While in-game events are a fairly common occurrence in a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game it?s not often that they result in the joint effort of a major video games publisher and a leading charitable organization promoting affordable housing. But it?s exactly that kind of event that has enabled Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) LLC?s Austin, TX studio to team up with Austin Habitat for Humanity (AHFH), contributing financially as well as through volunteer efforts to help people in the Austin community find homes.
In SOE?s Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) MMO, there was a surplus of player-created houses and buildings that had been abandoned or left unoccupied by players. SOE Austin VP of Development John Blakely wanted to remove the houses, but do so in a way that is uniquely Star Wars ? the buildings were marked as ?condemned? by the evil Galactic Empire, and scheduled for demolition ? TIE fighters would swoop in and bomb the buildings to the ground.
The SWG community was also given the chance to join in the fun of this ?urban renewal;? players were provided reward points for the number of buildings they destroyed, which could be redeemed for special in-game items like droids, paintings and furniture. ?When we initially conceived this idea, we didn?t know how the community was going to react,? said Blakely. ?Oddly enough, it was very well received; some players that hadn?t been in the game for months came back to reclaim their property, re-activate their accounts and start playing the game again.?
SOE Austin took things one step further and offered to match the number of houses demolished with a donation to charity, considering Austin Habitat for Humanity first. ?Using the money we raised blowing-up virtual houses and buildings to help build real homes was a no-brainer for us,? said Blakely. ?Austin Habitat for Humanity has done incredible work in the community, helping people find good homes, and our whole studio wanted to contribute to their efforts.?
On Thursday, September 6th, Blakely will present AHFH Executive Director Michael Willard with a donation at SOE?s industry reception at the Austin Game Developers Conference.
?Teaming up with Sony Online Entertainment is a wonderful opportunity for Austin Habitat and the families we serve. The creativity and diligence that these professionals exhibit in their work are traits which translate well to our efforts to eradicate poverty housing in our community,? said Willard. ?Austin needs creative solutions in our quest to create more affordable housing and diligent leadership in as we work toward those goals.?