Friday, January 31, 2014

Gamification to level 80

Since the end of July last year I've been test driving one of the latest online tools that hopes to change your life by giving you the ability to store your task lists.

Wow. What could be more underwhelming, and less worthy of a blog post?

Well, this one is different.  This one takes some of the huge amount of thinking on the behaviour of "millenials" and "Generation Y", adds a big dose of social context and ends up with something quite spectacular.

This is the gamification of task lists, this is experience points and levelling up, buying armour and using potions, this is World of Warcraft where the grinding is calling your mam, avoiding junk food or writing a blog post.

This is HabitRPG.

The concept is simple, you manage different styles of task lists.
  • If you complete entries on them you get experience points and coins.
  • If you fail to do entries them you lose hit points.

Depending on on whether you're setting yourself realistic targets and completing them you either level up, or die and start again.
Get enough coins and you can buy armour (reduce the effect of not hitting your targets), weapons (increase the effect of achieving things) or customised perks (real world treats that you give yourself).
There's a wealth of other treats in there too, but I don't want to spoil it for you, because as each of them appear you get a real jolt of surprise and delight (look out for the flying pigs)
So, what do I mean by "different styles of task lists". Well, the lists are split into three - Habits, Dailies and Todos:


These are repeating things that you want to get into the habit of doing, or bad habits you want to break. 

They have no schedule, or immediate urgency, they just hang around and you come back every now and again to say "yup, did that".  You can set things up as positive or negative, and so state if they are a good or bad habit.

Examples might be:
  • Phone mother (positive)
  • Get a takeaway (negative)
  • Empty the bins (both - positive if you do it, negative if your partner does it)


Suffering from a bit of a misnomer, dailies are repetitive tasks with some form of weekly schedule. Things that you want to do regularly, and on particular days. You can set a task to be required every day, only every Tuesday, or anything between.

Whilst un-actioned habits are benign, if you don't tick off a daily then you get hurt.  With habits you're gently encouraged to complete them as often as possible. Dailies come with a big stick..
Examples might be:
  • Go to the gym
  • Do an uninterrupted hour of productive work


The classic task. The one off thing that you've got to do, and once its done you can cross it off and move on to the next thing.

In terms of functionality, they're pretty much the same as dailies - If you don't do a task it hurts.

Examples might be:
  • Write a blog post about HabitRPG
  • Book a holiday cottage in Wales

Other bits

They have a mobile app on both iOS and Android.  I use Android, and it does the job - nothing fancy, but it works.  Most of what you need to do is available to do on the move.

It's missing the ability to work offline, though it's not a huge problem.  I can imagine it being added soon, and I really hope it does.  Sometimes, sitting on the tube, I think of things that I need to do and it would be great to be able to add them to my task list without waiting until I get over-ground again.

Functionality is added regularly, and there is clearly a strong community spirit in the developers who are producing the site.  A kickstarter provided a boost to funds, but they seem to have worked out how to monetise the site and it looks like it'll keep being developed for some time - which is obviously good news!

There are a few community plug-ins out there (they made the good choice of using the public API to hook their UI up, meaning any functionality in the site is available in the API), including one that works like "stayfocused", monitoring your internet browsing habits and rewarding or punishing your HabitRPG character appropriately.

The API's also open up idea of a sales system driven by some of the concepts in HabitRPG, if not HabitRPG itself (though maybe with Ferrari's instead of Golden Swords).  I'd be amazed if this wasn't picked up by a Salesforce developer sometime soon...


I have to admit, I was excited about this idea the moment I heard about it, though I didn't want to blog about it straight away - I wanted to see if it had some legs first.

Sure there are other sites doing similar things, take a look at blah blsh and blah. But, excuse the pun,  this is another level.

When I first started using HabitRPG I had very short term goals. Your character is fragile, so naturally I did what I could to avoid getting hurt. I avoided unrealistic goals, or even goals that I might not get around to for a couple of days. Only todos I was likely to do that day got added.

As I've got further through I have found that I am more inclined to set longer target todos. They hurt you less as you have armour, and the longer you leave them the more XP you get. It sounds like cheating, but its not. It's simply that I've matured the way in which I use my task manager.

It's missing some things that I might expect from a really rich task manager - tags can be used to group items and tasks can be split with simple sub-tasks, but there's nothing more advanced than that - no dependent tasks, or chains of tasks for example.

But maybe the simplicity is key to its success. I rarely need more than a simple reminder, so why complicate things?

You have to be careful with the habits. It can be tempting to add a bad habit in there that you've already pretty much broken, but if Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are right then you'll end up replacing an intangible moral cost into a tangible HabitRPG cost and result in picking up that bad habit again.

It differs from sites like Strava, in that this is not primarily a competitive site - it needs to focus on the individual as it is trivially easy to "cheat".  You can add arbitrary tasks and complete them immediately - though it really defeats the purpose.  It relies on you entering a contract with yourself to use the site productively.  For that reason, any fundamental introduction to the site of competitiveness is flawed.

However, there is the concept of "challenges" - the idea that you can set goals, assign a prize and then invite people to compete.  It works, but only on the principle that people entering the challenges can be trusted.

All in all this has proven to be a pretty successful experiment for me - since I've started using it I've hardly missed a day at the gym, my washing basket is empty, all my shirts are ironed, I've managed to make it to yoga and I even call my dad more often.

And with a character at level 32 I'm becoming a god!

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment