01/06/2016 12:26 BST | Updated 02/06/2017 06:12 BST

Our Game Gets People Running

Running can be hugely rewarding both mentally and physically, but getting started and sticking with it is hard. We were always coming at the project as reluctant runners, who hadn't yet found the compelling reason to hit the streets.

What is Run An Empire?

Run an Empire is a strategy running game where players compete to capture and control territory in the real world by running around it. The idea came about a couple of years ago when Sam and I (both non-runners at the time) were in a pub talking about what it would take to motivate us to run regularly. As is often the case for us, we started thinking about how different the activity would be if you approached it from the point of view of a game designer - what patterns are involved? What different rules could be introduced? How could you interact with others? One thing really stood out - runners are exploring the space around them and regularly crossing the routes of others.

That lead us to the idea for a game where players could capture unclaimed territory or liberate it from a competitor by running around it, but once claimed it would become vulnerable to attack. Our love of board games was finally coming in handy - we knew what we were describing had some potential similarities with classic game mechanics like Risk and Go. If every runner out there was defending territory or potentially capturing ours, would that get us to stick at it?

What then?

So in spring 2014 we decided to use kickstarter to see if there was appetite for it and raise funds to build a beta version. It was great to take an idea to the crowd and get feedback. We got 1800 backers and nearly doubled our funding goal - we had something that people were interested in. Things started slowly - we had to keep a very close eye on our budget - calling in favours from friends and balancing other projects to pay rent and wages. However at the end of last year, having launched the beta, we were able to raise more money from Crowdcube and build a team working full time on the project. The speed at which we're getting stuff done now is dizzying in comparison - it's difficult to keep up!

Who else is it for?

Running can be hugely rewarding both mentally and physically, but getting started and sticking with it is hard. We were always coming at the project as reluctant runners, who hadn't yet found the compelling reason to hit the streets. We had a hunch that a lot of our audience might feel the same - so we asked them. 26% of our backers said they never ran, or ran less than once a month. With a quarter of our audience being non-runners we knew we had potential for a huge health impact.

Nearly 2 years on and a great example is Luis Silva who made a life changing step towards recovering from heart surgery using Run An Empire. Not previously a runner, Luis only started to run following his surgery, to aid in his recovery and to strengthen his health. Run An Empire helped to give him the incentive he needed to keep at it. Despite having an artificial heart valve, he is now an avid runner and has even started his own running group.

Although non-runners are the audience where we hope Run An Empire will have the biggest impact, we've heard so many great stories of existing runners using Run An Empire. Another beta tester, Scott Nickle, told us that the app helped him remain active after he sustained an injury that prevented him from running.

"Although I was already a runner, Run An Empire was a wonderful metaphorical carrot hanging in front of me to keep me going sometimes. Often it was the reason I'd finally lace up my shoes and go for a run. In autumn, when I was unable to run I still found myself going on long walks to claim or fortify new parks and walkways."

And next?

Just last week we launched in our first app store market, New Zealand. So right now we're learning what it's like to grow our user numbers through the app store and improve the experience with a live audience. It's so exciting to see people spurring each other on and more users joining every day. In the longer term we'll be raising funds to help with roll out in more territories. We're always on the lookout for people who believe in what we're doing as much as we do, so please do feel free to get in touch. In the short term, I need to make sure Sam's North London empire doesn't grow any bigger, so I'm going for a run.

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