Buy Virtual Goods in Zynga Games, Give Non-Virtual Money to Charity

PHOTO:  During the holiday season, Zynga will offer in-game charitable drives with in-game purchases going to Toys for Tots.

Buying a $1 virtual horse for your virtual farm in FarmVille or a $15 tower for your castle in CastleVille might go farther than you think for the next couple of weeks. Those virtual goods are being turned into tangible cash -- cash that Zynga will be donating to Toys for Tots.

Today Zynga, the maker of all those popular social games on Facebook and on your phone, is launching a charitable drive in seven of its popular games for the holidays. Called the "Oh, What Fun!" campaign, the money made from specific virtual goods in specific games from Nov. 28 until the end of December will be given directly to the charity, which helps distribute toys to underprivileged children.

The social gaming company has had success with similar campaigns. "We have raised over $13 million in the past. It's been really popular with our players," Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, told ABC News. "We look for ideas and causes that are well-known and that hit an emotional chord with our players."

Donations will be possible in seven of Zynga's most popular games, including FarmVille, CityVille, Words with Friends and Draw Something. In Draw Something and Words With Friends, players will be able to send a text message to Toys for Tots. They can text TOTs to 501501 to donate $5.

In FarmVille, CityVille and FrontierVille, gamers will be able to purchase certain virtual goods, and the entirety of that money will go to Toys for Tots. A Toys for Tots mystery box that has six possible critters inside will cost $4 to $5.

"We couldn't do all the revenues of the games," Pincus said. "We offer a specific item and we make clear that that item is supporting a cause."

Zynga itself has been struggling lately. A number of major executives, including the COO, have left, and the company's stock price has been on a bumpy ride. The company has been under the microscope since it went public in early 2012.

But Pincus said he believes this campaign is good for morale and the company. "Our employees are proud of this, it is a reminder to them of the bigger mission of the company; we are driven by what our players and employees want. We don't think it is negative for our shareholders; it is good for our brand."

While he wouldn't speak to the future corporate strategy of the company, Pincus' vision around this campaign and holiday giving is clear.

"We all hope that our product and services can help make the world a better place. But to get to do something where it is much more core than that, where you can actually give your audience an opportunity to directly do good things in the world, is something only non-profits can do," Pincus said. "It is really something that is a dream."

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