by Doug Desjardins
Ever since Nintendo's Wii video game console debuted in 2006, it's been the talk of the gaming world. Its revolutionary motion-capture technology opened a whole new venue for interactive gaming and made it the best-selling game console on the market since then, with sales of more than 20 million units.
Two years after the debut of Wii came Wii Fit, an exercise video game that gamers scoffed at when it was released in May 2008. But by January 2009, Wii Fit had nabbed the top spot as the best-selling game of 2008 with 2.4 million titles sold (according to The NPD Group) and that game and its sequel Wii Fit Plus have now sold more than 8 million copies combined. And, according to NPD Group industry analyst Anita Frazier, it's opened the category to a whole new demographic.
"With sales of over 8 million, it's a sure bet that Wii Fit has gone well beyond the traditional video game consumer in its reach," said Frazier. "I hear stories all the time from friends and colleagues about the 60-, 70 and even 80-something parent, grandparent or aunt using Wii Fit." Wii Fit has even spawned a new genre called "exergames" that feature virtual trainers like The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels putting exercisers through the paces.
Wii Fit has become such a hit that it's launched a new wave of copycat games. Game giant Electronic Arts has developed a franchise called EA Sports Active that features Bob Greene, a trainer best known for helping Oprah Winfrey lose weight and stay in shape. The system comes with a resistance band and leg straps that work with Wii's motion controller to track movements.
Sony and Microsoft are planning their counter-offensives this year with the launch of their own motion capture game technology. Microsoft unveiled a motion-capture interface for Xbox 360 called "Project Natal" at the annual E3 game convention in 2009 with plans for a holiday 2010 launch. Sony is planning to release a similar device this year for its PlayStation 3 console and may introduce it at this year's E3.
Jesse Divnich, an analyst for research firm EEDAR, said Sony and Microsoft run the risk of being rendered irrelevant if they don't follow in Nintendo's footsteps with systems that equal or surpass Wii. "It's pretty clear with Wii's success that consumers are addicted to motion control," said Divnich. Probably the biggest sign that Wii Fit has become a true phenomenon among exercise videos is the November 2009 decision by Sports Authority to start carrying it in stores. The largest sporting goods retailer in the U.S., Sports Authority now has special sections in 120 stores for Wii games and consoles and plans to expand them chain-wide in spring 2010.
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