As someone who has blocked Farmville / Mafia Wars /Texas Hold’em Poker and defriened anyone with the audacity to send more than one invite, when I first learned of Campaigns the Game, a new Facebook application that allows users to “compete in online virtual elections,” I was skeptical but intrigued.

In brief, Campaigns is a free-mium game which allows Facebook users  to run for a real or imaginary elected office against their friends in virtual elections. Ironically, all users start off campaigning for dog catcher, which contrary to popular myth is not an elected office anywhere in the U.S. (In Peterborough, New Hampshire they do elect a Fence Viewer.)

Campaigns on Facebook In terms of the dynamics of the game, for anyone that has worked or volunteered for a local, state or national campaign, the developers have attempted to digitalize the typical tasks one must perform to win votes. For instance, you can ‘take action’ or click a button no more than 5 times in 6 hours to be awarded ‘votes’ for activities like giving a speech at a local high school or placing an advertisement.  After 5 such clicks, I earned 12 of the 20 votes it would take to become dog catcher.

At this point, in order to earn more votes and be elected dog catcher on Facebook,  I can upload a YouTube video and ask my friends to ‘like’ it to earn votes, wait 5 hours to engage in further slacktivism, spend real money  for votes, ask my friends to ‘donate’ their money or install the application. Like Farmville, you can spend money to unlock bonus features, which in this case is buying votes (The “best value” is $40 dollars for 65 campaigns points). The proceeds of these ‘donations’ I assume to be the profits for the developers. 

As also reported in the Huffington Post, founder Aaron Michel along with co-CEO’s Matt DiVito and Vincent Palermo have some ambitious plans for the application, including encouraging “more and better candidates to run for office,” and educating people about politics “without them knowing that they’re leaning.” They also are in talks with “high level Democrats, Republicans and non-profits” about partnership agreements. Although it remains to be seen whether or not the national parties will bite, if Campaigns the Game takes off, it could potentially be an excellent place to target political advertisements.

Considering the application’s design, technology and usability,  unlike Farmville- Campaigns is hosted entirely inside Facebook and as such I experienced some occasional performance lags in testing it out. Overall the integration with Facebook works fairly well. Usability wise, the ability to upload videos and request ‘likes’ and be awarded votes from your friends is the most interesting feature. (I wouldn’t mind reviewing funny videos by my friends to be elected dog catcher.) Personally I think the other actions you can take to earn votes need to require more than a click. Replacing this with an online scavenger hunt might help. Instead of a click, you would need to canvass the Facebook profiles of real life candidates to answer random trivia questions. For instance: “What was Nancy Pelosi / John Boehner’s last Facebook update?” The answer to this would get you X votes.

Secondly, will people consider this a game or  Facebook political spam?  Will you pay to win this online game?

With politics, people are generally either interested in the process side of campaigns and elections or they are not. On the other hand, farming on Facebook is far more popular online than in real life. With Farmville, as best I can tell the main appeal is competitive. Your farm will be better than everyone else’s. Before Zynga could monetize the app, they first had to reach a critical mass of users to make Farmville competitive and valuable to advertisers. Given the energy Matt and his team are promoting Campaigns the Game and the growing buzz over the midterm elections, they have more than a fair chance.