self-care

Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming

Posted by | App, Apps, Developer, Gaming, Mobile, self-care, selfcare, Social, Startups, TC, tru luv | No Comments

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry — she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades, including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with more than 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding, including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide — the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Graner Ray’s book ‘Gender Inclusive Game Design,’ which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a ‘mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation.’ That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code (Image Credits: Brie Code)

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challenge, and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, by Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind of response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for in an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures, which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director, Julius Mokrauer, actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

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Shine brings its female-focused self-care app to Android

Posted by | android apps, Apps, Mobile, Self Help, self-care, shine, wellness | No Comments

Shine, one of the many apps capitalizing on the growing self-care trend, has now brought to Android devices its app used by 3 million people. Originally launched as a simple messaging bot that doled out life advice and motivation, Shine has grown over the years to become a larger self-help platform aimed largely at the millennial crowd — and, in particular, millennial women.

As of Shine’s $5 million Series A round last April, the app’s user base was 70 percent female, and 88 percent were under the age of 35.

Since then, it has added another million to its then 2 million users. That growth came despite Shine having missed the mark at times, as with its failed life-coaching subscription product that never emerged from testing.

Today, Shine’s focus is on personal growth, motivational messaging and other self-improvement topics, which are delivered by way of text and audio. Through short-form audio, users can get help across a number of areas, including things like productivity, mindfulness, focus, stress and anxiety, burn out, acceptance, self-care for online dating, creativity, forgiveness, work frustrations and more.

The app also sends daily motivational texts based on research-backed materials that help users better understand the topic at hand. These are presented in a more casual style — almost like it’s a friend chatting with you.

Shine now monetizes through a Premium subscription that offers expanded access to Shine’s audio talks and challenges, as well as additional features like offline listening and the ability to save favorite texts. This is either $4.50/month if you pay the $53.99 annual fee at once, or $9.99 per month. That’s roughly in line with what some meditation apps charge — for instance, the top meditation app Calm is $59.99 per year. And it’s cheaper than Headspace, which is $95.88 annually, by comparison.

Shine had said last year that one of its plans for its Series A was to build out the Android experience, as nearly half its customers were accessing Shine on Android devices. In those cases they were using the texting service due to the lack of an official app.

On iOS, Shine is fairly popular in its category. It has jumped to become the No. 16 “Health & Fitness” app in the U.S. following the Christmas holiday — a time of year when people get serious about wellness and self-care. However, it’s only the No. 86 app on the “Health & Fitness” Top Grossing chart, which puts it far behind other wellness apps, including meditation apps like Calm, weight loss apps like Lose It! and workout apps like the No. 1 app, Sweat from Kayla Itsines.

Given the app stores’ larger shift to subscriptions over paid downloads in recent years, it will be interesting to see how many apps the average consumer will actually pay for through the subscription model — and to what extent more niche apps like Shine will be sustainable in the long term, as a result.

Shine is a free download on Google Play.

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Self-care apps are booming

Posted by | app-store, Apps, apptopia, Mobile, self-care, sensor tower, trends | No Comments

Millennials may be a bit obsessed with self-care — and it’s beginning to pay off for the makers of self-care and digital wellness apps. According to data from multiple app store intelligence firms, the category is now seeing notable growth. In the first quarter of 2018, the top 10 grossing self-care apps in the U.S. earned $15 million in combined iOS and Android revenue, and $27 million in worldwide revenue, according to Sensor Tower.

The firm also found that the top 10 wellness apps (e.g. mindfulness and meditation) made about 170 percent more revenue worldwide in Q1 2018 than the top 10 wellness apps did in Q1 2017 across both the App Store and Google Play. In the U.S., they made about 167 percent more.

However, a big chunk of self-care apps’ revenue is being claimed by just two apps — Calm and Headspace, both of which focus on mindfulness and meditation. Calm, the top grosser, earned about half the total revenue in the U.S. and worldwide, equating to roughly $8 million in the U.S. and $13.5 million worldwide. Combined with Headspace, the two generated more than 90 percent of the top 10 apps’ revenue last quarter.

Apptopia is also reporting a surge in self-care app revenues and installs, but its numbers don’t agree with Sensor Tower data.

Both firms agreed on the top three, however: Calm, followed by Headspace, then 10% Happier: Meditation Daily. Other mindfulness apps appeared on both charts, including The Mindfulness App and Stop, Breathe & Think.

The discrepancies may be attributed to how the companies define “self-care” — as it’s not a specific app store category — as well as data quality.

Apptopia also claimed self-care app installs are up year-over-year, with more new self-care apps arriving every year.

Regardless of which firm is closer to actual, the trend is clear: self-care app adoption is booming.

 

Apple, for example, pegged self-care as one of its top four breakout trends for 2017, saying “never before have we seen such a surge in apps focused specifically on mental health, mindfulness and stress reduction.”

As to why self-care apps are the latest craze, that’s a bit more complicated.

Some experts say millennials’ use of the informational resources on the internet increased awareness about self-care in general; others would say the always-on news cycle of the web combined with the depressing nature of social media led to a growing need for self-care tools. And, of course, cynics would argue it’s simply because millennials are more self-absorbed than other generations, and this trendy focus on self-care is the proof.

But there are plenty of other factors beyond that. Millennials married later and were slower to buy homes as a result — that may have led them to have more time to remained self-focused, as they may not have had the same set of distracting responsibilities as their parents. (Or the related drains on their extraneous funds!)

Meanwhile, the stigma around mental illness is also on the decline, which aids a self-care app surge.

However, not all self-care apps are a replacement for traditional mental health care, when it comes to more serious matters. Some of the talk therapy apps were found to be ineffective, expensive, inconsistent in the quality of care provided and, at worst, potentially dangerous.

For those problems that can’t be meditated away, please still call a doctor or an emergency hotline.

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