Two weeks ago, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the company was considering a big shift in strategy after it changed its financial forecast for the fiscal year to reflect a third straight annual loss as a result of “unexpectedly weak sales.”
Nintendo fans and investors hoped this news was a signal that the company was finally ready to give into the immense external pressures to join the mobile bandwagon and port its popular games to smartphones. But after rejecting that particular notion on Monday, Iwata announced the company’s big plans to create a third platform to complement the Wii U and 3DS on Thursday evening.
“What Nintendo will try to achieve in the next 10 years is a platform business that improves people’s quality of life in enjoyable ways,” Iwata said. “What I see as our first step into a new business area in our endeavor to improve QOL is the theme of ‘health.’ Of course, defining a new entertainment business that seeks to improve QOL creates various possibilities for the future such as ‘learning’ and ‘lifestyle,’ but it is our intention to take ‘health’ as our first step.”
Iwata noted that Nintendo’s ability to transform itself has been the key to the company’s 125 years of sustained success. So as other companies follow each other into the increasingly crowded market of mobile applications and wearable technologies, Iwata believes Nintendo must venture “into a new blue ocean.”
“Instead of providing mobile or wearable features, [this integrated hardware-software platform] will be characterized by a new area of what we like to call ‘non-wearable’ technology,” Iwata said. “When we use ‘health’ as a keyword, some may inevitably think about ‘Wii Fit.’ However, we are considering themes that we have not incorporated to games for our existing platforms. Including the hardware that will enable such an idea, we will aim to establish a blue ocean.”
Why Health Could Pay Off
Nintendo’s foray into health may come as a bit of a surprise, but there’s certainly a market out there for living room fitness solutions. Just ask Tony Horton.
Nintendo sees an enormous opportunity in health since many people care deeply about their wellbeing but lack the tools to sufficiently capture their focus and engagement for extended periods of time. But if Nintendo could pull off a fun living room solution that also promotes health, it could make doing the right thing for one’s body less of a chore and more of a game.
“As those who are already suffering from illness can seek medical care, our new business domain would be providing preventive measures which would require us to enable people to monitor their health and offer them appropriate propositions,” Iwata said.
Iwata touched briefly on a number of Nintendo’s current health-themed titles, such as “Wii Fit,” “Art Academy,” “Brain Age,” and “English Training,” noting that this next-generation “quality of life” platform would similarly engage and entertain consumers in a way that’s beneficial to their lifestyles. (Nintendo also created a “Cooking Navigator” game, but that’s only available in Japan.)
Expanding—Not Replacing—How We Play
Gamers need not worry: Nintendo’s health platform, which the company called “something different from our traditional business,” won’t be working alone. As Iwata explained, Nintendo’s “quality of life” platform won’t replace the company’s dedicated gaming systems, but will be built in conjunction with them.
Nintendo envisions a happy symbiosis between its gaming platforms and this new health platform. New and old titles and characters from Nintendo’s gaming platforms will be used to power the health system’s applications based around health, education and lifestyle—the entertainment feeds the education. But Nintendo has yet to divulge how it plans to make its health platform enrich the games it sells, which is likely the key to making this two-platform system work.
Nintendo knows how to make two consoles work in tandem—the Wii U and 3DS share some limited connectivity for certain video games—but Nintendo would need to convince consumers that two Nintendo platforms are better than one from either Microsoft or Sony.
At this moment, Nintendo is losing the console battle: Despite a number of hit games last year, includinga new Zelda game for 3DS and a new Mario game for Wii U, neither console has approximated the enthusiasm surrounding the more-recent console releases in the PS4 and Xbox One. Nintendo said it expects to sell only 2.8 million Wii U consoles for the full fiscal year; meanwhile, the PS4 sold 4.2 million units as of December 28 and the Xbox One sold 3.9 million units by the end of 2013. At least Nintendo’s cheaper 3DS portable is selling well, at 11.5 million units to date.
Nintendo’s fate for this generation of consoles may be sealed, but its expansion into health and its continuity of integrated hardware and software hold some promise for the future of gaming. After all, if a video game can help you lose weight, wouldn’t you want to try it?
Lead image via Reuters; side images via Nintendo