Crowdsourcing Innovation: Tyler Renelle, Developer of HabitRPG

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour.

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour with something new to offer. Is this a business of the future?

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    Name: Tyler Renelle

   Job title: JavaScript Developer

   Organisation: HabitRPG

   Location: Somerville, MA


 Product: HabitRPG

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What it does:

A habit-building program which treats your life like a Role Playing Game. Level up as you succeed, lose HP as you fail, earn money to buy weapons and armor.

What makes it special:

It makes habit building addictive for the gamer type. There are plenty of great Todo lists out there, and plenty of habit building programs (Joe’s Goals, StickK, Beeminder, Some of them are even gamified, but minimally so – badges and points for being on your good behaviour. HabitRPG uniquely leans more towards the video game side of the Game-to-GTD spectrum in this new world of gamified apps, which makes it more immersive than it’s competition.

It’s not for everyone; some people don’t want an RPG to manage their life, but can appreciate points & badges for completed TODOs. Not so with Habit – it busts your chops, shoving a shield and sword into your arms and pushing you out the cottage, yelling “Go! Slay your habits or be slain!” You compete with your friends, you find rare items, your gear affects the game-play, etc. What makes it special? For the type that enjoy that fantastical chop-busting, it works, and really well!

What inspired you to come up with the idea?

I’m a LifeHacker junkie. They posted a tip once (I can’t find it now, might have been a comment) about using an Excel spreadsheet for color-coded habit tracking. Add / subtract one point for each daily accomplished / missed, and the cells adjust color based on the value. Well I’m a coder, and this only lasted so long before I converted it into my own little web app. It was for myself, mind you, so I decided to play around with this experimental Node.js framework – which explains a lot of the bugs.

Why Kickstarter?

Even though I made the app for myself, I hosted it online. As I said, Lifehacker junkie – this article rolled along; “Gamify Your Life: A Guide to Incentivizing Everything,” and I simply couldn’t resist commenting with an “Ooh ooh ooh! I have just the thing!” – even though my server wasn’t prepared, and my app was riddled with bugs. Sure enough, Habit crumbled under Lifehacker’s weight. Reddit caught wind, same story.

Someone on Reddit said, “Get your act together,” I responded with “Look guys, I’m flattered – but I just don’t have the resources to keep up, it’s really just a personal project. It’s open source, so if someone wants to host it by all means.” Their response: “Why not start a Kickstarter?” I scratched my head, pondered, and the rest is history.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

Absolutely. First, it’s very difficult for us small-timers to get otherwise funded. Especially if we don’t have anything to show potential investors. Crowdfunding changes that. Second, it’s a true test of an idea’s legs. Everyone and their mother has “the next big idea”, Kickstarter filters that. Combine the two, and that’s indie project awesomeness.

Reactions on KS?

Very good! The backers have been extremely supportive. Now, they are chomping at the bit for the mobile app, which is long over-due; but that’s sooo close to being finished, hang tight!

Is it difficult to get the balance right between using Habit for goals and it becoming a time-drain?

Not yet. People waste some time in the tavern and guilds chatting, but that’s about it. Because all the juicy real game stuff requires interacting with your tasks, you need to accomplish something IRL before you can equip your shiny new toys. That’s the addictive hook right there. Want that Skeleton Fox pet? Hit the gym.

Now, we’ve got this bucket-list of features on the queue. A class system (warrior, mage, healer, rogue), quests, music & sound (disabled by default of course). Over time it’s a possibility that people start wasting time – but we’ll try to make each time-wasting action require a productive action to achieve, if you follow.

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Is the Gamification of everyday life going to become more common?

Definitely! Here’s a few apps to wet the whistle: Lift, Task Hammer, Epic Win, FourSquare, DuoLingo, SuperBetter, Fitcracy, and more. It’s kinda the buzz word in the development sphere these day, and I’m seriously getting ill with all this “we need to gamify our company!”

Why did you opt for an 8-bit graphics style?

The primary reason: I’m no designer, and I needed a Creative Commons icon-set to bootstrap from. Enter BrowserQuest – a browser-based MMORPG built by Mozilla to showcase HTML5 & JavaScript’s realtime capabilities. It’s a fantastic showcase, and I hope some fan-fiction forks actually make a playable storyline of it.  So that’s the short answer – we used Mozilla’s CC3.0 art. Secondly, I’m annoyingly obsessed with SNES – so one glance at their art and the search was over.

Since then, we’ve had countless pixel artists donating their time and pixels to the cause – we’ve added a lot more than what we started with, and we’ve got a lot more to come.

Any plans to expand do a fully-fledged RPG?

Not really. You could play BrowserQuest for that kind of an experience, and there’s talk on the feature queue of mini games and scrolling adventures using your avatar. But I’m not looking too far past Quests and Boss Battles at the present moment, personally.

What’s your favourite RPG?

Left to right:

Chrono Trigger, Seiken Densetsu 3, Secret of Mana, Ultima 7 (Ultima everything, really), WoW (I know…), Guild Wars 2, Nexus TK. You asked for one: Chrono Trigger. But can we revisit this question, maybe do an interview specifically for this question?

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How awesome is your current Habit character?

Oh… he’s uh… He’s level 1. Let me explain! Before this Kickstarter 14h/7d weeks, when I had time to go to the gym and read books, Lefnire was soaring - gilded in gold, head to toe. Now I have a defunct daily list, and the only one I ever check of is “Work on HabitRPG.” Turns out Habit’s not very good for sprints. It’s actually a common thing discussed in the tavern: students “check into the inn” (disable Habit) when finals week hits. You’d think it’s the perfect time to exercise good habits, but not so – you’ve got one focus during times like that.

Possible business use?

Absolutely. We have Guilds (private groups of peers) and Challenges (lists of shared tasks that Guild members participate in)

  1. Teachers managing their classrooms. Create a private guild and some public challenges (essentially the syllabus) & private challenges (for students who need special attention). Student with the highest stats end-semester gets a special prize.
  2. Same story for Special Needs (IEPs)
  3. Project Managers for technical teams. Habit has an API, plug it into your business apps (Pivotal Tracker, Asana, etc) and reward the highest achieving employee.
  4. Organizations wanting to cut health care costs. Create some private Guilds representing “teams”, and some Challenges with health related tasks. Pit the teams against each other company-wide – winning team gets a prize at the end of the challenge.

Habit is a competitive video game, driven by achieving good and productive real life tasks. Any organization that wants to promote competitive improvement amongst their users could benefit from this.

Aims for the future?

Ah the possibilities are endless. Near future: Classes, Quests, Mounts, and Boss Battles. On-going: integrate with other APIs so you don’t have to manage everything in Habit and can return to your more robust, highly concentrated applications & workflows. Distant-future: get into schools & organizations, as per the above question. And of course, the features bucket-list. It’s open source, and we hope people will start adding the features they want as time goes on.