The race is on, especially among financial firms, to develop games and apps that teach kids (and even adults) the basics of personal finance, whether for online play or mobile devices. Take the newly released Struct, an iPhone and iPad app by ING, which also has an online game called Planet Orange. In it, players work with building materials that symbolize different investment categories – steel (cash), wood (bonds) and glass (stocks) – as they build increasingly complex towers, or “structs.”
Gaming on iPad
Also new is T. Rowe Price's The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, an online game created with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. The object (for its creators, anyway) is to get kids and parents talking about money matters. “But you have to make sure the video games aren't glorified flash cards, and that the game part doesn't outweigh the teaching part,” says Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price.
When T. Rowe surveyed more than 800 children aged 8-14 in its latest Parents, Kids & Money Survey, an overwhelming number, 85 percent, responded that online video games would help them learn the basics of saving and spending. The breadth of the overall audience is also bait to Rick Mason, president of corporate markets for ING – smartphone owners play games roughly 15 hours a month, according to Neilsen statistics from last year. “More people in the U.S. meet the definition of active gamers than those who save for retirement.” For those keeping score, that's 141 million gamers versus 61 million savers: Angry Birds trumping nesteggs, if you will, by better than 2-to-1.
You say you've got a great finance game or app idea? You could turn that inspiration into a cash prize, thanks to the U.S. Treasury, which just kicked off its MyMoneyAppUp Challenge. The website features an IdeaBank to generate Twitter-length ideas for mobile applications, and an App Design Challenge that solicits entries from companies, individuals and teams.
“Now more than ever, we are seeing educators, researchers, nonprofit organizations, and financial institutions collaborate with developers to create games that teach kids lessons in finance,” says Richard Taylor, a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization for the video and computer game industry. To that end, he cites last month's announcement of the Games, Learning and Assessment Lab, an initiative to develop educational video games with backing from the Gates and MacArthur Foundations.
The following list of 10 games and apps with financial themes highlights how each takes a stab at fiscal education:
Saving Spree for iPhone, iPad ($2.99, Money Savvy Generation) – Designed for ages 7 and up, this game can also be played by younger children with help from parents. Presented in a game-show format, Saving Spree teaches kids how to make four choices with money: spend, save, donate or invest. Winner of 2011 Parents' Choice Gold Award.
The Great Piggybank Adventure, free online game at piggybank.disney.go.com/ (T. Rowe Price, Disney) – The game centers around teaching core financial concepts from saving and spending wisely to asset allocation and diversification. Mirrors an Epcot exhibit at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
P2K Money for iPhone, iPad (free, P2KMoney.com)- Applies bright graphics and game-like objectives to a simple budgeting tool. Children can practice real-life money management and saving for wish-list items such as, yes, other video games.
Struct for iPhone, iPad (free, ING North America Insurance Corp) – Not just for children, as ING's research suggests that a game app like Struct could teach saving and investing concepts to corporate employees. More fun than reading emails from human resources, anyway.
GoalCard, free Facebook app at apps.facebook.com/goalcard/ (Bobber Interactive)- Designed for 18 and up, GoalCard is a mash-up of online game and financial management tool. You can also rack up actual cash back.
Save! The Game for iPhone, iPad (free, MassMutual)- A 3D adventure game in which players collect all the virtual money they can find before time runs out, and in the process avoid dreaded “iWannas” in the form of impulse items such as sodas, candy and cheap toys. The object is to get your money to the bank before the iWannas get it first.
iAllowance for iPhone, iPad ($3.99, Jump Gap Software) -Parents and children work together in what may be the most sophisticated allowance-tracking program in Apple's App Store; it was voted an Apple staff favorite in January and April. Kids can watch chores and jobs turn into financial reward, and each child can maintain a separate account. The iAllowance app also works with Dropbox accounts to sync with all iOS devices.
My First Money Tablet for Android (99 cents, Aprendium) – Designed for children in early elementary grades, My First Money Tablet teaches the differences between coins, and how nickels add up into dimes, etc. Kids can then practice using the coins to buy items that roll down ramps in a virtual vending machine.
JA Finance Park, free online game at jafinancepark.ja.org (Junior Achievement, Capital One ) – Students logging onto this site get assigned a randomly generated life, with a job, age, income, educational background and family. With their new identities, kids get various grownup tasks, such as developing a budget, maintaining a household and pursuing a career.
CountMyBeanz, free online game at countmybeanz.com (Susan Osbourne) – The creator of this website is a mother, bookkeeper and entrepreneur. With one membership, every child in the family gets checking and savings accounts that work with “beanz,” a virtual currency. Each time you log into your child's account, you can select certain activities that your child has done and reward them by deposits of that currency. Your child's stockpiles can later be redeemed for real items, or donated to charity.