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Ayogo Games wants to change the world, one healthy step at a time

Ayogo Games CEO Michael Fergusson: “If we can get a thousand people to do one healthy thing, then we'll have done something very good for the world.”

“If we can get a thousand people to do one healthy thing, then we'll have done something very good for the world.”

That, says Ayogo Games CEO Michael Fergusson, is the philosophy behind HealthSeeker, a Facebook game recently released by the small Vancouver video game company.

HealthSeeker is meant to help people make healthy lifestyle changes through the power of social networks, Fergusson says. It was developed by the Diabetes Hands Foundation in collaboration with Joslin Diabetes Center and produced by Ayogo. Since its release on Facebook three weeks ago, more than 4,000 people have used the application and the game has garnered a lot of positive media coverage. Though designed for people with diabetes, the game is playable by anyone interested in a healthy lifestyle. Players complete “missions” such as “Roughin’ It: The Fiber Mission”, which consist of specific tasks such as “spend 10 seconds reading a food label for serving size and dietary fiber” or “make the switch from white rice to brown rice.” You gain experience points for completing tasks in the allotted time.

The social aspect is very important to the game. You can get extra points by sharing accomplishments with your Facebook friends or by tweeting them on Twitter. You’re encouraged to recruit your Facebook friends to the game and to send “kudos” to friends who are already playing when they accomplish goals.

Fergusson says most health-based video games focus on long term rewards, but humans tend to think in the short term. “All the serious health games focus on using health as their reward, which is a long-term reward and we think that human beings are not really wired very well that way. Human beings are much better wired for short-term rewards.”

HealthSeeker, on the other hand, focuses on short-term rewards, he says. “When you do a healthy thing, instead of the reward being a future healthy state that you will eventually get into, we reward you for taking that one single action right now in the game with in-game rewards and in-game achievements. The idea is that we may not get that one person to do a thousand healthy things but if we can get a thousand people to do one healthy thing, then we'll have done something very good for the world.”

The game has generated both positive and negative views. One user commented on the game’s Facebook page: “LOVE this - very good for motivation, and much less of a time-waster than other FB games.” But others have found the game less than exciting. A friend of mine who tried it told me: “I only spent a few minutes with it and my first impression is that it's more 'education' than ‘game’. I was checking it out for a good friend of mine who is suffering from arthritis, and I really don't see it being 'fun' enough to catch his attention.”

Fergusson disagrees. “Our game's not about education. Our game's about action. There are really no other games like this in the world. There are games that talk about health, but mostly they're educational games. They educate you about things that you could do that would be healthy and then they expect you to do those healthy things later. It's good to make that often very dry and boring content a bit more fun to read, and I think that people really appreciate that.”

Ayogo Games (the name is derived from those of two ancient games -- Ayo from West Africa and Go from East Asia) -- was founded by Fergusson and Chief Technology Officer Paul Prescott in 2008. Ayogo also makes games under its own brand for the iPhone (City of Ash, Pet Pupz) and under contract from larger game companies. Ayogo is currenlty working on games for the iPad and for smart phones that use the Android operating system, Fergusson says.

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