Thursday, 16 January 2014

Habitually Super Better

For the past few years now, I've been slowly shaking off my slovenly ways in the name of self-improvement. Mainly due to the gentle insistence of my good natured and long suffering wife, but more recently I've taken it somewhat upon myself to take an interest in it too. I've been using two websites to help do that, and I thought I'd do a bit of a compare and contrast here, since they're both about gamifying your tasks in the name of self improvement.

I've been using Super Better for longer (I'm not good with time, but it's nearly three years). I picked up quite a number of allies over that time, though a large percentage have stopped playing. I have had a couple of them come back to the game though, as they've seen the difference it has made to them. I like the depth of connection you can make with allies, and greatly value their feedback, insights and witticisms. I'm a better person due to my interactions with them. I've talked a few times previously here to my imaginary audience about Super Better, so I'll just skim it quickly now:

In the rainbow corner, Super Better

Super Better is designed mainly with healing from injury or quitting bad habits. There's a range of users who are battling a diverse array of problems. While you can play it solo, I don't really see the point of that, as the interactions and feedback you get from allies takes it to a whole new level, and is the game for me. You take on as many allies as you feel you're able to support (I've got quite a large stable of allies, because I like the interaction, but there's nothing wrong with a handful, or even none). It's a good idea to pick your allies carefully, because if you're using it to your full potential, then you're baring your soul to random weirdos on the internet. A couple of times I've picked up a new ally, and had raised eyebrows as I've read over some of their custom made quests or powerups, but the way I look at it is they're providing me a point of view from somewhere that's completely different to what I'm used to, so that might be of great value.

Quests, Powerups, Badguys
These are the three main groupings of "things to click on" in Super Better. Quests can be repeatable or once off. Powerups are more designed for quick hits. With bad guys, you choose if you win or lose, and the severity of the battle (was it just a little un, or was it a great big challenge)

Rocking it old school in 8-bit glory, HabitRPG

I've had a HabitRPG account for a year now, but only really seriously started using it maybe six months ago (when Super Better was having some hiccups). For little things, I find it is very valuable. I've seen quite a few places mention if you just start something for 5 minutes and tell yourself you're free to stop after that, quite often you're in the swing of things and can't be arsed to stop (even though you had to cajole yourself in the beginning). Well, Habit is perfect for this sort of impetus. Your party members and guild mates can't see what you are working on improving (unless you join a challenge), so it is better for those concerned about privacy. This does mean that you're not as closely connected to them, but idle chatting in guild/party/tavern still means you can make a rapport. Habit gives you an avatar that represents you, that you buy weapons and armour for, and find pets that you can raise into mounts. It's not just for fun, they're tapping into extrinsic rewards that you work towards and those that happen randomly, so there's science behind it too.

Habits, Dailies, To-Do's
Habits are things that you want to improve at, and may do more than once a day, or not at all. They can be positive (give you gold and XP), negative (take health) or go both ways. I have a range of all three listed. Dailies damage you if you don't check them off on the day you've got them active. To-do's are a once off, and don't damage you. I've been using To-do's more and more, relying on Habit instead of my faulty memory for storing my ever expanding list of what I should be doing. They also have a rewards column, where you can add real life things if you want (though these don't generally work for me, but some people like them) and the aforementioned armour and weapons. I've added the three main distractions at work - feedly (my RSS aggregator), Facebook and Reddit, but the price is low (well, it's low when I'm not trying to buy new equipment) but just having it there next to a list of things I should be doing instead is working well for me.

Speed of Data Entry:
Habit has it hands down over Super Better. My work computer, home computer, tablet and phone all remember my login, and as soon as you load it, you're presented with everything you have to do:

Some habits (first column), dailies (second column) to-do's (third column) and rewards (fourth column). My party members are the avatars up the top of my screen, to the right of my health bar.

Mine are gamified, so while it doesn't seem like it's work, they are (the breakdown for the Skeletal army gives it away that its marking)

I have to log in on Super Better each day on each device (more than once if I close the browser).

I have to select the correct group on the left hand list, then I have to find it in the list

Then view it, then click I did this.

I normally right click and open everything I want to check off (sometimes multiple copies of each). Even if I am only doing one or two, I still right click, as that was faster when we were fighting the Oops Monster (may it never darken our halls again).


Graphs. Yay, I guess. I don't do maths, and I so I don't really care
Habit has a graph on your dailies and habits that you can click on to look at, but I don't really care so I hadn't actually done it before this (I've just come back from holidays, that's why I'm sucking at a lot of mine). You can also export your information as a CSV file if you want, but again, facts and figures don't do it for me

SB lists the number of times you've clicked on it, in reverse chronological order. If it's a bad guy battle, it also lists if it was a win or a loss, and what difficulty setting it was on.

Staff involvement:
Once again, a clear winner in Habit. The tavern is jumping with commentary from staff, and knowledgeable normal users. If it's more along the lines of bug reports or updating new features, it has them in spades as well. And since it's open source, we're all welcomed along if we want to help. I've been acknowledged for puttering around on the wiki for example. I forget the last time we had any official word from Super Better staff, even when it looked iffy and there was rumours on their forums of insolvency, spammers running riot etc, we didn't hear a peep out of them. It's a bit disconcerting, and is the reason I searched out other similar sites, in case it died and left me high and dry.

Super Better has forums and groups, but apart from the Cozy Circle and the newer Bunker of Badarsery, they're pretty deserted. Most users come in, say they're new, pick up a few allies and then never return to the forums.

Habit has a jumping Tavern - with the latest influx of users from Tumblr it often scrolls past the 200 line limit overnight or on weekends. There's plenty of special interest guilds, some of which are quite chatty.

Super Better's strength in this regard is the deep ties you form with your allies. Part psychotherapists couch, part happy hour with your mates having a whinge, it's a great format to blow off steam. Habit's Tavern gives you a more ephemeral and tenuous connection with a larger number of people, which is equally good but in a different way. Parties are similar to, but a pale comparison of the camaraderie of SB allies.

This is a tricky call, I think SB wins it slightly, because there's no pay-out apart from the input of your allies, so making up stuff is pointless there. In fact, you're more likely to not list losses when you've battled a bad guy, as you're often not at a computer when you do, and you likely don't want to revisit while you type it up again, even if they give you good advice. Because of buying gear/getting drops/wanting health/leveling up/keeping streaks there's sometimes the motivation to cheat in Habit. Yeah yeah, you're only cheating yourself, but it's just a little tick mark, so what's it hurt?

Unless they click on something or make a comment, there's no way to tell if an ally has logged in on SB. If you don't hear from them for a week, you don't know if they're busy, on holidays, or have stopped playing. When you click on someone's name in Habit, it shows you the last time they logged in, and some Zzz's if they're staying in the inn (often done when you're on holidays or sick), so you do have some feedback there if they're around and about.

Level of Detail:
Super Better wins this - and I'm not talking graphics.

Super Better wins this, so long as you put in the work and explain what you're doing. All my Quests, Powerups and Badguys have detailed descriptions and customised icons.

Here's an example. This one doesn't have much of a description, but you get the idea.

On top of that, I also often give a write-up of why or how something happened/went, and my allies will chime in on that.

This sort of sharing isn't really common in Habit, though I'm starting to see more of it, particularly in guilds where people are grouped by interest in a common cause. It may come with time with party members, but we'd have to be a lot more open about what we're doing and why.

I reckon this one is a tie. Like I said in the previous part, you can do icons and detailed descriptions on Super Better. Habit's aren't in such depth, but you've got your avatar you can play dress up with, and because your list of things that you're doing, you can be brutally honest (or whimsical and silly) in your descriptions. I've gamified all my dailies, habits and to-do headers, which I quite enjoy.

Support Network:
Again, the depth of your relationship with your allies means that Super Better has this one in the bag. In both places I've had people asking me about my recent holiday, and I've seen people in both places mention concern about users whose loved ones were in a recent car accident, there's the extra feeling closeness with SB.

For example, I had three long term allies, who I've chatted with extensively disappear from SB at the same time (one on an extended holiday, one other decided it was no longer for her, but she's changed her mind and returned, and the third was going to have a bit of a hiatus but again, it didn't last as long as she thought it would). For the next couple of days I was walking about, zombie-like. I felt dazed, and had quite a few people ask me if I was OK.

We had two members of our party leave in quick succession in Habit, and it had nowhere near the impact - though to be fair, we'd only been together about a month or so, and I still chat to them in guilds and the tavern, but still, the depth of the association is not there.

Habit wins this, because they're always adding new features and you've got the avatar you can play dress-up with. I think not knowing each other's tasks helps for this too. It can be hard to be lighthearted if your allies are having a rough time of it.

Habit wins by a country mile. They had a kickstarter at the beginning, and now you can buy gems (used for some customisation things, challenge rewards, starting guilds). They don't come begging or badgering emails ala happify and some other self improvement sites I've tried, and you could play happily and never need a gem. You can also earn them by contributing towards it by making pixel art, writing code or other things (I've picked up some like I said for working on the wiki).

There's not even an option to throw money at Super Better no matter how badly I want to support them. Madness! When the Oops Monster has come rampaging, we always worry it's because funds are drying up. When there was the rumour of they were out of dough, there was still no way to throw money at them. There's talk of an android app someday, which I'd gladly break Tho's rule of no paid apps for, but I can't until they release the damn thing. It drives me bonkers.

They haven't worked out how to monetize SB, which is why there was the worry that they were going to shutter. But they won't hand it back to Jane McGonigal, who created it, as they reckon it'll be a financial loss to them. At least with Habit, if it goes tits up because it's open source, I could pull down my own copy (and after a bunch of swearing) install it locally and keep using it. But let's hope it never comes to that.

Ease of Navigation:
Habit. Big time. Occasionally I forget where a certain setting is, but there's not that many tabs to flail around on. I've already said about the list I have to go through to check stuff off with SB, then add in visiting allies on top of that and it starts taking forever if there's been lots of updates, especially if they need thoughtful replies.

Privacy and Trolling Potential:
You could play both games completely ignoring everyone else, and you'd be right as rain. I'm really glad that neither network seems to be hit by griefers or trolls, but SB in particular. In the forums, it seems like a lot of people are battling some real nasty inner demons, and I don't reckon it'd be too much of a stretch to imagine someone offing themselves if a particularly malicious person became their ally. Especially if they  waited at first getting their trust. with Habit, annoying people aren't that serious, it's just forum spam that makes your eyes glaze over, that's all.

Since my list is just for me, I've really done a number of Habit. Our party is also talking about doing some RP as well (I haven't joined in yet, as I restarted my character, and I would feel silly since I'm a cleric and haven't unlocked any healing spells yet). For SB, I try and make my icons, titles and descriptions interesting for my allies, but that's about as far as it goes.

The Dweller in the Darkness

A good way to give an insight into the two different games is with the Dweller in the Darkness. This started off as a badguy in Super Better:

Petty Retaliation and Pointless Bickering are two other badguys that can trigger or be triggered by it. THey have their own writeups as well.

I added it as a +/- habit, and wrote it up for the inaugural Tales of Uncommon Valour (it won!)

The unhallowed hall was a jumble of haphazard pillars and jutting furniture (the use of which was best not imagined). Torchlight felt especially feeble here, but that was no great loss, as the graphic frescoes were disconcerting to say the least. 

Gripping the haft of his axe with clammy hands, the dwarf strained to see true movement amongst the flickering shadows. At the edge of hearing, there was a seething scrabbling and susurration. With a click of its chitinous carapace and scrape of scale on stone the horror left a moist trail within its enclosure. Tentacles writhing, pincers reaching, slavering maw gaping -  it was an abomination that surely belonged only in the deepest pits. “By Kern’s Forge!” Behind him, the dwarf heard one of his comrades being noisily sick. 

Grimly they advanced on the flailing form as it threw itself at the wards that were barely holding it in check. A pseudopod lashed out, escaping the constraints of the circle, and the dwarf hacked at it savagely. A meagre flow of ichor dripped from the creature as the axe head bit deep, but once it was removed the pulsating wound closed over and hardened spines formed where before there had been only putrid flesh. The beast roared its defiance at the party. Almost as one, they broke and ran for the stairs and the faint smudge of daylight that it promised.

So that's how the same task in both of them stacks up but the SB one is far more effective, as I can list what set me off, what I did to try and combat it, and my allies can give me feedback, support, or just listen to me whinge. If I click on it in Habit, no-one's the wiser.

This cuts both ways though, my allies don't really need to be informed that I took the stairs an extra time today, it dilutes the usefulness of Super Better for me - so Habit is the perfect place for me to get some sort of internal recognition of those tasks.

Overhauling and Refocusing
I've been playing on both sites for long enough that they've had to be overhauled a couple of times each, as I've either changed focus or become more familiar with their workings. Because everything is on one screen for Habit, it's by far the easiest to tweak (either for minor things, or really big changes).

Connecting in other places
To join up with allies, you need to exchange email addresses, so even if SB died suddenly, I'd still be able to get in contact with the people I've been talking to and seek out their opinion. A lot of them write or post stuff elsewhere, and they've given me links when I've expressed an interest (unless it's been stuff that's just for them). A few of us have also hooked up on Facebook, too (though we haven't interacted much there - but I don't really do much on facebook anyway, so that could be my fault). There's also the Private Messaging system on the forums as another way to talk to people that you aren't directly allied with.

For Habit, you have the option of linking your various sites under your profile, and so if someone has done that, it makes it a lot easier to follow them. You can also holler at them across the tavern (or a mutual guild) but since the chats there are limited to displaying the first 200 lines, there's no guarantee they will see it. If they don't list some website or way of getting in contact with them (twitter handle for example) then you're out of luck.

What worked well:
For Super Better - opening up to the idea of good positive changes, because they're good and I can instigate them, rather than just when Tho suggested them. Cutting down on drinking. Starting to mark and do paperwork more frequently. Fighting less. Learning the candle song. Giving reading self-help books a chance. Cutting down on swearing in the beginning.

For Habit: Marking a lot more (but this was also building on the original gains from Super Better). Going some days without drinking at all (again, building on previous gains). Writing more. Exercise. Now that I've got swearing largely down t acceptable levels, Habit is where I track losses there.

What doesn't work well:
For Habit: The sort of things where SB excels at - the deep thinking things where input from others is helpful. Occasionally clicking on stuff saying it was done so my avatar didn't die, or so a streak wouldn't be broken, or just because I wanted gold for a new item or a potential drop.

SB: not always logging losses, especially over the weekend or an extended break away from a computer, as I tend to rationalise that it's not that bad really. Sometimes the outlay into finding a new ally, explaining to them where I'm at and what I'm doing and getting familiar with what they're trying to do - and then they stop playing really annoys me. But that's on me, not them. For Super Better, the quality (and how active) your allies are affects what you get out of it. Waning interest in a few allies at the same time tends to have a domino effect on me - I've been under this for quite some time now. Even this week, I haven't really got back into it, instead I have been busy writing this comparison (and my next post, which is just about Habit).

Neither of them have been effective at motivating me to learn Vietnamese consistently (I'm still trying to work out a good system for that, on top of the million and one other things I want to do), nor for creative writing every day. I do have general writing ones on both, and specific ones relating to longer pieces and flash fiction, but I'm still not seeing me push out any consistent word count every day.

Also, both have completely failed at making me rich and/or famous, no matter how many things I click on. Same with getting me into space.

Which one is best? I don't think we have to declare a champion - this isn't a zero sum game, both are helpful in different ways. It's like saying which do you want, a dinosaur or a unicorn for a pet. The obvious answer is both! They're complimentary, and can utilize each other’s synergy or some other buzzwords. Try one, try both, or better yet try them in tandem. I've slowly been won over by Habit, but I would really like to cultivate the habit of using both, because they scratch different itches. But there's only so much time in a day.


  1. Happy New Year to you and your family! Best wishes and good luck with your self improvement sites!

  2. Just now reading your post, directed here from the HabitRPG user's Superbetter group in the Forums.. Good analysis! Thanks so much!

  3. great post, Snellopy. I'm happy to see you are still around. You were a great ally to me when I was doing SB. I am back on SB now that it is under new ownership. I tried to come back a few times before, but the bugginess was just too frustrating. I am also doing Habitica (3 mo) and Happify (abt. the time I stopped using SB so abt a year)

  4. Fun to read this. Let me know when there's an app that gets you to space! Also, did you try Similar idea, but less gamified and seems to be more popular.

    1. I did, back when it was called uh... I forget now. Maybe lift? I went to the site and the style felt familiar, so I whacked in my normal username and password, and things were still there.

      The gamification is the thing that draws me

  5. Great article. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I'm new to these gaming self improvement apps and trying to decide which to start with. Not ready to try both at the same time. Might be time for an update since it looks like you wrote this about two years ago and I imagine much may have changed with both options in that length of time.

    1. You're right mate, there have been some changes, mainly with HabitRPG (now Habitica). I have done a couple of follow up posts, clicking on the tags will bring them up, but I didn't link specifically to them. Wouldn't hurt to do so. Good luck with what you try mate

  6. Great article. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I'm new to these gaming self improvement apps and trying to decide which to start with. Not ready to try both at the same time. Might be time for an update since it looks like you wrote this about two years ago and I imagine much may have changed with both options in that length of time.