Mobile wellness apps were on track to surpass a billion downloads last year, while leading meditation app Calm brought in $118.2 million in revenue alone, data from Sensor Tower shows. That might lead some to believe that the digital wellness market has essentially dissolved, but a new startup, Lumi Interactive, believes the opposite is true. The Melbourne-based, women-led company has identified an underdeveloped niche in the mobile market, translating offline, self-care activities into games as a means of reducing our collective stress and anxiety.
While most mobile games focus on making users compete against each other or achieve a certain goal, the startup’s upcoming title is, Children’s Worlds main purpose is to help users relax. It accomplishes this through short, snack-sized sessions in which it asks players to care for 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, to improve their own well-being and that of the wider community of the game. The game offers a variety of non-stressful activities such as watering house plants, interacting with animal neighbors, and decorating a cozy room with plants, among others.
In a way, this is a reminder of how many of us spent months getting creative during the height of the pandemic games like Animal Crossing, the popular Nintendo game whose pressure-free environment helped many relax and pass the time under Covid-19 lockdowns. In Animal Crossing, players designed indoor and outdoor spaces, shopped for outfits and home decor, planted flowers, and chatted with animal friends.
It turned out that the pandemic also played a big part in the creation of Lumi Interactive, the company told gotechbusiness.com.
“At the end of 2020, we were a small team of three, exhausted by the pandemic and a difficult year for the company,” explains Lumi Interactive Co-Founder and CEO Lauren Clinnick. †We decided to take two weeks to refresh ourselves with a game jam to create something completely new, and mental wellbeing was very important to us. We also all got closer to nature through the strict lockdowns in Melbourne and wanted to explore why houseplants had become part of a self-care routine for so many people we knew,” she says.
That raised the question of bringing houseplant care into the digital world, and the team prototyped Kinder World.
“It had a sparkle to it after two weeks and the concept was immediately tested very strongly with our target group,” says Clinnick.
Christina Chen, co-founder of Clinnick and Lumi Interactive, had a background in gaming before founding their new company, and had known each other for nearly a decade. Clinnick entered the game industry as a marketing consultant for games such as Crossy Road, co-founded a boutique games marketing agency, and then moved into direct game development. Chen, meanwhile, had a technical background working on payments at Xbox Live and later as a Senior Producer at PopCap in Shanghai, before co-founding games publisher Surprise Attack (now known as Fellow Traveler).
The duo had bonded over their mutual love of data, underserved player communities and the new opportunities they believed were still on the horizon for mobile gaming, Clinnick says.
When the team explored the idea for a more collaborative, self-care-focused title, they found that many of today’s consumers found no satisfaction in mainstream wellness apps.
“When we interviewed users – particularly Gen Z and millennial women and non-binary people – we found that 97% had quit apps like Headspace and Calm, stating that they ‘felt like work’ or became something else for them to do. to fail,” Clinnick says. “Instead, they often have fragmented leisure hobbies such as gaming, houseplants, collecting Squishmallow, crafts and ASMR. These are usually distraction activities that helped their anxiety in the short term, but didn’t help them build important long-term resilience skills,” she says.
Lumi Interactive responded to this feedback by making sure their game was designed in such a way that you couldn’t fail no matter how you played. For example, all activities in the game are optional and the virtual houseplants never die.
†We made these choices consciously to avoid a feeling of burden among players,” said Clinnick.
In keeping with a strategy of developing the game together with their community, the startup turned to TikTok to test different elements such as game design, the art style, and find out what interested their users.
Now a full-time team of 12 and growing, Lumi Interactive closed $6.75 million in seed funding in March in a round led by a16z — which it is announcing officially this week. Other investors include 1Up Ventures, Galileo Ventures, Eric Seufert’s Heracles Capital and Emily Greer, co-founder and CEO of Double Loop Games.
The startup uses the money to grow the team so that it can further develop the larger concept it calls “crowd healing,” informed by Lumi Interactive’s full-time wellness researcher, dr. Hannah Gunderman, Ph.D† The company believes the idea — which refers to sharing kindness with others through self-care-like gameplay — could become a new game category.
Lumi Interactive is of course not the first to imagine games that are not purposeful. There are games that are interactive stories or graphic novels or other indie projects, but they often still let the gamer play through the experience to come to a conclusion. Meanwhile, Kinder World is said to be something players return to whenever they want to relax. That’s why the company is considering a subscription offer in addition to the standard in-app purchases. It’s also discovering online-offline experiences with physical items that can unlock certain game benefits or activities.
Kinder World is currently in alpha testing on iOS and Android and aims for a full release later in 2022.