[Liveblog] Adrian Hon gets you fit – with a zombie apocalypse

Fitness apps with "gamification" aren't fun. Games which have health benefits. Adrian Hon is using a Zombie Apocalypse to get you fit.

Adrian Hon, Six to Start

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the first 48 hours after publication.

Health tracking devices are useful – but they don’t make exercise more fun. How do you fix that? Zombies, Run!!

You go for a run, with your phone and headphones. And then they use the data generated on your speed on location, and they turn that into a zombie apocalypse games. It’s not just zombies chasing you – that have 200 missions, with thousands of hours of audio, telling extensive stories. You collect supplies, to build up a base.

Obviously, you know the rescue missions aren’t real. But they make it more exciting. If you’re chased, you have to speed up. It’s interval training, basically. But if they catch you, you lose supplies.

They have an online service which tracks your runs. They’ve had 2m downloads, and the game the no.5 running app in the US. And they have a massive community. There’s people doing comics about it.

The problem with gamification

Lots of people call this “gamification”. Adrian hates the word. People don’t associate it with Mario Kart, they associate it with leaderboards and dashboards. They’ve taken games, extracted the fun, and used what’s left. It doesn’t work, either. People’s lifestyles and work lock them into particular positions on leaderboards, and that can be demotivating. Progress bars are not inherently fun.

That form of leaderboard-based gamification is not fun, other than for highly competitive people. After a few years, most people stop getting better at running. They plateau. Systems based on improvement work to get them excited, but not to keep them going at plateau.

Zombies, Run! combines exercise with the real word. Games like Ingress map the game onto reality. It works, but not that well. You can capture territory, but you can be destroyed too easily by someone much better at sport. It’s very demotivating for the people who need the most motivation.

The game matters, if you want fitness

Wii Fit was the most successful fitness app ever. It made $2bn. It was interesting, because it made exercising fun. But it didn’t really create much calorie burn. It was less than a fast walk. Dance Dance Revolution is not a fitness game. It’s a (kind of) dance game, but it burns a whole lot of calories. It’s a fun game where you happen to get fit.

They have another game which last 10 weeks, and which is designed to get you walking. Superhero Workout is aimed at the 7 minute home workout, with high-energy “missions”. Step buy Step combines walking with collection, with you earning animal companions that add to your walking targets.