Level up! (+1 to productivity)

Level up! (+1 to productivity)

The trailer for the upcoming iPhone app EpicWin (mobile phone apps being the latest entrants to the list of things in the world that need trailers) asks its potential user a simple question: Are you a swarthy Dwarven Toiler, a C.E.O. of Pain, or a mistress of Task Domination?

Becoming one of these involves no monster-slaying or cave exploring. Instead, EpicWin bestows heroic status on those who complete more mundane tasks—pick up groceries, for example, and you gain 200 XP and a bit of loot. It’s the role-playing game transplanted to real-world duties, adding a bit of video game persuasion to otherwise boring chores. It’s the brainchild of game designers Tak Fung and Rex Crowle, and will appear on the App Store later this month in India.

We spoke to co-creator Crowle on its origins, precedents and why video games are surprisingly effective persuaders. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Could you tell us a little bit about the origins of EpicWin? How far back does the idea go?

EpicWin probably had its origins about 10 years ago when Tak and myself were working together at Lionhead Studios, creating console games like Fable (a popular console role-playing game), and Black & White (a strategy game in which the players play God to an island tribe).

The two of us stumbled upon a network game called ProgressQuest—a satirical meta game. The only gameplay was turning it on as it then started playing itself, with your character improving and developing, and an online high-score table showed which players had left the game running for the longest. The statement it was making was that games are mainly a progress bar we are waiting to fill up, but we are entertained during its progress with story and character and unexpected surprises along the way.

Was that the prominent inspiration you were working with?

It got me thinking about the similarities between computer role-playing games and our own lives, and how much of a crossover there is between the quests in games and the tasks we have to perform in life. How sometimes, no matter how fantastical the setting in the game, we are still running around doing tedious errands. So, fastforwarding nine years to the start of this year, I was having a break in my freelance work and started thinking about these ideas again and also on the need to organize my own life better, and blended a concept with a need and created EpicWin, a mobile app, to put some fun into “getting things done" by blending to-do lists with gaming.

Having reminded Tak of our ProgressQuest memories, and taking him through designs, he excitedly took on developing the project for the iPhone. And a few months later, EpicWin hit the US iTunes App Store and in the week since we’ve been inundated with great stories from users that are now levelling up by going to the gym or doing their homework or just generally being a bit more organized.

Do you use productivity apps? Did EpicWin come out of a need to make that genre of apps better, or more interesting?

I have tried using productivity apps in the past—the problem I’ve always had is that adding tasks to my to-do list takes a little while to enter them all into the system. So without any major incentives to do the data entry of all my reminders, I’ve soon returned to writing everything down as lists in notebooks, as it’s quicker and easier. So a lot of the motivation to create EpicWin was to make a to-do that would actively engage its users and motivate them to both document their goals, as well as complete them.

Were there other precedents to what EpicWin is trying to do?

There’s been some interesting talks and discussions on using game-like features to drive change in behaviours (I’d recommend watching Jane McGonigal’s excellent TED talk “Gaming can make a better world") and it’s something that the advertising world is keenly embracing as well, but I haven’t seen a lot of other examples—especially in the mobile space, where the very nature of an “always-with-you" device could make the blend of gaming with living the most useful and accessible.

Do you have plans to port EpicWin to other platforms in the future?

We’ve been inundated online with chants from Android phone owners and we certainly don’t want people missing out on the help it can give them to organize themselves in a fun way.