Rant: A Mass Effect Raffle That Made Everyone Look Like Losers

Rant: A Mass Effect Raffle That Made Everyone Look Like Losers

The attempted raffle of an early copy of Mass Effect 3 this week still bothers me, even though its owners apologised and pulled back the gimmick when they realised it would run afoul of anti-gambling laws. The raffle or its legality isn’t what really bothers me, however.

Backing up a bit, this is what happened. Electronic Arts marketers tied a bunch of copies of the coveted game to weather balloons and sent them into very near space last week, encouraging fans to track the balloons via web and try to find the games where they landed. In Las Vegas, two friends, who are also filmmakers, ended up the lucky winners of a drawing for one of the copies after the balloon went off course and the web page displayed an incorrect flight path.

Even though they owned the thing outright, what Michael Davis and Miguel Droz then chose to do with their copy was basically inappropriate and then, it was discovered, also illegal. The two wanted to raise money for computer so they could develop a game for the iOS platform. So they planned a raffle — $US5 for a chance at winning the game in a drawing online. The money raised would buy this computer.

While it would have depended on trusting these two guys to run an honest drawing and not give the game to, say, a friend, who mails it back to them, that’s not the big problem. Davis and Droz certainly seem like honest guys who don’t want to rip anyone off and simply didn’t know the law. When an attorney who writes about video games law spotted the problem and pointed out the potential for Davis and Droz to pay big fines or even do gaol time, they ended the stunt and apologised.

But in the very video in which they announced their intentions (above), the duo acknowledged that this looked like a douche move. After all, some guy looking for the weather balloon ended up on someone’s private property and had a gun pointed at him. A family had driven all the way from Colorado with their eight-year-old boy for a shot at the game. Both got a copy, but they were out there because they wanted the game and they wanted to play it, not speculate on it as a commodity.

And so, Davis and Droz said, 30 per cent of the proceeds were to have gone to the Child’s Play charity, a foundation established by Penny Arcade which gives video games, consoles and toys to children’s hospitals.

Sorry, but regardless of the raffle, what they intended to do with the game or with the money they made off of it, it still sticks in my craw, this kind of fig-leaf using the go-to charity for any cause remotely connected to gaming. It has gone beyond cliché, and it trivialises the mission of Child’s Play and the efforts of those who donate to it for reasons other than good PR.

Every week we get tips about a gaming marathon, and it seems they’re all donating to Child’s Play in whole or in part, basically stealing the idea from the marathon that first did it most visibly: Desert Bus for Hope by Loading Ready Run, which raised more than $US380,000 for Child’s Play this past year by suffering through one of the most intentionally horrible games ever created.

We gamers can do a lot of good as a community. Let’s stop abusing Child’s Play’s mission with the whitewashing seen in this abortive Mass Effect raffle.

It boggles my mind that Child’s Play has so much money — not that deserving it has anything to do here. Charitable donations are not a zero-sum game. But heck, the embarassment of riches it must be managing, when Desert Bus for Hope has raised more than half a million US dollars in the past five years and every gaming event seems to send in some tithe simply because it’s “the gamer’s charity”. And the announcements we get all proudly march around Child’s Play’s name, as if everyone must snap to attention on its mention and give this effort, whatever it is, some publicity. The fact Davis and Droz were doing it in a scheme to launch a business is just contemptibly tacky.

I don’t mean to suggest that making sick children happy is not a worthy cause, or is less worthy than other gestures of mercy. I’ve seen the work it does and I have written about it with great empathy. But let’s stop thinking in such a narrow way.

This year, Mojang identified four causes for gamers to give to in its Mojam 48-hour game development party. One was Child’s Play; another was the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose advocacy absolutely touches everyday gamers’ lives and then also the American Red Cross and charity: water, philanthropies that are there to do good for a great multitude of people regardless of their entertainment interests.

We gamers can do a lot of good as a community. We are idealistic, highly motivated and treat damn near every cent as disposable income. While Child’s Play is a worthwhile cause, it ain’t hurting the last I checked. And we can do so much more for this community’s image by donating to other worthy causes in the mainstream, rather than a knee-jerk fundraiser that appears only to take care of our own. Let’s also stop abusing Child’s Play’s mission with the kind of whitewashing seen in this abortive Mass Effect raffle.

Many companies are chastised for “pinkwashing” — flaunting support of breast cancer awareness and branding products with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure pink ribbon in what is otherwise a nakedly promotional appeal. I’m not sure what the colour of washing it is we’re dealing with when Child’s Play is repeatedly dragged into someone’s self-promotion, but we need to clean up our efforts.

Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam on Saturdays. Let yours out in the comments.


  • I think Childs Play is all well and good, but I believe Red Cross and World Vision are about 10 million times more important. I sponsor a child in South Africa and it gives him and his family water and good, which I think is WAY more important than giving a sick child a video game.

    I wish gamers would stop focusing on Child’s Play (which is doing fine) and focus on other charities for a change.

    • I like the idea of Child’s Play, but it really is overused in the gaming industry. I think there are many other charities which are probably more worthy.

      Also, this rant is more about how Child’s Play is used in the Gaming society than the raffle, so it should probably have had that indicated in the title and tags. But it was a good read.

  • Pointless rant is pointless…..So what if they wanted to give 30% to charity. Whats it to you, the charity still gets the money regardless if they believed in the cause….. honestly you sound like a b*tch…..

    • That wasn’t his point at all. The point was that, as he saw it, 30% of the money would be given to Child’s Play purely as a ploy to get themselves money. While yes, it’s good that some would have gone to charity, that does not seem to have been the men’s aims. Charity shouldn’t be seen as an advertising opportunity.

      He also took issue with the fact that they saw this chance at getting a game which others prized as a chance to get money, which was quite obviously not in the spirit of the competition.

      • Yet if they had not, none of the money would have gone to charity at all… Hell, if he’s actually somewhat correct about the charity idea then all they would have made even more money than if they had not so even more money goes to Child’s Play.

        So what’s the damn problem? I don’t give a shit if it’s 1 percent going to charity, if they’re using it as a ploy who cares, it’s not as if it’s negatively affecting those that the charity helps, on the contrary, it is helping them. Everybody wins. It sounds like some obscure form of jealousy to me.

        Who gives a damn?

    • And you sound like a naive child. The fact is, charity has and always will be used by people as a smokescreen for personal financial gain. Having done a lot of charity work, it’s the old joke that most donors would sooner sponsor an animal over a hobo or African child. People donate to causes they see as having a photo op and lately, that has been Childs Play for the gaming community.

      This is analogous to Paula Deen, an American celebrity chef who made a fortune promoting fatty, unhealthy recipes and after she was diagnosed with Diabetes, parlays that into a multi-million dollar promotion of a pharmaceutical company. After she was called out for the hypocrisy, she announced she was donating a percentage of it to charity. Screw that, if you have an honest bone in your body, you’ll donate all of it to counter the accusations of shameless self-service.

  • I agree totally with this article. Too often charity is exploited for promotional gain and it’s about time that the focus on charity was refocussed on its recipients and its necessity.

  • “Charity shouldn’t be seen as an advertising opportunity.”

    true but thats not the world we live in….if we stop stuff like this (entering a comp where some money goes to charities) donations will drop real bad and im not saying they will stop but a lot less money will be made by those charities…..they found the game (strapped to a damn balloon in the sky) they should be able to do what they want with it….sometimes 2 wrongs do make a right

    • “true but thats not the world we live in”

      True, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak against it or try to change it, whether we’re likely to or not. No one’s arguing charity work should stop. Look at Awesome Games Done quick, everything they made, every cent, went to their cancer charity., and that was a LOT harder and more costly to organise than this stunt.

  • I understand there were legal precedents but seriously I’M STILL CONFUSED.
    I mean what’s the big deal? What they wanted to do with the game is their business, and if people wanted to pay them for a raffle it’s their problem.

    Then also, if people, companies, organisations, whatever want to give to charities then good on them. It doesn’t matter what reasons they have to support the charity or which one they pick. If people want to buy into it because of a charity IT’S THEIR PROBLEM.In most cases people, companies, organisations, whatever will not be giving anything to any charity. In the end it doesn’t matter if there is a kind of washing because nobody’s worse off for the activity.

    In terms of Child’s Play always being chosen, it doesn’t matter. In fact the only reason why it’s chosen and why we’re apparently “giving too much” is because since it’s related to our field of interest we actually know what this charity does. Seriously would anybody just give to charities like Ronald McDonald House if they didn’t see the tv ad or read the blurb on a burger wrapper?

    • Well, firstly, it was quite obviously not in the spirit of the competition to sell it for personal gain. That said, I can’t entirely fault them for what they’ve done, though it does seem a bit like a dick move.

      As for Child’s Play always being chosen as it relates to us, I’m not sure that’s entirely the best excuse. It’s the reason, yeah, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to raise more for lesser known charities.

      The final point, as you and Tasty Fresh have made, is that it doesn’t matter the reasons for donating, as donating is in itself a good thing. And that’s true, to an extent. I admire these guys for trying to raise money for charity, even if it was not their main concern. It’s fantastic that companies donate to charity. It becomes an issue, though, when they donate to only popular charities because they’re more recognisable, and thus a better investment. Like with Pinkwashing, as the rant mentions. Teal lids for ovarian cancer research don’t have the same appeal as pink lids.

      This isn’t necessarily a problem with these blokes specifically; I think everything they did they’ve done relatively right. (Though, maybe some research prior to the raffle may have been wise.)

  • Herp the fricking derp some more…

    Even if the Child’s Play donations was a ploy to get more money who cares?!?! It’s money going to one of the very very few organisations that actually puts those proceeds towards those in need. It isn’t going to those idiotic charities that Lachlan (and those of his pathetically stupid ilk) believe in where most proceeds go towards the organisation.

    Hell the amount of furniture I’ve had that the Red Cross wouldn’t take because, and I quote here, “couldn’t sell”, is astounding. But hey, Red Cross and World Vision have fancy ads so lets believe that they help people because I got pictures of a random African kid.

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