How the SelfCare wellness app reached 500,000 downloads in six weeks

Typically, self-care involves putting away your phone, but one company wants you to pick it up.

A new game-like app, called #SelfCare, designed by indie gaming studio Tru Luv, aims to turn your screentime into a positive mental health interaction. Through a series of prompts, the app provides an opportunity for users to engage in wellness rituals, like drawing Tarot cards or interactive breathing exercises.

In the six weeks since launch, #SelfCare has reached the iOS App Store’s top-50 most-downloaded games in 20 countries — in the U.S., it is currently ranked No. 26 in the games category. The game has over 526,000 downloads from the App store and expanded to Android in early September.

#SelfCare seeks to gamify the concept of wellness, which represents a new category of games that are designed for those who do not find traditional video games relaxing. The app does not have levels, or inherent rewards or risk, drawing a similarity to other viral app games such as Nekko Atsume, which involves feeding stray cats, or Loner, where you fly a biplane but there’s no score.

#SelfCare sits at the intersection of two highly lucrative industries: The wellness industry reached over $3.7 trillion in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute, and the video games industry reached $115 billion in 2018, according to Statista.

“We noticed that there are a lot of people who find video games boring,” said Brie Code, founder of Tru Luv. “We felt that there is nothing inherent in interactivity as a medium that should exclude those people.”

The game begins with the idea of not leaving your bed for a whole day and places users within a virtual bedroom complete with calming tasks like picking up laundry, reading a book or tending to a plant. Throughout the app’s interactions, there is positive and affirming language and reappraisal training to shift negative thinking patterns into positive ones.

But #SelfCare is not all about encouraging wellness as a lifestyle — the game monetizes through in-app purchases. Available to shop are $0.99 rugs, duvet covers and paintings, all of which were commissioned by independent artists such as Amy Kuretsky and Alia Walston, who split proceeds with Tru Luv, according to Code. Tru Luv declined to say how much #SelfCare has made through said purchases.

The initial marketing plan for #SelfCare was to solely rely on Instagram to promote the artists’ designs in the game. Tru Luv opted out of spending any money on marketing campaigns because it wanted to see if the app would speak to enough people on its own, according to Code. The app did benefit, however, from being featured on the front page of the App Store in a feature called “Games to Soothe Your Mood.”

Now with over half a million downloads, Tru Luv is four months ahead of anticipated downloads — allowing the gaming studio to focus on the next growth stage for #SelfCare. The second phase includes figuring out how to turn the game into a “friend” or frequent companion to users, and deepen its relationship with users over time through mental health exercises.

The app will also undergo a study at the Games for Emotional and Mental Health Lab, overseen by Dr. Isabela Granic at Radboud University in the Netherlands. This will allow Tru Luv to further understand which parts of the game are best to help support positive mental health goals and habits. By doing so, the gaming studio can create a better experience that more people will find useful — which could ultimately create more revenue.

“It’s good for calming you down in the moment, but I would like it to look for long-term [mental health] self-improvement,” Code said.

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