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Gamification - Serious games

What if we can make exercise as addictive as games?

I've been trying to gamify fitness in the past 1.5 years and want to write down some of the distilled learnings I've made. I think this is interesting because I believe there are 2 camps of developers: apps and games. I've always considered games developers to be smarter because it's just a more competitive field with 80% of the revenue of the app stores.

Difference between apps and games

My understanding is that apps aim to solve a particular problem in the least amount of time. Whilst games aim to provide the most engaging experience for as long as possible.


  • Easy to use
  • Useful
  • Users have low motivation to overcome poor UI
  • Usually lacks a core loop to bring people back


  • Spending time here is often viewed as "wasted time". 
  • High motivation to learn UI
  • Usually complicated controls
  • High engagement and usage time
  • Addictive

Based on my observations, there's a white gap between apps and games. I love white gaps because I believe you must have a unique insight to define a new category to build an exciting business. Examples include, plum, boxful.

Unique insight: there is a new category between apps and games.

Difficulty finding a balance

As I later learned, it's difficult to find a balance in this white gap. Do we lean towards a game like Garfield fit or learn towards an app like 22 pushups.

After lots of experiments, I now believe that we need to lean towards the game side. Most companies try to add gamification to an app. I believe you need to start with a game and then add app elements. This way, you get the engagement of a game and solve a problem with an easy to use interface at the same time.

You need the DNA of a games developer to develop a serious game. However, most games developers want to stick with games. It's already hard to make games, why make it even harder.

Our gamified fitness apps

We just crossed 1 million downloads across our portfolio and learned alot.

  • 22 pushups
  • 100 squats challenge
  • Garfield fit

My favorite serious games

One of the best ways to learn about game design is to deconstruct games. I've learned so much from deconstructor of fun and extra credits deconstructing games, I hope to do something similar with some of my favorite games.

Why gamify fitness?

One of the biggest transition points in my life was completing the P90X program. I remember not being able to do a single pullup or tricep dip and attempting this program. Everyone thought I would fail. I woke up at 5:30am everyday to do it and through it, I proved to myself I could accomplish anything.

Thinking back to my childhood, my fondest memories were times spent playing video games. How I spent the entire summer playing red alert for 12 hours straight, how I went on a winning eleven marathon with my friend Eric Lee to claim the "eternal champion" title or spending hours perfecting my bursting with my AK-47 in counter strike.

Why was I so motivated to spend hours in video games yet find it so hard to exercise? Why are fitness workouts generally so boring and repetitive?

I kept coming back to 2 main thesis:

  1. What if we can make exercise as addicting as games?
  2. What if we can make exercise as fun as games?
When people think of hitting the gym, they think of pain and suffering. Rows and rows of nautica torture machines. Why does this have to be?

I wrote a book on game based learning in basketball. Instead of 10 people lining up to shoot from the same spot 1 by 1, we should be playing games. There is no better way to prepare you for a basketball game then playing games with a real defender. You can practice all you want with cones but you will be able to mimic a real person under pressure. Plus it's way more fun to play games than "drilling". This must be true with workouts.

Why games?

Animals in the wild all play games. All kids do is play. It is the best way to learn. It provides an environment where you can fail over and over again yet also succeed within your skill level.

Reading material that inspires

I've been reading everything I can about serious games. Here are some of my favorites.