Online gaming network Cellufun plans to unveil a new mobile game on Monday called MadeOff, which allows players to create their own Ponzi scheme.
The game's name is a play on Bernie Madoff, the recently convicted mastermind behind the biggest known Ponzi scheme in history. Madoff had more than 4,800 clients who invested money in his investment firm, expecting high returns. Instead of investing that cash into real securities, Madoff allegedly pilfered billions of dollars from clients before he was arrested in 2008.
Gamers playing MadeOff will engage in the same basic activity. You can choose to be a fund manager, trying to coax other Cellufun players into investing in your fund. You can then use their CelluPoints--the game's currency--to pay off some investors, while stealing the rest for yourself. Fund managers will have a menu in the game that allows them to post ads on the network that can be searched by investors. The ads mention what the fund manager is promising as a rate of return on the CelluPoints invested.
If you don't want to run your own fund, you can invest your CelluPoints in other players' Ponzi schemes. If the fund manager is capable, you could receive an inordinately high return on your CelluPoints investment. As you get more CelluPoints, Cellufun will award virtual trophies for your effort. But if the fund manager decides to close their fund, you will lose all your points.
MadeOff will run continuously, allowing more people to invest in the Ponzi schemes and win more CelluPoints. But at a time that Cellufun decides, "the feds" will come in and break up the Ponzi schemes they catch. According to the company, the Feds are Cellufun employees.
Investors looking to rack up CelluPoints need to be aware that at any time, the feds can come in and shut the fund down, taking all the CelluPoints with them. Fund managers need to decide when to close the fund and walk away with all the points they've accumulated from investors before the feds crack down. It turns MadeOff into a strategy game that will make some players profitable and others broke.
An educational experience
I didn't have the chance to play MadeOff because Cellufun told me that the game isn't quite ready. It's still being tweaked for its release next week. But it sounds like it has promise. Though the idea of running a Ponzi scheme might turn some off, given Madoff's crimes, I think it can be used to educate the public.
Ponzi schemes date back to 1920 when an Italian immigrant, Charles Ponzi, became a millionaire in six months by stealing more than $15 million from 40,000 people.
It wasn't until Madoff was arrested that Ponzi schemes became big news again. Though some believe the worst is over, Madoff whistle blower Harry Markopolos told Congress in February that there are more Ponzi schemes out there that the SEC and other federal regulators still haven't found.
Perhaps MadeOff will educate players and help them identify those schemes. It could help them protect themselves before they become a victim.
You can play the free MadeOff game on more than 7,000 mobile phones by accessing the company's mobile Web site. Though it's designed for mobile phones, you can also access MadeOff from your computer's browser.