By James Flores, President of Subcat Marketing
Are you ready for a little island-hopping? Forget the Bahamas, Hawaii or Fiji. We’re embarking on something much more adventurous: a three-island tour of the financial industry’s most glorious (and innovative) hot spots for financial education. All set? Bon voyage!
Our first stop is Mo’Doh Island, developed by Thwakk, Inc. Mo’Doh is a 3-D, immersive financial education game for students 13 to 17 years old, hosted on the teen grid of Second Life. Users create a personalized avatar then navigate a series of simulated financial decisions.
You’re able to visit the actual island on Second Life’s teen grid (this is off-limits to adults except teachers and credit union personnel who have passed a background check), so Thwakk CEO Scott Moriarty serves as tour guide.
The game starts with a short video designed to introduce the gameplay and controls. Moriarty says that when Mo’Doh Island is used in school settings, there is additional work students complete in preparation for the game.
The first challenge is to buy a car, which you can do only after passing a quiz at the Mo’Doh dealership. With a little help from educational videos and informational posters located throughout the dealership, you can ace the quiz and secure financing — I can now buy a ride for my island stay! Keeping true to Mo’Doh’s real life simulation, I’m given a choice of buying an economy car, or spending beyond my means with a formula racer. I go with the conspicuously unsexy sedan. Had I opted for a budget-busting car as my first purchase, I’m told that I would have most likely gone bankrupt. A great lesson for teens, indeed.
The rest of my Mo’Doh Island experience is similar to real life. Get a job, buy a house, lose a job, get married, get another job, plan for retirement and even pay for unexpected car repairs. The game is addictive. And while I really want to stay longer (I’m here a total of nearly 30 Mo’Doh years, or about two hours), there is another island to explore…
The goal of Mo’Doh Island is to teach teenagers and young adults the importance of good personal financial decisions in a fun and engaging way that leverages the technology that we are already immersed in. It allows players the opportunity to safely experiment with personal finance within games and other interactive events and gain valuable experience and knowledge to improve financial confidence.
Our next destination is MoneyIsland, developed by BancVue. MoneyIsland is an online game designed to teach tweens, ages 8-14 years old, skills in three categories: saving and spending, earning and investing, and using credit wisely.
Upon arrival at MoneyIsland, you’re greeted with a catchy calypso song that perfectly sets a tropical mood. Getting started is easy. I simply click the “Play” button and I’m given the option of kid, parent, or demo mode. The game begins with an well-produced animated short outlining the backstory of MoneyIsland: the main objective is to find Stone Broke, a boy who was bullied and never learned how to save, spend, invest or share money. As a result, his heart has hardened. He’s hiding somewhere on MoneyIsland. Find him, teach him about money, and bring him back to the mainland to collect your reward.
The story arc is an effective device to engage kids, and addresses two fundamental emotional needs that they have: empowerment and transformation. The simple telling of a story is a crucial element of game design (as well as youth programs), yet is so often overlooked. It’s great to see it implemented here.
On my quest to find Stone Broke, I’m treated to animated shorts, challenges and quizzes, all interactive and designed to address relevant financial topics. Everything in MoneyIsland is well-thought out, smart and looks great.
There are additional components to MoneyIsland that I didn’t have a chance to explore. Most notably, the teacher and parent resources. In addition, MoneyIsland is able to connect with BancVue’s lead management engine to provide sales leads based on collected data. This definitely helps make the business case for those wary of youth marketing.
MoneyIsland is a virtual experience, but the kids earn real-life rewards too, such as a savings deposit, a gift card, or a classroom pizza party. It also gives parents and teachers tools to track their kids’ progress and assist in the learning experience.
The three-isle journey ends at Stagecoach Island, a 3-D virtual world and role-playing game developed by Wells Fargo. Stagecoach Island lets young consumers learn about money while interacting with the Wells Fargo brand online. It also serves as a social hub where users can meet and interact with friends.
To begin our journey, you start by visiting the Stagecoach Island registration page… but something’s definitely amiss. The layout in Firefox for Mac is a jumbled mess. With a little research, I learn that Stagecoach Island only runs in Windows. I’ll have to use my agency’s lone laptop running Vista. This island adventure is off to a rocky start.
Fortunately, once I fire up the ‘ol PC, download the software and select an avatar, I’m able to start cruising the island within minutes. The user experience is nearly identical to Second Life, with one notable difference: this is one seriously deserted island. Not to be deterred, I make my way to the ATM—the home base for the game. This is where I can open virtual accounts and apply for virtual loans.
Here’s the educational hook: I can only do this after completing “episodes” on financial topics. While this is a great way to encourage learning, once I launch into the individual episodes, I’m met with page after page of dry text. Definitely a lost opportunity to create a truly interactive learning experience. I get the sense that more time was spent developing the 3-D environment than creating meaningful financial education. One option Wells Fargo may consider is to add video or audio to break up the massive amounts of copy. This will help provide a more balanced online experience.
Stagecoach Island is an online virtual world created by Wells Fargo. You can explore the island and its hidden secrets, connect with friends and make new ones — all while learning smart money management skills. Once you register, you can create your own in world character and take part in activities such as building your dream home in one of our four neighborhoods; motorbike racing, snowboarding and skydiving; parties, talent shows, and nightly firework displays; and earning virtual money by visiting the Learning Lounge. The game also features Stagecoach Island University and virtual jobs so that you can learn, earn, build and play more in-world!
Reflections While ‘Traveling Abroad’
All three islands employ similar strategies to deliver financial education and connect with young consumers. By utilizing an immersive, experiential game, the programs are able to engage users on a much deeper level. However, before a financial institution seeks to implement a similar strategy, there are three questions to answer:
1.) Will anyone actually visit your site and play the game? The brutal truth is, probably not without some serious coaxing. Wells Fargo has major brand recognition, and executes a well-defined social media strategy for promoting its online properties. MoneyIsland and MoDoh Island tackle this problem by partnering with schools to gain access to a captive audience, as well as offering incentives and rewards.
2.) Is it within your budget? Developing an immersive gaming environment requires a significant commitment of time and money. These types of programs are not for the faint-hearted (or small-budgeted). Fortunately, MoneyIsland and Mo’Doh Island are white label programs available for credit unions and community banks to license, saving the aforementioned time and money.
3.) Will a game help you achieve your business objectives? This depends on your goals. Do you view youth financial education as a goodwill initiative to build community, or is it a means to generating real growth? It’s evident that each island I visited had clear business objectives built into them. Determine what your goals are before you launch any financial education initiative.
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About the Author
James Flores is President/CEO at Subcat Marketing, is an expert in youth and family marketing, financial literacy and web marketing for banks and credit unions. Subcat helps financial institutions target specific consumer segments by combining behavioral research with innovative design and communication techniques.
Subcat also offers The Elements of Money, a youth marketing program that combines technology, social media, education and marketing strategies to help credit unions reach teens through multiple channels.
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