Originally packaged and delivered as some pro bono, social good project, Beauty Town - Fashion, Friends & Fun is a game that's supposed to promote healthy body image among its players "by stealth".
It does this by giving players the option to choose among 6 body types, 3 heights, tons of customizable heads, and unlockable fashion tips for every kind of female figure you can cobble together. Players will learn how to dress themselves and other people by the fashion tips the game provides. They'll also learn to be more open about such things by participating in the game's official forum.
But none of this sounds very stealthy to me.
Instead, what's really stealthy is how Channel 4 -- a big UK broadcaster of such shows as How to Look Good Naked and Embarrassing Bodies -- plans to use the game to gather knowledge on its female players. Knowledge which the broadcaster hopes will help them service their television audience, so they can expect to do cross-promotions and the like. Currently, the UK has a television ratings system called the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB), which functions like the US Nielsen ratings.
Ian MacKenzie, Channel 4 media project manager, says: "We still work on BARB data [to understand who our audience is], which is based on a small sample of homes. Projects like this help us realise our potential audiences, how they behave and their needs."
You know social games are big when even TV networks are turning to them along with their national ratings system to design their programming. So, if you love Beauty Town, play on. Just remember, Channel 4 is watching you. You'll probably be reminded of that every time you see the game's loading screen, where that display of Polaroids have taken on a new meaning.