The Pokémon Go craze that erupted this summer came as a case in point for one of the topics at the European Outdoor Summit held in Barcelona last month – the trend toward gamification of outdoor activities, as a means of creating new experiences and enlarging the scope of the market.

Alastair Humphreys spent many years taking part in adventures that aren't accessible to all, such as a four-year cycling trip through 60 countries, and rowing across the Atlantic in 45 days. However, Humphreys was in Barcelona to promote the concept of “micro-adventures,” which may be completed without much skill, time or cash (albeit not without quite a bit of imagination).

Humphreys came up with this concept after he decided to take a winter walking trip around the M25 motorway – a regularly jammed motorway around London, surrounded by often uninspiring suburban towns. The accompanying pictures of sleeping under a plastic sheet near a flyover or hauling a few belongings on a discarded sledge didn't make the concept particularly appealing, but Humphreys insisted that the experience had been worthwhile: If it feels like an adventure to you, it's an adventure, he said repeatedly.

Humphreys then organized a survey that garnered about 2,000 replies, explaining what prevented people from having more adventures. The most recurrent reasons were lack of time, lack of money, the need for kit and expertise, and the location. However, some of the micro-adventures suggested by Humphreys solved all of these issues, such as the construction of “rafts” from inner tubes to float down the river Thames, or going to sleep on a hill outside the city for one night.

The invigorating presentation thus suggested that the outdoor industry ought to make adventure less exclusive, to get more people involved. It should help to remove barriers and help people to understand that they don't need to be experts or kitted out for a North Pole expedition in order to enjoy an outdoor adventure.

Pokémon Go showed that it may be even easier to draw people outdoors by adding in an element of play, potentially through interactive and online media, as described by Benjamin Föckersperger, senior business development manager of Gamify Now. The urge for people to play is underlined by research showing that only about 15 percent of smartphone users don't play any games, and 22 percent of all apps downloaded are games.

Föckersperger provided wide-ranging examples of online engagement in business and even scientific situations, such as a case where research on protein structures that had been dragging on for 15 years suddenly moved forward after the problem was shared online. Closer to gamification, he pointed to the use of virtual reality goggles by BMW, and he provided several examples where the impact of campaigns or the usage of apps was increased due to gamification.

Probably the most striking example is that of Runtastic, an Austrian company with an app for runners, which was acquired by the Adidas Group. Its development was strongly supported by Story Running: This modality enables users to run following the intrigue of a thriller, whose narrative creates intervals of varying intensity (based on the fact that runners naturally tend to go faster when the story reaches a particularly suspenseful episode). Along the same lines, the Zombies Run is an app that creates story lines involving zombies (the runners may virtually get their ankles bitten if they fail to complete an assignment in time). It boasts about one million downloads and led to spin-offs such as actual zombie-themed runs.

The Pokémon Go craze reached an unprecedented scale in gamification, with 250 million downloads after its launch in July. Due to the widespread use of fitness activity trackers in the U.S., it quickly transpired that Pokémon Go sharply increased physical activity among the players. A study from Stanford University and Microsoft more recently extrapolated that engaged Pokémon Go players walked an extra 1,473 steps per year, amounting to about 26 percent more activity, when playing the game. Among the 25 million Pokémon Go users in the U.S., this would translate into 2.85 million extra years of life, the study suggested.

Föckersperger described several ways for outdoor and other companies to leverage gamification. For instance, he pointed to the sponsorship of related events, the production of related merchandise, or the launch of own games in partnership with existing protagonists.

Others mentioned successful fun events like Tough Mudder and the Colorrun.