Is it possible to turn chores into a game? How about running? Or giving to charity?
If the recent success of several mobile games is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.” These apps use gamification—the use of of typical game-playing elements like point scoring, leaderboards or leveling in—to make everyday activities more fun. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that such games can attract an elusive crowd: people who don’t normally identify as “gamers”.
What does it take to market to non-gamers? We asked the brains behind three hot gamification apps for the secrets behind their successes.
Habitica focused on the power of socializing
Habitica is a productivity app that turns tasks into “monsters” that require conquering. Players progress in the game by completing their tasks on time, fall farther behind if they procrastinate—encountering both prizes and challenges along the way.
It’s a fun way to tackle everyday activities for sure, but Habitica founder Siena Leslie says the key to the game’s success lies in its connection to social media. Players can share their victories on social media and invite others to conquer monsters together—functionalities that Leslie says appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.
“Forty percent of our users have said that they do not identify as gamers,” says Leslie. “Most people want to have fun with their friends. They don’t need to be a gamer.”
Zombies, Run! grabbed attention with an unusual concept
Zombies, Run! is a game that turns your morning jog into a post-apocalyptic audio adventure. Adrian Hon, CEO and founder of Six to Start (the studio behind Zombies, Run!) credits the novelty of this concept to the game’s pre-launch user acquisition. The game’s Kickstarter received a huge amount of positive coverage from the very little outreach Hon did (just sent a few press releases). Still, it got covered by media outlets like CNN, BBC, and NPR—outlets with an audience of games and non-gamers alike. The project went on to raise over $72,000.
Hon also says his studio went to great lengths to highlight the uniqueness of the game in all of their marketing materials.
“Most fitness apps like Runkeeper and Nike Running are essentially distance and pace trackers: They help you measure how fast and far you’re running. Zombies, Run! is different because we make running fun, by turning it into a thrilling story and game that motivates you to go faster and further. So we expressed that in our videos, our App Store screenshots, and press materials,” says Hon.
Zombies, Run! now has over 2.5 million players, Hon says—it’s now among the top five running apps in the U.S.
Tree Story partnered with nonprofit organizations
Mobile app company Zig Zag Zoom wants to foster global change, and its first game, Tree Story, reflects that sense of social responsibility. As players grow their own virtual pet trees, Zig Zag Zoom and its nonprofit partners plant trees in the real world.
“We play a lot of games. And [Zig Zag Zoom’s founders] thought ‘what if we can channel all of that time playing games into good?,'” says Zig Zag Zoom CEO Thomas Kang. “So it’s more about channeling energy into doing good and having fun.”
For Zig Zag Zoom, championing a worthy cause alongside non-profit organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the United States Forest Service helped get the word out about its game. For every dollar a player pays, Tree Story puts .25 into a fund that goes directly to these non-profits who will plant on behalf of the game. A worthy cause, it seems, get players paying.
“We have really high user ratings for Tree Story,” King says. “People mention that they’re not necessarily game players, but they care about trees. So again, it’s going back to the cause.”