Written by: Dean Takahashi
Justin Hefter wants world peace through games. And today, he is launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Bandura Games, which is creating a mobile game called RunZoo that aims to bring together people from multiple cultures.
As Hefter told us a couple of weeks ago, the aim of RunZoo, an endless runner game, is to create empathy and understanding. Bandura’s #FunWithoutBorders campaign has an initial minimum goal of $37,000. Bandura hopes to complete the game and rally support for its mission to change the world, one player at a time.
“Games are so powerful in terms of their universal appeal, and ability to bring people together,” said Justin Hefter, CEO and co-founder of Bandura Games, in a statement. “Studies have shown that cooperative play and working together creates strong bonds that can last a lifetime. Our team bonded over our love of games, and it occurred to us that with billions of players on smartphones and tablets, we could use broadly popular mobile game mechanics to bring people together who might not otherwise have an opportunity to interact.”
Hefter will be part of a panel on diversity in games at our GamesBeat 2015 conference on October 12-13 in San Francisco.
The company was created by three founders: an American, an Israeli, and a Palestinian. RunZoo doesn’t relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The characters are cute animals, escaping from a zoo. They’re running to a land far away where the animal kingdom lives in harmony. But you need help from friends to get there. So it encourages cooperation. On top of that, it incentivizes players to make friends with other players in different countries. Initially, the relationship starts out anonymous. Over time, you find out where they are from, and you can add each other as friends. The animals come from a variety of regions.
“That’s what makes us unique as a game company trying to make a positive impact in the world,” he said. “We believe any game has a positive impact, but the features built within can share a lesson.”
Hefter graduated from Stanford University in 2011. He helped put together Jews and Muslims on campus through coffee get-togethers.
Hefter felt like he wasn’t contributing enough to the world. He quit his job as a management consultant and traveled to Israel. In January 2014, he started the company. During his time in Israel, the Gaza war broke out. His cofounders included Etay Furman and Ammoun Dissi.
It has two full-time people, including chief creative officer Randy Angle, and nine contractors. He raised $100,000 from friends and family. The team is diverse and 40 percent female. While Hefter is based in San Francisco, the development team is in Pakistan.
At first, the game brainstorming wasn’t working. The initial team considered a game where you defend Jerusalem from zombies. But a Palestinian teacher, Ammoun Dissi, joined the team and argued that the game should be nonviolent. They started over and abstracted the subject matter away from the Middle East conflict. Instead, they wanted to make it a more global game with a universal appeal.
They started testing using a board game version of Temple Run, the pioneering endless runner game. Multiplayer games are increasingly popular, and they help reinforce someone’s friendships on social networks. The team figured out how to turn it from a competitive game into a cooperative one and play-tested it. People liked the cooperative version, where partners can share boosts so the player can keep on running.
He realizes that sounds like a beauty contest contestant supporting world peace. But he’s going to try anyway. If the company hits the Indiegogo goal, it will be able to create a version of the game for a soft launch. After that, it hopes to launch the game globally. Over time, the company hopes to create a whole suite of games built around a single community.
The team tested a cooperative-play prototype with more than 100 Israeli and Palestinian kids. The findings showed that more than 80 percent of players preferred cooperative play to the single-play game, and many players expressed a desire to cooperate with other youth from countries around the world. Players reported feeling empowered and a greater sense of self-worth because their partners cared about their success in the game.
“We believe that great things can happen when you bring people of different backgrounds together over a common goal — so much so that we’ve built our diverse and global team using that philosophy,” said Hefter, in a statement. “We believe that you should be the change you want to see in the world and, as such, we’ve pulled together talent that crosses regional, racial, religious, and gender backgrounds.”
He added, “Our team includes experts in game development, community-building, conflict resolution and education. This broad range of experiences and perspectives represents a microcosm of the world today, and provides the necessary insight to bring about more global understanding.”
RunZoo is expected to soft launch late this year, and it will likely be widely available for iOS and Android phones and tablets by summer, 2016.
Published at venturebeat.com