A gaggle of celebrities descended upon New York City last week for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, which happened to fall on the coldest weekend of the year so far. Sony took advantage of the timing to hold a star-studded launch event Feb. 13 for its newest gaming initiative, PlayStation Heroes, a program that looks to connect PlayStation gamers with their favorite celebrities and some wonderful charitable organizations. With members of all three groups in attendance, even the frigid weather couldn't dampen the mood.
PlayStation Heroes, which Sony announced the morning of its New York event, will kick off Feb. 24 in the form of a free PlayStation 4 app. In the app, you can pay $1, $5, $10 or $15 for items such as PS4 themes. Each dollar also nets you one entry into a randomized drawing for the chance to play a game with a celebrity; another option is a $20 bundle, which comes with 31 entries.
In addition to the contest entries and the digital content, you'll get something that's intangible but priceless: the warm feeling in your heart that comes with making a charitable donation. At least 90 percent of the purchase price will go to one of three charities that Sony is working with for the launch of PlayStation Heroes: Make-A-Wish, the USO and The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Contributions from PlayStation Heroes to The V Foundation will go toward the organization's Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, which was established last month in honor of the beloved ESPN anchor and which supports research that studies the way cancer affects African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.
"Gamers can actually give back and change the world without doing a thing, other than what they do now, which is game," said John Koller (photo above), vice president of platforms marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America, in an interview with Polygon during the launch event.
Sony is starting the initiative by donating $100,000 to each of the three organizations it is partnering with at launch. Koller added that PlayStation Heroes is a "completely altruistic" program on Sony's part — the remainder of the purchase price, approximately 10 percent, will be spent on running and maintaining the app. "We're not making a dime from this; [it's] completely nonprofit," he said.
Koller said that about two or three years ago, he came up with the germ of the idea that became PlayStation Heroes.
"We were thinking about ways that we could engage our gamer for the betterment of society," Koller told Polygon. "We know that they love playing against celebrities; there's an aspirational quality to that. And interestingly, gamers — PlayStation gamers — over-index on charitable donations. Which is kind of, you know, not the stereotype."
This isn't the first time Sony has enlisted the help of PlayStation gamers for a higher purpose. From March 2007 to November 2012, over 15 million PlayStation 3 owners contributed more than 100 million computational hours combined to Folding@home, the Stanford University distributed computing project that studies the mechanisms of protein folding.
PlayStation Heroes' initial group of celebrities includes snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, and rapper Snoop Dogg. Koller said Sony has enough individuals lined up for the rest of 2015, but plans to ask fans about the stars and games they're interested in.
All four of the aforementioned celebrities were on hand at Sony's launch event. White, Puig and Curry played NBA 2K15 and the upcoming MLB 15 The Show with representatives and beneficiaries of the charities, while Snoop Dogg closed the show with a lengthy performance of classics like "Gin and Juice" and more recent hits such as "Drop It Like It's Hot." He even sprinkled in some abbreviated covers, including the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize."
The PlayStation Heroes slate won't be limited to head-to-head rounds of sports games. Make-A-Wish is the charity for March, and Shaun White will play Destiny with the winners of that month's lottery. (The organization will rotate monthly, and the celebrities will change too, since they're often tied to specific charities.) Koller said that sports games are a natural fit for something like this, but Sony also wanted to bring in cooperative titles like Destiny to mix things up. He also made it clear that PlayStation Heroes won't be restricted to games for which Sony already has a co-marketing deal. Most EA Sports titles have been marketed with Xbox branding, but that doesn't rule them out for inclusion in PlayStation Heroes.
"There are some titles that are not attached to either us or the competition, or might be attached to the competition, but can be part of this because it's just a great experience," Koller said. "So we're going to go across the industry."
Whatever game is on the docket, you'll be able to use the app to watch the civilian and celebrity play together. The app won't offer livestreams at this point, even though the technology is available. Koller explained that Sony wanted to film the sessions with a commentator because "having a host actually kind of give you a play-by-play really makes it exciting." Sony will package it all up and publish the video segments in the app within a week.
At launch, the PlayStation Heroes app will sell PS4 themes, but Koller said Sony eventually plans to add more substantial content such as indie games. The offering already seems impressive, but if Sony can keep beefing it up over time and attracting more PS4 players to the program, PlayStation Heroes has the potential to make a difference in the lives of thousands of Americans.