Since Wii Fit in 2008, fitness games have established themselves as evergreen titles for a new type of gaming consumer.Zumba Fitness’ chart dominance over the summer allayed fears that the industry was losing the expanded audience cultivated by Wii Fit and Just Dance.
And it is around New Year that workout games sales really take off. Much like in the DVD and books market, the Christmas season’s many excesses triggers a public demand for self-improvement products. Dieting guides, exercise videos and gym equipment become must-have items – and games publishers aren’t about to miss this window of opportunity.
This year, games companies are using the annual fitness blitz to give their Q4 titles a second lease of life at retail.
Microsoft, for example, has already been advertising Kinect Sports: Season Two and Dance Central 2 – games that wouldn’t be traditionally considered workout titles – as new ways to shed the pounds.
“Fitness is front of mind for a lot of people in January,” explains Stephen McGill, director of Xbox and Entertainment. “We’re running an activity with a celebrity trainer to show people how they can use Kinect as part of a healthy lifestyle.
“We’re very proud of the success of these games, both of which have calorie counting modes. Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved franchise has also been enormously popular, so it’s fantastic to see people enjoying fitness experiences that are exclusive to Kinect.”
Ubisoft’s senior PR manager Louise Marchant adds: “The first Fitness Evolved was the best-selling fitness title on Kinect, and we are looking to build on that success this year with a solid marketing campaign for Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012.”Even mega-seller Zumba Fitness is getting a shot in the arm with more ads planned for the sequel.
“Zumba is a powerhouse of a brand throughout the world with over 10m class participants each week, so it was a natural progression to see the same success with the video game,” said 505’s senior product manager Juliette Green. “The momentum behind Zumba is certainly not going to stop.”
Zumba Fitness is a perfect storm of exercise and dancing. Could it be that its appeal is based on the popularity of dance games rather than its fitness benefits?
After all, the genre stole the thunder from Wii Fit as the industry’s blue-eyed broader market success story. And with Dance Central 2 and the Just Dance series incorporating calorie counters and other metrics, has the swell of dance games cannabilised the sales of fitness titles?
No, says Sony’s UK?product manager John Aikins, who explains: “Dance games provide an experience that engages the cardio vascular system while fitness games incorporate a well rounded fitness experience with resistance, plyometric and cardio elements.
“Dance games can be a great entry point into incorporating fitness in your lifestyle.”
Ubisoft brand manager Rachael Grant adds: “There is a place for dance games and fitness games to sit alongside each other. The popularity of dance games is merely expanding the audience, rather than taking away from fitness games.”
That major companies like THQ and Sony have entered the fitness market in the last year is further proof that the industry still sees strong potential in the genre.
With its new PlayStation Move motion controller now in its second year, Sony launched a brand new franchise in November.
“Move Fitness offers a fun and exciting entry point into the genre, and provides us with a significant point of interest during January,” says Aikins. “This has helped to establish Move Fitness as a credible fitness product.”
Meanwhile, THQ adapted an already well-established brand to serve as a fitness title with UFC Personal Trainer.
THQ’s senior product marketing manager Mark Fisher says: “UFC Personal Trainer is a unique offering that appeals to a wider audience than the generic fitness title. The New Year sales window is a great opportunity to re-engage consumers with the product, so we are focusing our efforts to ensure that UFC Personal Trainer maximises its potential during this busy period.”
But few titles have been able to match the success of Zumba or even Wii Fit. And publisher back catalogues are teaming with the early titles in fitness franchises that never truly got off the ground.
Could Zumba’s triumph be hiding the real situation: that the public’s appetite for workout games has dissipated?
“Anything will get a bit stale if you just keep putting out the same game time after time, but we’ve come a long way since the first console fitness titles,” says Marchant. “Fitness is like any other genre: it needs to develop and evolve to provide something new and relevant for the consumer.”
McGill says: “The real key to success, beyond innovation and approachability, is about making it fun. People turn to fitness games because they offer an enjoyable way to stay healthy and within the warmth and comfort of their own home.
“The fact that Zumba Fitness topped the charts for 13 weeks this year tells me there is very much still a market for these games.”
With these companies and so many more finding new ways to get consumers exercising through video games, retailers can expect a strong sales rush for fitness titles over the next month, not to mention in the years to come.