Greener SimCity Virtual World as Channel to Influence Real World Behaviors

Electronic Arts (EA)’s SimCity, the popular simulation game that challenges users to build and run a metropolis, is set to release its latest version in mid-November – SimCity Societies – and is generating a lot of buzz in the process.  


One way that sets Societies apart from previous versions is its new functionality that requires users to take economic and environmental factors into consideration when making energy production decisions.  (Other simulation games that require users to make trade-offs between energy and environmental concerns include Energyville, recently launched by Chevron and The Economist Group; ElectroCity, sponsored by Genesis Energy in New Zealand; and My Abode, sponsored by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.)

While this novel functionality is generating significant buzz in the market, the real learnings for green marketers may be how EA and energy giant BP are leveraging the game itself as a marketing channel to influence its audience.  In doing so, EA and BP will have impact across the purchase funnel:

Awareness: As a key sponsor of Societies, BP will place its logo on renewable energy sources throughout the game.  BP is likely betting that branding renewable energy in this virtual world will have a positive impact on brand awareness, favorability and purchase intent in the real world.

Cleverly, while BP plans to place its logo on (not so eco-friendly) gasoline stations within the game, it is purposefully not associating its brand with dirtier energy sources that are used to generate electricity like coal (though this positioning may be somewhat inconsistent with its real-world energy mix).

Consideration: The game itself provides a high impact channel to educate consumers about real-life trade offs that are increasingly required today.  

In this simulation game users make decisions regarding how to meet the growing energy needs as well as how to deal with their consequences over time.  For example, users that choose to fuel industrial growth with low cost, but high polluting energy sources may find themselves facing droughts, heat waves and other weather-related consequences of global warming.  

Ultimately, companies like BP will benefit from such presence if consideration for renewable energy in the virtual world translates into the real-life consideration as a result. 

Purchase: Perhaps the most powerful use of this gaming channel has yet to be explored, that is, driving transactions.  While enabling functionality is not planned for this version, the potential exists to facilitate purchases longer term. 

In a gaming environment there are several ways in which real-world transactions could take place.  One way could be to allow users to sign up for or indicate interest in renewable energy directly through the gaming environment or an associated micro site. 

Moreover, it may even be possible to exchange Simoleans, or SimCity virtual currency, to purchase renewable energy in the real world over time.  This would be similar to the way virtual Linden dollars can be exchanged for real dollars in the popular virtual world of Second Life.

So, marketers should take note. Gaming is an emerging channel that may be used to reach new audiences and influence behaviors across the purchase funnel.  The virtual world of SimCity Societies requires users to make economic and environmental trade-offs similar to those that we increasingly confront today.    For marketers like BP, such an immersive environment offers the chance not only to influence awareness and consideration in a virtual world, but to shape behaviors that impact the bottom line in the real one.


11 thoughts on “Greener SimCity Virtual World as Channel to Influence Real World Behaviors

  1. That is such a great idea to further awareness about climate change. I used to love sim city, so I’ll definitely have to check this out. You might be interested to know that there is an energy bill up in congress that lobbyists are trying to cut down and remove important provisions like fuel economy standards and renewable electricity. If you want you can sign a petition here to make sure a robust bill gets through.

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  3. Pingback: SimCity Societies: For the OCD Urban Planner in All of Us

  4. Thank you for an interesting and informative post. While I myself am not very familiar with computer games like SimCity, I think it is very wise for companies to incorporate marketing into videogames, and I applaud Electronic Arts for introducing this new marketing concept in an environmentally responsible way. I think that marketing via computer games is a very innovative idea and will become increasingly more popular with time. In recent years, companies have been struggling to market their products anywhere possible. Videogames are an appealing medium for marketers to advertise through because a specific population segment can be targeted, and also because advertisements can be seen for longer periods of time. In SimCity, BP will place its logo on both renewable energy sources and gas stations throughout the game. Players will see the advertisement frequently and likely will develop an awareness and preference for the product (referred to as the “mere exposure effect.”). EA’s decision to add a sustainability element to SimCity is especially significant because the game can educate young consumers. Not only does it make younger generations aware of the effects of global warming in their every day lives and possible solutions to curtailing climate change, but it also allows businesses such as BP to reach their consumers at a young age. Towards the end of your post you explore the possibility of purchasing products through videogames, specifically, allowing gamers to purchase “renewable energy directly through the gaming environment or an associated micro site.” Even if this feature is possible in the future, I am not sure it would be successful. It seems to me that when a consumer is playing a computer game he is in “relaxation mode,” and therefore would be unlikely to make any financial decisions while playing the game. I think the business world would benefit most by sticking to marketing via computer games, and let the consumer recognize and purchase the product outside of the videogame environment.

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