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Crowdsourcing revisited: Dungeons and Dragons for to-do lists

HabitRPG was one of the earliest campaigns we covered in our Crowdsourcing Innovation series. Originally a personal project of co-founder Tyler Renelle, HabitRPG started out as a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet with a point-system to help improve his habits. Before long it was expanded into a web app that featured 8-bit style sprites taken from Mozilla’s BrowserQuest game, along with a few Role-Playing Game elements such as health and experience points.

The early versions were fairly simple; complete your tasks, stick to your good habits, and your character would gain experience, earn gold and get better equipment. Fail, and you’d lose health points, just like a classic RPG. Some early traction from the likes of Reddit and LifeHacker saw the site swamped, and so to build a more scalable and stable version, Renelle and co-founders Siena Leslie and Vicky Hsu turned to Kickstarter. The 2013 campaign saw 2,000 backers raised over $40,000.

Fast forward to today, HabitRPG has been rebranded to Habitica. New Android and iOS apps have been launched with additional features.

Leslie tells us that Habitica now has over one million users, and judging from the art and cosplay the fans submit, there’s a dedicated community to boot, something she says is key to staying motivated.

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Your Kickstarter campaign was a success – what’s happened with the company since then? How has the product changed since your campaign?

It’s grown significantly. We now have over one million users. We’ve released a fully-rewritten native iOS and Android apps, as well as many features like guilds, challenges, and new monthly quests and equipment.

Of course, some things have stayed the same. Just as with the Kickstarter campaign, our community is the cornerstone of Habitica. We couldn’t do it without them!

Would you run another campaign in the future?

Probably not – it was exhausting, and there are lots of other ways for our users to support us (such as buying gems or a monthly subscription). Thanks to our super-generous subscribers and donators, we have just enough to keep the servers running and doors open! But Kickstarter was definitely very helpful at the time; it put us on the map.

Why change the name of the company?

Did you know that there are people who don’t instantly recognise the abbreviation “RPG”? Since we’re a bunch of nerds, this took us by surprise, too, but after a few years of “HabitPRM? HabitBXE? HabitPZR?” we decided to go for something else. “Habitica” is the name of the fantasy land where HabitRPG took place, so we chose that as the new name for the company.  

Are users mostly mobile/app-based or site/desktop?

About 50% of our users use the mobile apps, but many of them use the website as well. The number of users on our mobile apps has been steadily climbing as we release updates to make them better and better.

What kind of demographics do you see using Habitica the most, and what sort of habits are they making?

The majority are people between the ages of 18-35, but the truth is that we have users of all ages. We sometimes see parties with three generations – kids, parents, and grandparents, all using the site together. Plus, 40% of our users consider themselves “non-gamers,” so you don’t have to be a fan of role-playing games to use Habitica. The most common habits that we hear about are related to work, school, chores, exercise, health, and creativity.

Which audience are you targeting more: consumer, business, education, other?

Right now, we’re mostly focused on our current product and on expanding our mobile apps, so I suppose that’s the consumer side. But we’ve got plans to add features to Habitica that will make it easier to use for families, workplaces, and teachers.

What do you think the appeal of Habitica is over a normal to-do list, and how hard is it to get balance right between enabling productivity and becoming a fun distraction?

Motivation, motivation, motivation! Anyone can make a list of what they need to do, but Habitica is one of the only to-do lists out there that gives you the encouragement to complete things by offering you rewards.

Do you think gamification is becoming more or less popular, are there different trends in different industries?

“Gamification” has become a common buzzword, but often the implementation will be very simple, like just awarding a badge periodically. We try to make sure that Habitica actually feels fun, not manipulative.

How hard is it to get people to stay motivated enough to stick with Habitica – I imagine there’s a surge at New Year and a drop-off as people break their new year’s resolutions?

There is indeed a surge at New Year’s and in September (back to school season). In general, we’ve discovered that the more social you are on the site (for example, by joining a party and posting in the chat), the more likely you are to stick with it and stay accountable with your habits. Luckily, we’ve got an amazing community.

Judging from the number of Cosplay pictures you get sent, there seems to be a real community around Habitica – is this sense of togetherness key to getting people to stick with (and help develop) the site?

We’re always incredibly impressed by all of the fanart and cosplay that we get. We’ve worked hard to cultivate a community that values kindness, creativity, and encouragement. It’s hard to break your bad habits, so we’re always cheering each other on and celebrating successes. People are always saying to me, “Habiticans seem like the nicest people on the internet” – and they’re right. Plus, because we’re an open-source community, anyone can help develop Habitica itself. You can earn in-game rewards doing anything from making art to answering questions. It’s very collaborative.

Do you see new technologies – for example wearables, AR/VR, or even integration with email or social networks and services such as Slack or Yammer – in the company’s plans?

We’d love to do more integrations in the future! Wearables and social networks are definitely top contenders, as well as other productivity and wellness tools. We’re currently rewriting our API to make that possible. It’s a huge project.

What can we expect to see from Habitica over the next 12 months?

Tons more updates to our mobile apps, lots of cool quests (including some World Boss battles), and some much-requested productivity features. This is a very exciting year for us and we can’t wait to implement all the things that are in our pipeline.

What’s your favourite RPG?

Dungeons and Dragons, all the way!

When we talked to Tyler, his Habitica character was Level 1. How awesome is your current Habit character?

Everyone has different play styles, so they level at different rates. Right now I’m level 119! (My highest level was 150, but then I used the Orb of Rebirth to go back to level 1, and I’ve been climbing back up since then.) My current goal is to collect all the Sabretooth mounts.

I’m most proud of my streaks, though. I’ve made my bed every day for the past 241 days :)

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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