Operation: Sleeper Cell – The Future of Fundraising

Just under a year ago, I announced Let’s Change the Game, a competition to fund development of an ARG that would raise money for Cancer Research UK. In February, the winning team, Law 37, began work on Operation: Sleeper Cell.

Over the next eight months, over twenty volunteers in Law 37 built an original game, story, backend, graphics and live events, all in their spare time. They were all unpaid, and they did it all in their own time. The level of dedication they’ve shown to Operation: Sleeper Cell is simply breathtaking, and today, they finally launched.

Operation: Sleeper Cell really is something new – it’s the world’s first massively multiplayer game designed to raise money for charity. As the press release (PDF) puts it:

Operation: Sleeper Cell will see teams of players from around the world working together to solve ‘puzzle cells’ in a grid. By donating money to the game, they can unlock¬†extra cells for all players, and also advance the story, which takes place over websites, blogs, Twitter and even in real life.

ARGs, and online games in general, are in danger of becoming soulless, only interested in making money. Even ‘serious games’ shy away from asking too much of their players, in fear of scaring them away. Operation: Sleeper Cell sets out a bold challenge – by playing this game and donating, you can help cure cancer.

I have no idea how much money it might raise. I have no idea how many players it will attract. But I am glad that Law 37 has created Operation: Sleeper Cell, since it shows that games – this game – can aspire to help everyone in the world, not merely through awareness or education, but through cold, hard cash. It breaks down an old stereotype of gamers as antisocial kids, and builds up a new one, of responsible, creative, and caring mothers, fathers, teachers, writers, artists and programmers.

Kevin Waudby, Head of Innovation from Cancer Research UK, says:

Operation: Sleeper Cell breaks new ground for Cancer Research UK. It creates a cutting edge way of raising money and provides an opportunity to tell people about our work and key health messages. We are delighted that the Law37 team have created this game in aid of Cancer Research UK. We hope it will not only reach new audiences, but also entice our existing supporters to get involved, have fun and raise vital funds for our work.

Fundraising needs a new way of engaing younger and online audiences. Websites like Justgiving, that allow people to donate to charities online, are a good start, but only that – a start. We need a way of creating and nurturing strong communities that can help do good, and raise money for good causes. We have all seen the power of Obama’s online fundraising in the US; we should be ashamed that nothing comparable exists for charities in the UK, or around the world.

Operation: Sleeper Cell is a brave start, and the game will provide valuable lessons for charities and organisations everywhere over the next ten weeks. I am immensely proud to have helped Law 37 develop this game, even if only in a small way.

So, please check out Operation: Sleeper Cell. Join up, try a few missions, set up a team – and if you’re having fun, donate some money and unlock more missions! There’s also a brilliant and thoroughly British story to follow, one of biscuit-eating and tea-drinking spies at The Agency coming together to active their sleeper cells and defeat the forces of ‘E.V.I.L.’ once and for all!