Playing loan sharks at their own game

Debt Empire is a gaming app that educates players on crucial debt lessons almost by stealth.

The Commission for Financial Capability has unveiled an unusual tactic today after hearing stories from young people about being fleeced by loan sharks and the impact this has had on their lives and their futures.

Some didn’t know their rights; others didn’t even know they had any rights.

We needed a way to get them on the positive side of lending, so they know what to do and what to avoid. The challenge was how to do this without finger-wagging, lecturing, or boring them rigid.

Our solution was to turn them into loan sharks.

In a first for the Commission, we’ve developed a game app. It’s called Debt Empire and it encourages people to play the role of loan sharks on a quest for debt domination.

The goal for players is to rip off as many people as possible, building a business through tricks of the trade and celebrating success by splashing cash on bling, fast cars, helicopters and tropical islands.

But rather than create a generation of dodgy dealers, the aim of the game is to show people the cunning ways that real-life loan sharks get their hands on your money so you don’t fall for them.

The Commission developed it in association with Saatchi & Saatchi and Rush Digital and it teaches some crucial debt lessons almost by stealth.

 

 

Glenn Martin, the Commission’s marketing and communications group manager, said: “We’ve used the latest game techniques to hook players in, making it competitive, fun and a bit of an eye-opener.

“In the game, as you’re earning millions and bankrupting innocent people in the process, you’re also learning how to avoid being sucked in yourself.”

Players can employ 17 ‘trade tricks’ to make even more money. Each one comes with a corresponding real world tip showing how to make debt work for you, not against you, in relation to your own life.

Debt Empire is fun for everyone but is being targeted at young people in particular and has been designed so that teachers can use it within the school curriculum to get their students talking about debt.

Glenn added: “Credit is readily available from payday lenders, mobile shops and loan sharks and we know we’re up against some very enticing advertising.

“People tell us about morning after regret when they struggle to repay debt. We hope this game will make people more savvy about the pitfalls before they dive in.”

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell said: “You can do an enormous amount of damage between the ages of 16 and 24. We are trying to level the playing field so young people don’t start their adult lives on the backfoot, weighed down by debt.”

Debt Empire has been designed to connect with the curriculum and can be used in schools from year 10 (aged 14) and over. It is intended as a resource for teachers and support materials have also been created, along with a full curriculum guide.

It was tested by students at Henderson High School, who liked the subversive angle of being the loan shark in the game.

Principal Mike Purcell said: “Before the Commission came to us there was no discussion of debt, now there is a huge amount of engagement and conversation.  We can see ongoing benefits of this when they leave school.”

 

 

 

The game app is one of a range of ways the Commission is giving people the information they need in a way that they want. Others include our new “Hey Sorted” KiwiSaver chatbot and a community forum on Sorted.

The app can be downloaded free from the Apple app store and Google Play - simply search for 'Debt Empire'.