Interviews

Mobile Game Unkore Aims to Save Lives Outside the Doctor’s Office (Part 2)

Yousuke Ishii

The mobile game Unkore, designed by Dr. Yousuke Ishii to assist with early detection of colorectal cancer, saw its development path take on an open innovation format.
Interviewer & Japanese Writer: Yamamoto Takaya; Translation & Editing: Matthew Cherry

Unkore, a mobile game selected for the 2019 INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge, has players report their own bowel movements’ condition to receive items and progress through the game while assisting with the early detection of colorectal cancer. Dr. Ishii began developing the game through an open innovation format.

Ishii explained his reasoning for this approach. “A lot of different people are involved in the development of a game, such as engineers, storywriters, character designers, concept artists, user interface developers and musicians. When I first began developing the game around five years ago, I thought I would just do it all myself, but then I realized it’s better to enlist the help of professionals in order to make a more quality product.”  

Dr. Ishii developed a prototype and showed it off at game shows to solicit participation from field experts in the development process. Speaking directly to those who were interested in the game allowed him to meet a wide variety of people from related fields, such as voice acting. Every time he presented the game at an exhibition, he was able to recruit more of these experts, and before long he was able to put together a team for Unkore’s development. 

2016年に出展した東京ゲームショウのブース

Dr. Ishii’s booth at the 2016 Tokyo Game Show

Including Dr. Ishii, all members of the development team were volunteers. The team members would continue working at their regular jobs on weekdays and gather together to develop Unkore on weekends. Through this development cycle, Unkore’s initial alpha version with its most basic functions was created. It was then that one of Ishii’s acquaintances recommended that he enter Unkore into the INNO-vation Program. “I had heard of the program before and I thought the game would be an incredible fit,” Ishii explained. Following this advice, Ishii applied for the 2019 INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge and was selected.

Through the time spent in the INNO-vation Program’s challenge period, Dr. Ishii was able to further his development and create a beta version of the game. Every single member of the development team was an iPhone user, so the alpha version of the game was only tested on iPhones. The Disruptive Challenge allowed them to expand the compatible devices outside of Apple’s ecosystem, and even included tablets. Since the game uses sensitive health information provided by the player, security measures also had to be increased. 

Concurrently, other parts of the game were updated and a fully realized beta version was completed.

Dr. Ishii reflected on the development process under an open innovation team.

“I originally had the idea to create a game revolving around people’s stools, but I never thought about having transforming heroines in the game. The idea to create characters based on intestinal bacteria was something I wouldn’t have been able to come up with without first talking to a creator. It really became a game far beyond my expectations. If I had taken on all of it by myself, it would have been a rather dull game focused on medical care. On the other hand, I wonder if the creators could have made the game like it is on their own. Linking up and working together to create and do what couldn’t have been done individually, that is what I believe innovation is at its core.”

The Key visual in the game Unkore

Key visual from Unkore

In part 3, we’ll ask Dr. Ishii about the development of Unkore following the INNO-vation Program.

Continued in Part 3


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