Trash Tycoon – even recycling can be fun

Social gaming goes green as two Israelis raise awareness and recycling compliance with a fun app. Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore are buying it.

What better way to motivate people to recycle than to make it fun?

That’s the thinking behind Guerillapps, the two-year-old brainchild of a couple of 30-something Israelis.

Raviv Turner and Dan Goldman introduced Trash Tycoon, a Facebook, iPod and iPhone social game, as a springboard to help companies and countries meet sustainability goals while raising public awareness and compliance with recycling programs.

Players receive points for recycling the garbage they “pick up” from the streets of a littered virtual city. Thanks to corporate partnerships, it’s possible to earn extra game points for recycling in the real world, and also to redeem points toward buying environmentally responsible products made by partner companies.

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Not only are corporate giants such as Kraft and Walmart interested, but Guerillapps also got the thumbs-up from former US Vice President Al Gore and fellow environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio.

Lots of greenbacks to be made

“When we mapped the market, we found $1.5 billion in green marketing projects were undertaken in 2012 by top consumer package goods companies in the US,” Turner tells ISRAEL21c.

Encouraging greener consumer behavior not only improves a company’s bottom line, but also helps them avoid violating increasingly strict regulations that penalize them if consumers don’t recycle their products’ packaging.

“Kraft is our first paid client, and we just concluded a successful pilot,” says Turner. “They approached us to integrate their cheese brands in the game. You can upcycle Kraft cheese wrappers to make lunchboxes and aprons in the game, and now we’re talking about other online-offline connections. People who collect wrappers in the real world will get points in the game.”

This melding of the real and the virtual, to launch this summer in the United States, is just one of several potentially lucrative deals for Guerillapps.Walmart is among the American, Japanese and European companies that have approached the Manhattan-based startup to discuss the possibilities.

Gaining worldwide recognition

Meanwhile, Guerillapps is riding a wave of recognition that began at last June’s eighth annual Games for Change Festival in New York, where keynote speaker Gore mentioned Trash Tycoon as an “inspirational development” in the field.

In March, Turner chatted with DiCaprio at a party during the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Texas, a premier destination for discovery of emerging technologies, music and films.

“He promised to check out the game and get back to us,” Turner recalls.

Guerillapps placed ninth among 56 finalists in the SXSW Accelerator competition presented by Microsoft BizSpark. That standing didn’t win it any prizes but did spark the interest of influential bloggers at The New York Times, Mashable and TechCrunch.

Founded in 2010, Guerillapps registered 200,000 users during its beta phase just through word of mouth. Now a major publishing deal will make Trash Tycoon available to 30 million players around the world.

“We expect to pass the million mark in the next three months,” says Turner, who began his career in gaming 10 years ago in Israel before relocating to earn a master’s degree at New York University in interactive media. Goldman, also Israeli by birth, has a background in green energy and high-tech.

Energy-saving game still to come

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
Trash Tycoon makes it fun (and rewarding) to recycle.
Trash Tycoon makes it fun (and rewarding) to recycle.
Raviv Turner demonstrating the game at SXSW.
Raviv Turner demonstrating the game at SXSW.

Using principles pioneered by Zynga, the world’s leading provider of social game services, the two “saw a big opportunity to use social gaming aspects to engage the consumer. Our tagline is ‘Making the world a better place one game at a time.’ That’s our agenda,” says Turner.

The business was established with a $1 million investment from Rhodium Ventures, an Israeli private equity fund, and is in the midst of its second financing round. The number of employees has jumped to 17 – seven front-office personnel in New York and 10 developers in Kiev, Ukraine.

Is an Israeli development team in the cards? “Later on, we are looking to expand to mobile and there are great mobile developers in Israel now, so that’s possible,” says Turner.

Additional games are in the pipeline, he adds.

“The idea is to take the game engine and apply it to other sustainable markets. We have an energy-saving game with a US utility company in the works, and we may apply it later to health. Guerillapps is sort of an engagement platform for consumers, where you can easily adjust the message or agenda.”

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.