After conducting research on the project's scope of educating high school students on financial literacy and building their trust in banking services, Team FiPlay generated three game ideas: Bodega Tycoon, Bodega Story, and Financial Trivia.
After an in-depth brainstorming session between Syclus and Team FiPlay, it was decided that we were going to combine the Bodega Tycoon idea with some storytelling elements to ensure the educational and emotional impact of the design. Team FiPlay kept developing the idea through team meetings and other team-building exercises.
Here is the breakdown of Team FiPlay's initial game idea: For the financial gameplay component, the player will run a bodega. They will manage inventory and decide which items to stock and sell. The player’s goal is to expand the business by reinvesting their revenue into upgrades and improvements to the bodega. There are three key financial interactions in the game: Budgeting, Banking, and Investment. The player will gain confidence with each interaction as they progress through the stages of the game.
We had more than 50 students complete a survey, which asked them a range of questions touching on the role of banks, the benefits and importance of credit cards, post-high school plans, consumer loans, credit scores, and the time value of money (TVM). As a result of this exercise, we learned that the students would benefit from learning about the aforementioned topics, so we included them within the game's storytelling.
Since it was important to us that the project would be accessible to our target audience, we instructed Team FiPlay to deploy a web-based game built on WebGL, an application interface protocol (API) tool for building 3D graphics into a Web browser, so that it can be playable on a laptop or PC. Furthermore, given the Covid-19 pandemic, we knew that most students had access to a school-issued laptop, such as a Google Chromebook. Bodega Tycoon was also developed using the Unity real-time platform and is deployed using Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Pivotal to the successful outcome of the game was our playtesting component. As part of the design and development process, we relied on student playtesters from two (2) charter schools who represented our target audience. The students played the game in structured Zoom settings on a weekly basis, and the helpful rounds of feedback they provided heavily improved and influenced the game's final design. Moreover, we were pleased to learn that the students really enjoyed the game and found it fun, engaging, and easy-to-use.
Also, before the playtesting process started, each student completed a survey which tested their financial knowledge, and ultimately guided the game's overall story and design.
The student playtesters were represented from the following schools:
Flyer created by Je'Quan Sailes-Irving (Morehouse College c/o '21)
Syclus' Vision & Support
A major key to the game's ultimate success was the seamless collaboration between Syclus and Team FiPlay. Throughout the project, we met at least once a week via Zoom to discuss all aspects of the game and its overall direction - from the gameplay and game design, to the game mechanics. This was in addition to the many emails we traded at all times of the day and night.
Syclus' main contribution to the project included but was not limited to the following:
Final Presentation, Handoff, and Next Steps
Team FiPlay delivered their final presentation via Zoom to the ETC faculty on May 10th, and it was a roaring success. After making a few recommended tweaks, conducting a final pass editing of the various in-game dialogue scripts, and checking for any bugs, they handed the game off to Syclus. The handoff consisted of the game itself, the project folder (archives), and access to an AWS account which has the latest build uploaded.
To put the FiPlay project in context, most online games involve a great deal of work, and that means they take quite some time to successfully develop from start to finish. The typical online game development life cycle takes longer than a year. So for Team FiPlay to design and develop a game of this magnitude in an academic semester (~14 weeks) is nothing short of amazing.
Syclus plans to implement Bodega Tycoon into our flagship classroom-based School Bank Program that will be launched this fall. This strategy will allow us to not only introduce a relevant interactive format, but to perform market research that will guide the development of the game's next version (v2). Since both video and smartphone games are an integral part of teen lives, our ultimate goal is to build a digital gaming ecosystem where players can engage with the game using a mobile, computer, or tablet device.
Team FiPlay faced many challenges over the semester, such as managing the scope of the various features and making sure the visuals came together in a consistent manner. Nonetheless, Bodega Tycoon turned out to be a great product which met our educational goals, while delivering fun management gameplay. Needless to say, Syclus enjoyed working with Team FiPlay and was very pleased with their final delivery of a dope game.