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With the popularity of wearable tech on the rise, opportunities for brands to tap into fitness gamification have never been more prevalent. But what is it and how does it work?
For many people, January means one thing: resolutions. A new year is an opportunity to kick bad habits and pick up good ones, but you don’t need to have a history of short-lived gym memberships to know it’s not always as easy as that.
The cold, dark mornings and early sunsets of winter only make things harder, so many people turn to tech for a helping hand – Statista predicts that wearable fitness-tracking devices such as those made by Fitbit, Garmin and Apple will be used by 6.59 million people in the UK in 2019. They help users to monitor their progress without having to carry an unwieldy smartphone, plus their close proximity to the body means they can record more useful and accurate vital stats.
This self-monitoring is a helpful first step but studies have shown that the gamification of activities can lead to far better results and gives users a reason to continue interacting with brands long after the initial purchase window has closed.
Gamification is a long word for a simple concept. All it really means is measuring and rewarding progress, perhaps with a social element to nurture competitive urges. It’s particularly relevant to health and fitness because relying on willpower alone isn’t necessarily enough to get everyone up off the sofa.
Take the Apple Watch, for example. The latest version, the Series 4, uses a heart-rate sensor and accelerometers to collect data on how much time you spend being active, how many calories you’ve burned, and displays your progress in rings that gradually fill up throughout the day. On its own this functions as a challenge set to yourself but you can also compete against other Apple Watch owners in week-long competitions, with the winner receiving a virtual wrist-based trophy for their hard work.
Brands can tap into this new technology by building communities around the data that these kind of products produce. Sites such as Runtastic, Strava and Speedo On, which MediaBlaze designed and built for the historic swimming brand, offer a place for people to post their times and stats, with the community providing competition as well as support, and various challenges and badges available to encourage frequent use.
So what's in it for the consumer? Well there's a clear value exchange happening here between brand and consumer. The consumer parts with their personal data, and subsequently a whole heap of behavioural data as they continue to use your platform. In exchange they get an intuitive logging and training platform, not to mention a host of hints, tips and content to keep them motivated and, crucially, making progress.
That’s important because it keeps brands talking to their customers after they’ve made the initial purchase. Speedo saw a £13.24 increase in average spend from ecom customers who consumed content.
You don’t even necessarily need a specific platform to tap into this idea. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign created a social community with a feeling of positivity and mutual encouragement using just a hashtag.
Exercise by stealth
In 2018, new regulations were introduced to prevent the use of cartoon characters in junk food adverts aimed at children, but along with gamification they can perform an important role in encouraging kids to be more active.
One of the most successful examples of this is Pokémon Go - a mobile game released in 2016 that got players moving almost by tricking them. The app shows Pokémon characters plotted on a map of the surrounding area but in order to catch them players must physically go to the location shown.
At its peak Pokémon Go attracted 45 million players a day, and while it might not offer the most strenuous exercise, it’s certainly better than sitting in front of the TV with a gamepad. With almost 60% of children classified obese by the time they leave primary school, there’s a real opportunity to turn gaming into exercise by stealth.
It’s in the game
There are an estimated two billion gamers around the world, with the industry set to be worth a staggering $180.1 billion by the end of 2021, and virtual reality is set to play a big part in its future.
To the casual observer, VR appears to offer the complete opposite of augmented reality games like Pokémon Go. How can putting on a headset and pretending to be somewhere else possibly encourage people to get fit? But when combined with existing forms of exercise, VR can be used to add a whole new layer of gamification to what would normally be a boring and repetitive activity.
Earlier this month, at tech’s biggest trade show CES in Las Vegas, a company called NordicTrack showed off a subscription-based game platform for HTC’s Vive virtual reality headset that’s controlled using an exercise bike.
Due for release this summer, VR Bike includes three game modes: Aeronauts, Bike Messenger, and The Last Rider. Each one requires the rider to physically pedal their avatar through virtual worlds, with the bike adjusting the resistance to accurately reflect changes in elevation within the game world, while a built-in fan also changes speed to increase the sense of immersion.
Don’t fancy exercising with a VR headset on? Zwift offers a similar experience via a TV or monitor positioned in front of the bike, with online multiplayer races, training and data analysis offered as part of its subscription fee. If you’re more of a runner than a rider, there’s also Zwift Run, which works with a wearable sensor and a treadmill.
While the costs involved currently preclude them from being used by youngsters - NordicTrack’s VR Bike package will cost $1999, although it does include a bike, an HTC Vive Focus headset worth $599 and a year’s subscription - costs surrounding VR technology are expected to come down, particularly as smartphones become advanced enough to power the experiences.
For some people, these kind of augmented indoor exercises will never replace the feeling of just getting out there and pounding the pavement, but gamification isn’t a one size fits all solution. There are myriad ways for brands to take advantage of the trend - and tech is only creating more.
So whether it’s a digital platform for users to compete against their friends, an app like Zombies, Run! that adds a narrative element to somebody’s 10K training, or a more sophisticated VR-powered experience, the range of opportunities for brands to harness the trend is huge.
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