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The SIMS: Personal Finance Life Simulation

What if you combined the addictively fun life simulation video game The SIMS and the growing financial software industry?

Photo of Brian Renke
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Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

This concept would benefit the user by allowing them to navigate those difficult life decisions (specifically financial decisions) in a simulated "real-world" environment. The main players would be; for example, a large gaming publisher such as Electronic Arts and a reputable financial software provider such as Mint. This could pose an opportunity for these businesses to expand into new markets by providing educational products.

How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?

A "Life Sim" gaming environment uses the power of community in two ways. First, in the sense that it takes the strengths of specialists from the gaming industry and the financial software industry to deliver a new product that combines a simulated environment and professional financial advice. Second being the community of virtual people or "Sims" with whom your avatar would interact and play out scenarios.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The quickest and least involved method to get a bearing on the viability of this concept would be to conduct interviews in local communities. Statistics indicate that there is a potential market. By 2013, Electronic Arts had sold 175 million units since introducing The SIMS in 2000. In 2012 Mint topped 10 million registered users.

What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

A. Help refining the high level vision (To provide simulated life experiences as they relate to important financial habits/decisions, coupled with professional financial advice) B. Help with strategy, for instance: Is The SIMS idea too lofty? If so, does this idea lend itself to a more manageable scale? C. Gaming, Finance and business expertise D. Design and content generation.

This idea emerged from:

  • Other

Google Doc

The Idea

What if we could utilize a virtual community to provide simulated life experiences as they relate to important financial habits/decisions, coupled with professional financial advice? In a simulated environment people can experiment: try things with their money that they might not have the confidence to do in their real life, and then learn from those experiences.

Creator of The SIMS, Will Wright, makes games out of life, and the challenge of making it work. Naturally, people have taken an interest in this concept. Starting with SimCity in 1989, his successful video game franchise has sold 15 million copies in total. In an interview with ABC he says, "There's things that you can do on the computer that kind of expand your perceptions of reality and that you can go back and apply to reality."

SimCity's success paved the way for a string of Wright's simulations: Sim Earth, the global ecosystem; SimFarm, where you manage your crops; etc. All fun and successful games, but still somewhat topical. So what if we took the concept a step further, using the platform to experiment with ways of earning money and managing it; regulating spending, opening savings accounts, investing in securities, buying properties, etc.

The financial software industry is brimming with useful tools that provide professional financial advice for people to use to their advantage. A free tool, for example, is With Mint you can track and categorize where you spend your money, set up savings goals and receive suggestions and strategies for realizing them, etc. This type of service paired with a simulated environment could be a powerful tool.

Business collaborations already exist in The SIMS. In an interview with New York Daily News, President of SIMS Label, Nancy Smith, states, "We were able to do a partnership with H&M," "so you could actually dress your Sims in H&M fashions inside the world."

Don't get me wrong, fashion is fun, but using this virtual world for financial education is a lot more useful!

User Scenarios

Andrew is in high school and works part time for a local landscaping business making $195 a week; he wants to buy a 'cool' car. He doesn't have enough money to buy one, but he heard he can borrow money from the bank. Luckily—in 'Financial Basics' class at his school—he learned that there is more to a loan than just getting free money from the bank. In class, he found out about The SIMS game with the Personal Finance expansion pack. He created 'Virtual Andrew' and created his simulated scenario: age, job status, income, loan amount, loan period, repayment schedule, etc. Out of curiosity, Andrew decides to jump immediately five years into the future: he discovers that he could not afford the loan and had to file bankruptcy. The accelerated timeline of the simulated financial scenario allowed Andrew to learn from a mistake in a realistic, but no risk environment, ultimately helping him protect his credit rating. 

Liz is a mom and a math teacher. She has two kids in middle school. She wants to start mapping out a plan for saving for their higher education as well as continue saving for her retirement. She used The SIMS to quickly "live out" a couple mutual fund scenario's she was considering before implementing them in her real life. She found "The Player Wall" feature convenient and useful for getting support from other players. The "Achievements" feature both helped her keep track of her goals as well as served as inspiration, because she gets a sense of accomplishment when she earns e-badges.

Why The SIMS?

In this article from The SIMS Official Mag there is an interesting conversation with Dr. Jamie Madigan, a psychologist who authors the website In it, he discusses some of the reasons why people enjoy playing The SIMS.

  • Almost everything about The SIMS mimics real life.
  • Humans like goals, achieving goals and feeling a sense of progression or making something bigger or better. The SIMS employs rewards and progress meters to satisfy this innate desire; for example, going to work progresses your avatar's career.
  • Studies have shown that people tend to create avatars that are slightly idealized versions of themselves. One might improve their self-esteem in the real world by creating a more confident version of themselves in The SIMS

The SIMS User Accounts

"I play it to relax after a long day most of the time. I gave up on most FPS games because I didn't like the stress that came with it. I now play games that I consider fun and relaxing because having to put tons of time and practice into a game just to complete an objective or finish a level irks me."

- Purple_Tater, 16 

"I enjoy RPGs and strategy games mostly, and strangely, I never thought that the Sims would appeal to me until I tried it on a friends computer, and realized that it's open world and multitude of possibilities was something I really loved."

- Lord_Xia, 32, Male

"I played the Sims 2 but only for a short while due to the sims 3 coming out. My soon to be husband is a game enthusiast and he needed me to understand his hobby so he turned me onto the sims. I fell in love with the game immediately and have been playing ever since. I normally only care to build and decorate the houses. I have 3 children, 15, 13 and 8 who also like to play now. They actually play more than me. But i make houses and decorate them for them since they like the game play more than the building.

For me its an outlet from the rest of the world and it makes me happy!"

- mbenter, 34, Female

"What disappoints me is that still the developers have not realized the monetary importance to include it in the game. I have written so much about it years ago. Sims games should have Banks, individual bank accounts, credit cards, ATMs, Wall Street, Investments, Loans, Stock exchanges etc. These can be fun to play with and also educational for the young."

  1. Presence of a bank and a Stock exchange to provide all financial solutions for the Sims.
  2. Sims to have individual bank accounts and (debit & credit) cards other than the family account.
  3. Sims to be able to apply for different bank loans (housing loans, personal loans, auto loans etc), and interest to be deducted from the individual account if it is a single SIM loan or from family account if it is a joint loan.
  4. Fixed deposit where sims place money at the bank for a marginal low profit for a fixed time of period. higher the period the higher the profit.
  5. Investments with different degree of risks. The higher risk investments might give higher profits or higher risk by losing big chunk of the capital or all of it.
  6. Sims to be able to buy and sell stocks in the stock exchange. That itself can be a fun mini game in the game. When a Sim opens a business at some higher levels they can list their business in the stock exchange so that other Sims can buy the stock of his business.
  7. Offers in the neighborhood to get points or free gifts from the community shops for the sims who use their credit cards! The more a Sim uses his credit cards, the more points accumulated which he can exchange it for something free be it an object, dinner at restaurant, cinema ticket etc.

- halimali1980

Things to Consider

  • How do we get people to use the product?
  • How do we get companies to direct resources towards this?
  • How can we create a realistic ‘real world’ simulation that includes the many variables that can have an effect on someone’s financial situation?
  • What's the best way to pursue developing the financial software component for The SIMS?

Additional Resources


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brian Renke

Hi guys,

I am trying to add some more detail every day, so please feel free to have a look and give a comment if any updates give you any ideas. I also have the Google Doc link posted if anyone wants to build on it.

Photo of BT

I added some thoughts and questions to the doc.

Photo of Brian Renke

I had the same questions and concerns. Your point, "We should also think about the number of variables that can happen in real life that we can not simulate in a game. Variables that change income, expenses and desires. How do you input those unknown possibilities into a video game?" Is a good one. Perhaps more investigation into the possibilities that come along with new gaming technology will provide a solution. For example, MMORPG's (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) provide a landscape in which real people are controlling avatars, thus creating a relatively vast and unpredictable gaming environment.

Photo of BT

I'm designing a platform where real people can share their experiences as they try to manage their finances and housing experience. Same concept, trying to get people to follow those who find success by giving them a glimpse into someone else's life, although anonymously of course. It's an interesting challenge for sure. People like their privacy and nobody wants everyone to know they made money mistakes.

Photo of BT

I also suggest NOT looking at it like "financial software" but finding another, less intimidating and clinical term. After all nobody uses financial software for very long, definitely not for life. I've always believed apps like this and other games need to be built on a platform because they aren't one on their own. People need a reason to still play after the novelty wears off.

Our platform is being built on the housing industry and would make a great place for a game like this. It's interesting to me at least. Is the plan to build an app or just a prototype or develop an idea for an app?


Photo of BT

I just had a thought, instead of it being a video game why not just a show with virtual characters where the avatars play professionals and users roles out on the show. We could simulate actual experiences of actual people as a way to do or not do something. The stories could come from the files of professionals during their careers? Changes things but people seem to like reality TV, just a thought.

Photo of Brian Renke

My initial idea was to create an "expansion pack" ( that would bring a personal finance component into the existing SIMS template. This way we are utilizing a platform that is already familiar and popular.

Photo of Brian Renke

Check out "The SIMS 2: Open for Business" expansion pack. (

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