When it comes to playing video games, Landon Donovan can hold his own at titles like "FIFA" and "Halo." But when it comes to the new PC game "Financial Soccer," well, Donovan admits he might be better at shooting aliens than answering questions about stocks and bonds. "I missed a lot," laughs Donovan as he talks about playing the game with the soccer players at Martin Luther King Jr. high school in New York. "A couple questions came up and I thought for sure I knew the answer, but I was wrong."
To break down the game Donovan was playing, Financial Soccer is an educational title setup online where gamers move the ball downfield by answering questions about the differences between a student loan and an educational grant and even whether or not a landlord's insurance covers a tenant's possessions (it doesn't).
"For me, this is something I'm passionate about because a lot of things you learn in school, you forget and they don't really teach you how to take care of yourself responsibly with your finances," says Donovan. "Honestly, I wish when I signed my first contract, someone would've been in my ear and told me to start saving as much as I could. I didn't go crazy, but I didn't think about the importance of putting money away that I wasn't going to use or didn't need. That would've been a nice lesson to learn at 18 as opposed to 25, but it's better that than never learning it.
"I think if you can get in the ear of teenagers when it's really the last thing on their mind, if you can convince them to save their money, it's an important thing to do. Your finances are very personal to you, but there are people around who can be of help to you. Too many people get caught up in trying to figure things out on your own. You don't have to. There are people all around who can help you. These people are experts at what they do and you need to tap into them for knowledge. Playing this game is a great way to get started learning. It's light-hearted, it's fun, and I know personal finance isn't the most exciting topic but this game does things to make it exciting. And the more you can learn early on, the bigger difference this will make later on in life. This game is something teachers and parents can do with kids to help them learn about finances in a really fun way. I had a blast playing, even if I'm better at "FIFA" than finances."
I caught up with Donovan after his "Financial Soccer" demo in New York to talk "FIFA," the U.S. team, and custom set pieces. Here's what he had to say.
Jon Robinson: I know you're a big gamer. What has you hooked lately?
Landon Donovan: Right now, I'm on a full-blown "Madden" fix. I play "Madden" at least an hour a day.
Jon Robinson: Who is your team?
Landon Donovan: The Raiders (in his best NFL Films voice). I grew up in L.A. and there was only a small window where you could choose either the Raiders or the Rams, and I chose the Raiders.
Jon Robinson: "FIFA 10" came out October 20. Are you anticipating the rise in the player and team ratings for the U.S. team?
Landon Donovan: Oh yeah. It's always interesting what changes are made and how the so called experts at EA rate our team. But it's all good. It's good for us. It's continued promotion for our team and U.S. soccer in general. This game is important for us. After 2006, the ratings have been pretty harsh for our team, but hopefully this year, the ratings weren't done before the Confederations Cup. Hopefully they made us a little better.
Jon Robinson: The new hook this year is creating your own custom set pieces, enabling gamers to design their own plays.
Landon Donovan: That's so awesome because in the past all you could do was the same little cross with the same two people.
Jon Robinson: So if I'm playing as the U.S. team, what's a custom set piece I should design?
Landon Donovan: This is what I would do because we just scored on it against El Salvador. A lot of the teams now try to pull offside traps when you take wide free kicks. So when you kick, they just pull their whole team out. So what we did, we sent most of our guys even with their line, but we left Clint Dempsey a little deeper away from the goal. Right as I took the set piece, he started moving and when their line pulled out, he snuck in right behind the line at the right time and scored. That was a sweet little play to keep him off the radar and get in a good spot to score.
Jon Robinson: EA might not like the U.S. team in the ratings, but they've always made you a badass. Have you been happy with your ratings throughout the years?
Landon Donovan: I think they love me because I went up and did motion-capture one year. They have always been good with my likeness and my face and how I look, but now, when I see the way I move, it's pretty amazing to watch. It's kind of strange to watch yourself like that, but EA has always been good to me.
Jon Robinson: What's your favorite celebration that they have your character do after a goal?
Landon Donovan: When I was doing motion-capture, one of the moves they were really pushing me to do was score a goal, run to the corner, then sit down, cross my legs and pretend like I was playing a video game. It was fun.
Jon Robinson: Let me flip from the soccer game to real life for a minute as there's no more sneaking up on anyone for the U.S. team in the World Cup after the success in the Confederations Cup.
We're at a point now where we can compete with most teams in the world on a consistent basis. That doesn't mean that we're always going to win, but that Brazil game to us, it wasn't a fluke. We are capable of that now.
”-- Landon Donovan
on the U.S. Soccer team
Landon Donovan: No, and that makes it a little more difficult, but I feel we're at a point now where we can compete with most teams in the world on a consistent basis. That doesn't mean that we're always going to win, but that Brazil game to us, it wasn't a fluke. We are capable of that now. The thing that makes Spain and Brazil and Italy and Germany so good is that they play at that high level consistently and we haven't found that consistency yet. It's not just about bringing it for one game or two games or one tournament, it's bringing it always and that's what we're striving for.
Jon Robinson: Were you aware of the fan reaction back in the States during the Confederations Cup? It seems like I had more friends watching and talking about those games than any U.S. soccer games in recent memory.
Landon Donovan: It was incredible. What was weird was that we were sort of in a bubble there because we were so far away from America. You don't know what the reaction and the reality is because you can't necessarily receive texts and we didn't really know what was going on. But when I got home and I landed at the airport, there were probably 50-75 fans outside just waiting for me and cheering and applauding. It absolutely blew me away and it really made me realize how important what we were doing was and how important it was for soccer in general and what a big boost it was for us.
Jon Robinson: Do you think the MLS needs more top talent from Europe to be successful? If not, what, if anything, will help the league succeed?
Landon Donovan: Good question. In my opinion, and everyone has an opinion on this, but in my opinion we need to build the league from the ground up and player number 18 on our roster needs to be better than they are now and player number 11 on our roster needs to be better than they are now. Every team has two or three guys who are very good players. They play on our national team or on their respective national team, and these guys are quality players, but we need more depth with the rest of our league. And that doesn't mean that we go out and sign Messi and Ibrahimovic. That means we go out and find good players in Central America, South America, Africa, Europe and you bring them in to make the game better and more competitive. Eventually the league will be very good and then you bring in those top-end stars to help make the league more viable with other leagues around the world.
Jon Robinson: Do you feel that you need to go back to Europe and find that success that's been so elusive in order for you to be viewed with more respect around the world or is your stellar play with the U.S. team enough?
Landon Donovan: I don't worry about that aspect of it. I want the U.S. team to be successful. It's not just as easy as saying I want to go to Europe and going to Europe. I still have a contract here for the next two years. Major League Soccer is a business, so they're not just going to let me go somewhere to let me go, so there are a lot of factors that play in. But for me, I want to finish the season with L.A. and next year is all about the World Cup. That's my goal and that's where my sights are. After that, then we can worry about my future.
Jon Robinson: Where do you think your individual skills rate with the best in the world?
Landon Donovan: When I play, I'm extremely confident in my abilities. I obviously know that there are players more talented than me, players who have been more successful at a high level, but I feel when I step out on the field that I can beat anybody that I'm playing against. That's what I believe and I think I've proven that. I'm confident that if I'm playing someone in any setting, I'm going to be better than they are.
Jon Robinson: You're rated an 81 in "FIFA 10," by the way.
Landon Donovan: Like I said, EA always takes care of me. I just hope they finally gave the U.S. team some respect in the ratings as well. I can't wait to play as our team.