The Payoff

Learn real-life financial lessons, apply them, and try again

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Subjects & Skills

Character & SEL, Critical Thinking, Math

Price: Free
Platforms: Web

Pros: Immersive and fast-paced play keeps players engaged.

Cons: Little customizations and fixed tasks impede flexibility, and figuring out what to attend to first can be confusing.

Bottom Line: Multiple attempts and engaging play make financial literacy approachable.

When starting The Payoff, play the game through once first so that you can target information from the lessons and troubleshoot when kids start to play. Choose the lessons that will work with your timeframe. To prevent frustration, make sure students have a basic understanding of the concepts they'll be expected to apply as they play. Decide if you want to have kids play in teams or alone. Assign students to play up to the first major decision, or through the first day. Bring the group together to reflect and share. The diary can be helpful during these conversations, as it not only records choices made, but also stats for other players who have made those same choices. The teacher dashboard shows class statistics for each choice, which is super helpful for planning class discussions. 

Challenges and script remain the same, which creates an opportunity people don't normally get in real life: a do-over! If time allows, after those discussions, teachers can reset the game for the entire class and allow for a second try. Each reset starts the game from the beginning. From start to finish, the game can be played in under an hour, so the final run-through should fit easily into one class period. Perhaps create an opportunity for kids to compare notes with their teammates, and then see which team climbs the leaderboard. 

The Payoff is a role-playing game within the Practical Money Skills site that teaches financial skills to high school students. Players become a member of a duo, Alex or Jess, entering a video competition, and they're introduced to their characters via video. At the onset of the game, Alex and Jess get kicked out of their apartment, so players are set on a quest to find an affordable place to live, manage personal finances, and create their winning video with only three days to meet the deadline. Players are helped along as they engage in texts, emails, phone calls, and video messages from family members, friends, and their personal assistant, MAI. Information seems to reach the inbox right when it is needed, but players must remember to check this resource before making some tricky decisions like which insurance to buy or how much they can afford in rent.

Corresponding lesson plans complete with teacher notes, student handouts, and even pre- and post-assessments provide more structure for classroom plans. Lessons teach key financial skills like banking, saving, and investing as well as information necessary to maintain financial health like payday loans, insurance, and online safety. These lessons also provide opportunities for discussions, web quests, and collaborative research. Although the game accommodates solo players, teachers should set up a class for students to join. The teacher dashboard doesn't include many bells and whistles, but teachers can create teams, include a college option, see student progress, and reset class games.

The Payoff is a unique combination of lessons and application that feels super current. The lessons themselves go beyond didactic, which will keep kids more involved in the initial learning. Because the characters seek vlogger fame, they're likely relatable for lots of teens. Inserting the player as Alex or Jess also could increase the emotional investment. And the opportunity to reset the game increases the learning potential. If teachers had the option to reset individual students, players could take more ownership of their research and decisions.

In terms of downsides, the game itself can feel a bit chaotic. With emails, bank notifications, and text messages appearing on the interface all at once, it's sometimes hard to know what to pay attention to first -- and it often matters. The game itself is fairly short, which limits the challenges and decisions players have to make as well as the opportunity to see the long-term effects of investment and time management decisions. Individual decisions ultimately determine the final score, but not the conclusion of the story. Players might feel a deeper connection if their decisions altered the storyline, not just the bottom line. 

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

Immersive play is engaging. Other characters move the story along quickly, and scores respond to each decision. Text communication along with videos keep it lively and fun!


Students have to reach for key information, which promotes active learning. While lessons provide opportunities for research, a second try at the game encourages growth.


The game requires reading; however, teacher plans use discussions that are helpful for students who struggle with reading. Lesson are in English only, but videos include closed captioning with optional translation.

Common Sense reviewer
Carrie Garges
Carrie Garges Teacher

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