The role of games for promoting, facilitating, an supporting behavior change has been a hot topic at this year’s conference. Below are summaries from two presentations from two separate sessions, both of which stress how games – through their capacity to promote a sense of empowerment, to provide meaningful feedback, and to corral social support – can assist in changing player behaviors (both inside the game and beyond).
Mike Kim (Kairos Labs), who coined “behavior change gaming” at last year’s conference gave an excellent presentation on Tuesday afternoon on how games can apply behavior change psychology and cognitive behavioral psychology, and in doing so he identified “4 key mechanics” for changing behavior:
Kim’s presentation served to conceptually list, top-down, these key mechanisms for facilitating changes in behavior. In contrast, Dr. Rajiv Kumar’s presentation (part of the Health IT session the day before) was a bottom-up account of the behavior change project he’d been working on – ShapeUp – and then the general trends or conclusions his team had made about what worked.
While a medical student in Rhode Island, Kumar was tuned into the obesity explosion over the last 20 years. In working with patients suffering due to obesity, he noted that the success stories tended to include the patient having leveraged existing social networks – that is, going to gym with buddy, doing a diet with the family, exercising with a group of friends. Inspired by this, Kumar and others sought to create a social game for health behaviors that focused on such group-based individual behaviors. Teams competed over 12 weeks, seeing which, as a team, could lose the most weight, exercise the most minutes, take the most steps, etc..
This approach lead to real results, with drops in weight and BMI reduction, as well as high (73%) maintenance of these loses. Kumar and his team then realized not only that employers were willing to pay more than individuals, but that individuals were more likely to participate if they themselves didn’t have to pay for the opportunity. In turn, ShapeUp’s current business model is to sell services to large corporate clients (Sprint, Key Bank, others) so that employees can then freely sign up. As a result, ShapeUp digital service platform has now reached over 700k registered users across 50 clients.
Kumar, not a gamer personally, noted that games are at the center of their behavior change model, relying heavily on the simple but successful mechanic of competition. Additionally, their platform incorporates social media elements including a social newsfeed, a reward gallery, individual and team progress visualizations, user-generated challenges, and SMS and mobile tracking. Together, this produces an experience that results in, on average, 30% user engagement, upped to 50% when including financial incentives (compared to the 6-40% found for other similar employer health-intervention programs). Those who complete the experience lose, on average, 4.2% of their initial weight, and the amount of weight loss positively correlated with the number of teammates one has.
Kumar noted that as ShapeUp continues to advance, they seek to incorporate real-time rewards within their game platform – most employer incentive systems bundle small reward with base salary or delay delivery; however, Kumar anticipates higher yields would be found if these rewards could be formally separated from salary and presented immediately after specific achievements. Additionally, ShapeUp seeks to begin incorporating more bio-metric data (which should become easier with the recent surge in cheap sensing tech like Fitbit and GreenGoose), as well as interrogate how one’s role in their social network (being a central “Kevin Bacon” or a peripheral “Steve McQueen”) might be considered so as to further improve results.
Altogether, Kumar believes that games may have the capacity to replace traditional financial incentives for changing health-related behavior. He reports that the average employer spent $154 per employee on wellness programs in 2010, but spent $430 per employee incentives. In contrast, he noted that socially-oriented games for health have the power to potentially solve the engagement problem, provide incentives such as reputation and recognition, promote positive and collaborative behaviors, empower users, and represent a much more sustainable approach to behavior change.
GDC: Winning the behavior change game – suggestions and success stories by Jim Cummings, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.