The video game category was already rapidly growing, but then a global pandemic came along that canceled events and shut everyone indoors for months. Unsurprisingly, the popularity of video games skyrocketed. Video game industry revenue totaled $175 billion in 2020 — up 20% from 2019.
Aside from being entertaining, engaging and just downright fun, video games can also give users unique insights into how the world works, and more specifically, the function of money and strategies around building and maintaining capital. Best of all, video game users can learn important financial lessons without even realizing it because they’re too busy enjoying themselves.
If you’re looking to boost your financial savviness without picking up a book or impart some economic wisdom to your screen-addicted kids, you might want to give video games a try. But which ones? We talked to gaming and finance experts to learn which video games they recommend for key financial takeaways.
“The Sims game series is about running your own virtual life in a simulated world and uses a realistic representation of the real world to teach you about money strategy,” said Samuel Franklin, CEO of Games Finder. “Here’s how it can teach you about money management and strategy: Starting from basic beginnings players have to budget their limited funds to create a home before moving into the neighborhood. From here just like the real world you’ll need to find a job for your income as you balance this against your basic needs and slowly improve your living conditions and wealth to open up new opportunities.”
“House Flipper is hugely popular with over 40,000 Steam reviews from players who have gone through the buy, repair and facelift gameplay loop of this simulation title,” Franklin said. “Just like the real world of house flipping you’ll encounter some rundown and devastated housing projects but with your own hands you’ll turn them into a profitable house flip. This will teach players the potential of real estate investment and how with the added sweat equity you can improve your profits before repeating the process as a viable investment strategy when well researched.”
“This game is about rebuilding your own farm on a mysterious planet by completing daily tasks based around the cute bubbly slimes on the planet to teach you about the importance of an investment strategy,” Franklin said. “Starting with a basic plot of land you’ll need to discover the types of crops and slimes on the island in response to job requests of increasing difficulty.
“Slime Rancher encourages you to take the money earned from these small jobs and invest it into better equipment for yourself to expand the ranch and reach new locations to meet new orders,” Franklin continued. “This demonstrates just how a small start at investing can quickly compound to more potential down the line. Slime Rancher also reminds us to stop along the financial journey path as it hides many secrets, rare resources and decorations that are more fun than profit.”
“I don’t play Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) for the financial lessons disguised as gameplay — I play it because it’s charming,” said Shannon Terrell, senior writer for Finder.com’s investments team. “But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleasantly surprised — impressed, even — with the financial lessons that underpin the game’s mechanics. For kids aiming to increase their financial literacy, a game like ACNH is a treasure trove of wholesomely dressed economic principles.”
Terrell shared a couple of key ways in which Animal Crossing enlightens its users about the way money works:
- Mortgage. “This game literally gives you a mortgage,” Terrell said. “You start the game in a tent. You want a house? You’ll need to generate some coin — or Bells, the name of the in-game currency. You can’t progress through the game without expanding your house, which means it’s possible to play ACNH without generating some debt. How’s that for a life lesson? At least Tom Nook lets you pay back what you owe at your own pace. And there’s no interest, so — that’s a plus.”
- The “Stalk” Market. “Outside the standard buying and selling of basic goods at the island store, there’s an actual ‘stalk market,’” Terrell said. “Once a week, players can buy turnips at a fixed rate. You might be able to sell the turnips for more than what you paid — but there’s also a chance you’ll be lowballed and lose money on the transaction. And you can’t hold your turnips indefinitely because they rot after one week. The risk of loss is real — as is the opportunity for profit.”
“FIFA is a football-centric game where players can play as their favorite clubs in friendlies, tournaments and special matches like futsal,” said Bishal Biswas, a gaming enthusiast and sales and marketing coordinator at Word Finder.
“The fact is that the FIFA franchise is much more than just that as it offers an in-built career mode,” Biswas said. “This is where you take control of one club as a manager and handle all their financial budget while also managing which players to sign for global reach. Not only that, you also learn to manage money better when on a low budget. Managers have to sign players that will improve the global reach of the club or develop youth players that can become global stars in the future. It is a very interactive intake on finances and bargaining. My favourite feature would be negotiating with other clubs when signing a new player as it is satisfying to deploy tactics that see the other party drive down their price for the player in demand.”
“I have been playing PC games since I was a kid and my top pick for teaching finance and business would be Capitalism Lab,” said Gaurav Sharma, financial consultant and founder of BankersByDay.com. “This is the game that roused my interest in finance in the first place and it really is the most realistic simulation out there. You run a corporation that can expand into all segments of the economy from agriculture to retail to manufacturing, mining and even IT, banking and software.”
Sharma noted that in Capitalism Lab, you also play the stock market to take over competitors and increase your own personal net worth.
“While plenty of games have basic resource management, this is the game that you come to if you want to get a feel for the real thing,” Sharma said. “In fact, Capitalism Lab is still used in various competitions at top B-Schools around the world. While the game is old, it has continued to receive updates and DLCs. It’s a hidden gem that needs to be explored by anyone interested in finance.”
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Kerbal Space Program
“This game is about venturing into the deep unknown [of] outer space,” said Dror Zaifman, director of digital marketing at iCASH. “Kerbal Space Program has a resource-accumulation strategy where players have to mine for precious metals and barter for resources in order to build their spaceship and set off. This strategy is very useful for teaching financial lessons. The constant mining and grinding for Uranium ore teaches players that they need to work hard and for quite a while before they can enjoy their rewards. Players have to make strategic decisions in order to conserve their fuel, which teaches them perseverance and the importance of saving money.”
“Have you ever wondered how a farm is managed, what analysis is involved, and how the costs are distributed?” said Ryan Nieman, CEO at Solitaire.dev. “In this game, you start with a limited budget and options to cultivate your farm. Investing in the fertilizers, using the land and equipment efficiently is all a part of it. You’ll learn a lot about money management playing this game. It allows you to bring up your entrepreneurial activities to use your profits to invest in new seeds. The game offers the players a diversification of investment opportunities and educates them about how money is earned and spent carefully in real life.”
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Another sporting game that is also a valuable money teaching tool is NBA 2K.
“This game is all about making decisions that will affect not only your career as a basketball team manager but also the players under you,” said Khunshan S Ahmad, crypto investment expert at The Stock Dork. “Players learn financial lessons the hard way here. They’re given a tight budget that they have to use in order to build a team. They’ll have to let some players go and keep others, teaching them about making real-life decisions during tough financial times. It also educates them about lending, by letting them hire a player on loans.”
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Age of Empires
“Age of Empires is a real time strategy game where players build a society balancing the economic and military needs of their civilization with the goal of conquering everyone else,” said Robert Koch, software engineer. “The challenge of the game comes from optimizing how many resources you put into expanding your civilization compared to building and upgrading your armies. If you don’t improve your economy by chopping down trees and making farms you won’t have enough resources to create units, and if you don’t create enough units you won’t have anything to defend yourself.”
“This game has been around for over 20 years, in several incarnations, yet the premise is the same: You gather resources, build, trade, make alliances, and go to war with your tribe,” said Stefan Ateljevic, founder of PlayToday. “Whether you choose the ancient Romans or the Japanese empire, the game teaches you how to be efficient with your resources and pretty much how to do business. It also touches on some intangibles like diplomacy, negotiation, and their effect on international economics. All around I think it’s an awesome game that anyone can learn business fundamentals in a fun way.”
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The Legend of Zelda
One of the most popular video game franchises of all time is also one that can teach you a good deal about saving, spending and the value of currency in general.
“This game is about saving the world from darkness and uses gambling and budgeting strategies,” said Peyton Leonard, a finance expert with Clearsurance.com. “The Legend of Zelda has mini-games that teach you about gambling and spending your money wisely.”
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