10 ‘Budget Balancer’ Tools And Games From Newsrooms Worldwide

As legislative sessions start to kick off in states around the country, newsrooms will undoubtedly be looking for ways to cover various negotiations and budget crises. The idea of a “budget balancing” game is nothing new — lots of newsrooms have tried it — but many have taken their own conceptual approaches. Here are a few different examples:

1. New York Times — Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget

This approach lets users select multiple options (tax increases and spending cuts) then watch on a scale how much money those decisions make in the short-term and longterm. You can read more about the methodology on the Economix blog.

Best feature: See impacts on both the short-term and long-term 

2. LA Times — California Budget Balancer

The LA Times first lets you select a starting point based on how much you’d spend on public schools, and from there, you can granularly reduce or eliminate funding in other areas using a slider. As you make decisions, you watch the remaining deficit drop. Unlike the NYT approach, the LA Times lets the user have more control over the values inputted, rather than basing it off real-life proposals.

Best feature: When you’ve come to a proposal you’re happy with, you can see your breakdown for where money is allocated, then share it on social media. 

 3. BBC — Budget: What would you cut?

Somewhat similarly to the LA Times, the BBC gives you multiple high-level categories and lets you choose on a slider how much you would spend or raise taxes. They don’t show you a progress bar so you can see how much you’ve cut from the overall deficit, though.

Best feature: Putting into real terms how much each cut would cost. For example, 18 percent cuts in health is the equivalent to the cost of 180 days of running a hospital.


4. AZ Central — Budget Balancer

Arizona’s budget balancer gives users a list of options in various categories that you can toggle off and on to watch its impact on the state’s deficit.

Best feature: After users submit results, AZ Central saves them for future visits.

5. Minnesota Public Radio — Budget Balancer

MPR took a different approach from most other news orgs in creating a budget game. First of all, it was created in Flash, which I can’t endorse — but it was made in 2007 when that was cool. Conceptually, rather than showing you a progress bar to reduce a deficit, they give you a full spectrum as a gauge, and you can fall into the red (deficit), green (balanced) or blue (surplus) zones.

 Best feature: As you make decisions about cutting or spending, a message at the top tells you about what you need to do. Example: “You need to cut taxes, spend more, or give it back,” the message reads if you have a surplus.

6. SacBee — Erase California’s remaining budget deficit

The Sacramento Bee’s budget balancer, also built in Flash, is similar to the others out there, in that it lets you toggle on or off various proposals in different categories and watch the deficit fall on a spectrum.

Best feature: You can see a complete list of how readers ranked various choices presented. 

7. American Public Media — Budget Hero

This one takes the approach of a true “game” moreso than an interactive. The game opens with an introductory video that explains the situation before you jump into it. The scene is set 10 years in the future to show the impacts of current policy and spending if nothing is changed. You make decisions and play cards to try to lower the deficit.

Best feature: Users earn badges based on goals they set in the beginning of the game.


8. APP — You be the governor

APP.com’s deficit-o-matic game lets users be the governor by filling in empty fields with preferences for raising taxes and cutting the budget.

Best feature: Users immediately see the results of decisions they make. Example: “You’ve just broken your biggest campaign pledge.”

9. MinnPost — You fix the Minnesota deficit

The MinnPost has a fairly simple-looking game that lets users select radio boxes and check boxes with different options at creating a budget. It’s not a heavily visual interactive, but it is educational.

Room to improve: The one feature that would have made this more useful would be some kind of progress bar or a fixed position to see the total so users can see a high-level view of their progress. 


10. Boston.com — How would you cut the Massachusetts budget by $12.6 billion?

Boston’s Flash game takes users through various screens where they can slide values for subcategories to granularly adjust values on a spectrum. Rather than giving you a list of many options, Boston.com takes you through each option on its own page, sort of like a Wizard view.

 Best feature: Every decision the user makes displays a direct result of that decision in a panel on the right.