Extra Beat, Extra Game

Pulse extends your gaming life outside of the digital space to incentivise healthy activities and prevent gaming from becoming detrimental.

What is the problem?

We know games are on the rise—by 2021, it is estimated there will be 2.6 billion online gamers. And with advances in game technology, games are becoming more life-like, more creative, and more immersive. This future presents exciting opportunities: studies show the potential benefits of gaming (e.g. increased hand-eye coordination, confidence building, problem-solving). However, medical experts voice concerns about the risk of addiction, loneliness, and detachment from reality.

In particular, experts from the newly-established NHS Centre for Internet Addiction report that adolescents aged 12-20 are at the highest risk of heavy game-playing.

In response to these rapid changes, governments have responded with new regulations. In 2018, China suspended new game licenses, and since 2011, South Korea has regulated both age and hour of play.

How Pulse responds

Pulse  intervenes in this emerging environment to create a service that empowers users to integrate games healthily in their routine, and champions a more nuanced response to games than outright bans on play. Pulse collaborates with your favourite games and sports brands to help you earn in-game rewards for hitting real-world heartbeat targets and going to meetups with other gamers. In doing so, it supports mental and physical wellbeing while also promoting the best sides of gaming.

Beat – Game points for Heart beats:
Connect people’s smartwatches to their favourite games to earn in-game rewards for every minute they get their heart rate going 40 beats above their resting heart rate, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Run up and down the stairs. Jog down to the shop, do 100 star jumps – it all adds up. ‘Beat’ helps people keep active on a regular basis.

Bunch – Game points for social meet-ups
Earn in-game rewards for everyone that’s present at each ‘pulse bunch meetup’. People go to gamer meetups  and check in with the Pulse ‘Bunch’ mode. It can be a big organised event or just a few friends, but the more people there are present, the more reward everyone walks away with. The goal is to encourage gamers to take breaks and socialise in different contexts to improve mental health and prevent addiction.

Boost – Hit customised exercise goals:
After a while of using Pulse, it sets a range of ‘Boost’ challenges based on your activity level, like hitting 100,000 steps in a week or running 10km. When people achieve their weekly challenge, they can get bumper pay-outs. Helping to gamify real-world experiences in order to escalate people’s physical fitness.

Break – Stick to pauses to gain in-game rewards:
Break encourages users to make a plan for how long they want their gaming sessions to last and then set when and how long the breaks will be. If they then stick to their plan, they earn even more. Regular breaks are good for people and help them focus, but now breaks also earn in-game rewards.

Find out how studio teams ‘defined the problem area’.

What we

We demonstrated a low fidelity prototype of Pulse to high-need users and this is what we learned:

  • Our users’ response to this was highly engaged regarding Pulse’s support of behaviours they know are appropriate, but feel they need additional incentive to enact. 
  • People found that the perpetual extension of gaming activity in their lives was fairly slow and deceivingly difficult to quantify, and therefore, the impacts were unseen but deleterious. For this reason, having a background nudge to protect their time and health was highly welcomed.

Emerging areas of interest around this proposition are about who the owner or authority of the service should be, how it should connect to our social lives and where this idea of extending games into reality might go.

Find out how studio teams ‘built their prototypes’.


Who is responsible

While the service was broadly well received, there were questions raised among potential users about some of the inherent risks of the service. If the service creates custom fitness goals for individuals, would it be able to understand people’s disabilities and be able to remain inclusive? For people with especially addictive personalities, while physical fitness addiction may be healthier than gaming addiction, is it fair to direct people towards it, and may it cause physical harm if taken too far?


Connection to real life

A key discussion arising from the research was around the social element of the service. On one hand, people felt the service should be more social in ways that would promote competition between peoples fitness levels, but on the other hand people found that incentives for meetups could be an overstep. People value points as a way to promote events, however, as soon as people considered there was a health agenda behind it, which uses face-to-face socialising to help lift people’s wellbeing and activity outside online gaming worlds —they felt it was intrusive and patronising. This sheds light on the sensitivity of service interventions in interpersonal relationships, in particular with paternalistic approaches to social wellbeing.


Gaming real life

Another interesting area of discussion is about what may be a precursor to this service. People considered that this type of service marks a clear crossing of boundaries between online gaming and offline gaming. Importantly, it’s not simply playing games in an offline environment, like playing football. It means adding a gaming layer to otherwise un-gamed parts of life to have a desired impact. To people, this seemed like a space that could be extremely exciting as it could inject fun into old experiences and build new layers of complexity to mundane parts of life. People seemed to connect deeply to the value of play in their life and perceived its re-emergence as exciting. The flip side, however, is that our compulsion as humans to engage in games and play could be taken advantage of to further agendas that may be less admirable or that the over use of such tangible incentives (like gaming currency) to influence may undermine more intrinsic motivations.

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Find out how studio teams did a ‘synthesis of the insights and discussed their learnings’.

Our new direction of exploration

If this proposition is progressed the strategic question of relevance to our investigations is more along the lines of:

In the expanding world of gaming and its potential use as a health incentive, where does the line get drawn and who gets to draw it?

Related to ‘Pulse’


Digital Childhoods

Children may spend more of their time in online environments that can transform their educational and creative experiences but equally have increased capacity to captivate and shape their world view in potentially problematic ways.

Proposition Types

Need Commoditisers

The commoditisation of our needs and values to incentivise behaviour change. The advanced digitisation of our lives could result in the quantifying and subsequent unionisation of different aspects of behaviour and the values that drive them.



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