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Jimi Hendrix Family Partners with Mobile Game Maker to Plant Trees

Founded by two former executives from Disney, Zig Zag Zoom is a mobile game company that tries to weave causes into their products.

Time and again, people have demonstrated a willingness to spend a little extra time and money to support causes. In the realm of behavioral economics, it’s called “psychic value.” And some businesses are incorporating that into something called “cause-driven commerce.”

Zig Zag Zoom is one of those. Founded by two former executives from Walt Disney Co.’s interactive division, the mobile game company tries to weave causes into their products and is actively recruiting artists to help. Following a partnership announced with earlier this week with the Jimi Hendrix Park Foundation, Zig Zag Zoom is set to announce another partnership with Imagine Dragons.

The idea is to build mobile entertainment with two equally important goals: support charitable organizations and make money. It’s not an entirely new concept. Music and causes have always gone well together. Just look at how many benefit performances there are every year. The difference, however, is that charity is often held at an arm’s length from the commerce side of things, as if any whiff of profit would poison the purity of the cause. Companies form foundations, or develop a sponsorship relationship with a nonprofit.

Not so with Zig Zag Zoom. Their causes are built right into the entertainment and the business model. Here’s how they propose to do this.

The Los Angeles, Calif., company forms a partnership with an artist, and together they develop a custom game designed around the cause that the artist cares about. With Experience Hendrix, run by the late guitarist’s sister Janie Hendrix, the cause is the construction of a public park in Seattle, where Jimi and his sister grew up. The game, Tree Story, involves collecting and nurturing different types of trees. The free version runs on advertising. The paid version is designed to be “child safe” (no ads), and generates revenue from in-app purchases. 

“We want to make an impact as an organization,” said Tom Kang, who co-founded Zig Zag Zoom with John Pleasants, who’d worked at Disney and Electronic Arts Inc. “We feel companies should have a double bottom line. Our motto is ‘Have fun. Do good.’ But the business also has to fund great entertainment and drive revenue, revenue that we will share that with our partners to further their mission.”

So how does “Tree Story” stack up on those counts? 

On the business score, the game is doing moderately well. It’s been downloaded about 300,000 times on both iTunes and Google Play, with a monthly active user count of roughly 125,000 in September and October — both respectable results for a brand new title.

Another promising statistic is that 60 percent of the people who download the game play it within the first day. This measure, called day 1 retention, or D1 for short, is one that app developers and venture capitalists fixate on, partly because it is an indication of how engaging the app is. Compared to an industry average of 14 percent, “Tree Story” looks healthy. A final gauge is Zig Zag Zoom’s “cost per install,” which is the company’s spend in marketing and advertising divided by the number of downloads of its app. The CPI for “Tree Story” so far is 50 cents, a fraction of the $2-plus, for many apps.

On the environmental side of the ledger, “Tree Story” has generated enough revenue in six months to plant 10,000 trees, plus another 10,000 in the works, including a batch at the Jimi Hendrix park, which is set to open sometime next year.

“Our father was a landscape designer and avid gardener,” Janie Hendrix said in an interview. “That’s another reason why ‘Tree Story’ works so well.”

The combination “bottom line” approach also seems to work for players, who have been giving the free version of “Tree Story” between 4.5 and 5 stars on iTunes, according to analytics firm App Annie, with many of the reviews specifically calling out the connection to real tree plantings as part of the fun. 

In other words, players are deriving that “psychic value” that we talked about earlier. That value can translate to real dollars and cents. A survey this year by Nielsen found that 66 percent of the 30,000 respondents said they’d pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013. How much more is a matter of debate. But Zig Zag Zoom is hoping to capture at least some of that value in the $80 billion annual global mobile games market. 

Next up, Zig Zag Zoom is tackling Imagine Dragons, working with the band to raise money for the band’s Tyler Robinson Foundation, which supports families dealing with pediatric cancer. Kang’s company is currently designing the game with Imagine Dragons, with an eye towards releasing it sometime next year. Zig Zag Zoom said it will share 25 percent of the game’s revenue with the foundation. 

“Music is a key to our strategy,” Kang said. “Music is a powerful medium to deliver messages and draw large groups of people. It’s the same with games, and why our mission resonates with a lot of artists.”