New technologies allow users to do things like race their real bikes against other real people in a virtual world, and a new study describes what motivates people to use these online platforms. The results offer ideas for future iterations of these technologies – and how to bring them to market.
What is at issue are “mixed reality sports”: augmented reality platforms that integrate online virtual elements and real sporting endeavors. For example, Zwift is a platform that allows users to ride their real bikes, but transfers their efforts to a virtual space representing real-world routes – allowing them to race against other riders who are not physically present.
We know that mixed reality sports attract a lot of users. We want to know what benefits people see in these technologies. And the risks? And how do these risks and benefits affect their actual use? This is important because once we understand why people use or don’t use these technologies, we can figure out how to make technologies attractive to users – and also how to market them more effectively. “
Bill Rand, study co-author and associate professor of marketing, Poole College of Management, North Carolina State University
For this study, the researchers conducted a survey of 284 Zwift users in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The survey collected data on each study participant’s background, their motivations for using Zwift, their concerns about the platform, and the extent to which they thought they would continue to use Zwift in the future.
The researchers were then able to examine the use of Zwift by each study participant for 30 days after completing the survey. The study design allowed the researchers to identify any relationship between a study participant’s motivations, perceived risks, their expectations about using Zwift, and their actual use of Zwift.
One of the things the researchers found surprising was that users just weren’t motivated to compete with other users in the gaming environment itself.
“The Zwift platform is designed specifically to allow competition, either informally between friends or in formal races involving many competitors,” said Rand. “However, we have found that even people who participate in formal races are not highly motivated by these in-game competitions.”
Instead, the researchers found that four other factors were associated with Zwift use: health awareness; use Zwift to train for real world competitions; socialize with others; and the ability to personalize and enhance their gaming experience by modifying their jerseys, “gaining” access to new styles of biking, and more.
“To provide a more in-depth explanation of the quantitative results, we also conducted 14 interviews with users of the platform,” says Daniel Westmattelmann, corresponding author of the article, assistant professor of sports management at the University of Münster and former professional cyclist. “It was fascinating to see that even elite athletes who have won stages of the Tour de France, for example, are highly motivated to use the platform more intensively due to elements of personalization or socialization. . “
The researchers also found that study participants who had privacy concerns about Zwift intervened less frequently with the platform.
“There are a variety of these mixed reality sports platforms, such as Peloton, with varying ratios of virtual elements versus real world elements,” Rand said. “And this area is likely to grow. Our work gives us insight into what can motivate participants on these platforms.
For example, the ability to customize your avatar seems to be important. Social interaction and online communities are important. Health and fitness are important. Privacy concerns are important.
“Understanding the things that are important to users can help next-generation mixed reality sports technology developers design more engaging products,” says Rand. “And can help marketers determine which aspects of these products to highlight to consumers.”
The article “Apart from, we ride together: the motivations of users of mixed reality sports” appears in the Business Research Journal. The article was co-authored by Jan-Gerrit Grotenhermen, Marius Sprenger and Gerhard Schewe from the University of Münster.