For three decades and running, Nintendo has been synonymous with video games. The company used to be functionally alone in that market, but the 21st century has offered the Japanese gaming giant a growing list of competitors. Despite dominating sales with the original Wii video game console, Nintendo has had trouble ruling the home entertainment landscape against new systems like the XBox One and Sony PS4. That’s why Nintendo president Satoru Iwata recently hinted at the company advancing into a very different market: health and wellness.
Nintendo’s History with Health
Nintendo is no stranger to the health market. One of the biggest hits of the original Wii era was “Wii Fit,” a game that made the most of the console’s motion sensor controls to get players out of their seats and exercising. Using simulations of sports, the game challenged players to chase good heart rates in addition to higher scores, especially with the “trainer” aspect of the newer versions of the game, which was like a built-in friendly cartoon personal trainer.It’s quite likely that Nintendo’s future forays into the realm of health will borrow from the successes of “Wii Fit.”
What Nintendo’s Not Doing
Iwata hasn’t given many details about what the company’s health care products will actually be, only limiting speculation by saying definitively what they aren’t trying. Nintendo won’t be attempting to muscle into the already crowded field of mobile health applications, be it in mobile device software or a wearable biometric technology like Nike+ and FitBit. Iwata also suggested that it won’t be as simple as a new game, claiming the first ideas won’t be “in the livingroom.”
In the Home
It should be said that when Iwata and Nintendo talk about the future of healthcare, they’re focusing on preventative medicine, not diagnostic or treatment tools. The most likely applications will remain in the home, but will move away from the pure entertainment field. Nintendo has its eye on other health-focused parts of the home, such as the kitchen. Getting kids and entire families engaged in nutrition via games seems like a natural fit. This could include everything from cooking tutorials to smart appliances that make a game of eating healthy meals.
In the Office
Workplaces are perhaps the final frontier of video games. While gaming has made its way into entertainment—both at home and away—into educational institutions, and even into public good projects, games have had a harder time finding a niche in offices and other places of business.
Nintendo could be primed to crack this market by promoting employee health. It’s easy to imagine gaming devices in the workplace to monitor and ease stress, add a competitive edge to employee exercise programs, and encourage healthy eating. Most office workers already spend much of the day in front of computers—it’s just a hop and a skip to installing Wii-like avatars in the company network to level up with jumping jacks and healthy snacks.
While Nintendo’s prevention-focused ideas are likely aimed at keeping people fit and lowering their healthcare costs by reducing their need for primary care, there’s still plenty of room in medical facilities for Nintendo products. This goes beyond hardware like the cancelled “vitality sensor” intended for the original Wii.
Bringing gaming components to difficult processes like physical therapy could improve patient engagement with their own recovery processes, aiding patients dealing with the aftermath of everything from car accidents to strokes.
Nintendo has already demonstrated an ability to make intuitive technology with interfaces that anyone can understand. In the rapidly evolving world of medical tech, this people-focused know how could help usher in a new age in holistic care.
However Nintendo decides to approach the health and wellness market, the company has the right narrative in mind. Iwata has spent the better part of 2014 talking about not just his company’s potential in the healthcare field, but about the overall importance of using technology to build a healthier society. By using games and game-like applications to make staying healthy at home, work, and beyond fun, Nintendo may just be responsible for a paradigm shift in how people approach wellness.