Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Run An Empire: Custom app fills tech void

Ben Barker wanted to play games while he exercised, but couldn’t find what he was looking for. So he made his own app. He tells Chris Schulz how it works.
Ben Barker and Sam Hill, the creators of the exercise-based gaming app, Run An Empire.
Ben Barker and Sam Hill, the creators of the exercise-based gaming app, Run An Empire.

Ben Barker's kingdom spans several different countries, from England to Singapore and even a few hexagonal-sized parts of Texas.

But Barker hasn't had to build armies and wage wars to claim those territories - he's been running his way to glory.

Created with his buddy Sam Hill, the pair built Run An Empire from scratch, an app which encourages users to lace up their shoes, pound pavements and build an empire along the way.

Funded through Kickstarter, the free app debuted in New Zealand earlier this month.

They're hoping it spurs both fitness fanatics and couch potatoes to go that extra mile.

"A lot of the fitness trackers didn't do what we were interested in which is something a little bit more compelling than counting calories or miles," Barker says.

"We had this idea to make an app that when you go for a run you capture the territory you run through or around, like (the board game) Risk."

It works like this: users log into the app before their run, then head out, capturing territory in hexagon-shaped chunks as they go.

The more you run, the more territory you gain, and the bigger your empire becomes.

Barker says the app forces users to make decisions every time they run.

You can re-run routes to reinforce your kingdom, or spread your wings, run in new directions and even claim territory from other joggers.

"If you're the first to visit we say you're first to claim and you capture that territory in the name of your kingdom. The next person who comes there claims it off you, but if you've done it twice, it's still yours," he says.

"You're always trading off: do I grow, or do I consolidate?"

Yes, there's a competitive element at play. But Barker says everyone on the app remains anonymous, meaning rivalries can't become malicious.

"There's a guy called 'The Baron' who takes a lot of my territory where I run here in London," he says.

An image from Run An Empire, a new game-based exercise app.
An image from Run An Empire, a new game-based exercise app.

"I'm not super fit but I run quite regularly now, it really encourages me to take a different route or run an extra mile to claim extra territory."

Be warned; thanks to the iPhone's inbuilt motion detection, you can't cheat the system and bike or drive around your running route.

We encourage people to be playful with the system, but your iPhone knows if you're walking or running or on a bus or plane. We use a combination of tricks to make sure you're running.

"We encourage people to be playful with the system, but your iPhone knows if you're walking or running or on a bus or plane. We use a combination of tricks to make sure you're running."

New Zealand was chosen as the app's debut because of its size, fitness obsession and high levels of iPhone adoption.

But Barker says he and Hill have plans of turning the world into their empire.

"It's such a joy to work on and one day we believe it could get millions of people fitter," he says.

"We hope this is the first step to rolling it out across the world."

Lowdown:

Who: Ben Barker, co-creator of Run An Empire
What: An app that turns exercise into a game
Where: Available through Apple's App Store

- NZ Herald

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