Cozy houseplants and self-care: how one startup is reimagining mobile gameplay as a healing activity

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Mobile apps for wellbeing were on the way to surpassed one billion downloads last year, while the leading meditation app Calm alone generated $118.2 million in revenue, according to data from Sensor Tower. This may lead some to believe that the digital wellbeing market is essentially solved, but new startup Lumi Interactive believes the opposite is true. A Melbourne-based, women-led company has identified an under-researched niche in the mobile device market that involves translating offline self-care activities into games as a means of reducing collective stress and anxiety.

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While most mobile games are focused on having users compete against each other or achieve some goal, the upcoming startup title, good world The main goal is to help users relax. This is achieved through short, snack-sized sessions where players are asked to take care of virtual houseplants while taking care of themselves in the real world.

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The game encourages players to do simple acts of kindness – such as giving thanks daily – to improve their own well-being and that of the wider gaming community. There are many stress-free activities in the game, such as watering indoor plants, interacting with animal neighbors, decorating a cozy room with plants, and much more.

Image credits: Lumi Interactive

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In a way, this is reminiscent of how many of us spent months in creative play in the midst of a pandemic, doing games like Animal Crossing, a popular Nintendo game whose unobtrusive environment has helped many relax and pass the time amid the Covid-19 lockdown. In Animal Crossing, players designed indoor and outdoor spaces, shopped for clothes and home accessories, planted flowers, and chatted with animal friends.

As it turns out, the pandemic also played a big role in the founding of Lumi Interactive, TechCrunch reported.

“At the end of 2020, we were a small team of three, exhausted by the pandemic and a tough year for business,” explains co-founder and CEO of Lumi Interactive. Lauren Clinic. “We decided to spend two weeks refreshing ourselves with game jam to do something completely new and we were very concerned about mental well being. We also got closer to nature due to Melbourne’s harsh restrictions and wanted to find out why houseplants became part of the personal care routine for so many people we knew,” she says.

This raised the question of whether houseplant care could be transferred to the digital world, and as a result, the team created the Kinder World prototype.

“In just two weeks, a spark of something special flashed in it, and the concept immediately tested our target audience very strongly,” says Klinnik.

Both Klinnik and Lumi Interactive co-founder Christina Chen had gaming experience prior to founding their new company and had known each other for nearly a decade. Klinnik first entered the gaming industry as a marketing consultant for games like Crossy Road, co-founded a boutique game marketing agency, and then moved into full-time game development. Chen, meanwhile, had a tech background that saw her work on payments at Xbox Live and then as a senior producer at PopCap in Shanghai before co-founding game publisher Surprise Attack (now known as Fellow Traveler).

According to Klinnik, the duo bonded over a mutual love of data, underserved player communities, and new opportunities they felt were still on the horizon for mobile gaming.

Image credits: Lumi Interactive

As the team explored the idea of ​​more collaborative self-care-focused play, they found that many of today’s consumers are not satisfied with popular wellness apps.

“When we actually surveyed users — especially Gen Z, female millennials, and non-binary people — we found that 97% dropped out of apps like Headspace and Calm, citing they ‘felt like work’ or became something else for them, in which they have failed.” Clinic says. “Instead, they often have disparate leisure hobbies such as gaming, houseplants, collecting Squishmallow, crafting, and ASMR. It was mostly distractions that helped them deal with short-term anxiety but didn’t help them develop important long-term resilience skills,” she says.

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

We deliberately made this choice so that the players do not feel burdened,” says Klinnik.

In line with the strategy of developing the game together with its community, the startup turned to tiktok test various elements such as game design, art style, and find out what interests their users.

Currently, Lumi Interactive, a 12-person full-time team that continues to grow, closed $6.75 million in seed funding in March in an a16z-led round it is officially announcing this week. Other investors include 1Up Ventures, Galileo Ventures, Eric Seufert’s Heracles Capital, and Double Loop Games co-founder and CEO Emily Greer.

Startup uses funds to grow a team so he can further develop the broader concept he calls “crowd healing,” Lumi Interactive’s staff wellness researcher said. Dr. Hannah Gunderman, PhD. The company believes that this idea, which is about sharing kindness with others through self-care-style gameplay, could become a new gaming category.

Lumi Interactive is certainly not the first to come up with non-goal-oriented games. There are games that interactive stories or graphic novels or other indie projects, but they often force the gamer through the experience to come to a conclusion. Kinder World, meanwhile, will be something players will come back to whenever they need to unwind, so the company is considering a subscription in addition to the standard in-app purchases. It is also the study online offline experience with physical items that can unlock certain in-game benefits or activities.

Kinder World is currently in alpha testing on iOS and Android, with a full release scheduled for 2022.

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