While insurers have begun to look at various Web 2.0 technologies as a means to reach customers, especially those from younger demographics, they've largely ignored the realm of video games -- a widely adopted technology that's been around since before even Web 1.0.Maybe they've ignored it for good reason, as there's very little room for business opportunity within the 2D world of traditional games. However, as the video game industry increasingly connects gamers to one another -- via XBOX Live or Playstation 3's online network -- and as video game technology evolves -- changing the average gamer from a passive participant to an active contributor - the opportunities for insurance carriers within this space are growing.
Last Friday, Louisville, Ky.-based heath insurer Humana (11.3 million members) became one of the first carriers to embrace the potential of video games when it established a multi-pronged initiative to find the best ways to connect with consumers using game technology. According to a press release, Humana will be working with Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the Games for Health project and J.C. Herz, a social networking and multiplayer online world expert, as part of the initiative.
Dr. Miguel Encarnacao, Humana's Innovation Center director of visual analytics and advanced human-media interfaces, told me that there are various drivers behind the initiative. "On the one hand, video games are obviously a very popular medium. Since Humana is always exploring new ways to engage with its members, we have to look at new media and games are on top of the list at this point," Encarnacao explains.
Encarnacao also says that Humana considers itself a forerunner in changing healthcare in treatment and prevention. "People are very engaged in games. From early childhood we are using games to learn and to socialize. One question [for Humana] is: Are games a way that maybe we can influence health behavior?" he asks.
In our interview, Encarnacao specifically mentioned "exer-games" as one possible focus point. "Looking at virtual running paths while running on a treadmill and Dance Dance Revolution are typical [exer-game] technologies where people can get a lot of exercise in a very entertaining environment," Encarnacao says.
One objective of exer-games would be to influence consumers' exercise behavior. "If these are the types of games that will get people physically moving, then the next research question becomes: how can we take the experiences gained in that environment to get people to exercise when they are no longer in such an environment, in the real world?" Encarnacao says.
Humana has assembled a team to carry out the initiative composed of members from different parts of its Innovation Center, including those with expertise in customer engagement, clinical research, market research and interactive technologies. The team is considering several different opportunities to impact consumer behavior, many through collaborative efforts with academic institutions and video game industry partners.
Under one such partnership, with Touchtown, Humana is targeting nursing homes and assisted-care facilities. "We're working with Touchtown to roll out exer-game technology to these environments to see how these technologies might help elderly people to maintain or even regain physical mobility," Encarnacao says.
Touchtown will field test the exer-game technology, which Encarnacao declined to discuss in further detail, in the coming weeks at Florida and Tennessee-based elderly facilities. Humana plans to roll out the system in the following months, according to Encarnacao. "We're working with Touchtown to roll out exer-game technology to these environments to see how these technologies might help elderly people to maintain or even regain physical mobility," he says.
According to a press release, the Humana team will also be collaborating with the University of South California's GamePipe Laboratory to research and develop new video game interfaces "to tie real world exercise to virtual worlds." Encarnacao says the Humana team is currently waiting for a project description from USC regarding the types of games students there will be working on.
"Most of the [game development] will go to outside vendors. Humana is focused on getting the right content into games and the right research out of games," Encarnacao told me.
Because the initiative is so broad, success of the program will likely be measured on a project-by-project basis. "Based on the types of games we will be looking at, there will be different measures," Encarnacao explains. For games that aim to influence behavior, Humana's Miami-based health services research center will perform long term quantitative research.Last Friday, Louisville, Ky.-based heath insurer Humana (11.3 million members) became one of the first carriers to embrace the potential of video games when it established a multi-pronged initiative to find the best ways to connect with consumers using game technology.