MassMutual turns to video games to boost retirement savings

The newly developed video game seizes on the concept of gamification to improve participant behavior regarding retirement savings

Feb 23, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

By Greg Iacurci

MassMutual Retirement Services thinks video games can help younger Americans save for retirement.

The retirement plan provider, a division of MassMutual Financial Group, on Tuesday announced the launch of "FUTUREJET," a video game available via mobile app meant to instill the importance of saving now for what seems to most younger workers to be a far-off life event.

The launch uses the concept of gamification, which has been accepted by many behavioral economists and those in the 401(k) industry as a way to promote better savings habits among participants. Gamification uses the idea that people are more likely to change behavior when engaged in fun activities that reward for positive action.

“I'm overall a fan of games and gamification, because what I think this does is take away the fear or anxiety toward finance. Finance isn't perceived to be a topic that's fun, pleasant, or something we look forward to doing,” according to Annamaria Lusardi, academic director at the George Washington University School of Business Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center.

Further, many financial decisions — retiring or buying a house, for example — aren't often repeated and individuals therefore can't learn positive behavior through experience. Games often simulate an environment and users are able to learn by example, Ms. Lusardi said.

MassMutual's video game lets users control futuristic-looking spacemen characters, who don helmets and jet packs and must save a city, called FutureCity, from low energy supplies through the collection of energy pods. Collecting pods emphasizes the goals of powering the jet pack now, but also the need to save some extra energy to help power the city later, according to Heather Smiley, chief marketing officer for MassMutual Retirement Services and Worksite Insurance.

“The concept behind the game is understanding that you have to purposefully take action to save if you want to have a great outcome at the end,” Ms. Smiley said.

The game doesn't drive a message about 401(k) savings specifically, but rather emphasizes the collection of assets for the future.

The app is available for anyone to download for free through the Apple App Store and Google Play. Although Ms. Smiley says use will likely skew toward the Millennial generation, one reason not to emphasize retirement savings specifically is because the game wouldn't be relatable to children not in the workforce. Further, that may have diminished the entertainment value of the game.

“In our campaigns, games, videos, we try to make it fun and impactful and something that draws people in rather than make them sweat the things they aren't doing,” Ms. Smiley said.

MassMutual's video-game debut is new for the retirement plan provider, but isn't entirely new in the retirement-savings realm. For example, Ms. Lusardi described an online video game called “Bite Club” developed specifically for Staples employees to encourage retirement savings. The game uses to concept of a vampire (hence, someone who lives a long time) to encourage thinking about the future and longevity, she explained.

That game was developed by the nonprofit Doorways to Dream (D2D) Fund for Staples in 2012. (That collaboration has since yielded additional video games for Staples employees — "Farm Blitz" and "Refund Rush," which respectively encourage the building of emergency savings and education on handling money from tax refunds.)

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