Designing Apps to Keep Kids Healthy: An Interview with Wellapets Creator Alex Ryu

Posted by | June 19, 2014 | News | No Comments
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In April we reviewed Wellapets, a game that’s fun and teaches kids how to handle asthma. We talked to Alex Ryu, the CEO and Co-Founder of Wellapets maker LifeGuard Games. Ryu took a leave from Harvard Medical School to launch Wellapets, which debuted this year to excellent reviews from parents, healthcare professionals, and kids.

We wanted to know more about the shifting landscape of educational games and the impact that Wellapets has made—read on to find out what he had to say.

Pixelkin: What inspired you to work on games for health?

Ryu: Our passion for games for health grew out of earlier work we had done in health software. From an early age, our co-founders have been interested in health and healthcare. For me, growing up next to the Mayo Clinic was a big part of that interest. We were also all gamers, particularly in our childhoods. When our earlier health software venture didn’t pan out quite as we had expected, we got to thinking about other interesting products we could develop that could also address important health issues. We came across fascinating research showing that games could actually help kids stay healthy, and found that no one had developed mobile games in this space yet. We wanted to be the first.

Pixelkin: What has reception for the game been like?

Ryu: Thus far, Wellapets has been very well received by parents, clinicians and most importantly, kids. We’ve had positive feedback with respect to both the educational and entertainment aspects of our game. Parents have found our game an effective and engaging way to teach their kids about health, while pediatricians have expressed that they believe their patients can benefit from playing our game. Most exciting of all, kids, even those without asthma, love caring for their Wellapets!

Pixelkin: How did you ensure that the game would be both fun and educational for kids?

Ryu: Our primary focus is creating a game that’s fun for any kid to play. Our design is constantly evolving. We originally made the mistake of creating a game around educational objectives, rather than embedding educational objectives within our game. Our current game combines the timeless, lovable nature of virtual pet games with educational content in a way that’s enjoyable for kids. Along the way we worked with industry experts and users to inform our design.

We’re currently developing a new major feature for our game in response to feedback we’ve received from users. We’re excited for you to see what we’ve been working on!

Pixelkin: You consulted with medical professionals on this game. What was their perspective on creating health games for kids? Did they see value in it?

Ryu: We’re happy to see that physicians are open to nontraditional methods of helping their patients. Pediatricians definitely appreciate that research shows that mobile games can positively influence kids’ health. Physicians can see value in the way Wellapets is educational and more engaging than traditional health education materials.

Wellapets has kids identify asthma symptoms and take care of adorable pets.

Wellapets has kids identify asthma symptoms and take care of adorable pets.

Pixelkin: How do you see the future of video games and health intersecting?

Ryu: We see tremendous potential at the intersection of mobile games and health. Research has already shown that games can positively influence kids’ health, and we’ve seen health providers embracing mobile games. With support from physicians, we expect to see more kids playing Wellapets. Health-focused games like Wellapets can also appeal to parents who have found our game unique in its ability to teach kids to stay healthy and are concerned with the well-being of their kids. We see mobile games as our opportunity to help parents, physicians, and most importantly, kids, by developing a series of mobile games for various aspects of kids’ wellness.

Pixelkin: What’s up next for you?

Ryu: Right now we are working to improve our game and increase user engagement for our asthma game. We’re testing new reward mechanisms to make our game more engaging. Next, we will focus on developing games for food allergies, financial literacy, and other aspects of kids’ wellness.

Simone de Rochefort

About Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.