My take on the virtual economy.How we can sell all our elephants, rhinos and lions and still get our parks full?

We have been hit by the social networking bug, with companies complaining of lost productivity from their workers because of platforms such as Facebook which are considered the ultimate time sink. But what these “time sinks” have created is an ecosystem that can be leveraged to push products and services but we are yet to see any interesting initiatives that result in real-world returns for local companies or agencies.One of the most visible aspects of this new ecosystem is the concept of virtual goods and upselling.

In late 2009, social gaming company Zynga, the creators of hits such as Mafia Wars, Farmville, FishVille and Café World experimented with virtual goods on Farmville to raise money for a children’s charity in Haiti, with 50 per cent of the proceeds going to charity.

Some background to this would help you see why I want us to sell all our elephants and rhinos and yet still keep them.Farmville is a game on social platforms that allows players to plant, grow and harvest crops and raise livestock in a virtual environment.Seeds, trees, tractors and animals can all be purchased using virtual cash, which is earned by selling your virtual crops or doing certain tasks. Bluntly, it’s all make believe. The game has, however, managed an impressive active player count of sixty one million.

Here is the spin on the virtual goods economy Zynga style.On FarmVille, Zynga set up a Seeds for Haiti Initiative, where “farmers” could buy Sweet Seeds for their farms.These sweet seeds were special given that they could not wither and also gave you maximum return. In two weeks after the initiative was launched, Sh66 million worth of sweet seeds were sold and by January of 2010 that number rose to an impressive Sh160 million.

Where am I going with this?

We have been trying to put a fence around the Aberdares, right?  What if the ICT Board, having done their trip to Facebook headquarters, empowered the Ministry of Tourism and the Kenya Tourism Board to leverage the social platform to offer, say, a domesticated lion or elephant on such a game?  The proceeds would go to finishing the remaining stretch of fence and offer an upsell for the “best farmers” to get a chance to come see the real deal at the Mara or Nairobi National Park through Magical Kenya. Or we could sell some virtual elephant tusks to the millions of Chinese users who buy virtual goods via their popular instant messaging platform QQ.

Is it possible? Yes. But we need to move with the times and adapt to new ways of thinking about technology.

It is not always about bits, bytes and wires.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.
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