Portfolio / Metropolis

Small steps toward fitness through a city building game

Project type: User interface design, wireframing, user interviews, "Wizard of Oz" pilot study, survey
Tools: Sketch
Date: Winter 2017
Timeline: One semester
Teammates: Sonakshi Watel and Nathaniel Magyar

Metropolis is a competitive city building game intended to motivate users to climb stairs.  Our research lead us to discover people are motivated to take small steps when competition is involved - moreso, when that competition is interesting.

The game passively draws information about the number of stairs a user climbs using their phone's accelerometer and altimeter, measuring this data in the background as they go about their day.

Our design developed through feedback we received using several research instruments -

  • Exploratory survey (100 responses)
  • "Wizard of oz" pilot of the game with eight users
  • Follow up interviews with pilot users

Our pilot study lead us to conclusions that motivated our game design. Although we offered no reward/incentive for participation, half of the participants became intensely motivated to climb stairs by the game. Competition - and the opportunity to win - was a powerful force. One user went out of her way to get ahead by climbing eight flights of stairs to her daily yoga lesson at the gym to get ahead. Another moved her daily workout to the stairmaster (finding herself in a comfortable lead after doing so).

We adapted our game design based on these findings to leverage the motivating power of competition - and ensure that the burden of gameplay remained small. Stair climbing is a simple lifestyle change and players can choose an individual goal that is not too taxing. Users can choose their level of interaction with the game on a given day, playing when they want to and allowing the game to accumulate resources on “autopilot” should they lose interest. The game includes incentives to keep our “competitive” user base interested and playing the game - including interacting with other players, which can trigger continued participation.  It is designed to improved future motivation through small successes.  Meeting a goal encourages future progress - and striving for bigger incentives (this behavior was supported through our pilot study.)

We incorporated the following aspects of gamification into our design:

  • Challenge vs success: Competitors can send monsters to attack your city - and you can attack them in turn. Or choose to use resources toward building your own city and winning challenges
  • Short vs long: The game features weekly challenges as well as an overall cumulative leaderboard
  • Reward vs punishment: More money for higher increments vs slight city decay for inactivity/monster mayhem
  • Competition vs cooperation: We leveraged the motivating aspects of social interaction, allowing users to send aid to friend's cities, or alternately, attack them
  • Strategy builds interest and improves longevity of play.  Strategic moves improve a player’s outcome - stairs alone will not win this game. Timing, planning, maintaining a cash reserve at key points, and choosing an appropriate incentive to meet assist with success.
  • Minimum viable effort: To avoid losing progress, a player must only climb a small increment of stairs in one day (2 at minimum)