Kids have built-in radar when it comes to detecting something that's supposed to be good for them, and educational games are definitely on the no-fly list. So, when I heard about The Great Piggybank Adventure, a free online game for kids ages 8-14, I have to admit I was skeptical. How is a financial planning game going to compete with Pokemon and Club Penguin? Would kids really choose to spend free time practicing the fine art of money management?

I didn't think so, until I took a look at the site. Colorful, three-dimensional graphics are the backdrop for a virtual board game that was developed as a partnership between T. Rowe Price and Disney. Stuart Ritter, certified financial planner for T. .Rowe Price, and a co-creator of the game told WalletPop, while his firm supplied the educational component, Disney "brought the magic and experience of making things fun for kids." Ritter acknowledged that kids can "smell homework" a mile away, and says the team worked hard to create an experience that would provide learning as a by-product of something that is first and foremost -- fun.


Created in conjunction with the Great Piggy Bank Adventure at Innoventions inside Disney's Epcot theme park in Florida, Ritter wants parents to know you don't need a trip to Epcot to enjoy the online game. "They are stand-alone experiences," said Ritter, although there are similar education and graphic themes for both.

The Great Piggybank Adventure focuses on four main elements of personal finance: goal setting, saving and spending wisely, the basics of inflation, and diversifying funds. Throughout the game, players must make choices that will affect their financial plans, use different investment strategies, and choose personal dream goals.

In fact, Ritter believes setting "dream goals" is key to winning in the game, as well as in real life. He said although everyone is familiar with the idea of creating a savings account, many have difficulty dealing with such an abstract concept. "It's hard to save money for some abstract idea," said Ritter, when places like Amazon and Target offer concrete, immediate rewards. Ritter explained that if there's a plan for what the savings will be used for there will be a different dynamic in place when an impulsive temptation to spend comes along.

As an example, Ritter said, "In the game, the first time a player goes through they may buy the pink flamingo in the store, however it does cost them." At the end of the game, they may not be able to afford their dream goal. "The next time [they play the game], they might see that item as a waste of their money."

Ultimately, Ritter hopes the game will provide a jumping off point for a deeper conversation between parents and their kids in regard to financial planning. "I think it's one of the games out there that parents can play with their kids," said Ritter, "in fact, we've received some feedback that parents have learned a few things too."

Although the game was created to appeal to kids ages 8 to 14, Ritter said his five-year old daughter enjoys it too. "There are a lot of layers to the game," said Ritter, "Disney did a lot of testing." He cites the Smarty Pants cards as an example, "younger kids will get fewer right answers, older kids will get more of them right." He said finance students he teaches at Johns Hopkins University love to play the game as well. However, after taking a few turns myself, I still think young players will be the most enthusiastic.

For competitive finance-gurus-in-training, there's a "leader board" showcasing weekly and all-time high scores. However, that's where the social interaction ends."Disney is very sensitive about kids and their privacy issues," said Ritter, who notes there is no opportunity for meeting other players online. "You don't even need to register to play the game ... it's free, you just go to the website and play."

"The game was informed by a lot of research," Ritter said. Focus groups revealed that families still enjoy game nights and playing board games together. "It's amazing," said Ritter, "how much work goes into making something fun ... it's easy to make learning about money and personal finance difficult, the challenge is to make [the message] clear and straightforward."

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