May 4, 2014
by Jane

“A New Way to Treat Depression: Games” – We’re in the Wall Street Journal!

Screenshot 2014-05-05 21.11.22

After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder last September, Reva Wood struggled with chronic pain, and then anxiety stemming from chronic pain. To reduce her anxiety, she decided to try something a little unusual: a video game called SuperBetter that claimed to use science-based challenges to help her manage anxiety.

Digital games are gaining notice from some researchers who think they’re a novel way to address mental health issues like depression and anxiety. SuperBetter is currently the subject of two scientific trials, including a National Institutes of Health-funded experiment that will begin this summer.

Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal.

April 5, 2014
by Jane

Happy three year anniversary, SuperBetter! (and here’s what’s next…)

We’re thrilled that three years after launching our first prototype, SuperBetter has helped nearly half a million players — and the game remains 100% free online.

If you’re playing SuperBetter online, hopefully you’ve noticed that we’ve celebrated our anniversary by polishing up the website and making some improvements! You’ll notice a smoother experience everywhere from your To Do list to your Allies dashboard.

We’re also just a few weeks away from an iOS update and our first ever Android app.

Although we’re not a full-time team working on the product anymore, we love SuperBetter, and we’ve seen it change countless lives. That’s why we continue to support it — with help from a clinical trial research grant from the NIH, so we can continue to work with scientists and health care practitioners to bring SuperBetter to as many people as possible.

So keep activating those power-ups and battling those bad guys! After all, it looks like there’s an epic win in your future…

March 4, 2013
by Mike Hostetler


Dear SuperBetter Players,

You may have seen a few more bugs and errors lately across SuperBetter and are thinking What is going on?! We empathize with you and want to let all our awesome players and fans know what is going on. We are currently looking to transition SuperBetter to a new home, where players can continue on their path to getting SUPERBETTER. We are in talks with a few different allies and hope to have good news to share in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, we expect some bumps and possible disruption along the way.

For now, the site in its current form will stay up through the end of March. If you’re currently playing your way through a Power Pack, or on your way to an epic win, keep going! There’s still a ton of resilience you can build between now and March 31.

Because there maybe a disruption in the site (and app) availability after March 31, you may want to take some screenshots of your secret headquarters now, or make a list of your favorite power-ups and bad guys, so you continue to have resources for your SuperBetter journey.

And in the meantime, thanks for your patience with the bugs — and look for some updates soon.

– The SuperBetter Labs Team

November 9, 2012
by bez

Why I Love Working at SuperBetter: the Resilience of Silliness

What did your last remote meeting look like?

Here’s oursand it’s just one of the many reasons why I love working at SuperBetter.

At SuperBetter, Resilience, play, and game fulness aren’t just concepts that we promote. They’re truths that we live as a business and as individuals. When communication turns strained, when the future looks dark and unknown, or when we’ve got to push through a crunch-time challenge, we return to the basics of Resilience.

  • We spread Social Resilience by giving hugs and sharing our gratitude for what each one of us does each day and by awarding each other Achievements in the game. We know that a dose of silliness can do wonders for social connection and creativity.
  • We tend to Emotional Resilience by expressing our needs, excitements, and concerns openly. We shift out of negative thinking and into positive thinking using Power-ups, gratitude, and realistic optimism. We laugh. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
  • We activate Mental Resilience by practicing mindfulness, staying curious, and making our current challenge as fun as possible how can we turn this rough patch into an exciting challenge? How can we stay present with what’s happening rather than jumping to conclusions?
  • And we strengthen our Physical Resilience up by sharing healthy meals, challenging each other to Power-ups and Quests, and going on fun adventures together.

We do these things because Resilience isn’t something that we either have or we don’t it’s a practice. It’s made up of the little things we do each day that make us laugh, foster a sense of connection, activate positivity, and get our hearts going. Those little things add up to greater health, pleasure, strength and flexibility—which sounds pretty good to us.

What one little thing you do that makes you smile, laugh, feel good, or feel strong? Post it in the comments below then make it a Power-up in the game!


October 3, 2012
by bez

A Scavenger Hunt SuperBetter Style

Heroes prepare for the hunt!

This year a component of the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest challenge is a SuperBetter Scavenger Hunt. The Games will use the SuperBetter platform to suggest Quests and Power-ups to those who add [email protected] as an Ally during this month-long event, running from September 21-October 21, 2012.

Interested? Invite [email protected] to be an Ally then await your first mission!

You’ll receive suggestions for Quests and Powers-ups to help you reach your personal Epic Win and also be a part of something larger. The Compassion Games seek to create a culture of compassion, kindness, and justice. Your participation will help them reach their Epic Win. Dare we say it’s a Win-Win situation?

Check out the Scavenger Hunt: SuperBetter page for more information, and be sure to explore the rest of the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest website to learn more about this awesome event!

July 5, 2012
by Sarah

We made the Top 5 in US Health and Fitness! (Press Release)

We recently put out a press release about our new mobile app. You can see the whole thing here.

* * * * *

SuperBetter Health Game Now Available in iTunes App Store

Top 5 US Health & Fitness Downloads in First Week

SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 3, 2012 — SuperBetter Labs announced today that SuperBetter, its first social online game, has launched on the iOS mobile platform. The app, now available in the iTunes app store, will be available for free for a short time. During its first week in the iTunes store, SuperBetter made the list of US Top 5 downloads for Health & Fitness apps. Widely recognized for its innovative approach to helping people lead “epic” lives (from general well being to recovery from illness and injury), the game was originally released online in public beta web format in March 2012. Development for the much anticipated mobile app began shortly afterwards due to overwhelming user requests.

“Our greatest challenges and triumphs don’t happen in front of a computer screen. They happen when we are out living in the world,” said General Manager John Solomon, on the launch. “We know that SuperBetter users will find the mobile format more convenient to use as they manage their daily lives, face challenges, track and share their progress and receive expert advice on the spot. We are excited that the public reaction has been so receptive in the first week of launch, and know this means great things for SuperBetter and its players moving forward.”

The mobile version of SuperBetter incorporates the core functionality of the online game, , and organizes it into a concise mobile experience designed for the active lives of its users. SuperBetter mobile encourages users to check-in daily for their Quests and new Power-Ups, while fighting their Bad Guys, and checking-in with Allies. The app also allows users to review their SuperBetter activity and achievements and post status updates to their profiles.

SuperBetter is available now for free for a limited time.


SuperBetter Labs’ mission is to design platforms that help people lead “epic lives.” The concept of an epic life is centered on developing strong social relationships, positive emotion, overcoming challenges, and creating a truer sense of purpose in the real world through the use of online game mechanics, gameful IT products and other tested methods of positive social interaction. SuperBetter is the first product of SuperBetter Labs, a social game platform designed to help players build personal resilience and achieve their health and wellness goals. More information on SuperBetter Labs can be found on the SuperBetter Labs web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

CONTACT: Cathie Bennett Warner 415-420-1573 [email protected]

June 20, 2012
by Jessica

Hero Training: Playing to the Goal

In this series of posts, Rowan, aka All-Star Courtney, gives players the inside scoop on embracing the playful nature of SuperBetter. She will discuss topics such as creating your secret identity, how to transform your daily activities into a roleplaying adventure, and crafting the story of your epic journey. Look for the next post in a couple weeks!

Rowan’s Introduction: The Fun of Being a Hero


Hi there, heroes! Hope all of you out there are doing well and owning both your lives: the mild mannered every day you and the hero you. It is that duality that we’re going to talk about today. SuperBetter is a fantastic tool to overcome so many different things. It takes tough issues, both emotional (such as depression or anxiety) and physical (such as getting fit or an ongoing illness) and turns them into a game to win.

So, what is the point of this series? These posts are here to discuss ideas on how to make your SuperBetter experience more game-based and interactive. When someone creates their own world of reality, they have the full ability to grow within it. I started just the way every player starts, with the SuperBetter homepage and login. But I had a few extra tools in my chest. I had a background in Roleplaying, Storytelling and Game Creating. Using these tools, I created a world for my SuperBetter journey from the ground up. And in this blog series, I will share a lot of these tips and techniques with whomever wants it. But first, you have to be willing to play.

As adults we’re told so many times that games are for children. People roll their eyes and talk of people wasting their lives in fantasy worlds that accomplish nothing. Now science has come along and proven that there are real benefits found inside the childhood antics of playing games and playacting. This basic principle of SuperBetter is described in

Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it. But play isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our negative emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

For me as a hero and All Star, this was so important. I got to do so much more than my mild-mannered teacher self could. By turning this into a game, rather than just a check list of to do’s and to dont’s, I was able to make myself accomplish things I thought impossible. My willpower skyrocketed. You know why? My game persona would have done those things. The gaming aspect allowed me to step away from myself and do things not because I wanted to, but because my hero self would not take no for an answer. She had the willpower, so would I.

Also, I got much more enjoyment from it when I changed it into a game as it became so much more immersive. When I lost a battle, I knew the war still continued, so I could more easily pick myself up and continue. This is a part of transforming our negatives. I could try again and beat that enemy the next day because it was a part of the game, not just something inside me that I could never get away from. So with this transformation, from reality to game, from me to hero, I was able to move into the next benefit of learning from it and relieving stress. And boy, we can all use that.

Now, if you believe me, let’s get ready to create, grow, learn and relax. Next time around we’ll discuss the importance of the secret identity and how to go about creating it.

Courtney Sloan is a gamer, teacher, storyteller, wife, and mom, as well as an author of dark fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. You can find her story ANTIDOTE FOR THE SOUL in the Gothic Blue Book: The Haunted Edition by Burial Day Books. She was also a Spring 2012 SuperBetter All-Star. Catch up with Courtney on her blog or at @writingtiger on Twitter.

June 13, 2012
by Chelsea

Gameful Design

Two years ago I attended a conference on the emerging field of gamification – or adding game elements to services and applications. Just by giving people a bit of reward, you could incentivize any behavior you wanted — navigating to another page, leaving a comment, learning multiplication.

Others celebrated this silver bullet, but I, as a game designer, was worried. The medium I’d dedicated my life to was reduced to basic behavioral response to stimulus, to operant conditioning, to dolphin training. Click. Cookie. Repeat.

These gamification experts extolled all the superficial, short-term psychological hooks from games and none of the meaningful, metaphysical joy and satisfaction produced from playing. They forgot that players are people.

As we designed SuperBetter, we wanted to prove that games are more than just dopamine injections, that players are more than chemical machines.

SuperBetter offers an alternative to gamification. Instead of taking the psychological hooks and operant conditioning from games, we use their deeply satisfying properties – things like agency, emotion, and immediate feedback – to help people do what they really want to do: feel better, reach their goals, connect with others, and live with meaning. We call this a gameful approach to design.

So, what does this look like in practice? Here are a few key differences in how we approach design. Of course, not everyone who calls themselves a gamification company hits all of these points, but too many do.

We can do better.


Makes you do what companies want you to do

Helps you do what YOU want to do

You play games because it’s what you want to do. No one is telling you to play, no one is giving you money to play, no one is holding a gun to your head making you play. You’re intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation means you take pleasure in the activity itself.

If you don’t want to do something, no amount of awards, badges, leaderboards, or points is going to make you do it – not long term, not sustainably.


Relies on operant conditioning (reward, punishment)

Harnesses the good of games (feedback, agency, emotion)

You don’t actually play games for points or badges– those are just progress indicators that help you contextualize your improvements/skill (which is exciting). People love games because they are in control and can affect the world (this is called agency), because they can make meaningful choices and interesting decisions. They play because games are delightful, challenging, and filled with clear goals. Operant conditioning ignores all of those things, and tries to motivate using our most basic human instincts instead of the complex depth that makes us human.

SuperBetter’s core elements — quests, power-ups, bad guys, and allies — help people feel more in control of their lives and capable of changing them (this is agency). Instead of setting goals for you, we let you choose goals that challenge you, and we make sure you’re creating a toolbox of ways to spark positive emotions in your life while identifying and gaining control over those things that hold you back.


Added to an existing platform, curriculum, or service

Integrated into design from the ground up

All games teach. All play and all fun is learning. If the entirety of a system is “Leave Comment, Get Badge” people will learn that very quickly, and once a system is learned, it loses its charm, its fun, its pleasure. Tack on something like badges or leaderboards, and after an initial engagement spike, the system suddenly becomes a transparently irrelevant annoyance – or worse, an unavoidable reason to leave the site/service altogether.


Uses extrinsic rewards

Uses intrinsic rewards

Rewards only motivate people to get rewards. Here’s a true story about extrinsic rewards: A child with a love for music starts playing the piano. Her mother, wanting to encourage her interest, begins rewarding her every time she plays. When the mother stops rewarding, the child stops playing, her initial curiosity and intrinsic desire to play diminished by the reward system.

Lasting behavior change comes from within. Giving someone cash to do something taints the nature of whatever they do. Even if it’s something they wanted to do, getting a reward for it decreases intrinsic motivation, and actually makes people less likely to perform the behavior without reward. The moment you give someone a reward, you’re decreasing the likelihood of lasting, sustainable change for them.

Intrinsic reward is a fine line and hugely nuanced. In SuperBetter, when players report actions, we increase their Resilience score. But Resilience isn’t a made up thing – it’s not just magical, virtual “points” – it’s a reflection of a very real, validated principle of psychology. You’re rewarded by seeing your progress in an immediate, tangible way, but not by the points themselves. SuperBetter also lets you track changes to your well-being, so over time seeing the difference is its own reward. Most importantly, players are rewarded because as they do these actions, they really do start to feel better and reach their goals.


Limited meaning/social context

Meaningful/customized awards

But wait – didn’t I just say rewards can be bad? There’s a difference between celebrating accomplishment (“award”) and incentivizing actions (“reward”). This is about the former!

Getting an award is a great feeling – when you’ve worked for it. When it feels relevant and special to you. When it represents success at something appropriately challenging. There’s nothing wrong about celebrating accomplishment; it feels great to be recognized for what you’ve done, as long as what you’ve done is actually something worthwhile.

If you go to certain sites you’ll find yourself with random badges for seemingly no reason at all, after just clicking through a few pages (and of course, you have to sign up to keep them). Is that satisfying? (No.)

While we do have a few automatically awarded achievements in SuperBetter, we found the best way to make awards meaningful was to ensure it wasn’t a machine giving them to you. Allies have the option to give achievements to their heroes: to create a title and customize the icon and provide a reason/description for the award. When players get awards from friends, it means something unique to them, their relationship, and their actions. It matters.


Tokenizes social relationships

Creates & strengthens social relationships

In many social games and social services, gates are put onto mechanics that force you to be viral and connect with other players before you’re allowed to continue (for example, you need 3 friends to expand your land in FarmVille). This is tokenizing – or only considering how many connections you have, and not the type, depth, duration, or any number of other facets that make each human relationship unique. Almost every social network game is like this. Even Twitter is like this.

Tokenizing is not actually social. For something to be truly social, the experience of playing has to be different depending on who I’m playing with. Mechanically, social means other people impact the game meaningfully; they’re making interesting decisions and expressive choices too, and my game is unique because of their unique contribution to it.

Again, this comes down to remembering that people are people and not numbers in a DAU or CTR graph or mindless click-machines.

When you invite allies to join you, we ask you to give them a mission – something unique that you need and would be grateful for and something specifically suited to that person’s talents. We also ask that you check in – that is, have a heart to heart or face to face conversation with them – at least once every two weeks. These aren’t just numbers helping you towards some other purpose; the strength of your relationships matters and has a real and measurable effect on your well being. Each friend is a unique ally.


Requires little to no skill

Trains up skills of players’ choosing

This is closely linked to learning a system – when developing skills is seen as learning and mastery can be either knowledge-based or skill-based. Most services that employ gamification aren’t challenging or fun to do. They require no skill. In the tired example of frequent flyer miles, for instance: is it fun to click on a flight scheduler? It is challenging to pick Virgin over Delta? No, of course not.

And believe it or not, we love a good challenge – We just stop caring altogether.

In SuperBetter, YOU choose how you want to improve, and the whole game is about getting stronger. Power Packs are custom tailored to challenges, and focus on different skills across the board: social, physical, emotional, mental. Not challenging enough? Add another Power Pack. Overwhelmed? Take a break, or just do a single move (3 quests, 1 battle, 3 power-ups) a day.


Promote sharing indiscriminately, constantly, to everyone

Promote sharing meaningfully, at major moments, to whom it matters

Gamers are great at tuning out irrelevant information, and if they’re constantly spammed with the same canned messages, they’re not going to get engaged. Novelty is a huge component of engagement (it’s something new to figure out, to learn, to master) and unique content adds value. As much as you can, let players add their own messages, and prompt virality when it matters: when the player has accomplished something difficult, when they’ve expressed something unique, when they’ve really made a difference. And don’t blast it to everyone if it doesn’t apply to them: send it to the people to whom it matters most.


Phew! Long post! Those were just a few examples, but I hope they helped clarify the difference between what most people call gamification and what we consider the “right” way to borrow from games (gameful design). Looking over the list, here are the three key bullets I’d pull out next time you go out and try to design a great experience:

  • Keep it intrinsic
  • Players are people
  • Agency, agency, agency

Now go make it gameful 🙂