WHAT IT IS: Yet another virtual world for young'uns, only this one teaches them about finance and budgets. It's clear the kid set is keen on virtual worlds -- just look at the popularity of Webkinz or Disney's $350 million valuation of Club Penguin. This one, from the folks behind growing finance-advice site Minyanville, in conjunction with family-focused media company Kaboose, came out of beta last week and intends to teach children about earning, spending, saving and giving moolah. "They get a sense of what it's like in the real world," said Minyanville President Kevin Wassong.
HOW IT WORKS: Kids choose avatars for which they can buy and furnish houses or lofts, buy clothing and food, and create and run their own businesses at -- where else? -- a virtual mall. Business tips are interspersed throughout the game. (Sample: "When you open a savings account, the bank will pay you more money to keep it there. It's called interest.") The content is informed by the National Council on Economic Education.
MAKING VIRTUAL MONEY: Kids can take quizzes (one asks them to match the currency to the country) and do chores because parents can assign virtual allowances. But will kids really play in a virtual world where they actually have to, well, do stuff to earn virtual cash? Mr. Wassong said they may not have a choice. School districts are discouraging participation in other virtual worlds, and "I have yet to meet a parent who's thrilled with the fees they have to pay with Club Penguin or Webkinz," he said.
THE AD FACTOR: Minyanland is sponsor-supported, and the folks behind it said they're in discussions with banks about integrating real-life savings programs. In the meantime, ads are shown in the Minyanland theater. Why bother with advertising when many ad-supported properties targeting kids are under fire? "If we charged subscriptions," Mr. Wassong said, "we might be excluding the kids who need it most."