My experiences using the StepBet walking app in membership mode

in #walking6 years ago

I've talked in some previous posts about using the StepBet walking app. The gist of it is that you put forward some money in a “bet” that you'll be able to hit your daily/weekly walking goals over a time period, and at the end of that time period everyone in the group that hit their goals splits the pot. I had been using the app for “free” where you only pay the money that you put into the pot up front, but “the house” takes a cut of the pot before distributing it to the winners. Your progress is tracked via pedometer (mine is done via the hardware inside my iPhone) and your goals are calculated based on the number of steps you've taken historically (the algorithm gives you goals that are a slight push beyond the number of steps-per-day you've been getting historically).


In January I decided to pay the $50 yearly “membership” fee. This lets you have up to three bets active at once, and it lets you join bets where 100% of the pot is distributed to the participants without the house taking any cut. They also offer variants on the basic game, such as the “Step Marathon”:

Buy-inGame Type“Active” days / week“Stretch” days / week# of weeks
$60Step Marathon708

I've also tried a Flex game, which is like the Classic but lets you distribute the active, stretch, and free days however you want during the period the bet covers, as long as you get them all done by the end. There are some other variant games, too, but I haven't tried those myself. Although I've been happy with StepBet since I started using it I wasn't sure if paying for membership would make sense: not having to lose some of the pot would increase your payout, but presumably only people who are pretty motivated to walk would pay the membership fee so I expected there to be more winners. From the ones I've participated in it does seem like more members tend to get to the end than non-members:


But without the 12.5% cut going to the company the payout at the end seems to balance out:


Other game types: Step Marathon

When I saw the Step Marathon game on offer I thought it would be a pretty good deal. The buy-in was higher, $60 vs. $40 for the standard games, and it lasted an extra two weeks. But the big change is that there were no free days in any of the weeks. I figured this would make it much harder for people to make it to the end, resulting in a higher payout for those who did. I was right:


I didn't think it would be that big a deal for me to get there, since I had been getting some walking in on my “free days” anyway, and I had always been getting my steps in and only using my free day on the last day of each week, but having no margin for error made things much more stressful than I anticipated. Since I was doing this in parallel with a regular game I still had to get stretch days in every week, so that didn't do anything to offset the added strain. You can see in the chart that the payout was better, but I don't think the extra emotional strain it caused for me was a great tradeoff.

You can have multiple bets active at once, but you're constrained by the bets they offer

With the membership you can have three active games at a time while the “free” bets limit you to one (the warmup weeks don't count, so you can overlap your warmup weeks with rounds that are almost finished). However, they have to offer the games before you can sign up for them, and they might not always offer enough games to take full use of your parallelism. Also, sometimes the more exotic game types don't pair well together: say a “marathon” (7 active days per week) and a game that gives you more or longer stretch goal days than usual.

It seems like I've made back my membership fee

It was $50 to sign up for membership. I made $89.19-$60=$29.19 for the step marathon, $51.29-40=$11.29 for the “January Member Classic”, and $49.71-$40=$9.71 for the Flex StepBet, which adds up to $29.19+$11.29+$9.71=$50.19. So I've got 19 cents to show for my first few months of the year. This is probably not the best investment vehicle. However, if I can stick with it I'm probably expecting another ~$10 net winnings every 2 weeks or so, and the walking is good exercise for me anyway. (And if I could get my diet back under control I'd probably be losing more of the weight I need to take off.)

Overall recommendation

I'm planning to keep doing this for the foreseeable future. I think it's reasonable to assume that the numbers in the charts above are going to be pretty typical, so you can see if it's something that makes sense for you. I think it's better to think of it like a fancier commitment contract than a way to earn a profit, it's basically something to help with motivation if you're already committed to the idea of walking for exercise, and the extra you win at the end is a nice bonus rather than the main goal. Since the returns are basically the same I'd say it makes more sense to try the “free” version before signing up for membership like I did (I put free in quotes because you still need to put the initial sum of money into the pot so you are paying something). Whether membership is worth it or not probably depends on your situation. I think it makes sense for me, at least for now, so I'm satisfied with getting it.

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