Geo Week News

November 21, 2012

CyArk brings laser data to Zynga


Hidden Chronicles game to provide funds for non-profit

SAN FRANCISCO – Are you one of those people who plays games on Facebook? Perhaps you’ve found a few lost items in the Hidden Chronicles game? Maybe even polluted your friends’ feed with all of your accomplishments?

Well, starting this week, you can now use that idle clicking to support CyArk, the 501c3 non-profit dedicated to digitally preserving historic sites around the world. For the next three months, players of Hidden Chronicles, one of many Zynga-made games on Facebook, will be offered the ability to visit the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza and unlock limited edition scenes at El Caracol and El Castillo, each for $1.

These scenes were generated through the use of laser scan data CyArk had archived as part of previous preservation projects (check out the full Chichen Itza site here) and all revenues created from this portion of the game will go directly to CyArk. Players even encounter a digital representation of CyArk co-founder Ben Kacyra, who introduces them to the scenes they’ve paid to enter.

The way these kinds of games work is that you’re allowed to play the base level of the game for free through your Facebook profile. You then earn the ability to do more complicated things by accomplishing certain tasks. However, certain areas of the game, or certain abilities, are only granted via the payment of actual money. Some of these games earn large amounts of real money., the “social impact arm” of the publicly traded firm Zynga, creator of the seminal Facebook game Farmville and many others, has already raised some $13 million for charitable organizations in this way. CyArk will earmark funds raised through the Hidden Chronicles game for further Meso-American heritage preservation work.

But it’s not just the money that excites CyArk. “The 3D imaging market reaches the professional use,” said Tom Greaves, CyArk executive director, “the engineering, architectural, construction, and law enforcement communities. But there hasn’t been much of a consumer play to date … I thought this was a very creative way to reach broad audiences.”

How broad? Facebook reports that 7.6 million people are currently playing Hidden Chronicles. Already, random players are looking for more information on CyArk. “Can’t really find any solid information on the charity CyArk – every rating site doesn’t have anything on them,” posted Ann South on the Hidden Chronicles help page on Facebook. “Curious as to why Zygna pick them – is there a relationship there I am not seeing – besides the naming style?” The moderator directed South to CyArk’s Wiki page and web site.

“Jaime Pursuit, who works in development for us, approached Zynga,” Greaves said, “to see if there was some interest in seeing if they would support us in any way, and we kicked around some ideas, and we came across this jointly. We’re marrying our content to their engine.”

And their engine attracts lots of people. “All of this is new to us,” Greaves said. “But what I really like about is that it marshals a volunteer army to support specific interests. They’re saying, ‘I’m interested in this and I’m going to vote with my wallet.’ It’s completely voluntary.”

CyArk doesn’t really have any expectations for just how much could be raised over the next three months, but Greaves noted the Mayan portion of CyArk’s web site gets a good deal of traffic and that interest in the Mayans in general is at something of an all-time high due to the looming end of their calendar.

“How long do we really have here,” Greaves joked. “Do you want to spend your last days working or playing?”

This project is also indicative of the ways that 3D data can be repurposed in ways never imagined when it was originally collected. Greaves said one teacher in South Dakota took data from the Mt. Rushmore project and created a life-sized model of George Washington’s nose. “And the project was, ‘How many first graders can fit inside George Washington’s nose!’ And in the process they’re learning about scale and proportion,” he said. “We’d love to extend that. The opportunities for repurposing are only limited by your imagination.”

If you’d like to kill some time and help out CyArk, you can get started with Hidden Chronicles here. Fair warning, though, that you have to play for a little while before you can get to the point where you can find Chichen Itza.

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