The past two months since we started building Fitocracy have been quite interesting. We had an alpha version out a month into development, poked and prodded by a handful of people. We also applied to Techstars NYC but despite making it as far as TS4AD, we didn’t end up in the finalist pool. This week brought yet another new development.
What is Fitocracy?
It’s helpful to first describe what Fitocracy actually is:
Fitocracy turns fitness into a fun, addictive game to help motivate users to improve their fitness. You earn points, level up, and unlock achievements, all for tracking what you’re already doing in the gym. As you level up in Fitocracy, you get harder challenges and need to lift more/do more challenging cardio to keep leveling. Throughout the game, users can complete special quests, unlock bonus features, and compete with their friends in order to get them to the next level.
The Veil Parts To Reveal Something Unexpected
Up until now, Fitocracy has been kept fairly under wraps. This is largely due to the fact that Richard and I have been busily building out the core product, preferring to have something to show before getting the word out. As Fitocracy began to take shape, we started to invite a select number of people to have them see what we were doing. Now, most of these people were close friends and family. The great thing about friends and family is that they are often eager to help and cheer you on, but a downside is that they can often be biased and muzzle criticism. Many eyes would light up and heads would nod at our 10 second explanation, but it’s hard to determine the difference between politeness and genuine response to something compelling. In addition, many of these early previewers didn’t quite fall into our target market of people interested in fitness. As a result, early feedback revolved primarily around site design, functionality, and the like, but rarely touched upon the most important question: Do people want what Fitocracy is offering? With little data on this front, it was hard to figure out our next move.
The next obvious step was to get Fitocracy in front of fitness-oriented early adopters. I wrote a few paragraphs explaining the concept behind Fitocracy and posted it to a fitness forum I often visit. Initially I only expected perhaps a handful of responses and was entirely unsure of what response I would receive. Frankly, clicking the “post” button sent a tiny pang of anxiety to my gut. I feared I’d be flamed to kingdom come.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The response was phenomenal.
The post ended up being the most discussed topic for 24 hours. It received over 100 replies. One person said, “Thank you for this, I love you guys.” We were getting signups every minute. Hundreds left their email addresses with us. By most standards this wasn’t traffic to write home about, but this was our first controlled release of Fitocracy into the wild. It was surreal.
It’s too early to tell what’s down the road, but those 24 hours helped partially vindicate the central assumption under which Richard and I decided to build Fitocracy, which is that mapping a game experience to the fitness lifestyle helps enhance the latter. The people we were talking to immediately understood what we were doing and they wanted to be a part of it. There was a flood of suggestions on features they’d want to see. Some people were even so generous as to privately message me and offer free help just because they thought Fitocracy was really interesting.
I believe we received this kind of response because we triggered a certain recognition in the readers. The comparison between a video game, particularly a role playing game, and fitness is obvious. In role playing games, your character gains experience, improved abilities, and rewards for progressing through the story. In fitness, you similarly improve your own physical attributes and are rewarded with better health as you progress in your fitness. XKCD made this connection years ago.
There is a ton of buzz, and an equal amount of cynicism, around the gamification trend these days. Sites are adding points and badges left and right. But the central question is to what end? Many tout gaming mechanics as the perfect tool for engagement. It’s a way to sell you something.
We’re looking for something more meaningful at Fitocracy. Our central mission is to get you addicted to your fitness, period. Small steps are not enough. We firmly believe that a game environment is perfect for providing the sort of guidance, challenge, and motivation to help make fitness a lifestyle choice rather than a chore. This week, we thankfully found out that many others also seem to agree.