May 26, 2022 - Technology

Roblox to partner with medically prescribed video game

Video game screenshot of a small humanoid character in a red outfit riding a futuristic skateboard
EndeavorRx. Screenshot: Akili Interactive

Users of a video game that functions as an FDA-approved treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder will soon be able to get rewards in Roblox for playing.

Why it matters: The partnership is a sign of growing enthusiasm around video game technology that is harnessed for health.

Details: The therapeutic side of the Roblox deal involves Akili Interactive, a decade-old company that makes a racing game called EndeavorRx that can be prescribed to children ages 8 to 12 to help improve attention.

  • The game will digitally connect to the popular Roblox platform, unlocking badges, pets and avatar customization options that pull from the styles in EndeavorRx.
  • Rewards will be offered to the game’s young players for using the medicine and hitting key milestones.

What they’re saying: Akili CEO Eddie Martucci tells Axios he hopes that patients and their families will find it empowering to show off their winnings in Roblox.

  • “These are populations that have been stigmatized previously,” he says.
  • “We’re saying, ‘Not only can you use your medicine to help customize your game, you can do it in really cool and exclusive ways.'”

Between the lines: Akili has faced years of skepticism that a video game can serve as an effective medicine, but clinical trials and the FDA’s approval in 2020 have won it more support.

  • Akili says EndeavorRx has about 1,000 unique prescribers, though it hasn’t released its number of patients. It says the medicine shouldn’t be considered to be in full release until the fall when it’s slated for a big marketing push.
  • EndeavorRx currently costs $150 without insurance, with about 5% of prescriptions covered by insurance (Some big insurers have questioned the game’s utility, but Martucci predicts that insurers “will get there. It’ll just take time.”)
  • Investors are already firm believers. In January, Akili announced plans to merge with a special purpose acquisition company at a $1 billion valuation. They hope to go public this year.

The big picture: Akili’s push for games as medicine has been less lonely of late.

  • Beyond perennial dabbling from the likes of Nintendo, some game and health execs announced a bona fide games-as-health care game publisher called DeepWell in March.
  • Many efforts broadly focus on mental health. Akili takes an expansive view there, identifying the potential to treat some common and pressing problems.
  • The company has reported positive clinical trials involving autism in children as well as depression and multiple sclerosis in adults. It’s also in trials to use this kind of game to treat the brain fog that comes from long COVID-19 and chemotherapy.

What’s next: The EndeavorRx connection to Roblox will be tested this summer, as Akili monitors how the reward system works, Martucci says.

  • He’s open to connecting the digital medicine to more games.
  • Roblox, which sometimes takes knocks for the amount of time kids spend on it, also wants more.
  • “We have envisioned metaverse experiences for fashion, entertainment, sports and education on Roblox,” the company’s chief business officer Craig Donato tells Axios. “We are hopeful for experiences that promote mental health and wellness.”

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