Cult Live is a game in disguise

Ever since the Nintendo Wii launched in 2006, a lot has changed in the world of motion gaming. Sony entered this market with PS Move with a controller set better suited for tracking and Microsoft took it a step further with Kinect where you simply didn’t need controllers at all

This is a perfect platform for fitness games but they haven’t taken off. The prime suspect here is - ease of access (lack of it). Most of these consoles are expensive and sometimes you need to buy additional accessories to make this work. Even if you do, you spend half your time in calibrating.

There’s one more reason why they’re not so popular, especially among fitness enthusiasts. They’re games. Anyone who’s serious about being fit will not want to be seen playing a game to get fit.

That’s where Cult Live flipped the model. The didn’t create a fitness game, they gamified a fitness app.

This is one of the best applications of gamification but you’ll never once see the word ‘game’ anywhere. Whoever made that decision is a genius. The moment you call it a game, you’re pushing away people who are serious about it. That’s just the curse of gamification.

Cult Live, what is it?

Cult Live is the newly launched capability on the Cult Fit app. With Cult Live, anyone can work out at the comfort of their home, for FREE! You get a variety of classes from intense ones like HRX & HIIT to fun ones like Dance Fitness. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Cult Fit, they describe themselves like this on their FAQ page:

“ uses the best in technology to give you a world-class experience. You can book classes, follow workout videos - all with the click of a button from the app or website”

If you ask me, Cult Fit’s vision is to do what Netflix did to video rental, what Uber to regular cabs, what Swiggy did to restaurants. To disrupt. Cult Fit aspires to disrupt fitness centers. 

As established by Rishabh Telang, founder of Cult Fit, in this article written in 2017, “Fitness should be accessible, that is what we aim to do”

Cult Live was the answer to make Fitness accessible. There’s no better time to take exercise to the hands (and legs, core, quads, shoulders)  of people who would otherwise find excuses to pay gyms but never visit them.

Case in point - me. I’ve never exercised in my entire life. Words like “Jumping Jacks”, “High Knees” and “Burpees” (I legit thought it had something to do with burps) are foreign to me. I find the traditional form of exercising very monotonous and boring. I am intimidated by people who frequent gyms and post photos on Instagram. I would rather stay home and play on my PlayStation 4 Pro in 4K. Yes, Pro.

I’ve never done a Cult Fit class, in person (even though I paid for it once). I don’t like a lot of things that come along with fitness classes/gyms. It starts with commuting, carrying a pair of gym clothes, commuting back, small talk with people around you, not being able to gasp loudly or just stay dead on the floor. You name it, I hate it.

But I’ve been hooked. Hooked to Cult Live for the past 3 weeks. I was very surprised with myself. But then I realized. I’m not exercising. I’m playing a game! That could be the only explanation.

Cult Live is not a fitness application, no no no no. It’s a game! It’s a very cleverly designed game that had a timely launch.

While I see the official Cult Live blog published on March 24th, few love posts on Twitter and this YourStory article suggest that the feature launched probably slightly earlier.

While the country was officially pushed into lockdown on March 24th, Cult Live was generally available to users at least a full week before that. This YourStory article “CureFit launches live classes on its app -” suggests that the feature was already in works and this situation forced them to launch it quickly. 

It was instantly well received. According to their launch blog, there’s been a 450% increase in the number of people working out on Cult Live! I have no trouble believing that stat. This kind of DAU increase is pretty common for games. Remember Pokemon Go?

Cult Live doesn’t target fitness enthusiasts, it’s the exact opposite

Cult Live is free to start with, a brilliant strategy! While Cure Fit could’ve opened it up exclusively to their paid customer base just like most fitness clubs, they didn’t. They chose to make it available for free because they’re targeting a much larger audience, the non-fitness enthusiasts. 

In fact, there are a few other product decisions that make me wonder if Cult Live is targeting only non-fitness enthusiasts.

Most of us aren’t able to sustain an exercise routine because it needs at least 2 hours of our time every day. No, I’m not suggesting that an average person works out 2 hours a day. If you account for all the commute time, conversation time and wardrobe refresh time, it definitely takes up 2 hours. Because of that, anything less than a 1-hour workout seems like a bad return on investment. Why would you spend 1 hour every day just to work out for 30 minutes?

Because of the Cult Live model, they’re able to offer many short courses that start with just 20 minutes. Having tried a lot of these 20-minute workouts, I can say they’re effective but there’s no way I’d commute to a fitness center to work out for 20 minutes. Nah-uh!

What makes Cult Live a game?

A bunch of things! Let’s break them out, one by one!

The energy meter is the crux of Cult Live’s gameplay. It’s the Portal gun of Portal, bikes of Road Rash and the cheat codes of GTA San Andreas Simply put, it’s a meter that tracks your movements and assigns points during your workout.

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The tech behind this is pretty simple for the results it achieves (the dream of every product manager). I’m not trivializing the tech by calling it simple but we’ve had many ‘gamified fitness’ applications in the past. They’re either too expensive, cumbersome to set up or just won’t work

The Cult.Live solves it very simply. You can use your phone, tablet or computer to access any course. Before joining, you need to stand in front of the camera and align yourself to a position. That’s it! You don’t have to worry about anything - you just keep working out and the app tracks the rest!

There are some minor variations that make it more fun. For a sustained period of high energy movement, the energy meter will give you a boost with a very satisfying loud ‘whooosh’. If you see the energy meter moving, you’re very likely to push yourself to hit that boost

Now, the reason I call it simple is that it’s easy to game the system. There are no points for accurately following the trainer. You could stand in front of the camera and just flail your arms around and you’ll still score points. But you still move and sweat, so I’m guessing it’s a win-win

The tech is also not great at tracking ground movements. Most of the time, you’re lying flat on the ground and you’re out of the frame for the camera. The tougher movements like holding in the plank position for a long time or keeping that knee off the ground are not aptly rewarded with points.

The app (and the trainers) constantly remind you that camera access is only for tracking your movements and nothing else. I just hope they have a good security system in place.

But trust me, I would call this a HUGE success with what they’ve been able to achieve. Anything more might have required a complicated setup and would’ve immediately put off a lot of users

Cult Live’s multiplayer mode offers a lot of options to play with your friends and strangers alike! They’re not calling it ‘multiplayer mode’ but I am! To me, this is the closest that any application has come to mobilizing a large crowd into a ‘competing’ with each other.

It uses a game technique called Fixed Action Reward whereas the player, you are fully aware of the action you need to complete to obtain the reward.

The next game technique used is leaderboards - more specifically group leaderboards and micro leaderboards.

Notice how you are placed in the middle of the leaderboard so that you can always see the ones below and above. You’re working hard to ensure that you don’t slip in your ranking and also motivated to step up.

There’s also this nice jumping action the moment you race ahead of the person in front of you. This technique is called magnetic caps where you’re not being overwhelmed with the entire leaderboard but a small portion you can actually jump ahead.

You will not be able to take your eyes off the ranking when you’re exercising. You’re constantly trying to beat your rank from the last workout or simply trying to beat a vanity milestone (“I must finish under 1000, I must be in the top 250”)

Now, let’s talk about the micro leaderboard a.k.a - compete with your friends.

I tried looking for stats online but I couldn’t find any so I’m just proposing this is as a hypothesis - “You’re more likely convinced to play a game with your friend than a stranger”

I’m backing it up with anecdotes from my own life and the trend we’ve seen in India with apps like Clash of Clans, PUBG, MPL and Dream 11. The number of people in the same office, school and college forming a clan/group/team and competing together is an indicator.

Cult Live understands this and they’ve engineered micro-interactions to help you achieve them. For example, their primary CTA after you’ve joined the class is to invite a friend. They also run promotional ads to invite friends in exchange for FitCash

Once you’re done with the workout, you get a nice little report that highlights a few metrics. From a fitness standpoint, most of these metrics are vanity. They tell you nothing. But as a game, they’re very powerful.

The smartest metric in there is the“Better Than” metric. You’ll always look at that metric and feel good. Even if you’re 10% better than all of the attendees, you’re going to walk away feeling decently good about yourself. Imagine a game where over 90% of the players feel good after playing it. You bet almost all of them will come back.

You also get a history of all your past classes and stats at your disposal. This isn’t new to any game, all games like to remind you how much you’ve‘achieved’ in the hope that you continue down that path. Cult Live also includes the popular streaking technique where you work out for a regular set of days and they would donate on your behalf!

No excuses anymore

I’d say Cult Live has removed all the excuses to not exercise during this lockdown. Even if your WiFi connection is acting up, you can work your way through the Single Player mode on the app. They’re designed in 15 - 20 minute packages to help you get through a course

There’s still a long way to go but this is yet another example of how technology first consumer companies are literally changing the way we look at things. The possibilities are limitless for Cult Live

Imagine a perfect tracking algorithm combined with personalized feedback and potentially a competitive tournament on the app. This can revolutionize the entire fitness industry and bring more people in.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem working out. But I want to do it in the comfort of my home. “How do you expect to get fit if you want to stay home all the time?” they used to ask me. Well, the joke’s on them now because Cult Live just came in and removed all these constraints like Thanos just snapped his finger.

I may never pay for a fitness subscription again but if Cult Live introduces a paid plan, count me in.

_Disclaimer: All the views expressed in this blog are my own

Credits: All the game techniques mentioned in the blog are part of Yukai Chou’s Gamification framework Octalysis_

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