|Developer(s)||Six to Start|
|Publisher(s)||Six to Start|
|Genre(s)||Augmented reality, exergame|
Zombies, Run! is a 2012 mobile exergame co-developed and published by Six to Start and Naomi Alderman for iOS and Android platforms. Set around Abel Township, a small outpost trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, players act as the character "Runner 5" through a series of missions during which they run, collect items to help the town survive and listen to various audio narrations to uncover mysteries.
The storyline of the game is written primarily by Naomi Alderman and a team of writers, with guest contributions by notable science fiction authors such as Margaret Atwood and Andrea Phillips. The game was funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than five times what was expected, a total of $72,627 from 3,464 backers. Additional season expansions have been released annually. In October 2012, Zombies, Run! 5k Training, a spin-off app designed as a "couch to 5k" training program, was released.
Zombies, Run! became the highest-grossing Health & Fitness app on Apple's App Store within two weeks of its initial release, and has drawn praise for the way its immersive storyline makes running more fun and academic attention for its genre and mHealth applications.
Zombies, Run! is an immersive running game. Players act as the character "Runner 5" through a series of missions, during which they run and listen to various audio narrations to uncover the story, in between listening to music from their own playlists. While running, the player collects supplies which can be used to benefit the base camp of Abel Township. The app is hands-free while the player runs and items are automatically collected. The app can record the distance, time, pace, and calories burned on each mission through the use of the phone's GPS or accelerometer. When using the GPS feature, the user can also opt to participate in a zombie chase which requires the player to run faster (at least 20% faster - a form of interval training) for a short period of time or be caught by zombies and lose their supplies. The app has 23 missions for season 1. Season One focuses on the player's arrival and acceptance at Abel Township and Abel's rivalry with New Canton, a larger outpost which treats its citizens harshly. Season 2 was released in April 2013, and has over 60 missions. Season 3 was released in April 2014, and has 40 missions. Season 4 was released in May 2015, when the game became free-to-play. Season 5 was released in April 2016, with 40 missions. Each mission lasts 35 minutes to an hour. An 'airdrop' feature was released where the player sets a real-world location to run to, and the app creates a mission that will last the distance needed.
Home base mechanics
The supplies collected while running can be used between missions to enhance a small version of Abel Township, with detailed buildings similar to SimCity. The more runs the player goes on, the more supplies they collect. They can use those supplies to expand their Abel Township base and unlock more missions. Players start with three level one buildings: Janine's farmhouse, an armory, and a defense tower, which are all surrounded by a fence. As a player runs, supplies are picked up to build new structures or improve structures. Each structure has some type of bonus attached to it.
Expanding the base reflects the player's dedication to their exercise, and the more the player exercises, the larger and better-equipped the base becomes. Expanding the base can influence story events and availability of missions.
A special event was created in October 2015 called a 'virtual race' for a cost of $40 entry with an exclusive mission, private forums, and prizes such as a medal, a running bib, etc. and a global leaderboard. Players created over 200 real-world meet-ups for the virtual race. The next virtual race took place in March–April 2016. Six to Start has spun the virtual races concept off into its own app called Racelink, where participants listen to audio while participating in a charity race remotely.
The game was conceived when writer Alderman was attending a running class. During the class, the instructor asked attendees why they wanted to run, and one answered, "I want to be able to out run the zombie horde." The game was funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than five times what was expected, a total of $72,627 from 3,464 backers in October 2011. Developer Hon described the gameplay's aim as being more role-playing than gamification. The developers' aim in creating Zombies, Run! was partially to make use of the features of a smartphone such as GPS and the gyroscopes, creating a game that could only be played on a smartphone. Although the game uses GPS and the accelerometer, these are to estimate distance, not track location, and Zombies, Run! has been described as "one of the few actual distance-based games". Zombies Run! does not have as much quantification of data as other exercise apps do, and Alderman regards their decision not to consult professional help in making the design as a strength, arguing that much of Zombies, Run!'s uniqueness comes from that lack of professional involvement. The team were trained in Objective C for iOS and the player character, Runner 5, was designed to be genderless. Stories were written with generic landmarks included to give a sense of place, and to encourage the player to identify one of their own local landmarks as being what the characters are talking about. The story was designed to be episodic, more like a TV show or a novel than a film.
The story is written by a team. Alderman is the head writer and co-creator. Staff writers include Rebecca Levene, Andrea Klassen, Kayt Lackie, Grant Howitt, Mathilda Gregory and Gavin Inglis. Several guest authors who are notable in speculative fiction and video games contribute missions such as Margaret Atwood, Joanne Harris, Elizabeth Bear, and Andrea Phillips. A fan fiction author contributed ten missions for season 2.
For the release of season 2, the team rewrote the apps, added in a lot of new features and changed their behavior, which led to backlash from some players. As of May 2015, Zombies, Run! became free-to-play. At this time, between 15-20% of all purchasers were still playing the game. Existing players were given access to all content up til the end of Season 3 and the Interval Training and Race Missions features. Existing players can also unlock one episode of Season 4 for free per week, and have a discounted rate on "Pro Membership" subscription. New players get part of Season 1 for free, and can unlock a new episode every week. As of November 2015, Zombies, Run! is available on the Apple Watch. A spin-off game for the Apple Watch is in development, codenamed Overwatch.
A board game spinoff was launched for crowdfunding on Kickstarter in September 2016.
Reception and legacy
Pocket Gamer regarded the "compelling narrative" of Zombies, Run! as being a way to trick the player into exercising. Zombies, Run! has a score of 71 on Metacritic, averaging 5 reviews. USA Today said of the story "If you're a fan of radio, zombie stories or need an extra push to get fit this year, Zombies, Run! excels in concept and execution." Caelainn Hogan writing for the Washington Post noted that she was interested in using the app weeks after beginning. Mur Lafferty, writing for the Escapist, also noted that it was fun to follow the story in the app, and therefore Lafferty sustained running. The base-building feature has been regarded as a good way to sustain interest in the game when not running. Fast Company named Six to Start as one of their top 10 most innovative companies of 2013, describing Zombies, Run! as "one part audio book, one part video game, and one party sneaky personal trainer". Rachel Shatto of Curve magazine praised the app, noting that the strong acting and good storyline made the app accessible to people who weren't "zombiephiles". Rick Broida, writing for CNET, was not engaged by Zombies, Run!, finding the dissonance between the urgent radio clips and his upbeat track list distracting. Zombies, Run! was shortlisted for the Design Museum's Design of the Year Award in 2013. Maureen Halushak, an experienced runner who writes for The Globe and Mail, "struggled to suspend [her] disbelief" when running. Halushak noted that the app was more about using the player's imagination than "pushing [the player] to the limit", citing the low frequency of zombie chases.
Zombies Run! has drawn academic attention for its genre and mHealth applications. In a discussion of the trend to use audiobooks while exercising, Zombies, Run! has been discussed as "pushing the audiobook towards new forms", as the audiobook is embedded in other digital media as well as the activity of running. Kelly Gardner notes that Zombies, Run! relies on audio to create an apocalyptic environment. Martin French and Gavin Smith regard Zombies, Run! to be an example of the trend for the gamification of health surveillance, which makes tracking one's progress rewarding. A paper in The American Journal of Medicine compared Zombies, Run! with other popular health and fitness apps. It noted that the aim of the app was to increase aerobic exercise, that it included audio cues, exercise monitoring, the option to share on Facebook or Twitter, integration with the user's music playlist, a narrative, progression, the ability to sync with other apps, and tailored feedback. It recommended Zombies, Run! for healthy patients wanting to begin aerobic exercise.
A study of 51 teens studied the use of Zombies, Run! 5K Training, Get Running-Couch to 5k, or a control. It found that fitness did not significantly improve between the app groups and the control after the experiment, but that the app groups intended to continue using their apps and that the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app had positive feedback on the storyline and ability to track progress.
A twelve-week study was performed with the use of Zombies, Run!, The Walk, or a control group. 39 participants chose between Zombies, Run! and The Walk based on their interest in the app. All participants had their activity tracked with the Moves app. It was found that in the groups using either Zombies, Run! or The Walk, activity decline due to returning to an academic schedule after summer holidays was not as great as in the control group.
Knöll et al. considered Zombies, Run! to be an important contribution to urban exergaming due to its commercial success and the "innovative" way that the app makes the player exercise harder.
It was noted that players found the approach of the game compelling, and that it changed their attitudes to exercising and finding routes to run, but that there could be more integration with the player's real world - an example was given of a player who was caught by zombies while waiting at a traffic intersection.
In October 2012, Zombies, Run! 5k Training, a spin-off app designed as a "couch to 5k" training program was released. The 5K training has 25 workouts to be run over 8 weeks, lasting approximately 40 minutes each. The trainings start the player off slowly and have been designed by experts, and the game can be used with a treadmill. In the storyline, the 5k training takes place between the first and second mission of season one. Advice on exercises, like heel lifts, is included with the app, and it does not include the 'zombie chase' feature or the base-building feature.
- Location-based game
- Magic Circle (virtual worlds)
- Run for Your Lives (obstacle racing) - a zombie-themed obstacle course race
- Activity tracker
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