This is the topic that got me started on this subject in the first place. I was given the assignment to make a banking application for mobile devices that would get people interested in it again-the idea was simply to get people working together, but I approached it from a different angle than most.
Instead of a simple banking application that would be secure and easy to use, I instead pointed at how to get people interested in the idea in the first place. I also remembered how many times I tried to get people to budget their money away in the first place, and how dismally that would always fail because they were hooked on their habits of drinking away their paycheck every weekend, or getting the newest phone the moment it came out, or any of a dozen other things that they would do rather than squirrel the money away.
(I wasn't immune myself. I would budget half my paycheck into a savings account, thinking that I wouldn't touch it...but then a new video game came out. Just one little temptation wouldn't hurt...so I'd go to the mall to get the game. And once at the mall, I was overwhelmed with shiny distractions for the better part of two hours until the only reason I stopped buying them was because my arms were overloaded with electronic knick-knacks, decorations, and various other things I'd pretty much never use.)
But then this subject came around, and it struck me. People rarely listen to the admonishments of others, but they will change their behavior for a video game. The working title for it was Budget Lords, but I'm sure that will change if it ever wants to see the light of day. (My strong suit is not in giving things names.) The core concept for it was based around tying a video game to their ability to budget, making their progress known to the neighborhood around them, and then making the game competitive. Further details were as follows.
- It would be a squad-based RTS akin to Command and Conquer, where the funding for squads would be based on how well they had budgeted their money that month, rather than on any 'gathering resources' mechanic.
- It would feature a function much like Mint.com's app, where it can break downwhere you're spending your money. Spending money at the local grocery store would have a much lower impact on your squad than spending it at McDonald's every day.
- Speaking of McDonald's, the game would be one of the few where seeking advertising would be a good thing. Low-cost places such as Sam's, Costco, mom and pop stores in the local area, investment firms, and other such places would be excellent additions. Perhaps even give them minor in-game and out-of-game bonuses, such as a bonus to XP if they buy their groceries at Sam's this month, or get Sam's to give a better deal to those that give them a coupon that's only available through the game.
- It would feature a squad of soldiers with personalities, akin to M*A*S*H. It's one thing to impact a few personality-less goons that are just your keys to win the game. It'd be another thing altogether to let Radar die because you just had to get another beer that weekend. Or to let R. Lee Ermy chew you out for wasting all your money on a new car when you know you can't afford it. Don't just let the game be a passive thing to your life-let the game talk to people. It would be important to avoid too much criticism, as people will simply start walking away, but having people connect to the players will make them feel much more responsible for them-and by extension, their wallets.
- Frequent advice, likely from the game characters themselves, on how to improve their spending habits and how to invest. This would not be done in the typical manner, where it's an annoying pop-up that the player simply skips over. This would either be directly related to their spending habits, or would be general information that pops up in the background, but could be found later. It would also be in every loading screen, since you have nothing to do but wait during those. But never would it simply be forced on the player-simply made available, and on occasion made known that their bad habits are having a direct effect upon the game characters.
- On that matter, there would be an actual story mode to play with, not just a competitive mode. The reasons for this are numerous.
- It would let those that don't want to compete against others have a reason to play the game, especially if they don't want others in the neighborhood to know their budgeting abilities.
- It would give people a reason to play even when they're the top dog in the neighborhood, so they can further explore the lives of the soldiers in their phone.
- Because it's still a game at its heart, and the designers should never forget that. If it becomes nothing more than another app or tool, then the point of using games to change habits is lost, and people will lose the habits they develop as their interest in the game wanes.
The game itself would be targeted at those in the 18-25 range, those that are on their own and earning a paycheck for the first time. It's vital that it reaches them before all other age groups, because they're the ones that would benefit the most from it.