If you are wondering if the gaming fitness trend is here to stay, simply do a Google search for Nintendo Wii Fit and read the top four to five links that come up. Shigeru Miyamoto, the diminutive and youth-like cult figure from Nintendo who developed Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and other successful games, has another hit with Wii Fit. The product has been well received in Japan and Europe and just launched in the United States last month. The New York Times recently reported that many retail chains in the United States are out of stock.
We don't know if this phenomenon will affect behavioral change long term, but we do know that the combination of gaming and fitness is now being funded and developed by perhaps the greatest gaming company in the world. Gaming is not a new conversation in our industry. We've had our share of active gaming products, but when a company like Nintendo gets behind an initiative, it is likely to push the movement forward even further.
The most important thing to take away from the Wii Fit launch is that Nintendo understands gamers, and I would not bet against them in their relentless pursuit of doing the same for the millions of our potential customers who are glued to their games while neglecting their physical health.
Before any of us discount Wii Fit as simply the juggernaut of media buzz for which Nintendo is well known, remember that to grow the commercial business, we must embrace the new generation (18- to 30-year-olds) and others who grew up devouring every game released by companies like Nintendo, EA Sports, Sony and other major players. These companies understand the consumer better than anyone, having spent millions of dollars and human capital to win the hearts and minds of the American gamer.
Active gaming companies already in the fitness industry now have a major competitor on their hands, and other manufacturers in this area will soon follow. This category has become so important that there was even a conference in April on gaming and health. Several start-up companies have received financing and are aggressively moving to create gaming experiences that involve interactive and fun movement. These companies will find niches for both home and commercial customers. Right now, Wii Fit is designed to be used with a personal computer in the home and is aimed at families. I believe that by incorporating Wii Fit and other gaming products into your service-offerings mix, you will quickly find out — with limited investment — whether or not this type of offering is compelling for your members. My bet is that it will be if you provide for proper launch programs and education.
If you haven't already checked into active gaming, Wii Fit's introduction certainly makes it worthwhile to do some research, present active gaming options, and gain feedback from a variety of members and senior fitness staff on whether active gaming is a fit for your market. You, your staff and key members should test the Wii Fit demo along with other gaming/fitness-related products. If the response to these programs is good, you can brainstorm with your staff about how and where gaming technologies might fit into your club and how to market them properly.
During the next six months, companies will look at niche markets like ours and customize products around our needs. With all of the current and future gaming/fitness/health technologies available to you, it is a buyers' market. If Wii Fit is what gets you to finally look at active gaming, then I say good, but don't stop there. There's plenty of other options from which to choose.
Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.