and their communities of intestinal worms.

Can games on mobile devices create impact in the developing world?
With support from USAID, Games for Change (G4C) set out to answer this question with a seemingly simple goal: to produce free, high-quality mobile games that reach and educate women and girls about critical social, economic, and health issues. Looking back, we couldn’t have imagined the challenges we would encounter and the many lessons that we would learn. Here are a few tips to other “game changers” out there with similar aspirations.


Children play the Half the Sky mobile games in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

1. Involve audience and content partners to inform and iterate on design.
Early on, G4C and publishing partner E-Line Media reached out to a handful of NGOs, seeking partners who would mutually benefit from the use of these games. We worked to integrate the NGOs into the development process. Each group assisted with the game conceptualization and helped define the goals of the game. NGOs were also enlisted for their content expertise –  to align the game content with their existing programs.

Our NGO partners also connected us with local communities to solicit feedback on art, gameplay, language and instructional content. We strengthened relationships with each NGO and used their valuable feedback to enhance the games. One local partner was so enthusiastic about helping that we decided to name a game character after her.

2. Design with the technology platform in mind.
Next we explored how to get the games into the hands of our hard-to-reach audiences. Just how does someone living in a rural village access digital technology?

Recognizing this problem from the outset, we looked to mobile technology as a gaming platform. Feature phones (J2ME) offered an opportunity to reach a much broader audience and offered media consumption to communities who might not otherwise see any other form of interactive media.

3. Penetrate the market with multiple distribution channels and consider how each will impact game use.
Upon release, G4C and E-Line Media will launch the games for free on local mobile operators’ and handset providers’ app stores in India and East Africa. However, no access to mobile Internet would mean that the games would never be seen by the hardest-to-reach audiences.

To address this problem, we worked with our NGO partners to leverage existing infrastructure and distribute the games through their programs on the ground. E-Line Media developed a multi-pronged strategy, with several NGOs in both India and Kenya, to create a variety of additional channels for distribution.

Conclusions
For everyone involved, this has been an incredible journey that has created a foundation for mobile game development and distribution that we hope to build on and bring to scale in the coming years. As mobile technologies continue to penetrate and dominate emerging markets, we will continue to shape and build the infrastructure and methodology for game design and development.

We are pleased to announce that starting today and in the following weeks, the three mobile games will be made available for free download from local app stores. They will be featured on the Nokia, Safaricom, GetJar and Appia app stores for a range of operators and devices in both Hindi and Swahili.

 

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Taj Sheriff's picture
Taj Sheriff
FHI 360