Health and wellbeing websites and apps are more popular and competitive than ever. The teams behind these products have discovered that adopting techniques used in the gaming industry can have a massive impact on attracting and retaining audiences. If we take a look across popular health and wellbeing products, we can start thinking about how these gamification tactics can be adapted for use in the charity sector.

Gamification is the application of techniques found in gaming used in non-game contexts with the aim of making activities more engaging and fun. As Andreas Lieberoth puts it in his article Shallow Gamification: Testing Psychological Effects of Framing an Activity as a Game, “Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socialising, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure”.

1. Personalisation

Many health and wellbeing products use personalisation to make their product more tailored to the specific needs of their audience. TickerFit, an app that helps healthcare professionals (HCPs) provide bespoke support for their patients, allows HCPs to set up personalised video lists for their patients to watch. The app will track the percentage of videos that have been viewed, and HCPs will have direct access to patient progress, therefore allowing them to recommend relevant resources.

Babylon Health, an app that provides remote consultations with doctors and HCPs, asks their users a set of questions when they register for an account and their responses are used to personalize the information they see based on their health needs and goals.

Macmillan Cancer Support enable patients to generate a personalised information page which can be bookmarked, emailed and shared. Patients are asked four simple questions: ‘What describes your current situation best?’, ‘Which cancer do you want to know about?’, ‘What is your work status?’, and ‘Do you have children aged under 18 living at home?’. And the page is generated accordingly. Consider how personalisation could help tailor your product to factor in individual differences including your users’ levels of ability and confidence, emotional and physical health, age, ethnicity, and lifestyle.

2. Community

Creating a wider sense of community can help people feel more connected to others. For example, Luminosity, a gaming app designed to improve cognitive ability through a daily mental training program, illustrates how your gaming scores compare with members of your age group. Headspace, a meditation app, displays how many people are meditating right now. Similarly, Sleep Cycle, a smart alarm clock that analyses your sleep so that you wake up feeling rested, shows how many of their users are asleep right now across the globe. This technique could be applied to many different scenarios to give the indication that the platform is active and to encourage others to engage, such as a forum for patients with a specific condition.

3. Logging and tracking

Allowing users to track progress over time can help them maintain a routine, help visualise their progress, and seek support in areas in which they’re struggling. Symple, a symptom tracker app that promotes health and wellbeing, offers multiple ways to log and track mood and activity. It features: a simple scale that helps users visualise their mood using colour, a journal format to express mood through writing, and a photo diary. Acknowledging that people express themselves in different ways could benefit the users of a mental health mood tracking product, for example.

4. Achievements and rewards

Unlocking achievements and rewards can make for a fun experience and add a competitive element. Luminosity allows you to unlock personalised insights by regularly completing their brain training games. Headspace uses beautiful, bright illustrations to unlock additional meditation exercises. This approach, for example, could be applied to an exercise app that supports the long-term management of a physical condition.

5. Challenges and goal-setting

Setting challenges with achievable, realistic goals can create a sense of satisfaction and keep users returning to the product. Hacka Heath, technology that supports young people with cystic fibrosis, allows friends and family members to send the patient rewards such as vouchers to keep them motivated, on track and feeling supported.

Animation can also be used to help users visualise their goals. My Diet Coach, which offers support with dieting and lifestyle changes, uses simple animation to represent their users’ water intake with an aim for them to drink more water daily. When you click a full glass of water (there are eight glasses in total), the water in the glass empties.

Samsung Health, an overall wellbeing app, encourages their users to get fit with others, and displays the number of people taking on the same challenge at the same time which engenders a sense of team spirit. These tactics could translate well to fundraising and events products in order to make the participant more motivated and accountable for reaching their targets. Pete Jenkins, founder of Gamification+ says “The key element we try to bring to any gamification project is to connect players into teams or communities. When a team sets out to achieve a goal together we’ve seen massive impact, such as raising 100% more funds per player for charity, and in one app, an 800% increase in physical activity levels.”

Bringing it all together: Playphysio

Playphysio is a social venture that incorporates all five of these techniques. It is a free app that aims to help improve the lives of children living with cystic fibrosis. It does this by gamifying respiratory physiotherapy in order to reduce the responsibility of care for patients and their families. It also provides data for medical research into the chronic illness.

Playphysio connects to the child’s regular OPEP breathing device which they blow into as part of their treatment (it looks similar to an inhaler) via a little box that attaches to the device. A physiotherapist will help them set up a daily treatment routine, and information can be sent to them to help monitor their patients’ progress. A calibration function helps cater the app to individual differences in health, age and strength of breath.

The app features a selection of customisable games that help the child monitor their physio sessions. It will count the number of the blows, measure their length and consistency and remind them when to change position and when to do airway clearance exercises.

Gamification benefits the patient by creating a sense of fun around the treatment and making sessions feel shorter. It helps increase confidence in their breathing technique and empowers the child to monitor their condition without a parent or caregiver watching. It also makes them feel part of a community through multi-player games that connect them with other children with cystic fibrosis (patients aren’t allowed to be around others with the condition).

Gamification benefits family members by instilling confidence in the parent or caregiver and reducing stress and the number of arguments around daily, arduous physiotherapy. The experience becomes a lot more positive when they can see their child enjoying the games with other children they can relate to.

Create a user story with a focus on gamification

As a starting point, you can use the below user story to think about how gamification can support your audience in reaching their goals.

“As a <explain user>,

I want to <the goal of the user>,

so that <the value or benefit to the user>.

Personalisation* will benefit me by <benefit of gamification technique in reaching goal>”.

*’Personalisation’ can be replaced with any of the gamification techniques discussed:

‘A sense of community’
‘Logging and tracking’
‘Unlocking achievements and rewards’
‘Setting challenges with achievable goals’

For example,

“As a cardiac rehab patient,

I want to closely monitor my medication,

so that I feel more in control of my heart condition.

Logging and tracking will benefit me by helping me manage my routine and ensure that I’m taking my many different medications”.

About Deborah Garfen

Deborah is a Product Designer living and working in London. She currently works at the British Heart Foundation and has a passion for great user experiences.