Dubbed as ‘Lifeline meets Lord of the Rings’, Betwixt takes a radically different approach to helping solve the mental health crisis. Unlike traditional mental health apps, Betwixt is an interactive smartphone game that focuses on prevention over cure.
BGV backed Mind Monsters Games, the company behind Betwixt, for their ambition to leverage emerging technologies to deliver the most effective tools for mental resilience. The result? Helping people make big changes with less effort. Earlier this year they were awarded $1 million from Gala Games for their ‘play-to-thrive’ game in Web 3.0.
Here CEO and co-founder, Hazel Gale, explains how they’re helping people build self awareness through immersive gaming, why they believe this will have a longer lasting impact and why you’ll want one of their NFTs.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can watch the full interview here.
Where did the idea for Betwixt come from and how did your startup journey begin?
The idea came from my co-founder, Ellie Dermendzhiyska. Ellie was working in tech and quit her job to study mental health. As she was doing that, she interviewed a lot of people, including therapy practitioners, and people who’ve been through the therapy process, to find out what they were doing that helped.
She landed on something really interesting: every time she asked people which apps helped them with their mental health, they would reel off a lot of the apps that we all know about – Calm, Headspace, and some journaling apps. They would wax lyrical about how great these apps were. Then she would ask, ‘How often do you use them?’ By and large people would say, ‘Actually, I don’t really’ or ‘I don’t anymore, I used to use them for a bit, but I stopped.’
She followed up by asking them what they did use. One of the most common answers was that people were playing video games to escape into a different reality, to focus, and to calm down.
She thought about how to combine these two bits of information, and decided to look for somebody that would help her to build a video game that was a mental health app at the same time. And that’s where we began.
We don’t call ourselves a mental health app anymore, because we’re focusing on self awareness. The idea is that you step into this dreamlike world and meet this mysterious character called ‘The Voice’. As you journey through that space, you ask and answer the types of questions that help you to build mental self awareness. Which is linked to greater wellness, more robust and respectful relationships, greater success, and better health.
What do you hope Betwixt will change?
We’re hoping that it will change a number of things. For the person using the app, we hope it will help build self awareness. We also want to start a new trend, which allows people to take the utility of apps like a mental health app, but to build them in a way that puts engagement first.
There are so many brilliant mental health apps out there that are really well put together, with excellent advice. In developer-led trials they really create amazing changes for people but in the wild people don’t stick with them. The average retention rates are around 3%, and if that’s the case, these things are not going to perform the way we need them to.
With mental health being such a big problem we need to have programmes out there that people will stick with. Our goal was to create a programme that was engaging first and helpful second. We hope that we won’t be the only people trying to do this.
Who are you hoping Betwixt will help?
Originally we were aiming at young adults because that seemed like the obvious thing to do, but we were prepared to see who was going to connect with it most. We actually found that the people who were getting the most out of it were a little bit older – or a lot older.
We really tried to find a particular age group that was the perfect segment of people, but it wasn’t possible. We found that people from their early 20s, up to people in their 60s were getting as much out of it as each other, albeit using it in different ways. Because the level of self awareness you come to the app with will change the way that you engage with it.
So now there is no real demographic that we’re aiming for, except that the people who struggle to stick with the current solutions tend to be the people who really like to engage in immersive experiences. These people are either gamers or readers. And so our perfect person is any gender, any age – but they have an imagination that they want to nurture.
What makes Betwixt different from anything else out there?
There’s a lot that’s different! It’s a choose your own adventure story instead of having people come in with a named problem that they’re struggling with, looking for answers or the tips for that particular problem. We don’t have any diagnosis words in there at all as we don’t want to run the risk of people stigmatising themselves further by connecting to a diagnosis.
We’re also not a medical app that’s aiming to treat a particular diagnosis. People come into Betwixt regardless of whether they feel that they have problems with their mental health or not, because it’s beneficial to both groups. You don’t need to feel like you have a problem in order to pick it up which is different to what is out there.
Then of course, the process that you experience, the actual journey itself is very, very different. When you start, you go into this story with eleven chapters, and work your way through it as the lead character. One of the most important arcs that happens in the game is that you begin as a character sort of like a puppet that external influences are bearing over, which is a little bit like a metaphor for how we often feel when we aren’t feeling great. As you go through the game, you level up so you become the hero, and then the author, and after that you become the architect.
The idea being that you are internalising your locus of control, and seeing yourself not just as a character or a puppet in life, but as the person who not only gets to star as the lead role of the hero, but actually gets to write the story.
Are there any success stories you can share about the impact you have had on your users?
We’re just about to launch our product in Web 3.0 and we are going to create 1,777 NFTs which will act as the gateway to the world of the in-between. This is going to be the first time we have released the entire game – the whole eleven chapters!
Before this, we launched a beta test app with the first five chapters of the game on the iOS store. We’ve tested that with over 6,000 people, many of whom we’ve spoken to, either through emails or video calls. This feedback was really our first success story, speaking to people and hearing that it was working, because we really didn’t know if we could pull this off. We thought that people would like the story, but as soon as it started to smack of therapy, they would get a bit bored and leave. But that wasn’t happening, and that was our first big milestone. We had to hear that a number of times before we really believed it.
Most recently, our biggest success story relates to our move to Web 3.0. We won a $1 million grant from Gala Games who are a Web 3.0 gaming giant, which is amazing because it means that we can bring on more staff, and work at a much faster rate.
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learnt from running a startup?
There are lots of learnings, but I think the hardest one is that you need to get really good at letting go of seemingly perfect ideas as soon as you realise it’s not working. Looking back on our journey, it’s easy to say that we had this idea, it worked, and here we are. But of course, we didn’t. We had an idea, and we made a version that showed us that it worked enough for us to make the next version, but 95% of the assumptions we made were wrong. You only get to learn what you actually need to build by building something and testing it, and testing it, and testing it, and getting more, and more, and more feedback.
I’d say that was the biggest lesson – that you’re probably wrong but the right thing will be out there if you look for it.
What do you think is the most important quality in a co-founder or teammate?
This is simple. It’s about being able to admit when you’re wrong and take the feedback. Ellie and I speak to each other daily. We don’t live in the same country, we’ve only met in person about five or six times, but we speak to each other for hours every day.
You need to be able to be totally honest with each other when something doesn’t seem right, and to be able to hear what the other person is saying and back down. It sounds super easy when you’re not in the middle of it, but when you really believe in your idea, it’s so hard to take a step back. Flexibility and humility are so important.
Aside from Betwixt, are there any other tech for good companies you admire?
I’ve recently fallen head over heels in love with an app called Forest. Forest is one of those apps that is going to help you get off your phone. I know there are a few of those out there, but this one really, really, really works. You plant a virtual tree in your virtual forest, and you set a timer for anything from ten minutes to three hours. If you exit the app at that time, the tree dies. It’s surprisingly incentivising – you do not want a dead tree in your forest! You can also play a soundscape while you’re doing that, such as thunder or rain.
We’re also using soundscapes in Betwixt. The sounds aren’t intrusive, they function like white noise and they keep you locked into whatever you’re doing so beautifully because they just take away the highs and the lows of the outside world. It stops feeling so distracting.
If someone wanted to find out more about Betwixt and your approach to mental resilience and technology, where would you signpost them?
Our social media platforms of choice are Twitter and Discord. Discord requires an invite, so if you go to our Twitter account there’s a link to our Discord there. You can also check out our website.
What’s next for you and Betwixt and how can people help?
Next for us is the launch, we are literally weeks away from dropping the first round of NFTs.
The NFT builds itself as you go through the game. You start out with a really basic image, and then with every chapter of the game, you flip over the card and see this new evolution of the image. It gets increasingly complex and beautiful as your relationship with yourself gets increasingly complex and beautiful. By the end of it, people will have this unique representation of their journey through the game, which will be theirs.
Because that’s on the horizon for us, the main thing we’re looking for is ways of getting the word out. This needs to be within Web 3.0 and if anybody has any recommendations for podcasts, or any other Web 3.0 space where we can speak about what we’re doing, that would be wonderful!
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