Effects of a mobile app called Quittr, which utilizes premium currency and games features, on improving engagement with smoking cessation intervention: Pilot randomized controlled trial
Background: Numerous mobile health (mHealth) apps have been developed to support smokers attempting to quit smoking. Although these apps have been reported to be successful, only modest improvements in the quit rate have been measured. It has been proposed that efforts to improve user engagement and retention may improve the quit rate further. Owing to the high cost of smoking-related disease, it is considered worthwhile to pursue even small improvements.
Objective: The aim of this study was to test a novel smartphone app that leverages premium currency strategies developed by the mobile games industry in an attempt to improve engagement and retention with a smoking cessation intervention.
Methods: We designed and developed a smoking cessation app called "Quittr" in line with previously developed smoking cessation mHealth apps. In addition to this established framework, we added a stand-alone fully featured city-building clicker-style game called "Tappy Town," and a premium virtual currency called "QuitCoins." The user earns QuitCoins for using the app in a way that contributes positively toward their quit attempt, and they can redeem these coins in Tappy Town for bonuses. To establish whether these features improved engagement and retention, we ran a 5-month randomized controlled trial where the intervention group had the full app with the extra games features, while the control group had the standard app only. Recruitment was performed via web-based advertising. Participants (N=175) had no direct contact with the researchers or other support staff.
Results: No significant differences in terms of engagement, retention, or smoking outcomes were found between the control and intervention groups. However, survey data indicated that the majority of the participants valued Tappy Town (10/17, 59%) and the QuitCoins rewards system (13/17, 77%). Usage data also suggested that Tappy Town was widely played and was generally appealing to users (mean total time spent in app, control group: 797 seconds vs intervention group: 3502 seconds, P<.001). Analysis of the results suggests that users in the intervention group may have been negatively affected by the aspects of the chosen design, and some theories were explored to explain this unexpected outcome.
Conclusions: Although the novel features of the Quittr app failed to improve the key outcomes measured in this study, there were enough positive indications to warrant further exploration of the concept. Additional research will be required to identify and correct any design flaws that may have adversely affected our participants before a follow-up study can be completed.
Publication titleJMIR Serious Games
Department/SchoolSchool of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
Place of publicationCanada
Rights statementCopyright 2020 Ivan Bindoff, Tristan R. Ling, Peter Gee, Benjamin Geelan, Stuart G. Ferguson, Gregory M. Peterson. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/