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Can gaming with your groceries make you more productive?

Credit: HabitRPG

A new web, and soon mobile, app called HabitRPG helps turn to-do lists into epic battles with cute graphics and old-school gaming touches, and Tyler Renelle, the creator, is hoping Kickstarter will give him the support needed to help others stay productive too.

So far the project, launched Jan. 10, has raised a little over $2,000 towards its $25,000 goal. Renelle, who has already released the source code for the web app version for free on GitHub, and he said he is committed to running the whole project as sort of an experiment in openness — and hopefully one that pays off monetarily in the end. Renelle answered a few questions via email:

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What gave you the idea for doing HabitRPG, and how long did it take you to get an initial prototype up and running? Did you use HabitRPG as you were building it to help keep you on track?

This whole project has been one big bowl of dogfood—and I didn’t intend to release it, initially. It started of as a color-coded, formulaic Google Doc to help remember my daily tasks and track their progress. As web developer, I thought I was being ridiculous—so I created a Ruby on Rails app with more complex logic, including Hit Points and Experience. I had my friends use it, and it was silly and fun. About 6 months ago I decided it was getting quite complex, and there’s no reason other people shouldn’t be using this—so I switched architecture (DerbyJS, I wanted to learn Node.js) and released it.

How many active users do you have?

3,500. Gotta start somewhere

You talked a little bit about the business model, and how it struggled at first. How much money did you make from the first coin iterations, and how has that changed how you approach monetization?

Habit uses “Tokens” to stay in video-game character. A token is $.25 naturally, and previously you had to use 2 tokens to continue (if your character died from poor habits). That made exactly $5, and made a lot of users quite angry. It was well-intentioned—I wanted real incentive to prevent you from failing, like StickK and Beeminder do. However, after much open discussion on Habit’s business model, we decided it better to provide optional purchases, digital items such as avatar “flare” and emergency potions when you’re “so close to leveling!” Additionally, we want to provide the white label option.

Have you talked with any companies about your plan to white label it as a workplace productivity app? What’s the feedback been like?

The idea is a spin of HabitRPG for internal use by companies, so they can pair their employees into “parties” for friendly competition. It will track their internal products (such as JIRA or Pivotal Tracker) to grant experience gold to employees, to promote productivity. In order to mitigate cheating, it will ideally be more friendly (you can heal and buff your party members) than competitive, but a healthy dose of both.

I haven’t had too many conversations with companies yet, this decision was rather new. There are three companies that express sort of pipe-dream interest, but I’m actively looking for organizations that would be interested.

Why are you running this as an “open company”? Do you think you’ll make less money doing it this way, but benefit in other ways?

The idea here is that any revenue made by Habit is distributed by percentage based on actual contribution to the project. That makes people immediately uneasy, so read this article for my justification. The challenge is to accurately assess percentage contribution, but once that’s achieved the funds will be distributed fairly amongst the team as weekly royalties, using Gittip as the payment gateway.

The “open company” idea has actually been kind of a life goal of mine. I have this dream that it will encourage more profitable projects to open-source, encourage more participation in profitable open source projects, and that the participation won’t go unrewarded. Additionally, developers can finally work on projects they love and get paid for it, instead of having to work on those projects on the side. It’s a way to invest in a project with skills instead of just money. It’s opt-in (using Gittip), so people who disagree with the philosophy can ignore it.

In fact, I don’t think I’ll make less money this way—I think I’ll make more! At least initially, as I’m currently the only contributor to the project. Team members are currently being on-boarded, and if they champion the product and put me to shame, their payout will be greater. It’s just a matter of fair input/output, and I’m very excited to be piloting this idea.

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