5 Questions with… Tom Söderlund, CEO, Zyked - Wii Fit Has Competition

The core value of Zyked is that it makes existing exercising activities more fun.

1. How did Zyked get its start (and its name)?

The idea came when I was training for my first New York City Marathon back in 2006. During my weekly runs, I had this epiphany: exercising is boring! I started thinking of making my own training more fun. Being a game designer for 8 years, I started looking for inspiration in video games. Shortly after, I was making small game prototypes and toys for myself.

At the time, there was a lot of debate about how video games are “ruining today’s young people.” I don't agree with this, but I started thinking that maybe my running toys could be of benefit for other people, and turn video games into something good. It took quite a while before I found a name I liked. I started getting quite frustrated, and then one day I saw that in a chat forum, someone had spelled "psyched" like "zyked." And that was that.

2. What qualities make Zyked a mapping and exercise-based social network?The core value of Zyked is that it makes existing exercising activities more fun! This is supported by two factors: the gameplay mechanisms, and the social community. We looked closely at other gaming communities, such as Xbox Live, when designing Zyked—trying to identify what made them so captivating. The gameplay elements in Zyked are the points system, the achievement badges (you earn little medals when you run your first 5K, your first 10 runs, etc), the skill level hierarchy (starting with the white belt, you then earn the yellow belt, inspired by martial arts).

The social elements in Zyked are the highscores, challenging other players to exercise, finding other people to exercise with. Zyked has two main components: the website, and the mobile companion that runs on your phone. The website’s purpose is to keep you motivated between your exercising activities, and the mobile application keeps you motivated while exercising.

We intentionally wanted to have a really low-entry level when it comes to technology, so you can use just the website if you want. If you have a cellphone, a phone with GPS, or other high-tech gadgets, Zyked will work with those too. We believe boredom is one of the main obstacles that prevents people from doing more exercise, and we want to boost their motivation.

3. What marketing/promotions are you currently undergoing to advertise Zyked?

We’re still fine-tuning the application, so we’re not marketing it too much. We have a group of test pilots that are evaluating it and giving us feedback.

4. What feedback have you received after attending the Games for Health Conference this year? What did you hope to get out of it?

I had almost no expectations for the conference, but it turned out great! We got contacts with many large companies in the same business space. Health gaming is very much an emerging field; the conference is still small, but growing quickly.

5. Is exercise gaming the wave of the future?

I do believe exercise gaming, or "exergaming" which is the new buzz word, is the wave of the future. And in a larger context, I think game design will be applied to many areas that we today consider dull or cumbersome. A famous game designer, Jane McGonigal, said in her keynote at the SXSW conference earlier this year, that many of us will soon be in the “happiness business”—making things more fun, and making people happier.

I think some of our competitors have got it wrong, and some have got it just right. As of now, there's a lot of focus on tracking performance. You can get GPS watches and heartrate monitors that provide you with a plethora of statistics. For hardcore training nerds, that’s great, but most people need something much simpler, and much more focused on motivation and making it fun.

Nintendo has got it just right with their Wii Fit system. They focus on making it fun, and I love it! But the Wii Fit sort of creates new sports and exercising activities, whereas Zyked is designed to augment your existing exercising to make it more fun. (Read MDNG’s first take on the Wii Fit at http://www.mdnglive.com/blogs/tice/Tice_REVIEW_The_Wii_Fit).