Nintendo's management sees games for health

Nintendo Games for Health
Nintendo Games for Health

Perrin Kaplan spent years as the head of communications and marketing for Nintendo of America, and saw the launch of the Wii before retiring. Speaking at Casual Connect in Seattle on Thursday, she gave some insights into how and why fitness and health became a natural extension of videogames.

She recalls talking to Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese company's chief executive and creative director, respectively. Their country had a society with an aging population, and busy people focused on careers.

Kaplan describes the "whole pack of middle-aged folks," in Japan, and Miyamoto and Iwata saying they would continue to make games for the youth, but asking each other: "What kind of games are there for us to play?"

Part of aging is keeping your mind sharp, says Kaplan. As the company explored options and business opportunities, BrainAge was create to appeal to that aging population in a society with less and less time.

"Ultimately, Mr Miyamoto's dream was to have a controller that between you and TV would disappear," reveals Kaplin. Controllers had too many buttons, and people didn't want to try complex devices. "He was going the reverse way. He wanted just one button."

"After many years, that came true," continues Kaplan, saying it "ultimately came down to this sleek Wiimote."

Kaplan says that the Wii, the DS, and Microsoft's Kinect offering pick-up-and-play that makes them succeed.

She recalls the time when Iwata wanted her to play tennis on the new controller but she didn't think she'd like it. Then she tried it. "I couldn't stop playing. It was precise. It was part of me. I knew at that time, we were on to something." Something beyond games.

The purpose wasn't to walk away from the in-depth games, says Kaplin, but to keep people inspired. She says the marketing efforts for Wii revolved around the desire to appeal to all ages. Some promotional parties required children, parents, and grandparents. "We witnessed cases where there were tears, because it was bringing people together."
Eventually, Nintendo was able to get Wii units into nursing homes. To Kaplan, that shows a nature to videogames that have real-world benefits for health and happiness – a cause Kaplan sees as both important, and growing.