Dash for cash: researchers seek to understand if gamifying challenges can increase health prospects

19 October 2022

Is money enough of an incentive to get you off the couch?

Digital apps that pay rewards for working out' such as Sweatcoin' PUML' Evidation' MetaGym' StepBet' StepApp' Winwalk' and Yodo are not new - but according to CQUniversity researchers' the concept has recently entered mainstream discussions as an alternative way to get fit and make money.

"Apps like Sweatcoin provide participants with the opportunity to earn cryptocurrency and get rewarded for completing gamified physical and mental health challenges'" Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Associate Professor Michael Cowling explains.

"Beyond NFTs and Bitcoin for illegal transactions' we're seeking to determine whether such apps show us that there is value in making new aspects of our lives digital all while approaching the crypto market."

To find out' firstly an understanding of how these apps work' why they exist and who the main beneficiaries are' is required.

"Apps such as Sweatcoin form part of the Move-to-Earn (M2E) model that encourage participants to participate in physical activities by rewarding users'" ICT Associate Professor Ritesh Chugh says.

"These gamification-based apps incentivise physical activity by converting movement metrics' such as steps' into rewards that include prizes' gift cards' physical products and cryptocurrency.

"The more calories a user burns' the more rewards they earn. For people who are already working out' these apps may be a good way to get paid for it. However' in the Sweatcoin marketplace' it could take years to redeem a payout of $1000."

Dr Chugh says physical movements are tracked and verified through mobile phone accelerometers and GPS location' and the companies behind the apps make money from advertisements and commercial brand partners.

He says that while there are societal benefits in using such apps' the financial incentives weren't necessarily great.

"Sweatcoin' for example' shaves a five per cent commission off the user's earnings'" Dr Chugh explains.

"And then there are the potential privacy concerns from these apps and the fact that battery drain is higher as the apps use GPS coordinates and run 24/7 in the background."

So' can this crypto connection translate to intrinsic motivation?

CQUniversity physical activity researcher Professor Corneel Vandelanotte chimes in.

"This is all about motivation and gamification'" Professor Vandelanotte says.

"We know that 'extrinsic motivation' such as getting financial rewards only works in the short term…in the long term 'intrinsic motivation' (when people just love the activity itself' not the reward they get for it) will be needed'" he explains.

Professor Vandelanotte says there is significant evidence to support using gamification as an extrinsic motivation to get people going initially.

"CQUniversity's 10'000 Steps program also applies this'" he says.

"While more research is needed in this space' it appears that financial incentives seem to have positive effects on physical activity in the short-term - we don't know about long-term effects."