This year’s CES was full of innovation. From advancements in tele-electronics, mobility, security, smart homes, and audio, it is only expected that phone apps get an upgrade too. While walking through the Sony Innovation section, I ran into a man playing a really cute app on his phone. I thought, “With all the new gadgets, widgets, 8k tvs and pure sound audio all around you, why would you be playing a phone game?? Must be super fun.” So, I stopped to talk to him. Who would have guessed that a simple, “What are you playing?” would turn into a full on discussion with Sam Kolb, Engineer and creator of Habit Monster, a mobile game that helps you develop healthy habits. Yes, Sam was playing his own game in the middle of the Sony floor.
I caught up with Sam after CES to get more details on Habit Monster and get to know him a little better.
JN) Who would have thought that out of the thousands of people in the convention center, we would be sittin here? All because I happened to catch a glance of a cute monster on your phone. That in itself is great. Thanks, Sam for taking a few moments to meet up and talk. I know you are busy dude, so let’s just get into it …Habit Monster is such a cute and idea. What inspired you to create it?
Sam)I’ve been a gamer since I was 12 years old, and have always believed in the transformative power of video games. They clearly have the power to change behavior, though often times this behavior change is self-serving for the game developer (i.e. spend more money). I’ve also struggled with my weight, and have undertaken many different health and fitness programs. About a year ago it occurred to me to try to meld the two together. A virtual pet seemed a natural fit for that sort of game, and that’s how Habit Monster was born.
With a lot of today’s youth being more, and more, aware of interconnectivity. How do you see this progressing and making an impactful change in their behaviors? Do you really think it will work?
I absolutely think it will work, and interconnectivity is the key. We are far more likely to be successful with behavior change when we enlist the help of our network. It’s also the key to spending behavior change achieved by games like FarmVille and Clash of Clans. There is both a competitive and cooperative network element that happens in games, which is conveniently also the key to success in programs like weight watchers. Look for more social features in Habit Monster in upcoming releases as we seek to really leverage the social graph to help create positive change.
Let’s say a child has just horrible habits and can’t break them, thus they fail the game. Then what?
Well we’ve tried to really focus on positive habits, such as exercise and healthy eating. It’s much easier to build a habit than it is to break a habit, and habit experts even suggest attempting to replace a negative habit with a positive one. So I would say we don’t really focus on negative outcomes. The worst that happens for our users is that they are unsuccessful building the habit they attempt, which is fine, because we make it easy to try again.
I heard there is a major partnership in the works for you, care to let us in on the news?
I can’t really talk specifics about potential partnerships, other than the announced deal with Sony Mobile to be part of the LifeLog™ rollout. We’re talking to a few different device manufacturers healthcare providers in the space to explore potential fit with Habit Monster.
With this new partnership, what are some of the phase 2 and 3 evolutions of the Habit Monster that we can expect over the next few months/years?
Well, obviously we’d like to build up a cohesive social game experience, and part of that is an ongoing development cycle focus on user engagement. We’d love to introduce monster sharing, special items, and even quests. We’ll also build some different monsters, and many more items and customization features. Concurrent with this we’ll be supporting all major fitness devices on the market, and even explore some branding opportunities.
Beyond that I can see us building other similar lifestyle games geared towards specific behavior change, but potentially targeting different demographics. We’ll see.
I’m sure you had, and probably still have, some bad habits of your own. What are they?
In terms of bad habits, I do tend to eat a lot. I’ve been able to add regular exercise to my lifestyle, but I’d sure like to do a better job at watching what I eat. I also am very addicted to my smartphone, and we’re working on some specific habits targeted at being more mindful of smartphone use. Stay tuned!
As you know, we are a community of nerds and gamers. I just can’t believe you created a Habit Monster without partaking in a little video game activity yourself. What games (console, PC or mobile) would you list on your ultimate top 3?
Wow, that’s a tough question. There are many games that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I’d have to say that there are a few A-HA! moments I’ve had playing games over the years. I’d say the first of these was the original Doom on a 386 PC. That first moment when the lights go out and you’re surrounded by monsters, it’s epic. Similarly, the first time I played GTA IV and really got the explore the sandbox world in a completely non-linear way was eye-opening for me as a game developer. Finally I’d say I’ve always been a bit of an RPG geek, going back to D&D sessions when I was 9 and 10, so I’d say Skyrim is maybe the best example of RPG plus open world.
For all our aspiring app developers and producers out there, what advice would you give to get started in the industry?
It’s really hard not to get jaded working in games. It’s a very tough business, with lots of competition. I’d say follow your passions and don’t be afraid to find people that know what they’re doing. Making good games is hard, and you have to learn the skills necessary. It’s not something your born knowing, so find people that have what you want and learn all you can from them.
What do you think? What are some of your bad habits that Habit Monster can help you with? Habit Monster is currently available on both the Android market and iPhone App Store.
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