The main takeaway from Yu-kai Chou’s Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards is that design experiences, particularly those involving gamification, need to be designed for humans. That’s why Yu-kai refers to them as human-focused.
Fitness should be human-focused too. It’s not only about getting you outside and moving (like Pokemon Go), but about improving health and fitness and getting tangible results over time. I would add, for the long term. It’s pretty easy to build a product that works for 1 or 2 or 6 months, but there are precious few that people will use for beyond 6 months.
Here are the top 10 fitness apps to watch (or use!) in 2017.
As always, I’ll refer to the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis. As a bonus, I will mention a few Game Techniques along the way, too!
Edit: There are a LOT of fitness apps. Tell me which ones I missed in the comments or on Octalysis Explorers on Facebook!
I’ve written about the Fitbit before, but it’s safe to say it remains a prevalent among regular users and athletes alike, from urban commuters to runners and bikers.
Game technique: Fitbit does pretty well with Progress Bars (GT#4, CD2) for steps and Leaderboards (GT#2, CD2/5) in its social challenges.
What could make it better: There isn’t much social creativity (for collaboration or competition) in the app. I’d love to see MiniQuests in a social environment built in, or maybe even Protector Quests (GT#36, CD4/8) combo’d with some kind of streaking effect (like your streak is threatened unless you do a random curiosity workout challenge!).
Shape Up for the XBox one uses motion sensor technology and animated environments to elevate competition via challenges. If you watch the above video, you’ll get an idea of how spouses can use it to stay fit in their home.
Game technique: Visual Storytelling (GT#77, CD1/2) gives motivational boosts in realtime.
What could make it better: There is little in the way of personal body management and the Alfred Effect (GT#83, CD4). Here’s a review with a similar sentiment:
I was never asked to input weight, height, body frame, male/female, etc… I’ve played other games on my Wii that have done this where you can track tons of stuff like the above as well as meal information and such.
Skimble gives you a digital personal trainer through a trainer marketplace. Your digital coach offers video courses so you can learn and stay on track. Based on your preferences, the trainer offers additional workouts as you progress.
For the accountability of a personal trainer at less cost, Skimble has become one of the leading apps for Android in fitness.
Game technique: Accountability gets high marks. Effectively, this is Mentorship (GT#61, CD5).
What could make it better: While chat is nice, a trainer physically with you would give even higher mentorship and correction of form and further motivation. I could see Refreshing Content (GT#73, CD7) being a problem unless the trainer really knows what they are doing and knows each trainee really well.
Strava is for runners and bikers for map-like tracking.
One premium feature allows your trusted contacts to know where you are with a link to the map. This reminds me a little of tension-filled adventures in the new Zelda game, where Link can actually die of starvation or drowning (in the new Nintendo Switch version).
My older brother goes on 4-hour bike-rides and 2-hour runs (or longer), and I do sometimes worry about whether he will get home safe, especially when he is pushing his body so hard and has the added danger of being on roads in the dark.
Game technique: With Premium, you get the license to go on “dangerous” quests with the safety beacon to loved ones. I’m actually not sure what to call this!
What could make it better: Mint is really solid, but they could improve their family plans for even more CD5.
RunKeeper is pretty simple, but an effective way to log runs in duration, average pace, and calories burned.
Game technique: The Schedule (GT#?, CD2) lets you monitor your runs against your planned runs, just like Seinfeld marking off his calendar.
What could make it better: I’d love to see user-generated routes and trails and challenges (especially since there are over 30 million people on the app!).
5. Rithmio Edge
Rithmio is a wearable stat tracker for weight lifters. In its simplicity of design, it actually does what it advertises pretty well. It pretty much does three things:
- In-workout rep tracking
- Post-workout log
- Muscles worked activity tracking
Game technique: I like the simple implementation of Progress Bars (GT#4, CD2). Nothing too fancy. The wearable adds a visual cue.
What could make it better: For what it aims to do, I don’t see any obvious improvements.
MyFitnessPal is a calorie counter and fitness tracker. I’ve heard that the macros and nutrition stats aren’t perfect (so check multiple sources), but otherwise it does a great job of incorporating streaking and other progress tactics. I like that nutrition is combined with exercise.
Game technique: Measurement! By knowing exactly what you eat and when, users benefit over time through that knowledge. Step-by-step overlays (GT#6, CD2/3) are effective in Onboarding.
What could make it better: Just personal preference, but I’d be a fan of adding Lost Progress (GT#81, CD8) to deter users from eating junk food.
Fitocracy is a fitness social network at its core that helps everyone get to the next level of fitness. It does this through the combination of community, knowledge, and gamification. – Richard Talens (Co-founder)
Still going strong after several years, Fitocracy has built quite a human network of people and continues to invest in gamification to improve the experience.
Game technique: The fitness assessment, nutrition, built-in workouts (Head Start), and accountability through community use a variety of techniques and core drives.
What could make it better: For $1 per day, you can hire an accountability coach. I think they could improve this pricing model to keep more people hitting their fitness goals for the long term.
2. Beat Saber (VR: Virtual Reality)
When most people think of home workouts, they imagine yoga mats, resistance bands, or maybe even a stationary bike. But what if there was a way to get a full-body workout while slicing through flying blocks with virtual lightsabers, all to the beat of your favorite music? That’s where Beat Saber enters the scene.
What is Beat Saber?
For the uninitiated, Beat Saber is a virtual reality (VR) rhythm game where players use lightsabers to slash at blocks that come flying towards them. Each block corresponds to a musical beat, and as the tracks become more complex, the physical demands increase, turning casual gameplay into a sweaty workout session.
Here’s Why Beat Saber is a Stealthy Fitness App:
- Cardio in Disguise:
Just like dancing or aerobics, Beat Saber gets your heart rate up. As you dodge obstacles and slash blocks, your body is constantly in motion. Play a few songs in a row, and you’ll realize you’re not just gaming – you’re getting a cardiovascular workout.
- Upper Body Workout:
Your arms are in near-constant motion, swinging, slashing, and reaching. Over time, you can actually build arm strength and endurance, especially if you’re playing on harder levels or using weighted wristbands.
- Flexibility and Agility:
Some tracks will have you ducking and dodging walls or bending to hit low-lying blocks. This fluid movement works on your flexibility and hones your agility as you react quickly to the game’s demands.
- Stamina Building:
As you progress through levels, the speed and complexity of tracks increase. This requires sustained energy, building your stamina as you tackle more challenging songs.
- Mental Health Boost:
Beyond the physical, Beat Saber, like many rhythm games, can be a form of mental relaxation. Getting lost in the music and the flow of the game can be meditative, providing a mental break from the stressors of daily life.
- Motivation Through Gamification:
The in-built progression system, leaderboards, and desire to master tracks provide continual motivation. Unlike traditional workouts that might feel repetitive over time, Beat Saber continually introduces new songs and challenges to keep players engaged and returning for more.
No need for large spaces or fancy gym equipment. With a VR headset and a bit of room to move, you can get a solid workout in the comfort of your home.
In essence, Beat Saber seamlessly merges the world of fitness and gaming, making exercise not just a routine but an exhilarating experience. It’s proof that sometimes, the best workouts come from unexpected sources. So, if you’re looking to change up your fitness regimen or just want a fun way to break a sweat at home, it might be time to pick up those virtual lightsabers and slash your way to better health!
1. Pokémon GO (AR: Augmented Reality)
The Stealthy Fitness App You Never Knew You Needed. For many, the term “fitness app” conjures images of step counters, heart rate monitors, and virtual workout coaches urging you to complete one more rep. But what if I told you that one of the most popular gaming apps in the world is subtly encouraging millions to get off their couches, lace up their shoes, and hit the streets? Enter Pokémon GO.
1. The Premise:
At its core, Pokémon GO uses augmented reality to layer the colorful world of Pokémon onto our own. The goal? Travel around to catch these virtual creatures, known as Pokémon. But there’s a catch (pun intended): These creatures aren’t just waiting for you in your living room. They’re at your local park, down the street, even in the next town over!
2. The Walking Mechanic:
Many Pokémon GO features are designed with movement in mind. For instance:
- Eggs: These in-game items hatch into Pokémon, but only after players walk a specific distance, ranging from 2 to 10 kilometers. Want that rare Pokémon? Better get walking!
- PokéStops and Gyms: Scattered throughout the world, these locations require players to physically move to them. Whether to collect resources or battle other Pokémon, visiting these places is essential.
3. Adventure Sync:
This feature tracks your steps, even when the app is closed. The more you walk, the more curious rewards and pokemons you get to encounter. It’s basically a pedometer with a fun twist! (Core Drive 7: Unpredictiability and Curiousity)
4. Community Days and Special Events:
Periodically, the game holds special events where certain Pokémon appear more frequently for a limited time. These events often draw players outside to play and walk for hours. (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness)
5. Social Aspect:
Players can connect with friends, compete in challenges, and even trade Pokémon. This often leads to meet-ups and group walks, turning a solo exercise into a social outing. (Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness)
6. Exploring New Places:
The game’s design encourages discovering new places. Many players end up visiting parks, historical landmarks, and other sites they might never have thought to explore before playing Pokémon GO. (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling)
In essence, Pokémon GO, under the guise of a game, has crafted a genius strategy to motivate users to exercise. The game has transformed mundane walks into thrilling adventures, where every step could lead to a rare Pokémon or valuable in-game item. Fitness doesn’t always have to come from a traditional workout or a jog around the track. Sometimes, all it takes is a little augmented reality and the promise of catching ’em all.
Pokemon Go is an ingenius fitness app design. Player can couple the technology with other fitness products like Fitbit from list #1. I also have an analysis of Pokemon Go which talks about 27 Game Design Techniques used in Pokemon Go. I hope you enjoyed learning from this list of classics and newer design. In the comments below, let us know what you thought about the classics and the new methods!
Conclusion: The Evolution of Gamified Fitness
Our exploration of the top 10 fitness apps shows how gamification has reshaped our approach to health. These apps, both classic and new, transform routines into challenges, tapping into our drive for play and achievement. By merging game elements with fitness goals, they make the path to health more engaging. As the tech landscape grows, we can expect further innovation in this space. But for now, there’s an app on this list to suit everyone. Dive in, and let the game design help guide your fitness journey.
WOULD YOU LIKE YU-KAI CHOU TO WORK WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION?
If you are interested in working with Yu-kai Chou for a business project, workshop, speech or presentation, or licensing deal, please fill out the form below..