HabitRPG: gamification works, yo

“Gamification” is a bit of a buzz-word these days: the idea that, hey, games are a really great psychological tool (challenge, risk, reward), so what if we harnessed their behavioral-modification powers for good?

HabitRPG is built around precisely that idea. And I’ll tell you up front: the rest of this post is me raving about how useful it’s been for me, so if you don’t want to read something that sounds like an enthusiastic infomercial, you can just skip this post. 🙂

The basic notion is that you can earn gold and XP and treasure by doing stuff in your daily life. The game divides these into habits (either positive or negative, i.e. things you want to encourage or discourage yourself from doing regularly), dailies (things you intend to do on a set schedule, either every day or on certain days of the week), and to-dos (one-off items). If you indulge in a bad habit or fail to complete a daily, you take damage to your Hit Points, but completing things lets you level up, which improves your stats, as does the gear you buy. It also gives you a chance to find eggs, hatching potions, or food; these are used to hatch pets, and feeding a pet can turn it into a mount for you to ride.

Your stats matter because you can form parties with other people on HabitRPG and go on quests; these take the form either of collection quests, where you have a chance of finding a specific object every time you complete a task, or boss fights, where you inflict damage by completing dailies and to-dos. The latter gives you more incentive to finish your tasks, because if you miss a daily, not only do you get hurt, but the rest of your party also takes damage from the boss. Add in a small chat-room function, and you’ve got the basics of social networking to help keep you engaged and playing.

I will not pretend this works for everybody. But for me? HECK YES. Oh my god. Early on, I would find myself doing things like taking out the recycling before the bag was overflowing, because if I was very productive today I might be able to buy an upgrade to my gear! These days I’ve bought all the gear for my character class (at higher levels you get to pick a class and obtain skills that can help you or your party), but I still motivate myself to complete all my dailies by remembering that if I miss one, I lose the buff to my stats that comes from getting everything done. I’ve made attempts in the past to keep a to-do list, but never managed it for longer than a short period of time; having it online (there’s a mobile app as well as the web interface) helps, but linking it to rewards helps even more. Recently I’ve found myself hunting for things I can easily complete because dang it, I am so close to getting the Beastmaster achievement (hatching all the basic pets), but I haven’t been getting enough zombie hatching potion drops.

Press bar, get pellet! Dance, little lab rat, dance!

The major flaw in it so far — apart from the mobile app, which is only slowly acquiring full functionality — is that once you’re a certain distance in, some of the motivating aspects lose force. I worked hard to earn enough gold for all my gear, but once I had that, gold became pretty useless. There’s a solution to that, which is that you can design your own custom rewards and set a price on them; the difficult part is figuring out what rewards will be effective for you. I don’t, for example, want to make “read for an hour” a reward, because it would be detrimental to my life and career if I positioned that as a special treat I have to earn, rather than a routine part of my existence. My best idea so far is actually “flake out”: I can, for fifty gold, buy the right to skip a daily without taking damage for having done so. Because sometimes you need a break, and this is one I earn by not skipping things all the time.

HabitRPG includes a subscriber option, where you can toss five bucks their way each month to help support the service. This gives you the ability to buy gems with your gold (though there’s a monthly cap on that), and the gems can purchase other things, like treasure or character customization. I think I’d been playing for less than a month when I subscribed. Am I getting five dollars a month’s worth of benefit from this?

Heck yes.

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