Wellbeing apps are big business – just ask Calm and Headspace – but somehow we’ve yet to see these wholesome ideas translate fully into a successful mobile game experience.
Which is weird, isn’t it? Usually there’s no shortage of mobile games folks ready to jump on a trend. Perhaps there’s a perceived tension in helping players feel better, while also asking them to stump up some cash.
Australian studio Lumi aims to untangle that knotty problem with its wellbeing game Kinder World. And it has plenty of funding to do so. A16z led a recent $6.75m seed investment, with 1Up, Galileo, Heracles and angel investor Emily Greer of Double Loop Games also part of the round.
Those investors will be expecting some sort of return, of course. So how do you balance helping a potentially quite vulnerable audience with making enough money to run a business?
With great sensitivity, of course. Lumi CEO Lauren Clinnick describes a mix of IAP like “different [plant] pot designs and companion pets”, a subscription for those who want a deeper wellbeing experience and “physical items such as journals”.
“It’s important to us that access to the core self-kindness activities are not monetised and are accessible by all players,” she says. “We also don’t have ad monetisation in this version of Kinder World. There’s no ‘daily reward’ chains, and plants also won’t die if players need to take a bit of a break and come back later.”
It’s a ‘no fail’ experience, in short, and one that aims to avoid feeling too much like work, which Clinnick and her team believe is the problem with existing wellbeing apps. Lumi has surveyed hundreds of gen Z, millennial women and nonbinary folks about why people drop out of these apps, says Clinnick.
“Our research indicates that these experiences feel more like homework, are often quite solitary and linear, or something that they can ‘fail’ at. When they’re already exhausted or anxious, they find themselves looking for more fragmented emotional regulation tools like cosy games, ASMR, lo-fi music and so on.”
Kinder World aspires to be that one destination to help with all that, and is guided by Lumi’s in-house wellbeing researcher, Dr. Hannah C. Gunderman, Ph.D, who espouses the merits of ‘crowdhealing’.
“Players are encouraged to perform simple acts of mindful kindness like emotional naming or daily gratitude, then share this ‘kindfulness’ with other players,” says Clinnick. “Offering players a living, breathing world with a neighbourhood-like experience has made a big difference in our players forming a habit and warm connection with our game.”
Lumi’s investors will be encouraged by the experienced founding team, too. Clinnick has worked in all sorts of marketing and comms roles, was marketing consultant on Crossy Road, co-founded a games marketing agency and then moved into development.
Co-founder Christina Chen has worked “in supercomputing” at Microsoft, on Xbox Live’s back end, in production at PopCap and also co-founded publisher Surprise Attack, now known as Fellow Traveller.
Lumi has started and killed several projects since it was founded in 2018, and soft launched Kinder World in early 2021. It will go global at the end of the year, all being well, with a full roadmap of updates and live ops planned thereafter.