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Will target audience get a charge out of new credit game?

Game falls short on 'wow' factor, reviewers say

By Creditcards.com Staff

CreditCards.com asked a group of young adults to review the new interactive credit game sponsored by the Advertising Council and the U.S. Department of Treasury.

ControlYourCredit.govThe public service advertising campaign targets 18- to 24-year-old adults promoting the need to take control of their credit and personal finances.

The reviewers evaluated the game by looking at usability, graphics and audio presentation, educational value, content and overall appeal to the target audience.

Game description: Visitors start off in a haunted mansion/Bates Hotel-like atmosphere dubbed the Bad Credit Hotel. It's a black-and-white world, with ominous music and a glum-faced front desk clerk greeting visitors. "Check in and learn the basics of good credit," the intro reads. The goal of the game is to gather enough credit knowledge to get to room 850. Note: The highest credit score available to borrowers from the well-known FICO score is 850; the median score is 723, according to myFICO.com.

They must navigate from the hotel lobby, to a library, fireplace and upstairs room. By mousing over different interactive elements on the page, you find out more information about key credit topics such as bankruptcy, credit repair, debt collection, credit counseling services and budgeting. Tools are available to help users figure out the true cost of purchasing merchandise with credit cards (factoring in annual percentage rates of interest and monthly payment amounts) and how long it will take to pay off credit card debt based on the interest rate and amount of monthly payments.

Review this game

Tell us what you think about the new Bad Credit Hotel interactive game. Play the game, then come back and rate your experience or add your comments.

Users who are able to reach room 850 are promised "bonus content." The black-and-white Bad Credit Hotel is transformed (a la Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz") into a colorful suite. The gloomy front desk clerk is colorized, too, and cheerfully congratulates you on making it into an elite club of good credit holders. "Being here will unlock many doors for you," the clerk says. "The point is aim high."

General comments: Kudos to the folks at the Ad Council, Department of Treasury and Lowe New York for addressing the critical need for more education among young adults about credit and personal finances. More needs to be done to help young people understand how important it is to have good credit and use credit wisely. High marks also went to game developers who obviously spent a lot of time incorporating video with Flash animation and the nuts-and-bolts content of credit and debt management. It was no small feat and did not go unnoticed by tech-savvy reviewers.

ControlYourCredit.govMore than one reviewer notes, however, that calling the exercise a "game" seems to be a misnomer in that there is very little gaming involved. "To call it a game seems a stretch. How about interactive atmospheric education tool?" writes one reviewer. Another notes that the "interactive" quality of the game is limited. There is no opportunity, for instance, to interact with other "players" online or to compete against others -- perhaps in a Monopoly-game type challenge. An RPG (role playing game) might have better appeal to the target audience.

Note that the game gives users the option of getting the credit and debt information directly by clicking on links for "information only."  For the "cheats," you can bypass the game and skip ahead to room 850 by navigating through the HTML-only mode of the game.

"If I were really in trouble with my credit, I wouldn't use a game like this to get the information I needed," says a college student who tested the game. "I would just search on the Internet for the information."

Adds another 20-something reviewer: "While I think the look of this game was really cool, I'm not sure if someone my age would want to go through that whole little fantasy/game thing just to learn some credit tips."

Several reviewers said the people most likely to stick with the game and gain value out of it would be younger -- under age 18 -- who know very little about credit. The game might make an good teaching tool for a middle or high school math or consumer class, they say.

RATING CRITERIA
Reviewers were asked to play the game and assess its appeal based on usability, graphics and audio presentation, educational value, content and target audience appeal. These results are not scientific, and ratings of zero to 5 credit cards (instead of stars) represent a consensus of reviewers' comments.

Overall rating    (3 credit cards) 

Usability:
Rating:    (2 1/2 credit cards)
Several reviewers found navigation of the site confounding. Navigation was not intuitive and users were often left to wonder, "Now what?" A few reviewers clicked on the same feature more than once because of confusion over where to go next. The white-gloved hand tool used as the mouse was seen as ineffective. At one point in the game, users must navigate to a phone booth. Unfortunately, several reviewers had difficulty figuring out how to turn the old-style rotary dial on the phone (perhaps because these phones went out of style before they were born or because the instructions for using the feature were not clear.)

A downer: at three different points in the game, users click on a book and a three-dimensional image of a book opens to pages where users must read the text. "If I wanted to read a book, I would go to the library," notes one reviewer. In a multimedia environment, surely reading text from a book is a throw back to more low-tech times.

Graphics and audio:
Rating:      (4 credit cards)
Suite 850 -- your destinationAs noted above in general comments, kudos for merging video with Flash animation. The highest marks went to the graphics. Several reviewers liked the intro scene, calling it creative and "totally reminiscent of an old horror movie. I really loved that aspect." One reviewer wondered if the black-and-white effect might be a turn-off for those used to today's full-color, high-def video games.

As for audio, the intro scene has appropriate sound effects and music. The narrator -- the grim-faced front desk clerk -- can be heard giving introductions to the interactive elements. Except for a ticking clock and other sound effects tied to opening a door or dialing a phone, the vast majority of the game has no audio. It's silent -- another anomaly in the world of interactive gaming. Read: Theme music keeps players playing.

Technical note: Depending on the speed of your Internet service (whether you're on dial-up, for instance) or your computer's processor you may experience delays in loading some portions of the game.  

Educational value
Rating:   (3 credit cards)
There is a lot of factual, helpful information contained in the game as well as links to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission website to request copies of free annual credit reports. Reviewers wonder how many people might prefer the "information only" version of the game or another website.

Content:
Rating:   (3 credit cards)
The tools provided in the game are a helpful way for users to play around with numbers and figure out how their own personal financial situation would change under different scenarios. The game includes a monthly budget calculator that allows users to type in their income and expense figures, outstanding credit card balances and annual percentage rates (APR) to determine the number of months it will take to pay off a debt. Another tool allows you to calculate the "real cost" of purchasing a digital camera, tennis shoes, sports car or laptop computer by factoring in the APR and monthly payment amount. A few nits: there are typos in the Bad Credit Self-Help and Credit Counseling sections.

Target audience:
Rating:  (1 credit card)
Another reviewer, a college student, said she felt the game should more appropriately target a younger audience -- perhaps 14-year-olds. "They are more into games than people my age," she says. Courtney Forsell, a treasury department spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement: "We wanted to reach young adults who are making the first-time financial decisions that will affect their credit. The campaign was created after extensive focus groups with young adults in this age range."

The choice of the grim-faced narrator -- an older grandfather-like man dressed at times in a three-piece suit -- may be a turnoff for some 18- to 24-year-olds. Does it feel more like a lecture and less inviting because of this?

To comment on this article, write to: Editors@CreditCards.com.

See relatedNew credit education campaign features interactive game

Published: September 26, 2008


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