Can Zynga Go From Schoolyard Bully to Class Angel by Backing a Charitable Facebook Game?

Mark Pincus: the Snape of game development.

This dude wants some butterbeer. (Photo:

It appears that Zynga, the evil mastermind behind FarmVille and Mafia Wars, is not completely hell-bent on destroying the world. The online game producer turned super villain announced today that it would help design a Facebook game to fight the oppression of women around the world.

The game is based on the novel Half the Sky, which follows the lives of women who have been victimized through sexual violence and trafficking, insufficient educational and financial opportunities and poor healthcare. It is part of a larger multimedia effort based on the book’s themes that will include a PBS miniseries as well as mobile games in India and Africa.

The game’s users will be tasked with ensuring the safety and prosperity of women and girls in their virtual village, overcoming various challenges in an effort to allow their avatars to eventually achieve independence. Players’ actions in the game will also translate into real donations that will go towards financing schools, supporting farmers and contributing to micro-saving campaigns.

Zynga’s game engineers will help Half the Sky’s Facebook game developer, Frima Studio, and its executive producer, Games for Change, finish before the game’s debut on November 13. Ken Weber,’s executive director, expressed his excitement over the collaboration in a Games for Change blog post.

The mission of is to help make the world a better place through games … Zynga’s employees are eager to leverage social games for good, and we are honored to be collaborating with Games for Change and Frima on this important initiative.

So is Zynga’s sudden prep-school charm to be trusted, or is it all a ruse, their true intentions only to be revealed in a dying tear collected by a bespectacled wizard (Snape-style!)? Former employers have previously alleged that Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus encourages workers to steal ideas from other companies. These disgruntled workers even darkly joked that Zynga’s internal motto is “Do Evil.”

But apparently these Darth Vader tactics aren’t having their desired effect. Zynga’s stocks suffered this summer, sinking below $5 in June. Looks like it’s time for the classic reputation cleansing move, “invest in a philanthropic Facebook game.”

However, the ambiguously intentioned Zynga seems to have won over the book’s authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. (Just like Snape did with Dumbledore in Harry Potter. Gasp!)

“Zynga’s role in bringing this game to life is particularly special to us,” Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn said in the blog post. “Using a game to potentially reach great numbers of people helps send a message not only that there are challenges women face around the world, but also that they bring great spirit and joy to their communities when they can live safe, normal lives.”

We should probably figure out who Voldemort is in this whole scenario–ASAP. Can Zynga Go From Schoolyard Bully to Class Angel by Backing a Charitable Facebook Game?