Amid mounting concern about the nation’s savings rate and financial illiteracy, employers face enormous pressure to move the needle on retirement preparedness. One possible solution is to tap the wildly popular gaming trend, which, in turn, can actually help make retirement planning fun and more engaging than traditional approaches to employee education.

Among the financial providers looking to make a mark, ING U.S., has released a new mobile game app designed to help build investment and retirement planning awareness for consumers of all ages. Available for free on the App StoreSM for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, the “Struct” application leverages the power of “gamification,” which integrates game elements such as points, levels and a leader board. It also exposes players to fundamental investing concepts and terms.

The premise of the game is for players to work with various building materials that symbolize different investment categories – steel (cash), wood (bonds) and glass (stocks) – as they build increasingly complex towers or “structs.” Three main characters, called the build crew, correspond to a unique investor style: aggressive, moderate and conservative. A fourth crewmember is a wild card, representing both market opportunity and risk.

Through crew selection and game objectives, metaphors about saving and investing are conveyed that parallel the concepts of risk, diversification, goals and achievement. Crew selection, a diversified strategy and material handling are critical to a player’s success.

“We know many individuals need to do more when it comes to preparing for their retirement,” said Rick Mason, president of corporate markets for ING U.S. Retirement, which hopes to promote financial literacy. “Gaining greater awareness about accepted investing and saving principles is a critical part of that process.”

Nielsen research shows game apps are the most downloaded items by smartphone owners, and iPhone users are playing games an average of 14.7 hours a month. Moreover, data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Newzoo suggests that there are more people in the U.S. who meet the definition of active gamers than who save for retirement. 

Players of Struct are introduced to each of the 12 game levels by an instruction guide, which provides tips that challenge the player to work with different building material and crewmembers. Each level brings new complexity, and the right combination of crew, material placement and speed helps the player score points and unlock achievements.

There are also surprise moves one can discover as they engage in play, including breakage, bonus points and the ability to discard a crewmember’s building material. The “Build School” brings the metaphors to life, demonstrating how investor style and asset classes can affect the outcome, while the game’s glossary helps to build knowledge of key financial terms.

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