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Sarah Ross, former vice president of global communications of Zynga, passed away on November 20. She was an unsung player behind one of the biggest social impact campaigns in gaming history.
Ross was remembered fondly by friends on her Facebook page for her strength, emotional support, and kindness. They were heartbroken. I worked with her closely at Zynga and always found her to be warm and kind. Before Zynga, Ross worked at Jam City, where I also worked with her, and she was in charge of marketing at Techcrunch. She also worked at a number of startups, including Backflip Studios.
At Zynga, she was the spearhead behind a special campaign dubbed Play A Part Together, which encouraged people to social distance and play social games with their friends during the pandemic. The message was an attempt to reinforce the advice of the World Health Organization, which was encouraging people to engage in social distancing during the early days of the pandemic.
After I asked her if she came up to me, Ross acknowledged that she came up with the idea. But she noted she didn’t want to take credit for it. Instead, she said Zynga and the game industry as a whole should champion the idea. She pitched the idea to Bernard Kim, president of publishing at Zynga, and he approved it and began asking his friends at rival companies if they would jump on board.
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Kim said that the game industry is fiercely competitive, and it often doesn’t come together. But in this case, with a message focused on keeping people safe and mentally well in the pandemic, his friends decided to come on board quickly.
The campaign started on March 28, with cooperation from 19 major game companies and the WHO, which had previously been at odds with the game industry over its belief that game addiction was a problem. Within a month, more than 40 game companies had joined and the campaign had gained more than 4.7 billion consumer media impressions worldwide.
Ross also worked on the campaign for #WordsWithHope, which supported Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I lost a guiding light today to a battle with mental health. @sarah_ross you saw the world in a different way than anyone I’ve ever met. I love you and I know your spiritual luggage was perfectly packed. Enjoy the journey and I’ll see you when I get there my friend.
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2021
In April, a year after the Play Apart Together campaign started, a total of 88 game companies recommitted themselves to the message about Play A Part Together. That’s a tremendous impact on the game industry, and it created a lot of goodwill among players and non-players alike. And it was all because of Sarah Ross. Rest in peace.
“The entire Zynga family was deeply saddened to learn of the recent passing of Sarah Ross. Working with Sarah was a privilege,” said Kim, in a message. “We were in constant awe of her ingenuity, drive and compassion. Her mind and sheer will brought to reality incredible campaigns like #PlayApartTogether, which united the games industry against COVID-19, and #WordsWithHope, which supported Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She always went above and beyond and put others above herself. Her work at Zynga was groundbreaking and we’ll miss her every day.”