Ponzi video game mocks Madoff

Cellufun users can build their own virtual Ponzi scheme, until they get caught or go broke.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com

made_off_fund.jpg
"Made Off" players pick a virtual fund to invest in. The higher the rate, the higher the risk. Losers go broke.
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Cellufun will announce a "Made Off" winner after the real Madoff, shown here in his mug shot, is sentenced on June 29.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As the real-life Bernard Madoff languishes in jail and awaits sentencing, a new online game called "Made Off" is mimicking his Ponzi scheme.

"Think you got what it takes to build a better Ponzi scheme than Bernie?" asks a tag line on the Web site for Cellufun, the company that created the game, which can be played on Internet-linked cell phones. "Always wanted to rob, cheat and steal from innocent investors? Well, now's your chance."

Players can create virtual Ponzi-style scams with rates of return ranging from 5% to 20%. There is no real money involved, only "CelluPoints" to be used in the company's virtual world.

To keep the scheme going, players need to attract virtual investments from online friends. They'll go bust if they can't get enough new friends to keep the scheme running.

"When your fund goes broke, you go, 'Holy crap, I didn't invite enough people,'" said Neil Edwards, chief executive of Cellufun, which is based on Wall Street in Manhattan.

Edwards said that he likes to "manipulate the emotions of the people who are playing our game." He said that when his site recently posted the headline "the markets are down," it inspired a selloff in the game, and some players went broke.

Edwards, who became CEO two months ago, said his gaming company has 1.7 million registered users, including the 20,000 participants who joined the "Made Off" game since its May 11 launch. He said the game will continue until sometime after the real-life Madoff's sentencing, scheduled for June 29. Then, he said that virtual Feds will shut down the game, and the top schemer will be declared the winner.

The real-life Madoff masterminded the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. A Ponzi scheme uses fresh investments from unsuspecting investors to make payments to more mature investors, to create the false appearance of legitimate returns. In reality, Madoff did not buy securities and did not invest the money, according to his courtroom confession.

Madoff has been locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan since March 12, when he pleaded guilty to 11 criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering and perjury. He could face a 150-year sentence.

Thousands of investors were victimized by Madoff's massive, long-running scheme, with losses in the billions of dollars. Investigators are still tallying the amount of the money that was stolen.

Edwards said the game is meant to poke fun at Madoff, but not his burned investors. Edwards said he is sympathetic to their situation, having lost money in the markets himself, though not to Madoff. He said he is considering adding a donation link to the Cellufun site for victims.

Edwards said the game is meant to be educational.

"There is a lot of misconception and confusion on what happened," he said. "People don't really understand a Ponzi scheme."

Edwards said that his nine-year-old daughter plays the game and she recently told him, "Dad, I've learned that this can't go on forever." To top of page

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