Mindbloom, With New Social Game, Finds Niche in Health, Wellness, and “Gamification” of the Web

6/11/10Follow @gthuang

What sits at the intersection of health and wellness websites, virtual currencies, and “gamification” of the Web? Right now, a Seattle startup called Mindbloom.

This is an outfit founded in 2008 by Chris Hewett and Brent Poole. Their mission is to help consumers lead more healthy, balanced and meaningful lives—and do it through a new kind of social game experience that has elements of casual gaming, social networking, and personal media sharing. The Life Game, as Mindbloom announced this week, rewards players for taking steps along their “life tree” towards achieving goals in their career, lifestyle, relationships, and health. The virtual currency (“seeds”) they earn can be used to unlock other types of content in the game.

The concept reminds me a little bit of the social/wellness nature of a few other Seattle-area websites, such as 43 Things (for consumers) and Limeade (for employees). There’s also some virtual economics and video-game mechanics at work, like we’ve seen with BigDoor Media in software platforms, and Bobber Interactive in the financial services industry.

But enough with the comparisons. The Mindbloom founders have a pretty interesting story to tell. Hewett is a longtime veteran of video-game studios, including Monolith Productions, while Poole was an early operations director for Amazon.com and an executive with Ernst & Young.

Here’s a Q&A I did with Hewett, Mindbloom’s co-founder and executive producer, conducted via e-mail. We touched on a number of broad themes, including his personal motivation for Mindbloom, current trends in casual games, and the future of consumer Internet sites:

Xconomy: What was the genesis of the idea behind Mindbloom? How is your “social wellness” game unique?

Chris Hewett: Prior to Mindbloom, I spent 10 years producing award winning 3D action games—Aliens vs. Predator 2 for Fox Interactive, Tron 2.0 for Disney, and my last game was the blockbuster hit F.E.A.R. for Vivendi/Universal.

During those 10 years, I was motivated by fear. I worked 14 hour days because I believed I would fail if I didn’t give my work everything I had. My health, my relationships with family and friends, and my passion to play music were all but put on hold. At the peak of my career, when I had everything I was taught would make me happy, I was the most depressed I had ever been.

I considered quitting, but realized that this fear of failure would follow me wherever I went. Instead, I decided to change how I lived. I decided let go of my fear and trust that I could be successful in my career without giving up everything else. Even if I only spent 5 minutes a day practicing the guitar, only doing one set of pushups, and spending 30 minutes playing with my newborn son, I knew that I was taking a big step toward making my entire life a priority.

In the end, not only had I let go of my fear of failure, but I’d also produced the best selling game of our company’s history, F.E.A.R. (funny coincidence). More importantly, I proved to myself that it is possible to live a healthy, balanced, and meaningful life while also being successful as a full-time professional and parent. This experience inspired me to leave the game company and leverage my experience in developing interactive entertainment and my passion for personal development to create Mindbloom—a social game that inspires and motivates people to live healthy, balanced, and meaningful lives.

What makes Mindbloom unique is the game’s focus on improving the quality of a player’s entire life. Other “lifestyle” games or “real world” games, like Wii Fit, BrainAge, Nike+, or Foursquare are focused on one aspect of our lives.

X: How does your revenue model work?

CH: We currently offer a subscription for a professional version of Mindbloom that enables users to add additional branches, leaves, and actions to their tree without having to earn them. This is especially useful for people that are able to self-manage their activities and know how to not overload themselves. The professional version also works well for people who are working coaches, where the coach is helping them manage their goals and actions.

However, subscriptions is only a small portion of our revenue model. We are beginning to work with key sponsors to provide premium content and features to our users. Finally, we are licensing our social game platform to other partners/organizations who have the ability to customize the Mindbloom experience with their own content and can deliver the game from within their own website.

X: How have you addressed the funding and labor challenges of getting the company off the ground?

CH: When potential investors and/or employees see our vision for Mindbloom, they fall in love with it. They see Mindbloom as not only being cutting-edge as an “experiential” Web application, but they see that the existing team have a LOT of passion around wanting to see people living a better quality life, starting with our own!

X: Can you talk about where Mindbloom fits with the broader trends around virtual currencies, health and wellness sites, and “gamification” of the Web?

CH: With the explosion of the casual/social game market we see that “gamers” aren’t just teenage boys playing Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, but they are surprisingly mostly women between the ages of 30-50. Farmville is a great example of this. The average age of a Farmville user is 43 and more likely to be a woman. In fact, according to CNN, the ratio of women to men playing Farmville is 60:40.

What well-designed games do that keeps people coming back is that they satisfy the human psychological need to feel “competent.” We may not have control of everything at work or home, but games give us that immediate sense of effectiveness and accomplishment. Websites like Foursquare and brands like Nike are recognizing this and are therefore applying game mechanics to their websites.

Mindbloom is doing the same, it’s just that we want to do more than see our community explore their city or become better runners… we want our players to live healthy, balanced, and meaningful lives. What’s neat about Mindbloom is that it works well with other games. There’s a lot of value in what Foursquare, Nike, and Nintendo are trying to do. There’s no reason why someone in Mindbloom can’t create a “health” leaf on their tree that has an action to use their Wii Fit 3 times a week or a “travel” leaf on their tree that has an action to explore a new location in their city using Foursquare. In fact, we’d like to partner with them one day so that when I use my Wii Fit or check-in via Foursquare that it updates my Mindbloom tree and keeps it green and earns me seeds!

X: So, is this the future of consumer Internet plays?

CH: If a company wants people to keep coming back on a regular basis, then yes. Apple has proven that making a content distribution platform that is visual, dynamic, fun, and simple is the key differentiator that keeps people coming back and more importantly causes them to want to share their experience with others. Add on top of that some gaming mechanics that make people feel successful, then you have a real winner.

However, Mindbloom isn’t necessarily focused on the trends. We just want to leverage the best in technology, design, and content that makes achieving a better quality of life as fun, simple, and effective as possible.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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