FitTech Insider

Will we work out in a fitness metaverse, Keith Rumjahn?

Non-funigble token, metaverse: the terms sound deeply tech and are part ot one of the most forward-looking topics of our time: How will blockchain technology change fitness and health? The CEO of OliveX has some ideas.

Keith, OliveX collaborates with fitness brands to provide users with an immersive fitness experience. Blockchain and the fitness industry, how does that fit together?
Collectibles have been around for a long time. Currently it is a huge market of 370 billion dollar a year. We went from collecting a baseball card to T-shirts and then basketball cards. But what really took off was “NBA Top Shot”. There you have these video clips of a basketball player which are just five to ten seconds long. For example, everybody remembers Michael Jordan last shot, right? That video clip is now an NFT ...

... a non-fungible token "is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger (blockchain)", says Wikipedia ...
... and the transaction volume since October 2020 has been over 600 million dollars. So why did this happen? The reason the market for those clips explodes at this moment and not two or three years ago is: blockchain.

Blockchain for newbies: The principal of technology is a decentralized and networked database whose copied individual parts control each other. What does this technology enable?
For the first time ever with blockchain technology we have “Non-fungible Tokens”, short NFTs. That means that for the first time we have such a thing as digital rarity. Before you could just copy and paste your video clip and create a million of it. But that is not rare, so it is not valuable.

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Secondly, before you could not prove the authenticity of a video clip. But with the “Top Shot” as a NFT, you know it is approved by the NBA digitally just as the basketball card was before. That is what made the cards valuable because technically I could have just scanned one and printed it over and over again. But that would not have been worth anything because it was not made and approved by the NBA. So with NFTs for the first time we have digital rare collectibles coming.

So how does that relate to the fitness industry?
It is a similar evolution. Decades ago we used cassette tapes for fitness classes at home, then came DVDs, then we moved on to live classes and “on-demand”-videos on the internet. Recently we had an explosion in the market of connected hardware thanks to brands like Peloton and now we are getting to the stages of fitness as a game. Pokémon Go for example has past the 5.5 billion dollars in revenue. During the COVID pandemic a popular fitness game for the Nintendo Switch in Asia called “Ring Fit” was sold out. You need a physical ring to play it and you had to buy that for four times the price on the black market.

How does the blockchain fit into that?
The problem right now is that all these games are independent. How we see the future is a fitness “metaverse” though. Imagine the item that you spend 100 hours to unlock riding a motorcycle. Let's say it is a yellow t-shirt. You could now use that yellow t-shirt in Ring Fit and Pokémon Go and all the other games that you have. How cool would that be?

So you are thinking about linking up different apps?
Exactly. But the metaverse is already happening. Remember how Travis Scott gave a concert in Fortnite last year and 12.3 million people watched it. Recently Ariana Grande gave five concerts with an even higher attendance. Roblox, another metaverse game, had the sneaker brand Vans create a skate park in their game. Now imagine something like this happening in the fitness industry. Let’s say thousands and millions of people working out to an avatar version of a famous instructor. That would be cool and that is what we are working on.

What exactly are your working on?
We currently have the number one running game in the market called “Zombies, Run!”. It is an audio running platform. If you start running, you go on a mission. Let’s say there is a safe space about a kilometer away, so you must start running. And suddenly, zombies are approaching – 50 meters, 30 meters, 20 meters behind you. So you must run faster. If you don't run faster, you get eaten. But along the way, you can also pick up resources, for example a water bottle or a gun. Now we imagine these virtual items to be NFTs that you can use later to rebuild a city in the game or unlock more dangerous missions, for which you need better equipment, also in the form of NFTs. We are currently creating a new running game called “Dust Land Runners” which will go into beta in October.

You said your game is the most popular fitness game at the moment. What does that mean in numbers? What is your audience like?
It has about 300,000 monthly active users and 50,000 paying subscribers. We are generating about 2 million dollars in revenue a year. It is a profitable business. And it is only in English so far. Our plans are to translate it into German, Chinese and more languages. A key part of the game is our extraordinarily strong community. There is like 29,000 followers on Twitter, Reddit and other social media and they are very engaged. They don't just like the page but the game so much that they become “otakus” which is a Japanese term for people obsessed with something. They draw fan arts of the game like Side Stories similar to like Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

Why is the community for a fitness game such a special one?
The community is vastly different from other apps. I think there is a specific group of people who like gamified fitness. It is not for everyone, but there is a group that loves a lot. Other fitness apps are competitive and encourage you to be the fastest runner on a certain route for example. But not everyone can be a top performer, maybe five percent of users are like that. On the other hand, there is a whole bunch of people with different shapes and sizes who are not as fit when beginning their journey. Those people really gravitate to “Zombies, Run!” because you can still play the game even though you are not that fit. That appeals to a lot of people. Also the game has a story happening in the game. Don’t underestimate how important that is!

How did the numbers and behavior of your users change in the pandemic?
During the pandemic we saw a huge spike in active users. We were featured by Apple and Google as the editor’s pick. So we noticed how running and other cardio based fitness stuff was really taking off. It is still picking up post-covid which is quite interesting. On top of that the thematic of zombies really hit home because a pandemic, vaccines and zombies really tie together.

So if you think ahead to your vision of a fitness metaverse, how would you define that for people who don’t know anything about it?
The way I see it, a metaverse is a massive multiplayer online game. You could think of something like “Ready Player One” obviously, where you have all these interconnected games, but more old school you could think of a book like “Snow Crash”. But for it to work it needs more than just my own game. We must link it to other games and brands. Partially, we are already doing that. For example, in our game we have a plot of land inside the sandbox, which is similar to Roblox and Minecraft, and you can use it in these games. We have lots of collaboration with other blockchain games coming. Imagine you had a son that loves Roblox, and he needs to run a little bit every day to unlock something. Would you do it for him?

How do you see the fitness industry in five years in context of the metaverse and usage of blockchain?
The future is our kids, right? And more people watch eSports like a “League of Legends”-tournament than Cristiano Ronaldo playing his first game at Manchester. The world has shifted and sports as we knew it is changing. Gaming is the natural kind of language. All the boys know how to play games, but probably not all of them know how to shoot a basketball. So that is the future. I think brands need to think about how they get into their environment. Instead of buying a banner next to an NBA game courtside they need to get into those games. Some brands are already doing that. Roblox is the prime example for that.

Do physical brick-and-mortar gyms have a future in that?
They will stay forever. Everyone said the radio would die when TVs got popular, but radios are still around. Then everyone said the internet will replace TVs but they are still around. Then everyone said post-covid no one would go back to the office, but that is not true – especially not here in Asia since our houses are so tiny. So there will always be a place. It is going to coexist, but there will be a higher usage of online products mixed in with offline.

How do you think audiences will shift in this future? Obviously, young people will be the first wave of users, but will it stay this way or will older generations be able to benefit from what is being developed now as well?
That's a tough question. I can only offer my opinion on that. So what I think is that we moved from losing weight and gaining muscle. Instead, we transitioned to train as efficiently as possible. It started with machines for each muscle, then we tried to train all the muscles together. Then came CrossFit which is about training as many muscles as possible with as little time as possible. But there is a limit to that, after a certain point you just get sick. We don’t get chased by lions anymore, so we don’t need to exercise to save our lives. So I think the main reason we work out today is mental stress, because we are stuck on Zoom and in social media and our hectic work lives. So people go work out for different reasons - not to lose weight, but to get a mental break. But if you are just looking for a mental break, then gaming and exercising at the same time is the best. If you just play a game, you will miss the runner's high. You might be happy, but also feel empty. But if you play a fitness game, you will be happy and you get the runner's high.

So will we go even more into a world like “Ready Player One” where everyone uses virtual reality to get mental breaks more and more?
It is going to be a mixture. Right now, the limiting factor is that it is hard to exercise with a VR headset. The ideal case would be a contact lens that turns the environment virtual and let’s you interact with it. I can definitely see that happening in the future. It is not going to happen within the next two years but if we are dreaming 50 years down the line, I can see that.