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Gaming for good—with celebrities

TechnologyTechnology

Video gaming has become a global pastime. And these days, Millennials spend a lot of time watching or broadcasting live streams of video games and eSports events. The rise of live streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube has opened up new opportunities for charities to connect with this worldwide phenomenon. Tiltify.com, which just launched in beta form this month, has been designed to connect Hollywood and YouTube celebrities, athletes and charities with gamers to raise money for good causes. It’s crowdfunding for a good cause.

Several charities have already started raising money through the platform, which has been designed for seamless integration into Twitch and YouTube to reach a large gaming audience. Microsoft has teamed up with Indy Car racers Josef Newgarden and Justin Wilson for the “Race Against Cancer” campaign to benefit Teen Cancer America. Fans have the chance to win an opportunity to race against the professional drivers in the Xbox One game Forza 5 on August 28 with the action livestreamed on Twitch.

“It’s a cool way for people to get involved in a good cause and also enter for a chance to do something pretty special in racing against Justin and me in what’s my favorite video game,” said Newgarden. “Using Forza 5 draws in a lot of hardcore racing people. I know if I wasn’t a professional driver, the one thing that’d I’d want to be able to do is race against someone that was a professional.”

Michael Wasserman, CEO of Tiltify, said that over the coming months there will be a lot of innovative campaigns involving athletes, celebrities and charities. Since the platform is brand new, many campaigns are in the development stages. About a dozen charities have already signed up for the platform, and Wasserman expects to have around 50 by the end of the month.

“The idea was how do we make fundraising more fun,” said Wasserman, who has been involved in traditionally Hollywood fundraising for a decade. “Celebrities and athletes love to play video games as much as the rest of us, so we created a platform that everyone can use that is video gaming for charity in a global way. We talked to a lot of gamers and celebrities and time commitment is always an issue with them, but they can play video games from anywhere with video chat.”

The key piece to the puzzle that made Tiltify a reality is Twitch. The livestreaming site, which has more than 55 million monthly users and may soon be acquired by Google (GOOG), says gamers spend an average of 106 minutes per person per daily session. The interactive nature of these livestreams can connect charities and celebrities with gamers.

“Gamers, as a group, are very giving — more than people perceive in the mainstream,” said Wasserman. “They want to raise money and help, but there wasn’t an avenue to do that. We make it easy for everyone to get involved. The popularity of Twitch and YouTube has opened up a huge opportunity to create something new for fundraising.”

Tiltify has also talked to popular YouTube companies like Fullscreen-owned Screw Attack, Defy Media’s Smosh Games and Rooster Teeth about fundraising opportunities.

“We can enhance a YouTube channel through these fundraising campaigns because you’re embedding your actual stream,” said Wasserman. “We can bring more people to your channel by partnering with the American Red Cross and doing a fundraiser that brings a whole new audience and increases traffic to your channel. For a lot of YouTubers, bringing more people to their channel is the bread and butter of their careers. Tiltify give them the opportunity to offer rewards through donations.”

For the “Racing Against Cancer” campaign, Microsoft (MSFT) has donated digital copies of the game as well as downloadable content codes to encourage participation and try to reach the goal of $50,000 for Teen & Young Adult Cancer Centers. Gaming is already being used to help charities fight cancer.

“Whenever we build a teenage facility in a hospital we include gaming equipment because it is such an important part of youth culture,” said Simon Davies, executive director of Teen Cancer America. “The experience of having cancer and being in the hospital for extended periods can be distressing and depressing. Anything that can take young people away from the intensity of the experience and give them an outlet can have positive value in lifting their spirits and relieving their tension. It is also a medium for communication between teenagers as a method of bringing them together in support of each other.”

Taking a page from gamification, in addition to campaigns, there are missions for people to donate to. The American Red Cross is raising $25,000 for a “Disaster Relief” mission for blankets, comfort kits and hot meals. The AbleGamers Charity, which tries to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities using the power of digital entertainment, has a $200,000 “Driving Home Accessibility” mission to create a vehicle that is able to go help transport gamers with disabilities to research labs and game conventions. The van will be filled with gaming hardware and the latest accessibility technology. Each of Tiltify’s campaigns and missions explains exactly how the donations will be used.

Tiltify currently offers secure charitable donations through FirstGiving.com, which verifies all 501c charities on the site. The company will be adding multiple processing partners, including PayPal. Wasserman said Tiltify independently verifies each charity on its site so gamers know their donations are going to good use.

“Gamers are likely to have their own charitable cause in which they are interested,” said Davies. “It is likely they, themselves, will see the value of using gaming as a fundraising and awareness raising mechanism. I think it has tremendous opportunity.”

Over the coming months, it will be up to gamers to “press start” and game for their favorite causes.