tips & tricks

How to deal with cheating in a step challenge

blog author
Aug 27, 2019

Cheating can ruin the fun for everyone. Fortunately, we have the tips and tricks to keep competition fair and friendly.

One of the most disheartening issues for both admins and users is when cheating, or accusations of cheating, disrupts an otherwise fun competition experience. Imagine it’s week one of your first step challenge and things are going great! Sign ups are better than expected, and participants are regularly posting in the challenge chat room. But suddenly, a few days into the challenge, the chat room is no longer full of fun photos and words of encouragement. Instead, users are deep into a heated debate over cheating, as participants argue over how many steps is too many.

At MoveSpring, our number one goal is to ensure your step challenge is a success. Having worked with thousands of clients, we've accumulated a wide variety of best practices for running a successful step program. That includes tips on how to steer clear of common pitfalls and worst case scenarios. While there’s no way to absolutely prevent dishonest activity, there are some simple tricks that can prevent cheating from stealing away the fun. Read on for important things to consider, and guidance on what to do if a user is suspected of entering false step totals.

The key to preventing dishonesty is a strategic challenge structure and reward system.

A simple Google search will give you a glimpse into the various ways a person can falsely inflate the step total on their wearable device. However, this doesn’t mean admins are powerless to prevent dishonesty from ruining a step challenge. Planning goes a long way towards heading off this issue.

Reward participation and engagement over performance

If there’s a budget for rewards, make sure there are a variety of ways to win, and emphasize participation over performance. A raffle prize system where you set a minimum goal for entry can be highly motivating for users. For example: average at least 6,000 steps during the challenge to be entered into a raffle drawing for a week’s worth of free, healthy lunch. Using our engagement report, you can also reward participants who were most active in chat, synced their data frequently, and consistently interacted with content you posted.

With this system, there’s less concern over who has the most steps and less speculation on how large, daily step counts were achieved. When prizes are reserved for top steppers, you can be sure that users will become hugely invested and suspicious as to how some participants were able to hold the number one spot, regardless if their step totals are legitimately earned.

Choose your step challenge mode wisely

Be selective about challenge type and goal. With MoveSpring, you can customize the user experience with a variety of challenge modes. Leaderboard is always a user favorite, but is also the challenge mode that is most likely to result in cheating.

Leaderboard allows participants to see a straightforward ranking of who has the most steps or active minutes. This is a great challenge mode, but is best used with a smaller group of participants and with a second, simultaneous challenge. That way, the focus isn’t solely on who is number one. Additionally, in large groups, it becomes impossible to unseat the number one stepper, as you'd have to pass up hundreds or thousands of other users on the way. This becomes a competition for the top 10%, which is very demotivating and demoralizing to the rest of the hard working steppers.

Instead, use Leaderboard sparingly in smaller groups of participants and always pair it with a second challenge like Target, where users must reach a minimum step goal, and rewards can be distributed to more than just the single person with the most steps.

If you have an especially large and competitive group, consider running a collaborative challenge like Group Virtual Race or Group Target to channel the competition in a way that ensures all participants win. With these challenge modes, everyone’s totals contribute to a larger goal, so there’s less concern about individually earning the most steps or miles. Instead, the focus is on working together to reach a collective goal. Rewards can still include a lottery model where different tiers of contributors get more entries into a raffle. For example, you get 1 raffle entry for joining the challenge, 2 additional entries if you’re in the top 50% of step contributors, and 3 additional entries if you’re in the top 25% of steppers.

In this way, you can use different challenge modes to help users focus on collaborating and encouraging the most steps from every team member, instead of just focusing on the one individual who is doing the most movement.

Include an activity cap

Activity caps limit the daily steps, distance, or active minutes that can be scored into a particular challenge mode. You can apply an activity cap to any challenge mode offered on MoveSpring to serve as a preventive measure to cheating accusations.

We especially recommend applying an activity cap to the following challenge modes because they are the most competitive challenge modes available on MoveSpring:

  • Leaderboard
  • Virtual Race
  • Team Leaderboard
  • Team Virtual Race

We also highly encourage using an activity cap if you have the activity converter enabled for your organization. We generally see higher totals for challenge participants when the activity converter is enabled. This is because participants are able to count additional activities toward their step, distance, and active minute totals (e.g. yoga, cycling, rowing, etc.), including data that typically is not tracked by a device and counted toward challenge totals.

Keep activity capped to allow for fair competition between challenge participants, regardless of how they move! You can set up an activity cap from the admin center when you create your challenge. Learn more here.

Download the MoveSpring Reward Strategy for a cheat-proof prize plan for every one of our challenge modes.

How to redirect the group focus from cheating to fun

If there’s been a lot of chatter about potential cheating in the challenge chat room, it’s important to reign in the discussion as soon as possible. Remind users that the goal of the challenge is to be healthy and have fun. The challenge chat is for words of encouragement. If accusations are flying around, ask that users speak to you directly, or via email with their concerns, rather than posting to the chat room.

Help focus the group on fun by prompting users to post photos of where they got their steps in that day, or ask participants to link to their favorite healthy recipes. It’s essential to provide users with a more positive example so they can follow your lead.

How to approach users suspected of cheating

If you find yourself in the position of having to speak to a user about their suspicious step count, reach out in the spirit of investigation, not interrogation. Come prepared with questions, and be as specific as possible. Point out particular dates, or data that are of concern, and ask the user to provide an explanation for how they were able to achieve such high step totals. Avoid making accusations as this will end the conversation quickly, and likely without resolution.

Below, we’ve provided an email message you can use to initiate a conversation with a suspected cheater. Ultimately, it will be up to you, the challenge admin, to decide if the user’s answers are satisfactory, or require further action such as a warning or removal from the challenge.

Hi there,

We are the challenge administrators for the [name of challenge]. We're reaching out because your step totals are noticeably high. While you might just be a superhuman, the days listed below show step counts that are much higher than what the average participant accomplishes. We wanted to double check and make sure the following days of data are accurate: [insert a few examples in question].

We know steps can sometimes be double counted during the syncing process, so let us know if this data was in error. If this is the case, please share your correct totals and we can adjust.

If you don't feel this is an error, kindly elaborate on how you achieved those step totals on the days noted above. Were you doing a really long workout? What type of workout?, etc. Please also share screenshots from your wearable device app on these days.

Cheers to healthy competition,

[Your name]

Dealing with cheating can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to spoil the fun.

Plan rewards and challenge goals thoughtfully. Always avoid distributing prizes based on one, top stepper. If your users are debating suspicious step counts, make sure you refocus the conversation and point them towards the appropriate way to voice their concern. Remember, there are concrete steps you can take to create a better experience for your users!

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