Return to site

What if exercise is addicting?

What if exercise is addicting?

At OliveX, we’ve been developing gamified fitness apps for the past 1.5 years and want share some of our mistakes and learnings. Also, as someone new to the game industry I want to share some of the things I learned about game design. I’ve always admired game developers because there seems to be so much knowledge behind great games: game design, game balance, story, game economy, etc.

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 learn and overcome complex UI.
  • Usually lacks a core loop to bring people back
  • Spending time here is often viewed as “wasted time”.
  • High motivation to learn UI and game mechanics
  • Usually steep learning curve to get going
  • 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, an analytics solution between roll your own custom analytics and mixpanel (raised $30 million, acquired by scaleworks).

“They all said there’s no market between Hadoop and Mixpanel. … And that’s because we’re gonna make it” — CEO of

Unique insight: there is a new category between apps and games. It’s called a companion (credit: Brie Code).

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 lean 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, in my experience most games developers want to stick with games. Game purists think games are inherently hard to make and balk at the idea of tying it with fitness, it’s not a true game they’d warn me.

An example of this is Brie Code’s TruLuv selfcare game. Most meditation apps have buttons and list views. In Brie’s game, it’s a room and the objects are interactive. It starts as a game first, app second.

Our gamified fitness apps

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

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.

Albeit being super sexist, the concept and game play is great.

Learn about Taiwan’s political issues through mini games. Ageing population in this one.

For each expense you record, you are rewarded with a new building.

I especially like Fortune city because it takes a mid/hard core mechanic (resource allocation) similar to fallout shelter to make expense tracking fun. This make the game playable for long enough to form a habit.

Why gamify fitness?

This is a great framework on how to motivate people

One of the biggest transition points in my life was completing the P90Xprogram. 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 nautilus 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 never 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?

The game that can give you 10 extra years of life!

I believe the best way to get everyone to exercise is through games. It’s super hard to motivate my mom and dad to change their habits but if I asked them to play a game, they’d love to!

My mission is to get EVERYONE more active. I want my relatives, my friends, the people I love to live longer. That is the mission I’m on.

Inspiring reading material

To end this post, I’m including some books that have inspired me on my mission.