James Batchelor speaks with leading publishers about the reasons for this genre’s impressive growth and find out how they plan to capitalise on Nintendo’s success…
As MCV reported last week, Wii Fit is so far the best-selling game of 2009. And it launched over a year ago. Where other games see their sales trail off a month or so after their debut, Nintendo’s Balance Board flagship was still riding the upper echelons of the charts in the run-up to Christmas and into this year.
The effect Wii Fit has had on the games industry is far from unnoticeable. As with Brain Training before it, the game has helped publishers identify a new and lucrative audience. And since the beginning of 2009 alone, retailers have seen the arrival of countless fitness titles, such as My Fitness Coach, EA Sports Active, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum and Nintendo’s own Walk With Me. In just a year, a new market has been formed.
“Wii Fit proved unequivocally that the home player is no longer always a stereotypical 14 year-old adolescent in their bedroom buying beat-‘em-ups,” says Data Design Interactive artist Rob Dorney. “Wii Fit’s continued success at retail has proved that the market is hungry for fitness products and is a lot more open-minded towards active self-development products.”
A WORK OUT
Proving that Wii Fit was not a one-off hit, several of its rival titles have been met with similar success upon release.
Ubisoft proudly says that My Fitness Coach: Get In Shape has sold 200,000 units since its debut, while EA Sports Active shifted a remarkable 600,000 units globally within its first two weeks on sale. So why is there such a sustained demand for these titles?
“Health, fitness and well-being are always present in people’s minds as the pressure to look good increases,” explains Ubisoft’s UK brand manager Ombeline Wallon.
“We can see this reflected in the sales of fitness DVDs or in the increase of gym subscriptions.
“Consumers see games consoles as a new platform for them to practice and achieve their objectives. It’s a new way to get fit that combines many advantages, ranging from accessibility to price and flexibility. As long as the products answer people’s needs and bring something innovative, there will be an interest.”
“Keeping fit has long been a trend outside of gaming,” adds Koch’s head of marketing Amy Curtin. “The ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude of the ‘80s has evolved organically into something that fits in completely with day-to-day life for some people.
Having the ability to work with a known trainer, get results and the variety of workout you don’t get form a DVD – and all from the comfort of your living room without the need for expensive gym memberships – is appealing to many people.
Curtin also points out that with the ongoing discussion around childhood obesity parents are looking at new ways to get their children moving. What better way than to mix exercise with one their favourite hobbies?
With the benefits for the consumers more than apparent and the charts proving demand is high for such titles, publishers have poured more resources into this new market (see Retail Workout). And Nintendo says there is no reason to move away from this genre any time soon.
“Fitness products have become very popular and are of paramount importance to Nintendo,” says product manger Roger Langford. “We aim to offer our customers a range of fitness products designed to meet the needs of everyone and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Likewise, some of the biggest third-party publishers are upping the ante to establish themselves with fitness gamers. Electronic Arts has even introduced an entire division to its operations dedicated to this area.
“We are very much committed to the virtual fitness segment and see the potential for continued growth,” explains Monique Gomel, director of marketing for EA Sports Active.
“We have created a sub-brand to live under the EA Sports umbrella that is devoted to developing a line of virtual fitness products that fit the needs of our consumers.”
Adds Ubisoft’s Wallon: “Fitness is an area of growth in the games marke. We have launched two fitness titles and have more coming for this year. Our focus is always on innovation and opportunities to widen the market, and fitness games are a part of this.”
While Nintendo, Ubisoft and EA are relying on their own brands to make the most of this market, and essentially creating new household names in doing so, other publishers are using established ones to attract a wider audience. THQ, for example, has bagged the licence to popular fitness TV show The Biggest Loser, while Black Bean has joined forces with nationwide gym chain Fitness First.
It’s a tactic that has worked wonders for the fitness DVD industry, which brings in actresses, singers and other celebrities to be the face of each year’s workout, and it’s likely to become a more regular occurrence as the market for fitness games develops. In fact, there are many trends from this industry that will translate to games retail.
As with previous casual hits, fitness titles stand to sell well at any point of the year, free from the peaks and troughs felt by more hardcore games that tend to rely on the busier seasons, such as Q4.
At the same time, My Fitness Coach (released in June) and EA Sports Active (which arrived just before summer’s bikini season) have proven that the best time to launch is when the public’s desire to get in shape is high. So the post-Christmas lull has the potential to become a key trading period for games retailers. January and February are usually devoid of strong sellers, but not only did My Fitness Coach make its successful debut during this time, but Wii Fit also saw a significant boost.
With the wealth of self-improvement titles currently due for releases by the end of the year, expect the opening months of 2010 to be just as important to this market. As the season of plenty comes to an end, consumer interest in fitness products increases, be it DVDs, games or gym memberships.
If publishers can raise awareness of these games’ effectiveness, value for money and convenience, fitness games could become as synonymous with our industry as first-person shooters.