Gamification Core Loop: Gamifying Personal Fitness

COVID-19 pandemic has forced various governments to issue lockdown orders to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease. Due to lockdowns, no small amount of people are quarantining themselves in the confines of their homes. As gyms are starting to close, self-imposed isolation has kickstarted a trend for fitness-minded people in the form of a home workout.

Home workout and fitness applications gained monumental traction and interest during the early onset of the pandemic, with the increase of daily active users to up to 84% in some parts of the world. The appeal of fitness apps for self-improvement continued even to the later stages of the current pandemic, as restrictions ease and public spaces are gradually being opened.

Fitness apps are used to help manage their user’s motivation and keep track of their goals. In order to achieve it, game-like values are implemented in their core app design. By breaking down the elements that made up the core design of fitness apps, we will see just how influential gamification is to our daily lives.

Fitness Apps Usage
The use of a fitness companion app is increasingly common

The Feature That Made It Popular

Strava, Samsung Health, Fitbit, and Runkeeper, to name a few, are fitness apps that are gaining more popularity amid the current pandemic. The basic premise of those apps are deceptively simple – they track your sporting habits and set a goal for you to accomplish based on your activities. However, on all those popular fitness apps one common feature stood out: the integration of social networking capability.

The efficacy of popular fitness apps could be attributed to that singular feature. As a study by the University of Pennsylvania finds that social network is much more effective at motivating people to exercise, compared to other methods, such as giving the participants motivational messages. Keeping that feature in mind, the core loop of fitness apps has the unique variable of peer participation. Although aside from networking, the gamification core loop that builds the app’s foundation is fundamentally the same.

The core loop that formed the design principle of the fitness app is not much different than the one used within video games. The main differences being the formulation of Motivation in comparison to gaming’s Trigger, and the presence of Social Interaction in concurrence with Progress.

Achievements in Fitness Apps
Fitness apps could add a competitive element to an otherwise solitary sport

Fitness App Core Loop: The Case of Strava

With more than 10 million downloads in Google Play alone, Strava is currently one of the biggest fitness apps in the market. Strava does not only track its user’s athletic activity (be it biking, canoeing, skiing, running, or swimming), but also share the result of user’s sporting activities with the relevant community. For that reason alone, Strava is very much a community-based fitness app that breaks the boundary of solitary sports into something that could be experienced by the masses.

The motivation given to its users is challenges and competition in a particular sporting community. With that motivation, the users are encouraged to take action to finish the challenges that may potentially Reward them with trophy or badges that could be displayed on the user’s profile page. The Progression/Social Interaction is in the form of a report based on the user’s performance to share in their feed, leaderboard, or directly to the community, as somewhat of bragging rights to encourage others to do the same.

Fitness App Core Loop: The Case of Fitbit

To comprehensively understand the nature of the fitness app’s designs, we take a look at Fitbit. In comparison to Strava, Fitbit focuses on not only as an athletic activity tracker, but also as a provider of wearable fitness devices. While Strava can track your activities through the use of smartphones alone, Fitbit relies on the usage of their own tracker devices.

Dissimilar to Strava, although Fitbit encourages its users to post their results on a community page, the role that the community had over the overall fitness experience is greatly diminished. Lack of a competitive experience made Fitbit a more solitary affair compared to Strava, where community-based challenges are issued frequently. Although challenges against friends that are also using Fitbit are available, its impact on the stage of Progression/Social Interaction is weaker than those found in Strava.

Strava and Fitbit
Left: Strava, Right: Fitbit

What Do We Have to Say?

Regarding the focal point of fitness apps in the case of Strava and Fitbit, our resident fitness enthusiast/Creative Director of Gamification, Erga Ghaniya had this to say:

“Fitness Apps such as Strava is compelling, mainly because the strength lies in the community. Users can connect and interact with each other, and the availability of route-specific leaderboard can really push out as user’s competitive side”

On whether or not apps such as Strava and Fitbit had successfully gamified fitness, Erga also added that the social interaction aspect drives the success of these apps. As also seen in the previously mentioned study, the presence of peer interaction pushes user’s motivation even further. The ease of activity sharing to friends and communities within the app has also solidified the role of peers over our motivation.

The foundation behind fitness apps’ core loop is virtually indistinguishable from the loop often used in gaming. It also adheres to the principles of gamification, with the main difference being the prevalence of social networking aspects. The basis, strength, and the main attraction is the community of users using it themselves. And as such, social interaction is crucial in maintaining the core loop that formed the basis for various fitness applications.

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