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by DB
4 min read 6


So here is an idea

Donation Game App

An application which allows users to play games against eachother.

  • The user funds their account with money, and receives tokens in return (which are pegged to USD).
  • The user buys into a game with tokens (different buy-in levels)
  • The winner(s) of the game receives the tokens in the prize pool for that game.
  • A user is not allowed to withdraw the tokens, they can only be used to donate to effective charities (decided by the application).
  • The app takes zero commission from buy-ins, so all of the money goes to the charities.
  • Users can track where their tokens have gone, and where it has been donated to.

Possible Paths:

Lottery/random chance games (built in-house)

At fixed times (or when enough people enter), all entrants to the lottery enter a room. A random chance game takes place (e.g. a big roullete wheel, a barrel with numbered balls, playing cards are dealt and highest card wins, etc).

Arcade games (built in-house or externally provided)

Users compete against each other in classic arcade games such as tetris, pacman, snake, etc.

Note: would have to handle potential cheating software, perhaps by sufficiently altering the images during play so that screen scrapers don't work.

Simple card/dice games (built in-house or externally provided)

Simplified poker, blackjack, "cheat", etc.

Custom game (externally provided)

Hire a video-game company to create a modern user vs user(s) computer/mobile game(s) specfically for this purpose.

Get someone else to do it

Convince a gaming company/companies to implement this idea themselves. Many games already have the infrastructure in place to carry out ideas like these (money, developer teams, marketing, existing games, payment infrastructure etc).

General Thoughts/Ideas

  • The possible paths above are not all mutually exclusive.
  • If the users are not allowed to withdraw money, perhaps the app won't be classified as "gambling" and can avoid the regulations that come with that.
  • The app may allow users to choose which games to play in, so they can play with/against their friends.
  • May need to set a lifetime on the tokens before they get automatically donated to prevent people from hoarding (users may get dissuaded if they don't see their money being donated in a reasonable timeframe).
  • There could be sponsored bonus games, where an individual or organisation adds tokens to the prize pool for a game.
  • The app could provide information and resources about effective altruism. Although, it may not be a good strategy for the app to have strong ties to the EA community, especially if it goes down a "gambling" type path.
  • Having social recognition built-in to the app could be very important. e.g. leaderboards, popups when someone makes a donation.
  • It would be good to create a community-like atmosphere in the games. All users have the same goal, and the app can encourage that with messages like "you and your fellow givers in lottery #324 just raised $X".

Target Audience/Market

The main goal of the app is to maximise the amount of money donated to effective charities. It's not obvious which audience to target in order to acheive this, and this decision could have a big impact on the path chosen for the project. Consider the following possible (not mutually exclusive) audiences and consider the design differences to suit them.

  1. Someone who isn't much in to games, but likes being recognised for their donations, and will be encouraged to donate more depending on the recognition they get.

  2. Someone who loves a game of CandyCrush on their way home from work. Perhaps they're not existing donors, but they don't mind the idea of playing a game similar to the ones they usually play, and giving to a good cause at the same time.

  3. Someone who likes the idea of donating, but feels like their small individual contribution won't amount to much. They would be encouraged if their donation was part of a bigger pie of donations.

  4. An ultra competitive person who wants to win at any game, whatever the cost (or thoughts about donating).

An appropriate path forward may be to create a prototype of one of the simpler platforms, and test it on "EA types" who are already donors. They are likely to make up the biggest user base of the app, especially in the beginning, and this project would benefit greatly from EAs thinking about and working with the project.

General Concerns

  • Depending on the scale of this, it could be hard to get sufficient funding for development/maintenance. Once the app is live, there could be a "donate to app" option when buying tokens, or when donating the tokens to charity.
  • For some of the ideas mentioned, it's possible that the app could lead people towards a gambling addiction.
  • If there is a security breach, people's donations could go missing. This could dissuade people from future projects like this one, or even from donating to charity in general. (This is an issue for any charity).
  • Deciding which charities the users are allowed to donate to will be difficult. In the beginning it would make sense to keep the list very small, perhaps the GiveWell top charities. Overtime, it may be better to add charities to attract more users.


I would love any feedback, including the "this is a terrible idea that will never work" variety. If this idea doesn't have any legs, is there anything else of the "making donating fun" flavour that could work? I'm hoping this idea can at least start a conversation in that direction.

I'm currently doing some software development and am reasonably confident that I could develop a prototype for this, given enough time. But I'd like to wait until the idea has run through many heads before developing anything. And. perhaps by then, there may be other people interested in helping out ;) ;).

You can reach me by email at daniel@braun.com.au, or in person at the EA Global London this weekend!





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(Note: I'm glad you wrote this post, because the Forum is a place for ideas! I'm giving off-the-cuff feedback here that will sound negative, but that doesn't mean I think the post was bad.)

The main difficulty with any proposed app project is that almost all apps get close to zero users -- including plenty of apps that seem like they should be popular, or at least don't obviously seem less entertaining than their more successful competitors. It's hard to get traction in crowded markets, and "mobile games" is a crowded market.

It's true that very few mobile games have a social mission. However, this means that you're targeting an unusual set of people. Most people (I assume) download mobile games as a form of low-cost entertainment; they're unlikely to be interested in an app whose sole purpose is to take their money, even if it's for a good cause. If someone wants an app that will help them donate to charity, it's unlikely that they'll be looking for one with a game layer between them and their beneficiaries.

There are certainly people in the world for whom this hypothetical app would be useful and entertaining and persuasive (in terms of getting counterfactual donations), but I don't think those people are common, and that adds another difficult problem to the initial problem of "getting users for your app".

Very good points, I agree with all.

Don't be afraid to sound negative, honest feedback can save a whole career!

Great idea. Something with a similar inspiration and already successful is Ribon, an app that gives you points (“ribons”) for reading positive news (e.g. “handicapped walks again thanks to exoskeleton”) sponsored by corporations; then you choose one of the TLYCS charities, and your points are converted into a donation.

Ribon is a Brazilian for-profit, they claim to donate 70% of what they receive from sponsors, but I haven’t found precise stats. It has skyrocketed this year: from their informed impact, I estimate they have donated about U$ 33k to TLYCS – which is a lot for Brazilian standards. They intend to expand (they gathered more than R$ 1 mi – roughly U$250k - from investors this year) and will soon launch an ICO. Perhaps a non-profit could do even more good?

The Life You Can Save is working with an app-development company called Meepo (which is doing pro bono work) to build a non-profit donation app, which is currently in beta. You can learn more about this project, and how to download the beta version, here.

That's great.

Even so, I'd really like to see an EA app where the cost of a donation is supported by a sponsor, instead of the user.

I like this! For my social enterprise SoGive, I have thought about multiple ways to get people involved in donating, and something like this has crossed my mind before. I'll message you directly, happy to discuss further.

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