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Feb. 24, 2012 11:45 am

Farmville for do-gooders: The Wayne-based video game studio that’s making the world a better place

The staff at ToonUps is obsessed with positive thinking. Nearly 15 years after Ray and MarySue Hansell founded and sold RMH Teleservices on the Main Line, the duo is back with “A Better World.” A new Facebook game that encourages users to do good deeds in the digital world which can then translate to real life. […]

A screenshot from "A Better World"

The staff at ToonUps is obsessed with positive thinking.

Nearly 15 years after Ray and MarySue Hansell founded and sold RMH Teleservices on the Main Line, the duo is back with “A Better World.” A new Facebook game that encourages users to do good deeds in the digital world which can then translate to real life.

In-game tasks like “Water a friend’s garden” or “Find a missing item” help the game’s 50,000 active monthly users build up credit to then purchase in-game goods. When all the game’s users collectively reach a certain good deed milestone, ToonUps donates part of the game’s proceeds to causes around the world.

“Those type of actions, studies show, actually improve your health and well-being,” says MarySue Hansell. “We’re challenging people to do that so when they complete these goals we’ll actually do a real-world donation too.”

This December the company, which now has 15 full-time employees, wrote a $10,000 check to Cure International to fund medical operations for 10 children around the world including a procedure for a three-year-old girl that helped return her ability to walk after a bone infection compromised one of her legs.

We chatted with Greg, Ray and MarySue Hansell about their quietly growing video games studio in Wayne and why Philly is the country’s center of positivity. No, really.

As always, edited for length and clarity.

How’d this come about?

Ray: We funded and founded it mostly using money we received from the public offering of [RMH Teleservices] a company we built in the 1990s. It was wireless services and it was a big home run. All local, too. We used the proceeds to do digital content in the beginning of the decade. Over the last 10 years we were really curious about Facebook, especially social games like “A Better World.”

Greg: We wanted to take those mechanics that people love from games like Farmville and instead of encouraging time-wasting have them to do good.

Is the company sustainable? Is the 15 person staff all fueled through the revenue from the game?

Ray: That’s the anticipation. It’s all basically funded out-of-pocket by MarySue and I. We are seeking capital to help.

How has Wayne been as a place to develop games?

Ray: In terms of getting animation talent, its pretty prevalent in the area. Some of the technical resources we had to bring in some people from outside of town.

Greg: Philly is good with systems and back-end stuff but not as many Flash and ActionScript developers with game experience.

Ray: We built a successful company before on the Main Line, there were other one’s like us then in the area but most were in the Midwest. With Facebook games, most are in Silicon Valley. But the do-good and “cause gaming” aspect? You could plop that anywhere.

A lot of people have told us that Philly has a lot of social entrepreneurship or “triple bottom line” resources. Do you agree?

Ray: I think that’s true. The roots of the “City of Brotherly Love” and the Quaker movement provide that backdrop. This city takes care of its own really well. We’ve found that local individual investors resonate with the mission.

Greg: The Positivity Center is actually run out of Penn so Philly is really the center of positivity in the world.

The cynic in me thinks “What does me giving someone a heart in a video game have to do with an actual good deed?”

MarySue: Those type of actions,studies show, actually improve your health and well-being. We’re challenging people to do that so when they complete these goals we’ll actually do a real-world donation too.

Greg: There are other area of the game where players report good deeds that they’ve done in the real world to earn digital rewards as well.

What’s the next step for ToonUps?

Ray: We have a lot of flushing out to do, we need to propel this thing toward higher activity to make it self-sufficient. We’ll also be working on the mobile app. Sort of like a Foursquare app for do-gooders.

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Sean Blanda is an adviser to Technical.ly, the local technology news network, having cofounded its flagship Technically Philly in February 2009. He is a media consultant, engagement editor for Behance and lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

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