Fitbit was originally conceived by CEO James Park after he played Nintendo Wii for the first time, following a long early morning of waiting in line to be one of the first to pick up the motion sensor-based console. Park assembled a team of top technologists and gamers to build Fitbit into the top wearable brand in the world today. Now Fitbit is coming full circle and working with 2K to integrate real-world exercise into the gameplay experience for 2K Sports’ NBA 2K17.

Beginning November 25, gamers around the world who achieve 10,000 steps in a day tracked with any Fitbit device will receive a temporary attribute boost to their MyPlayer in NBA 2K17, on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, enhancing their MyPlayer’s performance on the court. After users reach the steps milestone, the game will prompt them to apply temporary +5 attribute boosts and success rate to their MyPlayer in categories like agility, layups and dunks, and more that will significantly improve performance for the next five games played that day.

This deal is the result of two years of conversations between Tim Rosa, senior vice president of global marketing at Fitbit, and NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts president Greg Thomas. Rosa spent five years as director of marketing at 2K Sports and he still plays on a San Francisco Bay Area hockey team with friends from the company.

“This is the gamification of health and fitness,” Rosa said. “I helped put people on the couch for a decade working at 2K and Electronic Arts, and now I’m taking them off the couch with this 2K game integration.”

Over the past nine months, Rosa worked with Thomas and the marketing and business units of 2K to launch this first-of-its-kind integration before Christmas. Rosa knew many Fitbit consumers were already looking for this type of virtual and real-world connectivity.

“We saw through our research that parents are concerned with kids spending too much time playing video games and they were requiring them to do homework and hit a step goal before they could play Xbox or PlayStation,” Rosa said. “They were tying homework and physical activity to gaming already. We’re the first company to attempt this and hope to change some of the perceptions about gaming by encouraging kids to get off the couch and giving them in-game rewards.”

Fitbit Flex 2
Fitbit Flex 2

Rosa has spent the past four years building the Fitbit brand across a variety of devices. Sales are expected to reach 60 million devices by year’s end. He’s seen millennials gravitate towards the Fitbit Flex, and with the recent launch of the Fitbit Flex 2, Rosa is finalizing a soft bundle for retailers Best Buy and Target that will include a copy of NBA 2K17 with the fitness device. Pricing is still being finalized, but consumers will get a discount by purchasing the bundle.

Rosa said Best Buy and Target are also working with 2K and Fitbit in a New
Year’s health initiative for consumers to get in shape for the new year. Separately, there will be cross-marketing and promotions across Fitbit and 2K, including in-game promotions.

This is just the beginning of the partnership, which Rosa said could expand beyond the NBA 2K game franchise. 2K also publishes WWE games, based on another physical sport.

“Our devices track things like heart rate and activity minutes, and you could see down the road we’ve talked about possibly tracking VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) and heart rate so you could apply bonus levels if you reach a certain heart rate zone that could improve your cardio in the game,” Rosa said. “There are interesting things you could play with.”

Rosa also tossed out a scenario where they could work with a 2K cover athlete or Fitbit athlete Harrison Barnes on a whole real-world training program that could help kids trying to increase their endurance or lose weight. That same gameplay would apply to game telemetry in the video game.

“We’re not doing any of that for this implementation, but Greg (Thomas’) vision is to expand and iterate on this in the game,” Rosa said. “He has a road map with software releases and updates. He’s passionate about doing things that are legit and authentic. The conversation has been to continue iterating on that and potentially other games in the future.”

Rosa also sees other game publishers taking advantage of Fitbit technology at some point down the road, but he also wanted to make sure 2K was the company to debut this feature. “The idea of gamifying physical activity is a huge opportunity,” Rosa said. “Pokémon GO got people excited about going out and playing in the real world, and we’re applying that physical concept to a console-based game.”

Additionally, Rosa said a first-person shooter game franchise publisher did approach him for integration, but he turned them down because it didn’t align with the brand and health and fitness.