Educational Game

Lets Get Physical: Exploring Gamification in Fitness Apps to Sustain User Engagement

Think about the last time you tried to download a fitness app. Odds are, you were met with a lot of options. With over 320,000 digital health apps available (Young, 2018), mobile users can become overwhelmed by choice (Wu, 2017) and about 71% end up dropping out of app based fitness programs within the first 3 months (Osypenko, 2017). While fitness apps can attract new users and generate high overall downloads through the utilization of gamification, novel experiences, and behavior change strategies, the research in this project has identified that these apps struggle to keep users engaged and using the app beyond the first 1-3 months. This project seeks to understand more about how gamification in fitness apps can be improved and how knowledge from game design and player-styles / personality types can be leveraged into creating a fitness program designed to motivate and engage specific users towards completing a fitness goal. This project aims to create a prototype of a mobile fitness-game experience that attempts to serve as a medium that gets users interested in getting active but also playing a game that is fun, motivating, and a way to act as a stepping stone for their future fitness endeavors. This prototype will be tested through iterative user-testing and serves as an artifact, demonstrating the theorized gameplay mechanics and strategies outlined in the paper.
About the Author
Aadil Khan

I am a Newmarket based Experience Designer. I design methods, tactics, and research procedures that foster brands, drive business, and create innovation. I focus on putting design strategy behind everything I do. I have designed for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and now at When not designing, I spend a lot of time doing martial arts, working out, and just being an overall kid. Part of what influenced this MRP idea is my own weightloss journey and the experiences that have come from that.

About the Project

The goal for this MRP is to design a mobile experience geared towards non-active users or users who would like to learn more about fitness habits, without necessarily over-committing to a full fitness program. Furthermore, the experience is focused on sustaining their engagement overtime as opposed to them abandoning the app relatively earlier (< 3 months). This will be done through the careful use of gamification elements and overall design accommodating for identified player styles as well as efficiently utilizing the technology available in smartphones to track the player’s habits (steps, food, and sleep). Indeed, the main twist of this app is to create a storyworld that connects and enriches a personal fitness journey. Each fitness aspect and metric collected in the game will be mapped to a gameplay mechanic that is integral to the story, and overall experience. In the end, it is hoped that through a combination of a novel experience, ease of use, and appropriate integration of fitness aspects, a successful environment will be created that both can be fun to play in and also leaves the user with an understanding of their habits in relation to fitness goals they may have. To enrich the design of the prototype, research has been conducted via case study analysis of competitors, primary research focused on understanding users’ moods towards fitness applications, and iterative user-testing to flesh out the experience of the app.

Walk, eat, and sleep in the real world — explore a dangerous world in another!

How it works

1. Begin your adventure

Choose your starting character class, and enter some information about you. This lets the game create a dynamic world based on you. Depending on your activity level, and goals, the game’s rewards will change. You can be at any fitness level to start playing and have fun.

Getting started — Choose from a variety of classes that influence how your gameplay will turn out. After that, tell the game some information about you so it can accurately gauge how many steps you should walk in a day and different calorie targets depending on your goals.

2. Take advantage of smart tracking.

Kalory Island is designed to take the quantitative data acquired by your smartphone and use it to engage the player in unique gameplay. The actions the player takes in the real world affects their progress in the game. Walking in the real world earns an in-game currency used to upgrade gear and progress through levels. The macronutrient profile of meals eaten in the real world and then logged in the game could be used to provide certain combat buffs that could help against a stronger enemy. Similarly, gameplay is affected when the game knows you would typically be asleep based on auto logged sleep patterns. Through repackaging the information that may already be tracked by your phone, Kalory Island offers a novel experience to get active and have fun.

Tracking — Nested within the game is a complete set of tools needed to track your food, activity, and sleep. Each of these items will result in changes to gameplay.

3. Play

At its heart, Kalory Island is designed to feel like an old-school RPG. Experience turn based combat, a level system, side quests, and worlds to explore. Your goal is to explore the depths of the game’s island and find the treasures deep within.

A lightweight RPG interface, designed for mobile experiences.

Covid-19 and quarantine protocols in general have caused us to re-evaluate how we excersise and stay active without the tools we are used to having. In this time, fitness apps have seen a spike in their use and people are looking for different ways to stay motivated and active. However, with the normalization of social distancing protocols, fitness apps have seen a call to action to offer solutions that promote responsible social behaviour and also provide results. My research seeks to provide a fitness solution that is fun, but also one that can be done at home, safely. For example, walking is a big part of my app's game mechanic, however, instead of capturing this metric via distance walked, the main variable captured will be steps. This means, the user could walk in place, or around their house if they chose to do so. Alternativley, they could participate in playing the game if they wanted to go outside for a walk as well.