It's time something like this has been done. While Farmville is/was fun, it's largely a waste of time and electricity. Here is a social game that utilizes the concept of Farmville and pushes resources to children in need. The game is called WeTopia and while it may provide much of the same notification nightmare that Farmville burdens us with, the game is helping kids in Haiti live a better life. The game has been developed by Sojo Studios who believe that people are already playing socially and that activity can be used for social good.

The game has multiple parts to it. You have multiple goals, to rise levels, to gain money, supplies, and ultimately 'joy' that you donate. Like in Farmville, you rise levels by gaining experience points, you make money by collecting rent from houses and cash from businesses, you gain supplies by harvesting crops and you collect 'joy' from your regular activity as well as building 'joy' parks. The game has you literally building up a town from scratch as if you were building in Haiti or another impoverished nation. Every building has to be connected to a road in order to be functional and, of course, there is an option for you to make roads. The population of your town increases with every house you build but you have a population capacity based on the joy parks you build. The creators of the game are very adamant about having joy in the towns that you build which is why they created the population cap. Finally, multiple celebrities have gotten on board with the game but you'll see one very obvious one, Ellen DeGeneres. For those of you who don't know who she is, Ellen is a comedian, she's the voice of Doree in Finding Nemo and she has her own talk show. And as a treat for you, Justin Bieber is also a WeTopia supporter. But don't let that stop you from playing the game, you won't see him around. I promise.

Ellen's WeTopia village

Ellen's WeTopia village

Design
The game is designed as you would expect it to be. Bright colours, short and wide elements and of course, indicative of a small tropical town. A lot of the elements take up more room than what's comfortable which ends you up with a lot of wasted space. For instance, some trees are two by two even if they don't appear to take up all that space. The houses don't take up too much space but the joy parks are five by fives which end up taking a lot of the space you need for other elements. And the joy parks are what are required for you to even progress through the game. The houses though, are designed very true to their element. There are various styles of houses like Japanese Bamboo Houses, Italian Farmhouses, British Manors and Indian Kutirs which look very much like their real life counterparts. One thing that's a little freaky looking is The Giving Tree. This is a tree that you collect joy points from everyday and it has the face of Ellen DeGeneres carved into its bark. It's a little scary to look at. The nice thing about the design though, is even if your planning is haphazard, your whole 'town' can still look nice. Unlike Farmville where if you don't group things together correctly, you'll be seen as a bad farmer.

Features
I have more gripes with this game than I would like. Which is a shame because it actually is a game for good and more people should be engaged with it. You will receive quests through your game, a lot of which can only be completed if you send your friends requests for certain things. For instance, one quest will be to build a soccer park, but then you have to send three of your friends requests to be soccer players and referees in the park. It's almost a bigger notification nightmare than Farmville. We get it, it's a way to spread the word, but there has to be a better way to do it than the same reason Farmville annoyed everyone. Friends have learned not to pay attention and to even block notifications from certain Facebook apps. As expected, this will hurt WeTopia more than help it.

You have to either buy or annoy. Or wait.

You have to either buy or annoy. Or wait.

Furthermore, while virtually everything requires energy to do, you'll find yourself running out of energy soon and the only way to get around it is buy Facebook credits and/or wait around till you fill up again. You'll see many instances where the game will let you complete a quest with Facebook credits. This is because a part of the revenue from Facebook credits not only funds the game but is actually donated to the charities that the game supports. In addition to Facebook credits, the game also collects money from advertisers to donate. You will notice that as you collect 100 joy points, you'll be able to donate them to a charity of your choice. The time that it takes to collect that many joy points builds up a substantial coin pile for the game itself to donate. Donating joy through the game means donating food, clean water, medicines as well as resources for education and healthcare.The game allows you to see the impact you've made in the real world. 50% of Sojo's profits from WeTopia go to the various causes the game is supporting.

Donating joy. It's worth it.

Donating joy. It's worth it.

One thing that is nice about the game, which Farmville created much time wastage at work with, is a lot of the crops that you grow will not wither. Furthermore, in addition to joy, the game tries to inculcate certain values that a town must have like recycling and day care centers.

In addition to the obvious reasons for donation of joy points (umm, humanity?), there is an added incentive of receiving coins and energy. You gain levels of joy points donations too, and every time you level up, a liter of clean water is donated to an area that needs it. Of course, in an ideal world, the water would just be donated anyway, but since we don't live in an ideal world, you have a way of helping out for free. You also get rewarded for helping out in friends' towns and while Abe is a friend the game already gives you, Ellen is a friend you earn and other friends have to be invited from your Facebook list. PS, for those of you playing the game (warning: there's a giveaway here), the secret Ellen word is Ellentopia.

The choice of charities and causes to donate to are a little limited right now. Certain charities can only be donated to once you level up in donation levels. While the idea is to give you an incentive to keep playing, it, in a way, defeats the purpose of the game. You should have a variety of causes to donate to and not have to be at specific levels to donate. For example, if you feel strongly about child education, your passion itself will bring you back to the game. The charities that you can currently support through the game are in the United States and in Haiti. Charities in Africa, in particular, Mali will be coming soon. Haiti has a huge presence because the game was conceptualized after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. As mentioned earlier, I really would like to see more regions you can contribute to, especially when the game is being played world over. I would like to choose to be able to help out kids on my very own home turf, India.

Quests in WeTopia help you advance and donate more

Quests in WeTopia help you advance and donate more

And finally, the game takes forever to load and seems to be designed for only first world speeds of internet. There are two levels of the game loading and the second one especially, takes at least four to five minutes on my onaverage 150 Kb/s download speed. Again, not something that will help the game, that hopefully, the creators want to have it played all over the world, not just in countries with very good internet speed. Also, there is no mobile version of this game yet. And even if we could play it on the Facebook applications for our respective smart devices, with how buggy those apps are, would we really bother?

It's not 'You'-topia, it's WeTopia

It's not 'You'-topia, it's WeTopia

Conclusion
You know what, at the end of the day, no matter what the downfalls, the game exists for a good cause. If it's helping people in need, I say go for it. This isn't the first social game to exist for 'good', there was Happy Oasis whose aim was to spread awareness about life in the Middle East to other parts of the world, as well as spread progressive messages like women driving to users in the Middle East itself. The aim of that game was essentially spreading awareness. However, the aim of WeTopia is to re-channel resources to those in need. I say play it, play it now.

Publish date: April 27, 2012 12:24 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 10:08 pm

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