The meditation app Gamification design
Present meditation apps suffer from low user engagement, high drop off rates, high uninstall rates and low conversions of premium features.
Create a gamification system to increase user engagement and specifically motivate people to create the habit of journaling. At the same time, improve conversions of premium features to make the app profitable.
Increase engagement and reduce drop-off rate in a meditation app.
After reviewing the demographics, the app demo and other details presented by the client. The purpose of this document is to provide a conceptual guide to the client, to the programmers and to the designers on the team.
They can then move on to creating the various aspects that need to be created and changed in the existing design in order to achieve the client’s goals for the app efficiently.
The following solution is put forth to gamify the app:
A major problem with meditation and journaling is that most people perceive it as either boring, time consuming, un-needed, wishful thinking, etc. This is why many people don’t start meditating in the first place, and it’s also why those who do, don’t continue. There is nothing to hook them in.
Meditation apps with many different choices and many different options, look enticing but don’t always convert, because more choices and more options stress people out. So more conversations, more options, more tunes, more levels and such other steps, simply won’t work in this field.
Read this article to learn more.
How then can something like meditation be approached through fun and not through work.
In other words, how can we design a system to change meditation’s perception from being a healthy habit like flossing your teeth, to a fun habit like playing a game.
And more importantly, how can we emphasis the habit of journaling after using the app, without it being perceived as a boring task similar to being asked to fill up a review form after a good meal.
Types of Fun we can tap into
There are 4 primary kinds of “fun” that people can have based on the activity they do.
Each is associated with priming a certain set of emotional responses over others, and each of them have their own psychological rewards systems too.
This simply means that a person values a certain kind of reward only at a certain time, for a certain emotional state which comes about from a certain activity.
This is very important to understand when it comes to creating behavior loops for an audience.
The two primary behaviors to tackle in the Meditation app are meditation and journaling.
Based on the above model, they fall under the category of “SERIOUS FUN” and “EASY FUN”.
Serious fun consists of tasks which involve repetition, rhythm, structure and collection. Much like in meditation where a beneficial mental state is brought forth through the collection of one’s thoughts, or by concentrating on a rhythm, or any such peaceful activity.
Such activity leads to creating emotions of focus, zen, relaxation and excitement.
In order to enforce such a behavior loop for an individual to partake in meditation repeatedly, the rewards should be meaningful in nature and not something arbitrary like points, coins, badges, levels, etc.
The act of journaling on the other hand falls within the bounds of “EASY FUN” as the task requires exploration, imagination, role play, and creativity to an extent.
The emotions the person is rewarded with after such activities are curiosity, surprise, wonder and awe.
The best way to reward this behavior loop is by ignoring things like badges, trophies, points and such, and instead motivation through the promise of more exploration in the future
This is why the usual cut and paste elements like points, stars, badges, coins, leaderboards, competition, etc. simply won’t apply to creative and exploratory actions like meditation and journaling.
After giving consideration to the various elements such as the rewards states, the activities, the actions, the behavior loops and the “conversations” into account, the best way to gamify the app and maintain long term engagement for the app is through designing the fun game elements into the very experience of the app and not by simply adding points and badges to the existing design.
Activity loops/ Engagement loops and progression loops
Taking all the above into consideration the levels of progression of a user through the app will be based on the hero’s journey, So that every person who engages with the app can go through their own hero-journey, roadmap.
Each person goes through life in their own form of the hero journey that’s been the same for thousands of years of storytelling, and is a deep routed part of the human psyche
People who hesitate in sticking with a meditation routine, or those who don’t see value in the habit of meditation often can’t stick with the system because they don’t know their own, inner answer to “why am I doing this?”, and don’t trust your “how you should do this.”
Most People have a difficult time dis-identifying from their own daily life, struggles and issues. However, when asked to think of the issue from the perspective of a third person; they find it easier to see the answer.
This is the reason fictitious hero stories have been around for thousands of years, each with their own philosophical morals to be understood, learnt and then used by the reader to better their lives.
Every Person who meditates is on some form of their own struggle through life regardless of their socio-economic background, age, or other demographics.
This approach, to live through an epic story ark, should keep people highly engaged, because people are more likely to engage with something that fuels creativity and curiosity directly, rather than hope for it to come about naturally after months of trying to meditate.
Let’s create a guided story for each of the major problems faced by the users:
loss of a loved one, etc.
Note – All words in quotes ( “ _ ”) can be replaced with suitable alternatives when the app goes live. Their purpose is to provide a structural understanding of the system being described
A “guided hero story” can be made for each of the above problems using the following structure.
The Levels through the hero journey 1-9 (give each level a catchy title later)
1 . “Onboarding – call to adventure”:
The new user is required to sign up, and is shown a story about the hero journey and the path they are about to the play in this journey where they get to play the role of the hero.
Then they have their introductory meditation pre-session, where they are first required to choose 1 of 3 super questions.
Choose any 1 –
How to be happy with less?
How to feel like a winner today?
How to endure a struggle today?
On selecting their choice they should be directed to a screen where they can listen to a guided meditation on their choice of issue.
At the end of the meditation, reward them with the first step of the hero journey- “call to adventure” and start the process of journaling with the appropriate questions and music. Make it un-necessarily, super short, and super simple so that every person feels a little piece of victory in this first step.
2. “Meeting the mentor & help with an obstacle”
This is where you give some flavor of personality to the meditation app, and name the mentor. This is a common practice and creates a better relationship between the user and the app, drastically improving engagement. (siri, alexa, Gandalf, etc).
**Notice how amazon’s “Alexa” feels so much warmer and human than android’s “Ok google” after a few hours of use.
The guided meditation here will focus on presenting an answer to the “call to adventure” in the previous step and provide a very structured guide through a meditation challenge.
For example: “today we’ll be tackling how to get more done, without that energy drain that you’re used to, relax and follow this guide…”
After the meditation is done, the guided journaling should focus on highlighting the day’s success, ask good questions and at the end, it should let the listener know that they’ll be starting the real progress in the next session.
3. “Test, allies, enemies”
The feeling of being trapped by a system, or being told to do the same thing, in the same way, with the same voice, can make a person tire of the system and lower engagement levels.
This is why existing popular meditation apps are used for utility and not so much for fun, once their novelty wears off in a week or so.
In this section, The meditation app introduces the second mentor, which acts as an ally to the listener, and is kind of a renegade.
It’s very important that this second voice be a little contrasting to the original mentor’s guiding style and personality. Though the guided meditation should remain productive, just on a small tangent.
This is the role of the “best friends and allies” in any role playing game, story, or movie. (Ron Weasely from harry potter, Sam from LOTR, Dr Watson from Sherlock)
This is the reason why “side quests or side missions” are a part of most role playing games and character driven stories out there.
The meditation app already has this in the form of “express sessions”. You can Re-word the approach to them as a “test”, “warm up” etc, and make the guide’s voice in the express sessions to be voiced by a different person, speaking in a different tone, that slightly contrasts the main mentor.
Example of this contrast: If the story was about “anxiety”
The Primary mentor would say: “take a deep breath in and you’ll find waves of calming light wash over you, letting anxiety fall away into nothing”
The side mentor/ally would say: “Hey you! Yeah you! You got this!! Let’s get ready now!, breath in deeply, and you’ll see that nasty spider of anxiety in your hand, inhale once more, and on the exhale, close your hand tight and crush that weak spider! This is what winning feels like! Learn it, love it, live it!”
Such a kind of contrast in the system allows for the user to exercise exploration of imagination, and not feel trapped by repetition. It also makes the contrast a fun aspect in journaling. Giving a name and personality to the “best friend’s voice” is even better.
This is also the level at which the problem in question is defined concretely (anxiety, fear, anger, etc) by giving it its own personality. Eg: The dark snake, dragon, medusa, sauron, Voldemort, etc.
This level should be defined well, with examples of the cliché ways people with the problem have behaved and hurt themselves or others.
4. “Approach to the inner most cave.”
This is where the main quest gets a little deep, and the listener is met with a real challenge and tough meditations.
This level and the next one must absolutely be difficult to sit through. Though not complicated.
It could simply be a longer session on meditation (15-30 mins) which deals with a darker emotion (depression, fear, sadness, grief, anger, etc.) which accompany the primary problem of the story.
The guide’s voice guides them into experiencing these emotions in a safe environment, structuring them and then slowly helps overcome them in this session and the next one.
All the while they should have access to the express sessions, this is important because most of them won’t sit through the whole session on the first try and instead of just quitting and exiting the app, they will find their way to the express sessions to get the “high” off victory.
Their journaling should be structured to reflect this too and allow them to explore the complexity of such feelings and their reflections accompanied with a more intense (maybe slightly grim) background music.
5. “The ordeal”
This should be slightly longer than the last stage, and slightly deeper, dealing with the primary problem head on. It will be long, and should take time to get through.
6. “The Reward”
This session should be rewarding in nature and should speak about victory, remembering the feeling, walking them through the path they took to get here, and should be a very good “pick me upper”. They should feel rewarded by it.
From this point on there should be more emphasis on the guided aspect of journaling and the journaling questions.
7. “The road back”
This session should guide the listener on the path back to safety and stability, while integrating what they have learned so far. Most people would rather stay in the previous level where they are made to feel good constantly, but it isn’t good for them in the long run, and it’s bad for the app’s engagement too.
The emphasis on this stage is to walk them through the reality of the fact that real life and real problems exist outside the meditation app, and taking action on them is what’s required. Simply meditating on the problem alone won’t fix it.
8. “The Resurrection”
This is where they must be guided to tackle the problem using the skills they’ve acquired thus far and integrate what they’ve learnt in the real world. The questions and guide in the journaling should help them tackle the problem and make them write down definite answers to the problem.
9. “Return with the gold.”
In this final step, the guided meditation should focus on allowing them to focus by themselves, and leave the app behind (for this problem)
They should be reassured that if they have made it this far, they need simply read through their journaling notes and see the progress they made. If they truly feel the need to come back to the app for this particular problem, they are always free to do so.
This freedom from the app will act as a form of reverse psychology and actually lead to better engagement in the future.
**consider using this in the marketing and promotion too. Something along the lines of “we want you to be able to tackle the world without needing to depend on our app or any other.”
The rewards system
There are a few ways the user gets tangible rewards:
1. Apart from the first 3 hero stories, User gets to unlock one premium hero-story of their choice if they get 5 people to sign up.
2. User gets to unlock the next level of their main hero story dive/conversation only after 15-20 express sessions completed. But they can only use this “unlocking perk” 3 times in a week (and they should know this).
3. User gets a legitimate, substantial personal discount to a piece of premium content once a month depending on the number of minutes they have spent on the express sessions. So that they know that loyalty to the app is rewarded, and this should be part of the marketing too. “The more you use the app, the cheaper it becomes for you”
4. Discounts are fine, but at no time should premium content on the app be given free to any customer, since this is based on behavioral psychology theory that people only truly value what they pay for.
5. Alternately, the users can also be provided an early bird discount once they complete one entire hero-journey. Where only for 3 days do they get access to premium content at 65% off, after which it goes back to normal prices.
Even if they don’t purchase the premium content after the first hero story, when this offer is re-introduced, after they complete the second hero story, they are more likely to make the purchase.
1. User can do as many express sessions as they want, but the “guided session/hero story/conversations” should be restricted to one per 8 hours.
This ensures that they don’t oversaturate their psyche too fast and instead a habit is built over time.
This rule should kick in only after the first 3 sessions/levels of each hero journey.
2. The personalities of the primary guide or mentor should always contrast that of the “best friend” guide in the express sessions, there must not be any overlap. Even if some active users ask for it. Doing that would compromise the system for the silent majority of the user base, who won’t let you know why they are uninstalling The meditation app.
For example: Imagine what would happen to the harry potter franchise if the production team listened to people who said, “I wish snape would behave better”
It’s very important that the personalities stay the different.
3. The user shouldn’t be allowed to skip, or fast forward any session. Even if they have completed the meditation and journaling before the session’s time has elapsed. Nudge them to stay throughout the session and relax until it ends.
4. This last user restriction is flexible. Though Users should be able to invite friends to the app in order to unlock a few of the premium functions. It should be limited to 3-5 friends only, and the user gets the free features unlocked only after their invited friends either pass two stages of the deep dive or hero journey, or sit through 2 express sessions.
This would make the user take effort and think about who would actually install the app and use it, instead of sending a bulk invite to 100s of their friends who probably won’t value the app.
Though not a primary concern, it will also act as a safe guard to users who want to cheat their way to access premium content by providing the app with multiple fake email ids.
Payments system (some details obscured intentionally)
The present system of the meditation app is where new users get a 10 day intro program for free forever, after which they get access to other parts of the app from a monthly paid membership. ($xx.xx for the app and $xx.xx on the desktop) with a yearly purchase discount.
If you choose to add gamification to the app, you can continue to use this same system if you choose to, where you could grant the new user free access to one “guided hero journey”. The contents of this can be the same as structure as 10 day intro program, simply re-organized into the stream lined structure of the hero-journey explained above.
In later updates of the app, show the new user a screen of the various problems which the app helps with. (Anxiety, depression, loss, conscientiousness, etc).
After they click on one of the problems, they would be shown a screen with the different guided meditations or hero journeys or conversations, on that problem of their choice, and they can only access one (or two) of them of free, to gain access to the rest, they will need to get a premium membership.
Another way you could also bring gamification to the payment system is:
A user signs up for the free “10 days/sessions (one hero journey)” and after they complete it, they are given the option of a limited time discount of 25% off the premium membership price, if they are willing to share it with 4 friends who sign up through a referral code or email id or a facebook share.
Another alternative to monthly payments that popular app games use is:
Downloadable content (DLC) Packs:
Read this article to learn about DLC packs: https://www.giantbomb.com/downloadable-content/3015-329/
EXAMPLE of How a DLC pack and member ship could potentially look in Meditation:
(words in quotes “” can be replaced with suitable alternatives later)
Image two buttons or two options which the user can click.
– Get this new “pack/story/conversation” on “Jack’s victory over depression” for $x.98 now
Access this “story” and all other “premium content” for a monthly membership of $1x.9x (10% OFF if you pay for the year)
Why Gamification of payments is important.
Better engagement. More profit. Potentially Higher Valuation.
In future versions of the app when the app is completely built up and has several guided meditations and express sessions. You could introduce more incentives and discounts for people to share the app and have their friends install it.
This will make sure the number of active installs is high, the user engagement is high and that the app is getting popular of the app store.
This will lead not only to increase in regular income from the app, but also in the ability to quote a higher number if and when the time comes to sell stake in the app to venture funds and investors.
They will be further driven to invest in the app not only because of its user engagement, but also because it applies gamification uniquely and provides a unique selling point on meditation journey which other apps don’t provide.
Closing notes: This game design document is written with a coder’s and a designer’s perspective in mind, so that they find it easy and less time consuming to bring the various aspects described to life in code. Please show this document to the coders and designers so that they understand what needs to be created.
Legal warning: This Design Document is a presented to you only to demonstrate the creator’s (Yash Parkar) methods, skills and approach to gamification, behavior change and user engagement solutions, any use of the content for commercial purposes without consent from the creator would be considered a violation of the intellectual property of the creator.