Advances in healthcare technology (healthtech) have created a novel way of encouraging physical activity and tracking vitals to boost individual health. Gamification in healthtech is one such improvement as it involves applying some of the principles of game design—such as user-friendly interfaces, competition, and prizes—into healthcare fitness apps and wearable products. 

Forecasts indicate that revenue for the digital health market in Southeast Asia will reach USD 6.67 billion in 2023, with the average revenue per user (ARPU) potentially being USD 26.56. The market’s largest segment is Digital Fitness & Well-being, where estimates predict a total revenue value of USD 3.35 billion this year. Thus, not only does gamification boost personal wellness, but also the profitability of healthtech startups.

Mobile gaming as a marketing tool: Leveraging gamification for customer engagement and business growth

The need to be active was exacerbated by the sudden spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, leading to extensive lockdowns worldwide. The unexpected circumstances meant people could no longer get adequate exercise and had to resort to participating in physical activities and exercises in limited spaces at home.

Staying active is essential for health and well-being as it helps to improve immunity, elevate fitness levels, make you more flexible and build muscle strength. It enhances a user’s cardiovascular health, balance, and coordination. Moreover, many fitness apps and wearables can monitor vital signs, track sleep patterns, and collect data on different exercises to help users keep track of their health. 

Benefits and disadvantages of gamification in healthtech

Fitness apps and wearables come in various forms. Smartphone devices make downloading gaming apps such as PokémonGo easier, a game praised for increasing people’s activity levels. They also offer access to apps for mental health, exercise, meditation, yoga, weight loss, and more. 

Wearable health devices such as those produced by Samsung, Fitbit and Garmin, among others, provide sleep and exercise tracking, heartbeat and stress monitoring, and help set milestones, such as the number of steps a user intends to take daily.

The benefits of gamification include making healthcare apps more engaging and interactive and having a welcoming and easy-to-use interface. Most healthtech apps have features for nudging users to get up and move after long periods of inactivity and may even offer rewards for reaching goals. 

Any practical innovation always comes with elements that distract from its benefits. The gamification of healthtech is no different. Its disadvantages include designing applications that hurt accessibility and inclusivity or have various biases or discrimination. Furthermore, user preferences may not align with the products created.

There is also a risk of instigating addiction because gamification uses design principles attractive to the brain. That means users may go from worrying about their fitness levels to dealing with addiction or beginning to gamble with some of the in-game financial rewards they receive. 

Gamification elements commonly used in fitness apps

Fitness apps use many elements to keep their customers engaged with the product. These include:

Points, badges, and leaderboards

Users have an innate desire to compete. Therefore, fitness apps offer points and badges for earned achievements. They then pit the user against other users in the community to generate motivation to fight for the top of the leaderboard, thereby increasing physical activities.

Personalised challenges and goals

Some users prefer a more personalised approach to their healthcare. Thus, fitness apps may offer custom challenges and goals to meet users’ targets and align with their current health statuses and limitations.

Virtual rewards and incentives

Fitness apps may offer rewards like in-app money for purchasing other products. They may also provide discounts for purchases if the user reaches certain milestones.

Social engagement and competition

The app interface may have social media buttons to enable users to share their results or progress with friends or other fitness community members.

Future of healthtech in the region

ASEAN startups working in this sector can make money while boosting health in their communities. They must first identify a market need, innovate helpful solutions with user-friendly designs, conduct extensive testing, and then deliver these products. Their solutions should use sustainable raw materials to protect the environment. Furthermore, they should encourage users to participate in marketing their fitness solutions by creating content to share online. 

Gamification in healthtech can make a big difference to people’s health. It is vital to encourage community engagement with the apps or through wearable devices to foster a support structure for everyone to stay fit and healthy. Governments can offer subsidies to startups offering fitness and health apps to create a healthier society and reduce the cost of health for the economy, such as the National Steps Challenge in Singapore. Moreover, gamification may inspire more people to become curious and begin setting fitness targets. 

If all goes well, ASEAN’s tech-savvy population could reduce the many instances of inactivity—primarily due to spending time using the internet—to become physically and mentally healthier. These outcomes will be beneficial for the whole region.