Online game out to incubate generosity in teens

The online game Karma Tycoon allows players to create a nonprofit business and choose where it will operate.
The online game Karma Tycoon allows players to create a nonprofit business and choose where it will operate. Do Something / 9MMedia
/ Source: NBC News

A New York-based nonprofit is hoping to strike a philanthropic spark with Karma Tycoon, a new online game that aims to entertain teens while also giving them an appreciation for the business side of charitable works.

The game is the creation of, a not-for-profit that aims to inspire younger generations to embrace volunteerism, which worked with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation to develop it and get it to market.

The idea behind Karma Tycoon was to put a twist on popular video and computer games in which players try to maximize profit in order to amass wealth.

“Why not create a game that maximizes karma in order to make the world a better place?” Aria Finger, who is in charge of building corporate partnerships for Do Something, recalls of the brainstorming that led to the game.

Teenager Nikki Mayer, an avid player, says that there is keen demand for entertainment with an optimistic message.

“Not all teenagers are really interested in killing people or racing cars,” she says. “It’s like, there are some of us out there that really do want to engage in positive games and actually learn things that would help us later on in actual life.”

Customization considered key
Karma Tycoon, which was officially launched with the ringing of the bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange on Dec. 21, empowers teens to get involved in philanthropic endeavors by giving them freedom to choose how they want to contribute, said Finger.

Players who register at the site can pick the type of nonprofit they would like to administer, such as an animal shelter or a homeless shelter, and establish their virtual organization in one of 12 major U.S. cities.

Finger, who led the project committee that created the game, said the early response has been very positive and there are plans in the works for a 2.0 that will expand the number of cities and the variety of organizations that participants can try their hand at managing.

Kimberly Davis, president of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, says that in addition to generating interest in charitable deeds, the game helps player become money-wise.

“The game sort of sneaks up on you, and I think that’s the way it has to become intuitive for kids,” she says. “They don’t realize that by playing this game that they are doing math and setting up budgets.”

Teaching these skills at an early age is especially important, she says, because “young people are using credit cards at higher rates than any other population we have ever seen in any other generation.”

Davis was a strong supporter of the venture from its inception and was able to wrangle resources from other departments – including the credit card and retail divisions – to perfect the product.

Teens tested game's ‘fun factor’
Her 14-year-old son and his friends also joined in as well by testing Karma Tycoon’s “fun factor.”

Karma Tycoon also provided JP Morgan Chase with an avenue to enter the brave new world of “advergaming” by embedding the company’s products into the game. That means serves the dual purpose of investing in kids while also investing in the company’s future.

“This is one example of many where we will collaborate with an organization to bring change,” she says. “Social investing is core to the business strategy and the culture of JP Morgan Chase.”

Mayer, the teenage Karma Tycoon disciple, discovered the game through an ad in a teen magazine, saying she spotted the words “nonprofit organization” and thought, “this seems positive!”

The Carolina adolescent credits the game with getting her to think more about helping those in need. 

It also provides a sense of accomplishment because it gives players the sense that the game’s “community” is relying on them to do well, score points and win. 

In addition to their efforts on projects such as Karma Tycoon, Do Something also hosts an annual awards ceremony yearly entitled The Brick Awards. This event features celebrities and musical guests and honors those 25-years-old or younger for positive works. 

This year the awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, and will be televised on CW on April 12.