Bobber Interactive Looks to Make Financial Services More Social and “Gamified” for Teens

5/11/10Follow @gthuang

Video games have become so pervasive that I’m starting to hear entrepreneurs and investors talk about the “gamification” of websites and online services. This is a big emerging trend that’s all about making sites social, interactive, and goal-oriented. It’s being touted as a long-awaited way to make money from social networks. Now a small team of Seattle entrepreneurs is bringing it to life in the financial services sector.

Eric Eastman, Scott Dodson, and John Bito are co-founders of Bobber Interactive, a new Seattle startup that is giving its first demo at the Finovate conference in San Francisco today. Here’s the idea. It’s an online software platform for community banks and other financial institutions, targeted for teens. “It’s the first viral social money management tool for today’s youth,” Eastman says.

So basically it’s a way to make money management fun and social for kids. Get them while they’re young, and the idea is they will grow up and, more often than not, maintain their bank accounts and financial relationships (like with Bobber) after they graduate from college and start making money. The market makes a lot of sense: Eastman says American teens represent $200 billion in discretionary income, and surveys show money management has become a high priority for them—to help save up for an Xbox entertainment system, say. Meanwhile, most of them are playing online games and have accounts on Facebook and other social networks.

Bobber Interactive incorporates “social game mechanics” into its online banking tool, to “motivate smart real-world behavior,” Eastman says. The interface shows bar graphs of things like short-term savings goals, long-term savings goals, and money set aside for charities. On another part of the screen are the game “challenges,” which are like quests or objectives. One example might be to reduce your spending by a certain amount this month. If a teen accepts and completes the challenge, they earn in-game points and—here’s the key—it’s also tied to real-world benefits. Bobber has formed a partnership with Plastyc, a New York company that provides prepaid value cards to customers.

The whole thing will run as a Facebook application (and presumably on other platforms too). And that’s where it gets social. Teens can interact with their friends on two levels, Dodson says. One is that they can share any achievements they earn in the game with their social network. But within the game itself, they also can share their financial goals, like saving up a certain amount, and their friends can respond and share their own progress. They can also do things like send a snapshot of their finances to their parents and other family members—just in case, say, a teen feels the need to prove to Mom and Dad that he or she isn’t wasting all their spare cash.

Bobber Interactive is still working out the details of its revenue model. But monthly and administrative fees seems like an obvious way to go. Forming partnerships with e-commerce affiliates is also possible, whereby teens can make actual purchases (remember that Xbox?) through the site.

Eastman has been working on the idea for about a year. Previously he had experience in financial services, strategy consulting, and business development. He met Dodson at a Login conference, who signed on as an advisor. Dodson, a game design expert previously with Tenacious Games and Divide by Zero Games, then met Bito, a software developer, in February at the first FounderDating event in Seattle.

We’ll see how Bobber Interactive does after its San Francisco demo today. Dodson is also speaking more broadly about “gamification” at the Login conference in Seattle this Thursday morning. It will be very interesting to follow all the different online efforts that are bubbling up in areas like education, healthcare, search, and travel, as well as finance.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Kevin

    Go to http://www.gamification.com and you’ll find Bunchball. They have a “gamification” set of APIs that allows anyone to implement the appropriate game mechanics into a visitor/user experience across digital touchpoints.

    Interesting stuff.

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