Op-Ed: Do We Need Nintendo’s Quality of Life Initiative?

Should Nintendo just stick with games, or is broadening the company’s horizons the way to go?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/05/2014 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Wii Sports was a game changer for Nintendo beyond paving the way for Wii to become a smash hit. Besides demonstrating the merits of motion controls, what Wii Sports showed Nintendo was that gamers were more than willing to get out of their seats to play. Though not a true fitness game by any means, it’s clear that Nintendo was at least in part inspired by Wii Sports when it began developing Wii Fit. With Wii Fit, Nintendo took things a step further by offering players a true video game devoted to improving one’s health.

It did gangbusters at retail, pushing multiple units of the game, Balance Board, and even Wii consoles. When it came time to work on Wii Fit U, though, Nintendo decided to up the ante once more and add a new peripheral to work in tandem with the game called the Wii Fit Meter. A small dongle of sorts that attaches to players’ waistbands, the Fit Meter is a fitness monitor that keeps track of a person’s various health statistics. From steps taken to calories burned, the Fit Meter accumulates a variety of data from the player’s daily routine, which can then be transferred for review into Wii Fit U.

Now we’re primed for the next step in Nintendo’s attempt to merge gaming with fitness, which is tentatively being referred to as its Quality of Life initiative. Details have been scarce until recently, when Nintendo unveiled that the initiative will at least in part be based around a small device that can monitor the quality of a player’s sleep. Roughly the size of a hand, this device will be placed on a bedside table or dresser, gathering information on just how good or bad that night’s sleep went. Though how useful said information will ultimately be, the real question lingering on the tips of fans’ and critics’ tongues alike is undoubtedly… why?

Why is Quality of Life part of Nintendo’s plans? Is it even the right move for the beleaguered company? These are questions that I’ve asked myself, and though I don’t have a definitive answer, I think I’m getting closer to a decent hypothesis. One of the things that I noticed with my Fit Meter when I first started wearing it was that it immediately impacted how I approached food. With the device’s calorie counting feature, I suddenly became acutely aware of just how many grams of the little energy units were in everything I consumed. Looking at my Fit Meter, I’d have second thoughts about a cheeseburger knowing that a single one would wipe out hours worth of calorie burning.

For someone who’s struggled with being on the bigger end of the weight spectrum my whole life, it was an invaluable motivator to be healthier. I’ve worn my Fit Meter every day since I purchased it, but there was only one drawback; for it to be most effective, the Fit Meter has to be used with Wii Fit U. As much as I love the game, it’s burdensome to lug out my Balance Board and fire up the game every single time I want to sync data from the device with Wii Fit U. I’ve craved a 3DS version of the game or an app that would make the Fit Meter more convenient with my hectic schedule, but no such luck thus far.

Looking to find something a bit more flexible, I’ve turned to the Nike Fuel Band in recent weeks. Worn around the wrist like a watch, it does much of the same things that the Fit Meter does, but with an app on my phone it’s much easier to keep track of my health. Looking at my Fuel Band, though I do enjoy the device quite a bit, it’s simply not as fun as the Fit Meter. I liked looking down at my Mii, checking my calorie count on the easy to use accessory. The way Wii Fit U motivates and makes being healthy enjoyable is something that Nike nor any other fitness monitor manufacturer has figured out how to do– at least, not in the charming, laid back way that Nintendo’s game does.

Which brings us back to Quality of Life. If Nintendo works its usual magic with Quality of Life, there is the very real chance that the company can grace the world with a fitness device or devices that will allow a whole different spectrum of people to become fit, or closer to it. I imagine that whatever form this bedside sleep monitor might take will make clever use of Wii U and 3DS, or perhaps some simple hub accessory (or who knows, maybe even a smartphone!) and allow users to easily and quickly track their health data. Which, by the way, wasn’t something I realized so many people are interested in doing!

I was part of a product testing group a few months back that was given a look at an upcoming fitness watch. I can’t say its name (nondisclosure form!), but what I found most fascinating about the group of people I was with was how into their every waking vital sign they were. Heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, blood pressure, name it and someone at that table wanted to know what it was every minute of the day. Which is fine, of course, but when it came time for me to talk (and mind you, I was the only dude there who wasn’t in great shape, which was hilariously awkward), I told the group that I really wasn’t into all that tracking. That my Fit Meter and Wii Fit U was enough for me.

Which makes me think that perhaps what Nintendo is trying to do with Quality of Life is to further expand what it started years back with Wii Sports: to get the people who want to be healthy on the right track, but at a pace that’s more in line with their tastes. Wii Fit U works for me because it’s not in my face. It takes the concept of working out and watching what I eat, but presents it in a fashion that appeals to me as a gamer and, well, a non-athlete. Some people, like the men in my product testing group, are highly motivated to be in shape, love pushing themselves to their physical limits, and want to keep record of every breath they take. ¬†Again, I’m not criticizing that, but in today’s fitness world, it sometimes feels like it’s the super athlete way or no way at all.

If Quality of Life can engage players in the same way that Wii Fit U and the Fit Meter already have, but in a broader, and more accessible and convenient capacity, Nintendo might really be on to something. I’m certainly more loyal to Nintendo than I am to Nike, and I know that if Nintendo comes to me with something like the Fuel Band but bearing a Triforce on it, I will switch over in a second. Not that Nintendo should only be concerned with its established fans, though. Much like how Wii reached an entire new audience, Quality of Life has the chance to ensnare even more newbies into the mix. I know I’m not the only person out there who enjoys having alternative take on fitness, so it stands to reason that if Nintendo can make Quality of Life reach those people, it has a potentially big hit on its hands.

There’s no escaping the risk that Nintendo is making a mistake with Quality of Life, but then, no one really saw Wii Fit and the Balance Board coming, and now they’re just another part of what Nintendo is as a company. Quality of Life could easily stand on its own as a compliment to Nintendo’s gaming offerings, serving to tap into a secondary market of fitness-minded players and everyday people who want something different to get in shape with. Sure, Nintendo might fall flat on its face, but playing it safe isn’t the company’s usual method of operation. This is one gambit that’s worth pursuing, I think, and could pay big dividends in the future by establishing Nintendo as one of the most versatile gaming companies in the industry. So let’s wait and see on Quality of Life and hope that if it isn’t anything like what I’m predicting it is, that it’s still worth a shot all the same.

One Response to “Op-Ed: Do We Need Nintendo’s Quality of Life Initiative?”

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    Good article.

    Not sure this Quality of Life initiative is something I “need” or even “want”… but it will be interesting to see how they approach it and what comes out of the effort. Glad to see Nintendo trying new things, even if there are risks attached!

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