How a startup is reimagining mobile gaming as a therapeutic activity

Mobile wellness apps topped 1.2 billion downloads last year, while leading meditation app Calm alone brought in $118.2 million in profit, according to data from Sensor Tower. This might make some believe that the digital luxury market has essentially been dissolved, but a new startup, Lumi Interactive, believes the opposite is true. The Melbourne-based, women-led company has carved out an undiscovered niche in the mobile market that includes translating offline self-care activities into games as a way to reduce our collective stress and anxiety.

While most mobile games focus on getting users to compete against each other or achieve some kind of goal, the main goal of the startup Kinder World is to help users relax. It achieves this through short snack-sized sessions where it asks players to take care of virtual houseplants by taking care of themselves in the real world.

In the game, players are encouraged to perform simple acts of kindness – such as practicing daily gratitude, for example – in order to improve their own well-being and that of the wider game community. The game features a variety of non-stressful activities – such as watering houseplants, interacting with animal neighbors, and decorating a cozy room with plants, among other things.

Image credits: LOMI Interactive

In some ways, this refers to the number of people who spent months playing creatively during the height of the pandemic dealing with games like Animal Crossing, the popular Nintendo game whose stress-free environment helped many relax and pass the time amid COVID-19 lockdowns. In Animal Crossing, players design indoor and outdoor spaces, shop for clothes and home accessories, plant flowers and chat with animal friends.

As it turns out, the pandemic played a large role in the founding of Lumi Interactive, too, the company told TechCrunch.

“In late 2020, we were a small team of three, exhausted by the pandemic and a grueling year on the job,” explains co-founder and CEO of Lumi Interactive. Lauren Klink. “We decided to take a couple of weeks to refresh ourselves with a profitable game of making something completely new, and mental wellbeing was very much on our minds. We have also all become closer to nature due to the harsh lockdowns in Melbourne and wanted to study why houseplants are becoming part of the self-care routine for so many people we know.”

This raised the question of whether houseplant care could be brought into the digital world, and the team built a prototype for Kinder World as a result.

“Something special sparked off after just two weeks, and tested the concept very aggressively with our target audience right away,” says Clinnick.

Clinnick and Lumi Interactive co-founder Christina Chen both had a background in gaming prior to founding their new company and have known each other for nearly a decade. Clinnick first entered the gaming industry as a marketing consultant for games like Crossy Road, co-founded a marketing agency for boutique games, and later moved on to direct game development. Meanwhile, Chen had a tech background that put her working on payments at Xbox Live and later as a senior producer at PopCap in Shanghai before she co-founded game publisher Surprise Attack (now Fellow Traveler).

Klinik says the duo bonded over their mutual love of data, underserved gamer communities, and new opportunities they thought were still on the horizon for mobile gaming.

Image credits: LOMI Interactive

As the team researched the idea of ​​a more collaborative title focused on self-care, they discovered that many consumers today are not satisfied with mainstream wellness apps.

“When we interviewed users—particularly Gen Z, millennial women, and nonbinary people—we found that 97% had dropped out of apps like Headspace and Calm, citing that they “felt like they were working” or becoming something else they were failing at,” Clinnick says. “Instead, they often have fragmented relaxation hobbies such as gaming, houseplants, squishmallow collecting, crafting, and ASMR. These are mostly distracting activities that helped them with anxiety in the short term but did not help them build important resilience skills in the long term,” Says.

Lumi Interactive responded to these comments by making sure their game is designed in such a way that you can’t fail, no matter how you play. For example, all activities in the game are optional and virtual houseplants will never die.

We made these choices consciously to prevent players from feeling burdened,” says Clinnick.

In keeping with the strategy of co-developing the game with their community, the startup turned to TikTok to test different elements, such as game design and art style, and see what interests its users.

Now, the full-time team of 12 people and growing Lumi Interactive closed on $6.75 million in seed funding in March in a round led by a16z — which will be officially announced this week. Other investors include 1Up Ventures, Galileo Ventures, Eric Seufert’s Heracles Capital, and Double Loop Games co-founder and CEO, Emily Greer.

The startup is using the money to grow the team so it can develop the larger concept it calls “healing crowds,” according to Dr. Hannah Gundermann, a full-time wellbeing researcher at Lumi Interactive. The company believes the idea – which refers to sharing kindness with others through self-care-style gameplay – could become a new gaming category.

Lumi Interactive, of course, isn’t the first to imagine games that aren’t goal-focused. There are games that are interactive stories, graphic novels, or other standalone projects, but often the player still practices them through experiment to reach a conclusion. Meanwhile, Kinder World will be something players come back to whenever they need to relax, which is why the company is considering a subscription offer, in addition to standard in-app purchases. It’s also exploration Online and offline experiences with physical items that can unlock certain game features or activities.

Kinder World is currently undergoing alpha testing on iOS and Android and aims for a full release later in 2022.

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