Wellness Gamification

Every successful business person learns this – often the hard way: Distribution is king!  Enter a big-box store, see the huge display, try the game.  We all do it. We don’t really know if we will like the game until we play – but we make a purchase.  Same with the movies – huge distribution equals many eyes, many tickets sold.

Nobody sets out to build a bad game the same way that nobody sets out to make a bad movie. But we’ve all seen too many bad movies. The extraordinary “sleeper” game or movie is always refreshing – and for those, distribution comes second, if at all.  That is the exception to the rule.  In our dedicated attempts to create a wellness culture, to get the 80% of the population that is least active to “start playing the wellness game,”  we work very hard. We try to connect with the influential “hubs” in a social network. We try to understand and implement the best that social networks, gamification and viral-sharing can deliver for wellness programing.  Are we headed in the right direction?

I will be part of a panel at Games for Health (Boston, May 17-19) with great leaders – Jenn Mercurio (Entertainment Consumers Assoc/Gamers for Health), Dr. Ernie Medina (MedPLay and National Active Gaming League) and Dr. Lisa Hansen (University of S. Florida and exergame pioneering expert).  Add up the revenues and there is no doubt that on a commercial level, for major videogame publishers, there has been a lot of success for exergaming. (Got Distribution – YES!)  Just factor in some of the success for entire platforms like Wii, Sony Move!, and Kinect and it’s clear that active or movement gaming is a success.  But is it a health success? Has it delivered momentum toward a wellness culture?

On one level, it certainly has, a series of small studies has shown, under the right conditions and situations, exergaming and active gaming offers a new tool to combat inactivity, deliver aerobic exercise, and related wellness/fitness factors.  However, the scale of success and impact in health pales in comparison to the sales success for those “games” with huge distribution.  This is a pattern that exists in other areas too including gym memberships, exercise equipment sales, etc.  But does it have to remain this way for active videogames/exergames?
We hope the discussion started at this session with continue over time and across distances. The subject is both complex and powerful.

The popular new buzz-word around all sort of customer/client behavior change is “gamification.”  Do a Google and Wikipedia search if you need some background information on that word. Gamification is a little bit a part of life. Isn’t everything a game? Isn’t everything a negotiation? Games are part of the fabric of human habits and choice. Some game mechanics go into fashion and out of fashion. But fundamentally, it is just about the psychology of a person and drawing them into an activity.  That is where we hope to make a powerful impact on the physical activity habits of the 80% least active in a population or community.  Wellness gamification – talk about design challenges.  More than game – it’s a life choice and health dilemma too expensive on so many levels to ignore.

Opportunity exists in this space like never before. Even non-gamers are touched by “social gaming” and mobile apps on a daily basis.   Social and mobile right now are part of the functionality of everything we experience. That easy access to huge groups of people could easily provide an entry point for doing wellness gamification badly. It would never be done badly by design – but perhaps by lack of understanding the deep motivators for wellness behavior among those who need wellness change the most.  If it were not so complex it would not become the cost-monster driving healthcare and national economy into financial ruin.

People like to play games and so gamification helps people to do the things they like doing more. An app that gamifies shopping is going to be wildly popular among people who really like to shop. So adding gamification to that activity-choice helps them to do more of the things that they really like to do. What gamification has not ever been successful at is getting people to do the things that they don’t like to do. I should eat less and work out more. I don’t like to eat less and I don’t like to work out more. And putting a score board against it is actually not going to get me to do even those things.

Our quest, our dream:  To create a game/gamification that rewards the behaviors that our least active populations already love to do, choose to do and do with friends and family – then connect those behaviors to relevant  physical activity participation. Of course,  there are limits to the gamification. It just becomes good program/product management for the things that a population likes to do. But it also has its limitations.  The pioneers in wellness gamification must acknowledge that. Understanding where those limitations are is really important.  Equally important is knowing the deeply rooted behaviors and choices of our target populations.  Aligning the challenge and solution design is neither obvious or easy.  The winners in the wellness gamification space will get it wrong – often – but can eventually get it right.

Tell us what you do. Hammer us with comments, questions, discussion threads and links to your blogs, your ideas and your insights.

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  1. April 20, 2011 at 8:06 am

    I really would love to gamify a hospital web site and/or Facebook page. The health/hospital concept is great for gamification as fun and health should go hand in hand. Would love to here ideas!

    • May 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      Did we connect? I am hoping you will be at the Games for health conf in Boston May 17-19. We could talk about your vision, and the team from BigDoor will be there too.

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