Since Nintendo’s Wii Fit arrived in April 2008, fitness games have emerged as a key sector for casual gamers, gym goers and those who wouldn’t usually pick up a controller.
Going into 2011 the category is stronger than ever – during the past 12 months it has seen an explosion of new games and accessories, including PlayStation Move and Xbox 360 Kinect, while celebrities such as David Beckham have backed key new releases.
In fact, fitness games are now so popular they are outperforming the workout DVD market.
Beating the fitness DVD
In the UK, Davina McCall’s best-selling range of fitness DVDs have sold 830,000 copies in the last four years, according to the British Video Association.
In comparison, Wii Fit has sold 3m copies across the UK since April 2008, while updated title Wii Fit Plus has sold 1.4m units alone.
These figures also suggest fitness games perform well over a long period of time as opposed to just the Christmas period.
“Games provide a whole fitness programme that targets different areas of the body,” says Nintendo’s UK marketing manager Rob Lowe.
“DVDs are more focused on one particular subject or type of fitness, and tend to only last around 60 minutes on average.”
Ubisoft UK brand manager Ombeline Wallon adds: “For a long time fitness DVDs were the best solution for fitness at home, but now games have brought something new to the consumer.
“They offer a variety of consumer benefits that DVDs could not give – personalisation of workouts, performance tracking and movement tracking, which are all key to the consumers’ desire for fitness. But interestingly, I think some fitness games are also just more fun than DVDs.”
Blaze Europe, which produces a range of unique workout gaming accessories in partnership with Fitness First and Mel B, says rewarding users is key to producing an engaging product.
Chairman Jason Cooper tells MCV: “When using a DVD, consumers can cheat by either not putting in maximum effort, or no effort at all, as there is no penalty.
“However, fitness games have built-in incentives and penalties that simply did not exist in Jane Fonda workout videos.”
Not only has there been a fitness game boom over the past 12 months (see ‘Playing to Win’ for key titles), but a new range of accessories have arrived, too.
Flood of accessories
Following the launch of Move and Kinect, a series of specialist accessories have pushed the fitness market forward. These include EA’s heart rate monitor that comes bundled with EA Sports Active 2, and Blaze’s range of Fitness First and Mel B licensed products.
Ubisoft says the increasingly crowded market can be dominated by a handful of innovative products.
“The fitness category has become very busy,” says Wallon. “The key to standing out now is to offer something different to the consumer that will really answer a need – whether it’s an accessory, a way to build personalised programmes, specific content or a combination of all this. There are still ways to differentiate yourself in this market, even though it’s becoming more difficult.”
Blaze’s Cooper adds: “There are too many unbranded fitness games and they will be the ones that don’t survive. Watch out for more and more celebrity licences.”
Brand it like Beckham
As the target user for fitness titles differs greatly from core gamers, so do their marketing campaigns. Firms have used celebrities to target a mainstream audience.
EA splashed out over £3m on David Beckham-branded marketing to support the release of EA Sports Active 2 last November, with advertisements on TV, online, in print and outdoor. Meanwhile, Ubisoft backed Your Shape: Fitness Evolved with a £1.2m campaign including advertorials in Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan and more.
As well as Beckham, publishers have used other celebrities to promote fitness games. THQ’s The Biggest Loser is endorsed by TV fitness personality Jillian Michaels, while Black Bean worked with former Spice Girl Mel B in its fitness title Get Fit.
Black Bean’s communication coordinator Davide Latina says: “As fitness covers a good part of Mel B’s daily life, she’s a faithful celebrity who really brought her expertise to the game.”
Nintendo’s ad campaigns also feature a variety of celebrities including Helen Mirren trying out the Wii Fit Balance Board.
Nintendo’s Lowe says: “With Wii Fit our primary target is older women, and we hope they will buy Wii Fit Plus for their own use. We try and appeal to a broad audience.”
The future of fitness
With so many big-budget fitness games and hardware on the market, the challenge now is to maintain user interest moving forwards.
Funbox Media’s sales manager Mark Clemens tells MCV: “There are opportunities to evolve the fitness category. It’d be great for users to access their saved data and go on a lunchtime run, so that when they get back in front of the console their statistics are bang up to date.”
Ubisoft’s Wallon adds: “The market has opened again with Move and Kinect, but with many people already owning one fitness game, it is down to the publishers to create something new that fits with consumers’ lifestyles and helps them achieve their goals.”
Namco Bandai is blending fitness with brain exercises in the latest Dr Kawashima game – out February 11th.
Namco Bandai marketing manager Lee Kirton adds: “I’m interested to see how Kinect evolves in 2011 and I think it’s an exciting time for the next flow of fitness titles.”
PLAYING TO WIN - SIX KEY FITNESS GAMES
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved - Ubisoft (Xbox 360)
In Fitness Evolved the player’s silhouette is displayed on-screen while they carry out a personalised series of workouts, including yoga, pilates and martial arts. As the user keeps fit, the game responds with special on-screen effects such as paint, fire and confetti.
Dr Kawashima’s Exercises - Namco Bandai (Xbox 360)
The popular Dr Kawashima franchise, which made its mark on the DS with Brain Training, heads to Xbox 360 Kinect in Body and Brain Exercises next month. Up to four players can take part in activities that combine workouts with brain training, maths and memory puzzles.
EA Sports Active 2 - EA (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
The Sports Active sequel comes bundled with a special monitor that straps to the user’s arm and updates them with their current heart rate as they exercise. This is tracked over time via an in-game journal, allowing players to receive feedback as their fitness level increases.
Wii Fit Plus - Nintendo (Wii)
As Nintendo’s follow-up to its Wii Fit hit, Wii Fit Plus boasts 15 additional balance games and yoga activities. The title suggests suitable activities for users, estimates calories burned and offers 20, 30 and 40-minute workouts. With extra modes such as skateboarding the game also appeals to families.
Zumba fitness - 505 Games (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Already a popular keep-fit activitiy across the world, Zumba combines aerobic exercise with Latin dance moves and energetic music. 505 teamed up with Zumba to release Zumba Fitness, which provides nine dance styles, 30 music tracks, a range of activities, special party-style effects and in-game dancers.
Fit and Fun - Funbox Media (Wii)
With over 50 exercises and six mini-games available, Fit and Fun provides users with a more mature exercise experience aimed at adults who want to stay in shape. It has been developed with fitness experts and features focused workouts like muscle training and body shaping.