Kapitall is an online stock broker with a twist -- video game-like trading tools and free practice accounts allow investing newbies to hone their trading skills in a fun, easy way.

kapitallAlong with saving, donating, and (judicious) spending, investing makes up one of the four cornerstones of a sound financial foundation. And that’s fine, so far as the saving, donating and spending parts go (especially the spending).

While you can always refine your knowledge in those three areas, it doesn’t take much pluck or experience to get started. Piggy bank? Check. Worthy cause in your backyard? Check. Big sale on Wii titles at Walmart? Check.

But when it comes to investing, it’s enough to make many a confident young adult shudder. Even the word itself sounds intimidating in a blue blood sort of way, and a quick check of the associated jargon attached to “investing” will have you running for the dictionary: capital gains, cash equivalents, annuities and dollar cost averaging (covered briefly in a recent column) are just a few you’ll reckon with sooner or later.

You might well ask why investing can’t work more like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Mario Kart Wii, or Temple Run 2. After all, it’s often been said that investing resembles a game. Well, if that sounds appealing then there’s good news: The website Kapitall takes that metaphor to a brand-new level — or, if you prefer, a new level of play.

To be sure, any resemblance between Kapitall’s user interface and a cool arcade diversion is neither happy accident nor random stab at novelty. The platform is the brainchild of video game entrepreneur Gaspard de Dreuzy (who has 15 years experience in the field) and financial technologist Serge Kreiker, a former software engineer at Bloomberg LP.

The two came up with the idea for Kapitall in 2008, and their resumes foreshadowed what the company would become; de Dreuzy produced titles for PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Wii, while Kreiker designed and built tools used by Bloomberg’s trading system. (Joining them in August 2012 was Jarrett Lilien, the former chief operating officer of E*Trade.)

Kapitall is so stylized and graphics-rich in its presentation that Mashable writer Christina Warren has commented, “If the Xbox had a stock program, it would look like Kapitall.” As for the website itself, it’s free to join and new traders get a $25 bonus once they invest their first $25. If the thought of playing with real money makes you nervous, then you can play with $100,000 in virtual cash that Kapitall gives you to grow your skills risk-free. Once you decide to dive in to actual trading, you might want to remind yourself that you’ll be dealing with real-live cash, so as not to get too caught up in the game-play aspect of the site.

For starters, trades are as simple as dragging and dropping a company’s icon into your live portfolio. In Kapitall, these icons replace the ticker symbols that we’ve all seen whizzing by on financial TV channels.

And just as in the video game world, you can compete with other “players” (or in this case, “Kapitallists”) for a top spot on the leader board. Your point tally is determined by a number of factors: using tools, reading articles, viewing your portfolios and making trades. You can also earn 50 points daily by just logging in.

And by studying the similarly named “Kapitall Lists,” you can see how your portfolio stacks up against the picks of Warren Buffet, or an inventory of eco-friendly investments. All of this action takes place in an area dubbed, fittingly enough, the “Playground.” Taking the arcade cues a step further, Kapitall even awards “koins” to repeat investors, redeemable for merchandise and premiums. These range from movie tickets and $25 gift cards from third-party retailers to a $10 million portfolio (in play money, of course).

If all this sounds like a natural to attract investors under 35, a recent Wall Street Journal story confirms it: Kapitall’s typical brokerage account holders are in the 32-36 age range. It had about 100,000 registered users and 2,150 brokerage accounts as of September 2012, but hopes to boost those numbers roughly 10 fold this year, according to the Journal. And while those investors may not put huge amounts of money into play, Kapitall has other revenue streams to bolster it, including subscriptions. It’s also building traction through Kapitall Wire, a blogroll with investor tips, news and advice.

Kapitall also charges fees that range from $7.95 (online commissions) to $80 (stock certificate delivery fees); there are no charges for account inactivity, account maintenance, or transfers in and out from an automated clearing house.

Even when you peek behind the scenes, Kapitall sounds like a blast. In a study conducted with Google Analytics partner Empirical Path, Kapitall experimented with four different versions of its landing pages, based on Angry Birds, Mario, Space Invaders and Pac-Man respectively. (Angry Birds won, by the way, as sign-ups increased 44 percent. Goes to show what happens when video games duke it out.)

For now, it remains to be seen how successful Kapitall will be in growing its user base. But it’s a good bet we’ll only see more services of this type in the future — and if so, more power to those who develop them. While the art of investing may take a lifetime to master, that doesn’t mean newcomers can’t benefit from the kind of streamlining and icon-based shorthand that high-tech does so well. Hats off to Kapitall for creating a sleek investment platform wrapped in a user-friendly, non-threatening format.

Besides, as any experienced investor will tell you, making money should be fun. But who says you have to wait for the final payout to start enjoying yourself?

Have you ever used a game to boost your investment skills?

About the author

Total Articles: 33
Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL's WalletPop.com. Contact him with story ideas for Money Under 30 at [email protected], or follow him via LinkedIn and Twitter (@LouCarlozo63).