What Health Care Can Learn from Guitar Hero

There are lots of best practice tips that apply to all startups from the game industry, to the health care industry. And recently the two unrelated fields have even begun to intersect as health care startups experiment with gaming techniques to get people to use and continue to use their products.

Kai Huang, co-founder of RedOctane, publisher of the Guitar Hero video game, explained that Guitar Hero accomplished this by hitting on a single emotion.

“It made you feel like a rock star,” he said speaking on a panel at the Burrill & Company Digital Health Meeting last week.

“That was the one thing that resonated almost universally ― 50/60 million units in sales.”

Unfortunately health care isn’t as much fun as a virtual rock concert, and Huang hasn’t figured out how to get it to be.

He and his brother Charles, the other co-founder of RedOctane, have studied consumer engagement in health care for the past year and a half. They started out with an interest in creating devices that capture biometric data, seeing the potential that these data have to give patients a better understanding of their health.

“That was a big lesson for us. We did a lot of research in an area that we were interested in,” Huang said. “But ultimately we abandoned it just because we didn’t think we could create an engaging long-term experience around it.”

Some companies like Fitbit have proven that they can successfully make relatively affordable devices that capture biometric data. But so far, these devices lack a long-term engagement factor, Huang said.

He still thinks that games are a great way to get people to do something that isn’t fun. He gave the example of how kids hate to do their math homework, but when they play the Nintendo DS game Brain Age, they’ll do math problems for an hour.

“Where I’ve seen the most success … is really when it starts off as a great game experience and you build off of that,” Huang said.

Huang emphasized that his own success came from playing on one emotion that resonated with people.

“A lot of startup work you have no idea where it’s gonna go and how big it’s gonna get,” Huang said. “But you got to really, really, really quickly figure out what is the one thing that consumers want to latch onto.”

Startups have yet to figure out the health care equivalent of making consumers feel like a rock star, but Huang said that just because it hasn’t been done yet doesn’t mean that someone won’t figure it out.

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