Friendly forest: Life Game players earn seeds that can be used to help grow the tree of a friend of family member, creating social reinforcement for healthy habits.
Users can invite others to play, creating a forest of family and friends. Healthy trees produce seeds, which can be used to buy water or sunlight for friends’ trees, or new inspirational songs or photos.
“We want to connect with people emotionally and engage in their entire life, not just in terms of fitness or nutrition,” says Chris Hewett, Mindbloom’s founder and executive producer.
In a trial of 15,000 beta testers last year, users visited the site an average of 35 times per week, spending about 15 minutes each visit. They set out to complete 13 million actions and performed about 75 percent of them. Hewett says that before Mindbloom added gamelike features, like the seeds that can be used as currency, that figure hovered around 50 to 60 percent.
Making lifestyle changes that significantly improve heath requires a long-term commitment, however, and research suggests that most people will use a new wellness application for about a month. In the game-enhanced Life Game beta test, the average user remained active for four times that long, but that’s still only about 16 weeks.
Aetna, which insures nearly 34 million people, may soon find out how much gaming can enhance health care. It plans to customize the Life Game for several large employers, which would then offer it to their employees. It will also offer a premium version to smaller groups and individuals. Brostek says Aetna is also considering how to turn the game into a profit center, following the example of games like Zynga’s FarmVille, which allow players to spend real money on virtual accessories and other items to enhance their virtual worlds.