GET HCM
magazine
Sign up for the FREE digital edition of HCM magazine and also get the HCM ezine and breaking news email alerts.
Not right now, thanksclose this window
Les Mills International
Les Mills International
Les Mills International
Follow Health Club Management on Twitter Like Health Club Management on Facebook Join the discussion with Health Club Management on LinkedIn Follow Health Club Management on Instagram
UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Adrian Hon

Zombies, Run! is one of the most enduring fitness apps, with half a million users getting active while engaging in ‘missions’ against the zombie apocalypse. Its co-creator spoke to Steph Eaves about the power of story

Published in Fit Tech 2021 issue 2
Zombies, Run! launched in 2012 and has 500,000 players
Zombies, Run! launched in 2012 and has 500,000 players
I knew there was an opportunity to rely on audio gameplay and storytelling to avoid runners having to look at their phone all the time

What’s your background?
I originally trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD (University of California San Diego), but I was always interested in games that mixed storytelling with the real world. Shortly after I started a PhD at Oxford, I left to help found Mind Candy in 2004, a games company in the UK, and a few years later I co-founded Six to Start, which specialises in games that combine storytelling and the real world, and which I still run today.

How did your training in neuroscience influence your approach to fitness games?
I think it’s a mistake to take scientific research and try to apply it directly to fitness solutions or gamification – the reality is far messier than the headlines or even scientific papers would have you believe! But it did teach me about the importance of repetition and training and addiction; that while it’s easy for people to fall into bad habits, humans are fundamentally always good at learning and can learn to adopt new behaviours. The problem is that everyone’s different and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution!

What did you envision when you began Six to Start?
We’d hoped to make games and do consulting for big companies like the BBC, Disney and Microsoft, and then use what we’d learned and the money we’d made to make our own games.

We were very successful in the first step and won lots of awards including Best of Show at SXSW, but the market was extremely competitive and it was very hard for a small company like ours to make a profit, so it took much longer than expected for us to get in a position to launch Zombies, Run!

How did the idea for creating immersive fitness games come about?
I’ve always wanted to make games that help people achieve their goals. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed games like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and Dance Dance Revolution. It’s a shame there aren’t more, and it’s a shame that most educational or instructional games are so boring or ineffective, so making one for fitness was obvious for me, especially as I started running a lot when I was at university.

You’re best known for Zombies, Run! but what other fitness games have you made?
Zombies, Run! was our first proper fitness game, launching in 2012, which we quickly followed up with Zombies, Run! 5K Training later that year. At the end of 2013, we launched The Walk, then in 2014 we had the Superhero Workout, Step Buy Step: A Pedometer Adventure, and Dungeon Runner: Fitness Quest. Finally, in 2017 we launched Racelink, our white-label running app for charities and non-profits.

Tell us about Zombies, Run! – where did the concept come from?
It came from two places: firstly, I’d always wanted to make a running game for smartphones, and I knew that there was a great opportunity to rely on audio gameplay and storytelling to avoid runners having to look at their phone all the time.

Secondly, our co-creator and lead writer Naomi Alderman had just joined an online running group, and when asked what they wanted to achieve, some said they wanted to lose weight or get fit, and one person said they wanted to survive the zombie apocalypse! I groaned when I heard that, since even in 2011 it felt like zombie media was everywhere, but we realised it was a great premise for a game that was all about running.

Did you work with fitness experts?
We worked with fitness experts to design our Zombies, Run! 5K Training plans, and we always consult fitness literature when we design other training plans and features like zombie chases that mimic high intensity interval training. But I think there’s a danger in relying too much on experts and literature as ultimately we need to make sure this all meshes well with fun gameplay and storytelling and technology.

How have you improved Zombies, Run! over the years?
We’ve added a ton of new content and missions – we have something like 500 missions and workouts now, which would take years for a new player to get through. Most of that is in our main ‘zombies’ storyline but we also have ‘New Adventures’ that are comedy, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, factual, you name it. Then we have features like virtual races, location-based running, leaderboards, milestone emails – we’re adding things every month.

What are the challenges with creating a game like this?
There are so many! Our half a million players have an insatiable demand for new stories and workouts, so our writers are always busy filling those. It’s not just a question of “grr, there are more zombies coming!”, we have to make gripping, thrilling stories that will keep people coming back day after day.

Then we always have new features and devices we need to support, like smartwatches and Apple Healthkit and Siri, which takes time to develop. Finally, all smartphone apps need to be constantly maintained since they’ll otherwise basically stop working within a year or two as new versions of iOS and Android are released.

How long do users stay with the game, on average?
A lot of people just try it once and leave, but most people stay for months if not longer. We’re strong believers in the importance of storytelling and gameplay to keep people engaged and motivated to run on that rainy Sunday morning.

Who are the target audiences for your fitness games?
I know it’s a cliché, but it really is everyone. We try not to design games for a specific audience because we think that a great game can be fun and accessible for everyone.

Do you think online fitness classes, etc, could benefit from incorporating elements of story, adventure and game?
Oh absolutely. We have so many ideas for different kinds of exercises, some of which will make it into Zombies, Run! I know there are some online fitness classes that use elements of role playing but it’s hard being a great storyteller AND a great fitness instructor.

What are you working on at the moment?
We’re 100 per cent focused on Zombies, Run! We want to keep improving the core zombie-centric gameplay and storyline while also experimenting with new kinds of stories and workouts.

Last year we launched a free series of home bodyweight workouts within Zombies, Run! called The Home Front, which was super fun, and I think we’ll do more of that in the future!

What advice would you give the general fitness industry?
Incorporating story and gamification can have a huge impact. Zombies, Run!, Pokemon Go, VR fitness games, Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure – these are played by millions of people already!

The general fitness industry has a lot to teach us in terms of how to exercise safely and effectively and how to motivate people on a personal level, but they also have a lot to learn in terms of how to use technology and gaming and storytelling effectively.

What is Zombies, Run!?

Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic. You are a Runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts. They need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors and defend their home.

And you have another mission – one they don’t know about...

How it works

• Walk, jog or run anywhere in the world.

• Hear your mission and music through your headphones.

• If you’re chased by zombies, you’ll have to speed up!

• You’ll automatically collect supplies to build up your base.

Other games by Six to Start
Six to Start developed The Walk with the UK’s NHS
Tell us about 7 Minute Superhero

We were one of the very first apps to automatically detect users’ exercises via a phone or tablet’s front-facing camera combined with machine learning. It was tricky to do and tricky to combine with gameplay and storytelling.

What did you learn from the journey of 7 Minute Superhero?

The whole ‘7 minute workout’ fad was huge at the time and we thought that if we made a better, more advanced, more customisable, more fun version, we’d have a lot of success. It didn’t quite work out that way – I think people actually wanted something simpler and easier to play, ultimately! You live and learn.

Tell us about The Walk

The Walk was created with the NHS and Department of Health. They trusted us to make a compelling game and while we consulted with their health and medical experts and read the scientific literature on walking and motivation, they generally left us alone to get on with it!

What have you learned from developing The Walk and seeing how people use it?

The Walk has been pretty popular and has a great community. It’s clear there’s demand for ways to make day-to-day walking more fun and interesting, but it’s tricky from a game and user experience design perspective to know when to weave the story and gameplay into people’s day. With running, you can have an intensive, all-consuming experience for 30-60 minutes, but people walk throughout the day and we don’t want to annoy people by interrupting them with phone alerts and story clips. I suspect that new technology will make this easier in the future.

Hon trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD
Hon trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD
Zombies, Run! has multiple storylines and several years’ worth of content
Zombies, Run! has multiple storylines and several years’ worth of content
7 Minute Superhero used a phone’s front facing camera to detect a user’s exercises
7 Minute Superhero used a phone’s front facing camera to detect a user’s exercises
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2021/219988_500107.jpg
The co-creator of enduring fitness app Zombies, Run! tells how story is a powerful motivator
HCM magazine
HCM People

Danielle Obe

Chair, The Black Swimming Association
Our vision is a future with ethnic diversity in aquatics
HCM magazine
Our competition need to fasten their seatbelts
HCM magazine
Screens display power generated from each piece of equipment, allowing people to compete against each other for kilowatt hours produced
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Les Mills is launching a new digital network called Les Mills Connect to help clubs build back better and emerge from the pandemic with a stronger business
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Andy Janes and Jamie Whisken explain the vision behind R1SE Bournemouth, and why Technogym was their choice of partner in delivering their unique fusion boutique
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Billed as the ‘2021 Experience Tour’, Egym has taken its connected gym floor experience on the road around the UK
HCM Magazine
Letters
Fuel the debate about issues and opportunities across the industry. We’d love to hear from you – [email protected]
HCM Magazine
Tokyo Olympics
GLL is best known for running leisure facilities on behalf of local authorities across the UK, but a lesser-known part of its remit is its GLL Sport Foundation which supports Olympic hopefuls. Liz Terry finds out more
HCM Magazine
Editor's letter
The appetite for health clubs is strong among consumers and investors – to take advantage of this, operators must figure out how to meet key challenges in operationally sustainable ways
HCM Magazine
Supplier launch
Life Fitness introduces Integrity SL, the next-generation LED console with intuitive functionality and digital connectivity
HCM Magazine
Latest News
Matrix and Intelivideo have signed a strategic partnership, which will see Intelivideo's fitness content integrated ...
Latest News
Nadine Dorries, the recently appointed secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport at ...
Latest News
Mindbody has announced it's buying ClassPass, the consumer wellness subscription service that enables people to ...
Latest News
Tanni Grey-Thompson has outlined her vision on how the physical activity sector can play "the ...
Latest News
The Global Health & Fitness Alliance (GHFA) has revealed the makeup of its inaugural nine-member ...
Latest News
The 40th Annual IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show (IHRSA 2021) begins today in Dallas, ...
Latest News
A new study has suggested that strength training can result in people losing around a ...
Latest News
Basic-Fit has officially opened its 1,000th club, with the launch of a new site in ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: EMS personal training: shockingly simple
People's fitness goals are extremely diverse – ranging from an elite athlete focused on the next goal to someone who dislikes all activity due to chronic back pain.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Will your business last without digital transformation?
During the pandemic, a digital transformation took off faster than anyone could have predicted with meetings in person cancelled and millions working from home.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active bolsters Everyone on Demand and enters second year with five new partnerships
Everyone Active has signed a number of new deals which will see the operator strengthen its digital product offering, Everyone on Demand.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active generates £342m in social value
Award-winning leisure operator Everyone Active generated £342million in social value at its sites across the country in 2019/20.
Company profiles
Company profile: Indigofitness Ltd
We Create Training Spaces! We've been designing and delivering high quality training spaces for almost ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Safe Space Lockers
Safe Space have over 25 years of experience in the UK leisure and fitness industry, ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Management software
Premier Software Solutions: Management software
trade associations
International SPA Association - iSPA: trade associations
Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Kemitron GmbH: Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Uniforms
Service Sport: Uniforms
Whole body cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Whole body cryotherapy
Fitness equipment
Precor: Fitness equipment
Independent service & maintenance
Servicesport UK Limited: Independent service & maintenance
Exercise equipment
Power Plate: Exercise equipment
Property & Tenders
Welwyn Garden City
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Newport, Shropshire
Lilleshall Sports Academy
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
01-03 Feb 2022
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
07-10 Apr 2022
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates

features

Adrian Hon

Zombies, Run! is one of the most enduring fitness apps, with half a million users getting active while engaging in ‘missions’ against the zombie apocalypse. Its co-creator spoke to Steph Eaves about the power of story

Published in Fit Tech 2021 issue 2
Zombies, Run! launched in 2012 and has 500,000 players
Zombies, Run! launched in 2012 and has 500,000 players
I knew there was an opportunity to rely on audio gameplay and storytelling to avoid runners having to look at their phone all the time

What’s your background?
I originally trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD (University of California San Diego), but I was always interested in games that mixed storytelling with the real world. Shortly after I started a PhD at Oxford, I left to help found Mind Candy in 2004, a games company in the UK, and a few years later I co-founded Six to Start, which specialises in games that combine storytelling and the real world, and which I still run today.

How did your training in neuroscience influence your approach to fitness games?
I think it’s a mistake to take scientific research and try to apply it directly to fitness solutions or gamification – the reality is far messier than the headlines or even scientific papers would have you believe! But it did teach me about the importance of repetition and training and addiction; that while it’s easy for people to fall into bad habits, humans are fundamentally always good at learning and can learn to adopt new behaviours. The problem is that everyone’s different and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution!

What did you envision when you began Six to Start?
We’d hoped to make games and do consulting for big companies like the BBC, Disney and Microsoft, and then use what we’d learned and the money we’d made to make our own games.

We were very successful in the first step and won lots of awards including Best of Show at SXSW, but the market was extremely competitive and it was very hard for a small company like ours to make a profit, so it took much longer than expected for us to get in a position to launch Zombies, Run!

How did the idea for creating immersive fitness games come about?
I’ve always wanted to make games that help people achieve their goals. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed games like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and Dance Dance Revolution. It’s a shame there aren’t more, and it’s a shame that most educational or instructional games are so boring or ineffective, so making one for fitness was obvious for me, especially as I started running a lot when I was at university.

You’re best known for Zombies, Run! but what other fitness games have you made?
Zombies, Run! was our first proper fitness game, launching in 2012, which we quickly followed up with Zombies, Run! 5K Training later that year. At the end of 2013, we launched The Walk, then in 2014 we had the Superhero Workout, Step Buy Step: A Pedometer Adventure, and Dungeon Runner: Fitness Quest. Finally, in 2017 we launched Racelink, our white-label running app for charities and non-profits.

Tell us about Zombies, Run! – where did the concept come from?
It came from two places: firstly, I’d always wanted to make a running game for smartphones, and I knew that there was a great opportunity to rely on audio gameplay and storytelling to avoid runners having to look at their phone all the time.

Secondly, our co-creator and lead writer Naomi Alderman had just joined an online running group, and when asked what they wanted to achieve, some said they wanted to lose weight or get fit, and one person said they wanted to survive the zombie apocalypse! I groaned when I heard that, since even in 2011 it felt like zombie media was everywhere, but we realised it was a great premise for a game that was all about running.

Did you work with fitness experts?
We worked with fitness experts to design our Zombies, Run! 5K Training plans, and we always consult fitness literature when we design other training plans and features like zombie chases that mimic high intensity interval training. But I think there’s a danger in relying too much on experts and literature as ultimately we need to make sure this all meshes well with fun gameplay and storytelling and technology.

How have you improved Zombies, Run! over the years?
We’ve added a ton of new content and missions – we have something like 500 missions and workouts now, which would take years for a new player to get through. Most of that is in our main ‘zombies’ storyline but we also have ‘New Adventures’ that are comedy, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, factual, you name it. Then we have features like virtual races, location-based running, leaderboards, milestone emails – we’re adding things every month.

What are the challenges with creating a game like this?
There are so many! Our half a million players have an insatiable demand for new stories and workouts, so our writers are always busy filling those. It’s not just a question of “grr, there are more zombies coming!”, we have to make gripping, thrilling stories that will keep people coming back day after day.

Then we always have new features and devices we need to support, like smartwatches and Apple Healthkit and Siri, which takes time to develop. Finally, all smartphone apps need to be constantly maintained since they’ll otherwise basically stop working within a year or two as new versions of iOS and Android are released.

How long do users stay with the game, on average?
A lot of people just try it once and leave, but most people stay for months if not longer. We’re strong believers in the importance of storytelling and gameplay to keep people engaged and motivated to run on that rainy Sunday morning.

Who are the target audiences for your fitness games?
I know it’s a cliché, but it really is everyone. We try not to design games for a specific audience because we think that a great game can be fun and accessible for everyone.

Do you think online fitness classes, etc, could benefit from incorporating elements of story, adventure and game?
Oh absolutely. We have so many ideas for different kinds of exercises, some of which will make it into Zombies, Run! I know there are some online fitness classes that use elements of role playing but it’s hard being a great storyteller AND a great fitness instructor.

What are you working on at the moment?
We’re 100 per cent focused on Zombies, Run! We want to keep improving the core zombie-centric gameplay and storyline while also experimenting with new kinds of stories and workouts.

Last year we launched a free series of home bodyweight workouts within Zombies, Run! called The Home Front, which was super fun, and I think we’ll do more of that in the future!

What advice would you give the general fitness industry?
Incorporating story and gamification can have a huge impact. Zombies, Run!, Pokemon Go, VR fitness games, Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure – these are played by millions of people already!

The general fitness industry has a lot to teach us in terms of how to exercise safely and effectively and how to motivate people on a personal level, but they also have a lot to learn in terms of how to use technology and gaming and storytelling effectively.

What is Zombies, Run!?

Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic. You are a Runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts. They need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors and defend their home.

And you have another mission – one they don’t know about...

How it works

• Walk, jog or run anywhere in the world.

• Hear your mission and music through your headphones.

• If you’re chased by zombies, you’ll have to speed up!

• You’ll automatically collect supplies to build up your base.

Other games by Six to Start
Six to Start developed The Walk with the UK’s NHS
Tell us about 7 Minute Superhero

We were one of the very first apps to automatically detect users’ exercises via a phone or tablet’s front-facing camera combined with machine learning. It was tricky to do and tricky to combine with gameplay and storytelling.

What did you learn from the journey of 7 Minute Superhero?

The whole ‘7 minute workout’ fad was huge at the time and we thought that if we made a better, more advanced, more customisable, more fun version, we’d have a lot of success. It didn’t quite work out that way – I think people actually wanted something simpler and easier to play, ultimately! You live and learn.

Tell us about The Walk

The Walk was created with the NHS and Department of Health. They trusted us to make a compelling game and while we consulted with their health and medical experts and read the scientific literature on walking and motivation, they generally left us alone to get on with it!

What have you learned from developing The Walk and seeing how people use it?

The Walk has been pretty popular and has a great community. It’s clear there’s demand for ways to make day-to-day walking more fun and interesting, but it’s tricky from a game and user experience design perspective to know when to weave the story and gameplay into people’s day. With running, you can have an intensive, all-consuming experience for 30-60 minutes, but people walk throughout the day and we don’t want to annoy people by interrupting them with phone alerts and story clips. I suspect that new technology will make this easier in the future.

Hon trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD
Hon trained as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at Cambridge, Oxford and UCSD
Zombies, Run! has multiple storylines and several years’ worth of content
Zombies, Run! has multiple storylines and several years’ worth of content
7 Minute Superhero used a phone’s front facing camera to detect a user’s exercises
7 Minute Superhero used a phone’s front facing camera to detect a user’s exercises
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2021/219988_500107.jpg
The co-creator of enduring fitness app Zombies, Run! tells how story is a powerful motivator
Latest News
Matrix and Intelivideo have signed a strategic partnership, which will see Intelivideo's fitness content integrated ...
Latest News
Nadine Dorries, the recently appointed secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport at ...
Latest News
Mindbody has announced it's buying ClassPass, the consumer wellness subscription service that enables people to ...
Latest News
Tanni Grey-Thompson has outlined her vision on how the physical activity sector can play "the ...
Latest News
The Global Health & Fitness Alliance (GHFA) has revealed the makeup of its inaugural nine-member ...
Latest News
The 40th Annual IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show (IHRSA 2021) begins today in Dallas, ...
Latest News
A new study has suggested that strength training can result in people losing around a ...
Latest News
Basic-Fit has officially opened its 1,000th club, with the launch of a new site in ...
Latest News
Health club operator Life Time Group has become a publicly traded company again, after it ...
Latest News
Creating workout experiences will be the main theme of this year's Retention Convention, which will ...
Latest News
Marg Mayne will stand down as CEO of Mytime Active next year, after more than ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: EMS personal training: shockingly simple
People's fitness goals are extremely diverse – ranging from an elite athlete focused on the next goal to someone who dislikes all activity due to chronic back pain.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Will your business last without digital transformation?
During the pandemic, a digital transformation took off faster than anyone could have predicted with meetings in person cancelled and millions working from home.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active bolsters Everyone on Demand and enters second year with five new partnerships
Everyone Active has signed a number of new deals which will see the operator strengthen its digital product offering, Everyone on Demand.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active generates £342m in social value
Award-winning leisure operator Everyone Active generated £342million in social value at its sites across the country in 2019/20.
Company profiles
Company profile: Indigofitness Ltd
We Create Training Spaces! We've been designing and delivering high quality training spaces for almost ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Safe Space Lockers
Safe Space have over 25 years of experience in the UK leisure and fitness industry, ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Management software
Premier Software Solutions: Management software
trade associations
International SPA Association - iSPA: trade associations
Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Kemitron GmbH: Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Uniforms
Service Sport: Uniforms
Whole body cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Whole body cryotherapy
Fitness equipment
Precor: Fitness equipment
Independent service & maintenance
Servicesport UK Limited: Independent service & maintenance
Exercise equipment
Power Plate: Exercise equipment
Property & Tenders
Welwyn Garden City
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Newport, Shropshire
Lilleshall Sports Academy
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
01-03 Feb 2022
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
07-10 Apr 2022
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates
Search news, features & products:
Find a supplier:
Les Mills International
Les Mills International