People use the power of games, networks and data to change their behavior
What are Behavior Change Games?
Behavior Change Games use game design elements and the power of communities to motivate people to achieve challenging tasks in the real world. Behavior change games have been used to enable people to lead a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, recover from illness and injury, manage time and money, learn new skills, and engage with political and social causes.
The rise of behavior change games can be tracked to three changes in how people play games. First, social games on Facebook have widened the appeal of games beyond the video gaming niche of kids and young adults. For instance, Zynga’s Farmville (video) had more than 83 million monthly active users at its peak. Second, marketers, entrepreneurs and changemakers have adapted game design principles in contexts other than entertainment, to design marketing and loyalty programs, social networks and training software, and serious games for social impact. For instance, location-based social network Foursquare (video), which uses gamification to make “checking-in” more fun, crossed 25 million users in September 2012. And, third, the explosion in personal, social and location data has led to the popularity of the quantified self movement, enabling people to track and change their behaviors. For instance, 10 million people use personal finance management service Mint.com (video) to track over $80 billion in credit and debit transactions and almost $1 trillion in loans and assets.
Behavior change games use the power of games, networks and data to help people create meaningful change. In 2012, a number of niche behavior change games emerged across a diverse range of topics. Quentiq (video), FitBit (video), Nexercise (video), Healthrageous (video), Hotseat, Jawbone UP (video), Striiv (video) and Zamzee (video) help people track their workouts and activity automatically. Fitocracy, SuperBetter (video), Habitual, SlimKicker, Hubbub (video), HealthMonth, Mindbloom (video), HealthyHeroes (video) and Goalpost help people become healthier and develop good habits. PracticallyGreen, RecycleBank (video) and OPower (video) help people adopt a greener lifestyle and save electricity. Mint (video) and Payoff (video) help people manage their finances and debt. Urgent Evoke (video) and World Without Oil (video) educate people about social issues and encourage them to contribute to solutions. Code Academy and DuoLingo (video) help people master a programming language, or learn French. Epic Win (video) and The Email Game (video) help people increase their productivity and complete tasks or clear their email inbox. Finally, Goodify (video), Keas (video), Shape Up and Youtopia (video) are focused on organizations and schools, and help them motivate employees and students to volunteer or get fit.
Some of these behavior change games have also created social impact at scale. Shape Up has helped 700,000 people lose 1 million pounds, PayOff has helped members pay off $41 million of debt, and OPower has helped people reduce energy consumption by 1.6 billion kilowatt hours and save $179 million on electricity bills.
The success of behavior change games shows that people can change deeply entrenched behaviors and form lasting good habits, if they are able to break up big challenges into small goals, receive feedback on their progress, and tap into their networks for support.
This is not surprising. Game researcher Jane McGonigal, who is also the author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World explains why such games work:
“Gamers spend on average 80% of their time failing in game worlds, but instead of giving up, they stick with the difficult challenge and use the feedback of the game to get better. With some effort, we can learn to apply this resilience to the real-world challenges we face.”
How do Behavior Change Games work?
Most behavior change games include four game design mechanisms: setting goals and missions, tracking progress, receiving incentives, and receiving support.
The first step in most behavior change games involves setting a goal and missions, quests or challenges to achieve the goal. Players have missions assigned to them, choose from a set of pre-configured missions, or create their own missions. Missions range in difficulty, and new players are encouraged to start with easier missions before proceeding to more difficult ones. On Mint (video) and Payoff (video), typical goals include paying off a credit card debt or buying a house, while on Fitocracy and SuperBetter (video) typical missions include eating healthier or working out.
Most behavior change games track progress by asking players to complete virtual tasks (Urgent Evoke (video), World Without Oil (video), Code Academy and DuoLingo (video)) or self-report on their progress (RecycleBank (video), Fitocracy and SuperBetter (video) ), while some automatically track data through sensors and feeds (Quentiq (video), Nexercise (video), Zamzee (video), OPower (video), Mint (video) and Payoff (video)). Most games use points, rankings, levels and leader boards to help players measure their progress and compare their performance to friends, similar others, and other players. For instance, OPower compares players’ energy consumption to that of their neighbors and Mint compares peoples’ spending habits across categories such as coffee, phone bills and gas. These benchmarks help players re-evaluate their missions and encourage a healthy sense of competition, both to beat their own best performance and that of their friends.
Players receive incentives when they accomplish tasks such as completing their profile, inviting friends, sharing their progress, or achieving a milestone. Incentives range from rewards like points, virtual goods and unlocked content; recognition through badges, levels, titles and special privileges; and in some cases real-life prizes including cash prizes (Payoff.com) and holidays packages (RecycleBank). Incentives are effective in attracting first-time players, helping them get started and creating fun and excitement. After they are hooked and begin to successfully complete missions, players receive the ultimate incentive to keep playing – they see a change in their behavior and experience a sense of pride and self-empowerment.
Most behavior games are intrinsically social in nature. They encourage players to share their performance with their social networks and connect them to other people who have struggled with or overcome similar challenges. These communities of friends and like-minded strangers offer players support, encouragement, advice and, when needed, a good dose of peer pressure. In some games, friends have specific roles to play; for instance, in SuperBetter, players invite allies to create special missions for them, while in Urgent Evoke, players give power votes and act as mentors for others.
Behavior change games work best when they are designed with wonder, playfulness and storytelling at their core. In spite of the hype around gamification and the success of white label gamification solutions like Badgeville (video), Bunchball (video), and BigDoor, it’s not enough to just add community or game elements to boring tasks.
“Wonder, one of the strongest emotions of game design, rivets player attention and unleashes powerful neurochemicals that facilitate learning. At the heart of every intellectual pursuit, at the root of nearly all engagement, wonder keeps players coming back.”
“Games tend to be experiential teaching; stories teach vicariously. Games are good at objectification; stories are good at empathy. Games tend to quantize, reduce, and classify; stories tend to blur, deepen, and make subtle distinctions. Games are external – they are about people’s actions; stories are internal – they are about people’s emotions and thoughts.”
Behavior Change Games for Brands
Brands are beginning to create their own behavior change games, as marketing campaigns, smart phone or social apps and even sensor-enabled products, to help people change their behavior in an area that is aligned with the brand purpose.
Several brands are adding game elements or even creating social games to deepen engagement with their grassroots change movement campaigns. These are typically short term contests, tied to marketing campaigns or important events, with prizes for participation. For example, MTV created the MTV Fantasy Election (video) to educate and engage young voters around the 2012 U.S. elections. Players created teams of politicians and gained or lost points based on their team’s performance on five criteria — civility, transparency, honesty, engagement and public opinion — calculated by using data from social networks and non-partisan civil society organizations.
Other brands are creating smart phone or social network applications that enable consumers to sign up for challenges, self-report on their progress, and get the support of their friends to stay fit. For example, GE has created a series of social apps including HealthyShare (video) and Fit Friendzy (video) as part of its Healthymagination (video) initiative to help players stay fit.
Finally, sports and fitness brands are creating sensor-enabled products and creating games and communities around them to enable people to automatically track their personal data and use it to change their behaviors. Nike with Nike+ has been an early leader in creating a behavior change game ecosystem, including the Nike+ community, Nike+ iPhone and Android apps (video) and several Nike+ products including the Nike FuelBand (video). Since 2006, Nike has motivated its community of 7 million people to achieve 13 million daily fitness goals, run 733 million miles, and burn 27 billion calories. Now, Adidas is trying to replicate its success with miCoach (video).
Behavior Change Games case studies
Throughout the year, we have tracked the conversations around a number of behavior change platforms and branded behavior change programs in our weekly insights reports and quarterly magazines; here are a few highlights.
Web platform: SuperBetter
Launched in 2012, SuperBetter is a super-hero themed online game that helps people improve their resilience, meet their health goals, recover from illness or injury, and have fun along the way.
The game packages everyday occurrences into elements of a super-hero story and offers a new perspective to solving daily challenges. For instance, obstacles are ‘bad guys’ or ‘villains’ that need to be defeated in order to win. As one player commented:
“The very idea has changed the way I approach work – as a challenge to defeat and earn my reward (pride).”
As part of the story, players choose personas for themselves. Personas can be based on real or fictional heroes and help motivate players to achieve goals they previously considered impossible. As SuperBetter player Courtney Sloan commented:
“The gaming aspect allowed me to step away from myself and do things not because I wanted to, but because my hero self would not take no for an answer. She had the willpower, so would I.”
SuperBetter relies on the power of its community to help motivate people. Players are encouraged to invite family and friends, or other members of the SuperBetter community, to become their “allies.” Allies keep players motivated with words of encouragement and by creating new quests for them. Alex Goldman reflected:
“I suppose this is a bit of a no-brainer, but I was shocked at how motivating it was to have other people designing quests for me. The quests I created for myself seemed so pedestrian by comparison.”
As success stories begin to emerge, acupuncture student Jason Lay commented:
“I see healthcare professionals of different strokes being very interested in SuperBetter. The potential for hands-off delivery and training of health-promoting habits and attitudes is tremendous using this gaming model.”
SuperBetter has over 100,000 members and people have used the game to meet health challenges ranging from sleeping disorders, obesity and self-confidence issues, and even to meet ‘life challenges’ such as completing a novel.
Branded program: MTV Fantasy Election
To educate and engage 18-29 year olds around the 2012 U.S. elections, MTV launched Fantasy Election – a game in which players create teams of politicians and gain or lose points based on the politicians’ real-life behavior. For instance, politicians received points for engaging with their constituency on social networks or in a town hall, and lost points for inaccurate statements and uncivil advertising. Players who selected “good” politicians scored more points, climbed the leader board and increased their chances of winning prizes.
TIME journalist Keith Wagstaff noted:
“The idea is that while Millennials might not venture to a host of dry political sites to keep track of which politicians are disclosing funding sources and making false claims, they might pay attention if their Fantasy Election team loses points — especially if those points can lead to prizes like a trip for four to the Video Music Awards.”
MTV offered a total of 3,022 prizes ranging from $5 gift cards to an all expense paid trip for four to the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards to keep people engaged during the two month campaign.
The game also gives political issues a much needed layer of fun. As blogger Gary Henkle noted:
“Fantasy Election ‘12 can definitely be used as a tool by student activists to bring their disengaged friends on board. For any friend who says “I want to be more involved, but I don’t know how this works,” this game makes discovery of the political process more fun than a didactic civics lesson, and as mentioned brings awareness in less time.”
MTV Fantasy Election replaces MTV’s 20-year “Choose or Lose” election slogan with a campaign more suited for today’s youth. As Keith Wagstaff said:
“The days of simply prompting young people to vote from a rock concert are over; twenty-somethings expect everything to be online — and that includes political engagement.”
Branded product Nike FuelBand
In 2012, Nike introduced the Nike FuelBand – a wearable product that measures people’s daily activities and work outs in a virtual metric called NikeFuel. People can view their performance data on their smart phones or the Nike+ website and can compare results and NikeFuel earned with friends and members of the 7 million strong Nike+ community.
Nike targets the “everyday athlete” with the FuelBand. As journalist Jessica Stanley observed:
“Just Do It’ is one of the best positioning statements in the world, but customers started to change. Don’t just say it, help us.”
The FuelBand does this by re-positioning everyday activities and chores as a sport, measuring people’s daily activities and rewarding them for doing more. The concept of instant feedback immediately appealed to self-trackers, like Jenna Wortham, who commented:
“From the moment I wrapped the band around my wrist, I was enamored with the idea of a device that could help me collect data about my habits and behavior, so that I could try to improve them.”
Ever present on the wrists of the owner, the FuelBand displays the amount of NikeFuel earned for the day, and motivates people to meet their daily goal.
MSLGROUP’s Gaurav Mishra talks about how the NikeFuel band has helped him become more active:
“I am a big believer in breaking down a large challenge into small challenges and ticking them off in public. I remember that the year I first bought a Nike+ shoe was the year I ran most regularly. The instant feedback and the sense of progress were almost addictive. Then, I lost the sensor, and lost my stride. I bought a NikeFuel band a few weeks back and I have seen my activity levels go up significantly since then. Instead of taking a taxi, I walk 3+ km to work, both ways, and I am planning to buy a bike for the weekends. I even created a goal on Nike Plus to finish 2012 active.”
Another FuelBand user Alyson Shontell wrote:
“The mix of guilt and competition the FuelBand makes you feel pushes you to make healthier decisions.”
The Nike FuelBand is the latest addition to Nike’s suite of fitness tracking products, all of which incorporate some elements of games, networks and data to help people achieve their fitness goals.
The Future of Behavior Change Games
We believe that we are only beginning to understand the potential of behavior change games to create meaningful change for individuals, communities and the world, and also their many risks. In the future, behavior change games that tap into the power of games, networks and data will become pervasive across business, civil society and government organizations and permeate all aspects of society.
“Games and real life are reaching out to each other with such force that we might come to a condition of “gamepocalypse—-where every second of your life you’re playing a game in some way.”
We expect the gamification enterprise solutions ecosystem to mature, and new startups to focus on niches like governance and public services, health and wellness, environment and sustainability, and education and learning. For instance, UBoost offers gamification solutions tailored for education and health.
We expect behavior change games to also become more focused on specific demographics, diseases or habits, to create customized experiences and close-knit communities. For instance, Goalpost has created a 12-week game to help people quit smoking and Zamzee (video) focuses on helping teens become more active.
Specifically, we expect healthcare and insurance companies to work with governments to explore behavior change games as cost-effective ways to manage, treat and prevent long-term illness such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. As Dustin DiTommaso, VP of Experience Design at Mad*Pow, said:
“Each year, billions of dollars are spent to move our behaviors in a healthier direction to avert crisis such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other costly and painful afflictions. Leveraging the motivational dynamics of game play to energize and sustain people through behavior change is a challenging yet profound solution.”
We expect to see a new generation of innovative sensor-based gadgets designed to track data and trigger behavior change in niche areas. Products like the Withings blood pressure monitor, FitBit Aria Wi-Fi scale (video), MyZeo sleep manager (video) and Changers solar charger (video) are early examples of this trend.
We expect brands to create their own behavior change game ecosystems, like Nike did with Nike Plus, or acquire innovative startups that integrate the power of game, network and data, like Intuit did with Mint (video). Other brands will sponsor third party behavior change games and make them available for employees and associates like Aetna did with Mindbloom Life Game (video).
We also expect more brands to partner with games to create dedicated versions for their employees, like Zappos did with SuperBetter. Zappos was a development partner with of SuperBetter from the game’s inception, and Zappos employees were the first to use SuperBetter to achieve their health goals.
Finally, we expect more start ups like Goodify (video), Keas (video), Shape Up and Youtopia (video) to offer solutions for companies to inspire employees and engage them around health and wellness, and social service, and we expect these startups to specialize around narrow niches.
This is the second report from our upcoming People’s Insights Annual Report titled “Now & Next: Future of Engagement,” to be published as an interactive iPad app. The report will highlight the ten most important frontiers that will define the future of engagement for marketers, entrepreneurs and changemakers: Crowdfunding, Behavior Change Games, Collaborative Social Innovation, Grassroots Change Movements, Co-creation Communities, Social Curation, Transmedia Storytelling, Collective Intelligence, Social Live Experiences and Collaborative Consumption.
In each of these reports, we start by describing why they are important, how they work, and how brands might benefit from them; we then examine web platforms and brand programs that point to the future (that is already here); then finish by identifying some of the most important features of that future, with our recommendations on how to benefit from them.
Do subscribe to our email newsletter to receive each report and also an invite to download a free copy of the interactive iPad app.