How Nike turned running into a game

Established in 2006 with a sneaker embedded sensor, Nike+ has grown to be one of the most recognised examples of gamification to date. With over 750 million miles covered so far, this community of runners has demonstrated how game mechanics can be used to turn a simple activity into a world-wide collaboration.

How it works

While running, the sensor communicates with an iPod Touch or Nano, recording relevant information. The device is then synced to the runner’s profile on the Nike+ website. The system utilizes many game features and mechanics. Runners can compete against themselves (personal best) or compete against others through leader boards, challenges and friendly trash talk. They can monitor and balance the increasing difficulty of their runs through moderated difficulty curves. All the while, runners monitor their progress against an overall goal of their choice (just like a quest) to be achieved through the completion of individual activities (missions).

Why its effective

There are three key lessons for designers who want to utilise game features or mechanics to enhance user experiences.

Understand your users. Nike+ knows what runners are like and what they want. Running is an ongoing activity and improvement can occur over a long period of time. Providing relevant real-time data helps runners to situate each individual run within an overall context of improvement. Moreover, Nike+ recognises that although users may be engaging in the same activity, they may be doing it for very different reasons. The types of goals offered include running more frequently, running further, running fast or burning more calories. Thus the same system can appeal to different kinds of users much like an RPG (role-playing game) can appeal to different players (merchants, warriors, politicians).

Ensure the activity is meaningful and context appropriate. Rather than just rewarding the user with points for every run, the system provides practical data: how far did they run, how fast, is that better than last time? Runners can track progress against their own self-prescribed goals, which have an intrinsic meaning to them rather than abstract badges that have no value outside the system. There’s no confusion here: running and its associated health benefits are the reward, not points.

Develop and engage your community. Nike+ has created a place (albeit virtual) where like-minded people can come together and share their experiences. Moreover this interaction can take place through competitive (leader boards and challenges) or collaborative (sharing information and encouragement) platforms. A runner may train alone but can still feel that they are part of something bigger.

Understanding users and the context in which they will interact with a service, process or product is essential when designing game-based interactions. It allows designers to create a much deeper sense of engagement and richer user experience than points and badges can ever achieve alone.

One thought on “How Nike turned running into a game

  1. Nice article. While I was in the US I noticed they’ve got pedal power games for kids, which I assume they would approach with similar concepts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *