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Umoo boasts virtual trading without much risk

An online virtual trading game might not be anything new, but Umoo provides real-time trading for gamers looking to make a little cash.

Umoo is a virtual stock-trading platform that is, admittedly, a little late to the market. There are several virtual stock-trading games, including a prominent app from Marketwatch called the Virtual Stock Exchange. Realizing that, I wasn't sure if there was any more room for a game like Umoo.

I'm still not entirely sure.

Umoo (pronounced You-Moo) was originally started in Israel, but it has quickly made its way to the United States. In fact, the game originally only allowed gamers to trade on U.S. markets. But after building a small following, the company realized that it wasn't maximizing its monetization potential, so it opened it up to global markets to attract English-speaking gamers around the world. And that's where it finds itself today.

The premise
Umoo is a virtual stock-trading game. But it does it a little differently than most of its competitors. Rather than ask you to invest in a handful of companies and see how you did after the market closes, Umoo tries to replicate a real stock-trading environment by providing real-time trades. So, if your portfolio includes Best Buy and its share price is tanking for some reason, you can dump the stock and buy something new. It makes Umoo more realistic.

Winning some cash
Although you're given 100,000 virtual points to trade with in free games, Umoo's real appeal is in its cash games. Those games, which are created by Umoo employees, require all players to pay an entry fee before they can join the game. After investing the cash, each player is given the same amount of money to invest with during the timed game. The players with the highest returns on investment win cash prizes. Paid games run "24/5", since global markets aren't open on weekends.

Pick your game in Umoo. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

I was a little disappointed with Umoo's profit-sharing plan. Games can be played for as little as $1, but some go up to $100. In either case, Umoo is taking the lion's share of the cash. For example, one $5 game that's currently available in the app, awards the winner $11.96 for achieving the highest return on their investment. Umoo has, so far, collected $65. An Umoo representative told me that the percentages it takes from each game decline as the cash pool increases, but I noticed a sizable discrepancy in every game between the amount of cash available and what the person actually wins. If the company wants to attract more users, it needs to pay more cash.

During my meeting with Umoo, the company was also quick to remind me that it is legal to play. Even though cash does exchange hands, the company said Umoo is a game of skill, rather than chance, making it legal across the globe.

The gaming experience

I really like Umoo's design. Moving your way around the many menus is quick and easy. The options are readily available. And for the most part, the game's trading is self-explanatory.

Unlike many other virtual-trading games that rely heavily on a basic, financial theme, Umoo keeps it clean and simple. Using this game was a treat.

Umoo lets you build a portfolio quickly. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Playing and trading
Playing games on Umoo is a mixed bag. At times, the game can be fun when you are in a game with many users and you're discussing stock ideas. At other times, when it's just a free game or there aren't many other users, you'll find that it's a little boring. Umoo is the kind of game that requires you to check back periodically to see how your portfolio is performing. That element cuts down on its engagement.

Making trades is quick and easy. After you sign up for a game, you're asked to build your portfolio. You can either choose companies from an alphabetical listing, pick your stocks based on how well shares have performed in recent days, or use the company's Slots feature, which randomly selects five companies that you might want to buy. To eliminate the "game of chance" element, Umoo makes you buy the stocks listed in the Slots menu before they can be added to the portfolio.

Umoo features a slots-like stock-picking app. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Once you have your stocks added to your portfolio, you'll need to wait for the game to start. Once it has, you can see your ranking among the other players, buy and sell more stocks, short a particular stock, and more. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it mimicked real trading.

One of my biggest issues with Umoo is that you can't create your own game. Instead, Umoo staff is constantly populating the site with new games that let you trade on the Nasdaq Global Market, S&P 500, and other markets. The company told me that it plans to allow users to create games in the next version of the app, which should be made available by the end of the year.

Bottom line
Overall, I liked Umoo. It's a fine trading platform that's designed well. But I'm not convinced that it's any better than many of its competitors. I just don't see Umoo offering mass-market appeal until users can create their own games. So while Umoo is worth trying out, beware that it's still in desperate need of a few improvements before it can appeal to everyone who wants to virtually trade stocks online for what amounts to be relatively small cash prizes.