Scam-Trafficking Games Company Insists Its Haiti Charity Was Not a Scam, TooS

The investigative bloggers at Brazil's Folha Online say Zynga confirmed keeping half the money in certain fundraising campaigns linked to Haiti relief. Zynga says it's been open about this all along. But these aren't questions the company behind Farmville relishes.

After all, Zynga's already pulled some advertisements from its games amid a class action suit, embarrassing video and reports it earned a big chunk of money advertising misleading commercial "offers" to gullible consumers. Now comes a dust-up in Brazil.

The Brazilian blog Folha, which made its name investigating Madonna's South American philanthropy, has been issuing stories saying Zynga misled would-be Haiti donors about where their money was going. When the company responded with an official statement, Folha wrote that it "confirmed" some allegations and sidestepped others. The story was picked up in Social Media Today, which has since removed its summary of the situation from its site.

Folha quotes a Zynga spokesperson confirming that a campaign last year sent 50 percent of its proceeds to Haiti — a spokesperson tells us this percentage was always disclosed to donors, see below. Zynga also told Folha that a chairtable campaign this year sent 100 percent of proceeds to Haiti, if donors bought virtual "white corn" within Farmville as stipulated in the campaign. Folha's point seems to be that Zynga didn't make this requirement clear, and in fact misled people in some of its message dialogs (see the screenshots in this Folha post) into thinking they were making donations when in fact they still needed to complete another step, buying virtual white corn, and that if they failed to do so the money would stay with Zynga. Also, if you donated more than $10 it wasn't possible to put it all toward Haiti, Folha wrote.

(Note: This post has been updated over the past two hours as new information came in; both the headline and the story itself have changed.)

The company sent us the statement below, which says Zynga clearly disclosed it was keeping half the money in its first campaign: "This was noted in the description of the campaign very visibly." Zynga pointed to this screenshot:

Scam-Trafficking Games Company Insists Its Haiti Charity Was Not a Scam, TooS


But there's still the question of the more recent campaign, of which the blog Folha wrote (Google translation):

In January, days after the earthquake of Haiti, there was an icon in Farmville that, when clicked, inviting players to donate $ 10, $ 20, $ 30 or $ 40 for the victims. The window still wondered: "How much do you want to donate?". And then arose options to spend $ 10, $ 20, $ 30 or $ 40. After making the payment by credit card, the player discovered that was not contributing directly to Haiti, but the money buying virtual game.

Folha's screenshots, which it says prove the above point:

Scam-Trafficking Games Company Insists Its Haiti Charity Was Not a Scam, TooS

Scam-Trafficking Games Company Insists Its Haiti Charity Was Not a Scam, TooS


Zynga's full statement:

Hey Ryan-saw your post I'd like to bring some clarity around this asap. There's confusion surrounding two very separate campaigns – one before the earthquake and one campaign that ran FOR the earthquake.

In our efforts to help Haiti during the recent tragedy, FarmVille users could purchase a virtual good, white corn, of which 100% of the proceeds went to the World Food Programme (WFP) to benefit Haiti.

The only way to donate to Haiti within the FarmVille game was through FarmVille cash which is the in-game currency our players use. Players who already had FarmVille cash could purchase the white corn and 100% of the player selected amount was donated to the WFP for Haiti. The amount was deducted from their account. The campaign was visibly promoted on the FarmVille site and players could see it as soon as they signed on.

If players did not have enough FarmVille cash in their account, they could make up the difference by purchasing additional FarmVille cash with a credit card or Paypal account. Players would then use the desired amount of FarmVille cash to buy the special corn of which 100% of the proceeds went to the WFP.

Immediately after the purchase, players got a message thanking them for their purchase as well as the virtual corn that never withered to use on their farms. Zynga communicated the amounts that had been raised to date. Later on, FarmVille players received a message thanking them for the amount the community raised, telling them how much was raised and giving them a free virtual gift.

The FarmVille campaign was mirrored in some of our other games and, in total, Zynga players raised $1.5 million for the WFP for Haiti.

Prior to the campaign for the earthquake, we ran programs where 50% of the proceeds went to organizations in Haiti for the welfare of women and children. All of these campaigns had a time limit to them. These campaigns raised an additional $1.2 million and the amounts raised were communicated to our users in the game and photos of the results of their donations are at our web site. In total, Zynga players have raised $2.7 million for Haiti.

No doubt it is disappointing to us as a company to hear anyone question the monies raised when a UN program is verifying it.

SO-what's happening here, is people are getting our two very separate campaigns mixed up.

To summarize:

1. In 2009, before the earthquake, Zynga raised $2.4 million dollars. 50% of these funds went directly to Haiti, which was $1.2 million. This is a larger percentage than most corporations and causes donate to organizations. It was at this time that 50% of the donations would go to Haiti. This was noted in the description of the campaign very visibly when players bought Sweet Seeds and they were aware that Zynga would donate 50% of the proceeds to Haiti.

Please see this link and screenshot for reference: http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2009/10/07/farmville-users-grow-virtual-goods-raise-320000-for-charity/

2. When the earthquake hit, in 2010, Zynga ran another campaign specifically for earthquake relief. This was an entirely separate campaign. At this time, we raised $1.5 million over 5 days. Hundred percent of the proceeds went to the World Food Programme (WFP) for the benefit of the Haiti earthquake victims.

3. In 2009, the donations were sent to two organizations-FATEM.org and Fonkoze.org. In 2010 for the Earthquake Relief Fund, the donations went directly to the World Food Programme (http://www.wfp.org/content/zynga-players-raise-over-15-million-haiti-five-days)

Please let me know if you have any other questions. Happy to jump on the phone.

Lisa Chan
MarCom Manager, Zynga

(Top pic: Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, by Esther Dyson)