Skills is a new way to cope with stress

We have recently received some negative product reviews for our app Skills on the google play and apple app stores. “These games are not fun”! “This app is not mindful” etc.

Our challenge: A lot of the mentioned issues were actually features! These skills are designed with purpose, together with psychologists and tested with patients.

For us it has always been important to keep in mind that games that are supposed to help users with acute stress shouldn’t be addictive or even necessarily ‘fun’. Mindfulness is one part of some of the games, but not the overall concept.

There were several ways for us to move forward: With some user research and reprioritizing our backlog we could have made our games more fun and the design more mindful. This would have been the agile and user-centered approach. We also could have thought: OK, there are a couple users who just don’t get it. The majority however seems to like it, otherwise we wouldn’t still be getting more users.

Both ways didn’t seem right. So we looked around and tried to find examples of what other apps in the field were doing.

We came to a conclusion: Our concept is well established in evidence based psychotherapy and known to therapists and patients, but it isn’t really known outside of that circle. However, these tools would be useful for a much wider audience.

This is how it works: By stimulating different senses, you become more present in the moment. This helps to:

  • Distract yourself until you are calmer
  • Self-soothe and using your senses to feel more at peace and present
  • Improve the moment despite stress

These techniques are used by patients undergoing dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) to treat for example post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) or related mental illnesses.

A screenshot of the skill color logic
The skill Color Logic

The games, or skills, challenge the user to make use of different senses. The skill Color Logic for example combines visual sensory input in the form of color with a logical and highly complex task: Reading. This might seem trivial, but try doing anything else while playing this skill. It’s pretty hard!

All skills stimulate different senses. For some people motion works better than visual input. Others might prefer skilling with sound.

The skill Pitch Matching plays a sound the user has to match afterwards by balancing the phone. It requires to use memory, motion and your ears. It doesn’t require looking at the screen and can even be used by blind users.

A screenshot of the skill Pitch Matching
The skill Pitch Matching

Thanks the critique we discovered our core issue. We were deeply into the material and didn’t see the opportunity in making Skills accessible to everyone. We forgot that the tools and techniques that we learned to implement were not common knowledge for everyone else.

How the Skills app works is fairly complex and unintuitive. Since mindfulness apps and casual games are very strong markets in the app stores, there are lots of assumptions that come with using these descriptors.

Rather than describing what the Skills app is, we decided to highlight what it does.

Our old tagline was: Games for stress tolerance and mindfulness.
Our new tagline is: Skills is a new way to cope with stress.

– Martin

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