In 2008, Nintendo released the highly successful Wii Fit – a fitness title that went on to sell 23m units and started a series that has sold over 44m copies to date. Suddenly an influx of competitive products emerged from the biggest names in gaming such as EA and Ubisoft.
Since then, the number of console fitness titles has declined, as have their sales. Yet, the market for these titles still exists, just on different platforms. And in fact fitness games on smartphones and tablets are pushing forward the genre into new and exciting areas.
One the most successful of these new mobile titles is the 7 Minute Fitness Workout Challenge. Released in August, it has been near the top of App Store charts around the globe since. The app is based on the 7 Minute Workout, a high intensity training routine popularised by the New York Times in spring of 2013. Clinically proven to work, Canadian fitness app company Health Xperts decided to bring it to mobile.
“Our team was already popular in the fitness app field with our app Full Fitness, but we saw a real opportunity with the 7 Minute Workout Challenge,” says Russell Zohoor, who was part of the small team of developers at Health Xperts.
“While our other app was more for expert fitness enthusiasts, this workout was something that the average person could do to just become healthy and stay fit within their busy life schedules.”
“By introducing a game component, it becomes
competitive. During that initial stage when
health changes are not yet visible, the game
component keeps you plugged in.”
Russell Zohoor, Health Xperts
A number of developers began making guidelines on how to best do the routine, but Health Xperts had a different idea: “We saw an opportunity to make it even easier by ‘gamifying’ the experience and began developing it,” explains Russell.
The app guides fitness fans through the routine with timings. But the game component is an important aspect of the app, such as achievements, which are constantly being updated. By fulfilling achievements, new workouts are unlocked, adding an incentive to keep on playing.
“By introducing a game component, it becomes competitive. During that initial stage when health changes are not yet visible, the game component keeps you plugged in,” explains Russell.
Of course, the mobile aspect of the app allows the game to be played nearly everywhere. “No matter where you are, chances are you have your mobile device on you and can fit in a quick workout.“
But developers aren’t just making mobile titles that just use the device itself. San Francisco-based developer Blue Goji – founded by the minds behind the Guitar Hero series, Kai and Charles Huang – is trying to make fitness fun with the help of peripherals.
The developer’s first title, Goji Play, makes use of a pair of wireless controllers that attach to most fitness equipment, and an activity sensor that tracks the user’s movement in order to entertain people while they are working out.
Rather than being just a standalone game itself, Goji Play offers an entire library of activities which vary from titles that distract the user to make the time go by, such as a boxing game that uses the controller, while there is a bike game that relates to the real life cycling the user is doing.
“When we were creating Guitar Hero, we saw how games were not only fun but could get people up and more active,” says Blue Goji CEO and co-founder, Kai Huang.
“A few years ago we came up with the idea to apply this experience to cardio exercise; an activity that myself and everyone I knew hated because it was agonising.“
But Goji Play isn’t trying to do the same thing as Health Xpert’s title. Where 7 Minute Workout Challenge is a guide on how to do an exercise routine with game elements included, Goji Play aims to make working out fun – as the title’s tagline says – so half an hour of exercise feels like five minutes.
“Goji Play isn’t just a fitness game, but a way to enhance cardio workouts by about adding a fun factor to cardio machines including bikes or treadmills,” says Kai.
“When we were creating Guitar Hero, we
saw how games were not only fun but
could get people up and more active.”
Kai Huang, Blue Goji
But what makes Blue Goji’s title stand out is that rather than bringing fitness to the living room like Wii Fit and its countless imitators did, it is taking a fitness title to a native exercise environment – the gym – and a mobile platform is the best, and probably only, way to do this.
Kai says: “It’s about real exercise on a cardio machine where it’s already proven that you will get fitness results and benefits. We’re adding a fun factor to that cardio workout regimen to get people to exercise more on machines and gym memberships that are not being used.”
And the title isn’t just a one off venture, but a platform to which new and interesting games will be added in the future on a regular basis.
But of course, for all its attempts to make working out more fun, it is not cheap thanks to the peripherals. It is available worldwide via the company’s website or Amazon for $99 (£60), which is quite an investment compared to the £1.49 7 Minute Workout Challenge.
Over the years, sales of console games have declined but the demand for them has not. If anything, the success of 7 Minute Workout Challenge shows that there are people out there who want to get fit with the help of games. And the two games featured here are not the only titles in the market – the likes of Zombie, Run! are examples of the weird and wonderful places that fitness gaming is going to on a mobile device.