Can Nintendo Compete in the Health and Media Market?

The company might be looking to pivot away from games. Can it succeed?

Getty Images / Jonathan Leibson

Earlier this year, Nintendo revealed a new set of Articles of Incorporation that will govern the iconic company – at least, for the foreseeable future. The documents highlighted a renewed focus in medical and health devices and IP licensing, without issuing any particular specifics.

Neither of these ventures are particularly new for the company, but the articles signify a move in the direction that industry analysts have either predicted or recommended the company take. After all, with the Wii U failing to make inroads into the gaming community after the success of the Wii, Nintendo could be witnessing the limits of its vaunted video game arm in an ever-competitive field. The competition is no longer between just Nintendo and other game makers, but with smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Google. It’s no secret that the video game market has been severely altered by the rise of mobile computing, with the big gaming companies even changing their marketing models to match smartphone and laptops. Without a bevy of third-party publishers supporting their consoles, and a large technological gap between their hardware and that of Sony and Microsoft’s, Nintendo is finding itself increasingly disadvantaged in the video game field.

The question now is whether or not Nintendo can successfully broaden its core business to meet the demands of the new consumer market. If Nintendo really does plan on expanding outside of game consoles into health technology and media entertainment, then Nintendo’s previous forays into such markets deserve another look. To understand why Nintendo could be considering these new ventures moving into the future of the company, it’s important to understand why this signifies an evolution, rather than a shift in the company’s future goals.



Before spreading the gospel of Mario and Pokemon across the globe, the company produced handmade hanafuda cards, a Japanese playing card game. By the 1960s the company was involved in small businesses that ranged from taxi cabs to love hotels. It wasn’t until a decade later when the company pivot toward becoming a video game company, creating games for the arcade before releasing the Famicom game console for homes. The rest, as they say, is history.

For some of the bad news surrounding the lackluster sales of its recent hardware sales, it’s important to note that Nintendo is at the forefront of design and technology. It spearheaded mobile gaming with its evolving line of Game Boys, first introduced in 1989. Since then, each iteration of the handheld console included surprising technological leaps, most recently with the glasses-free technology of the Nintendo 3DS. In fact, the 3DS was an evolution of their last, failed attempt at delivering virtual reality gaming with the Virtual Boy back in 1995.

Nintendo also spearheaded the motion control craze that swept the mid-2000s, when it introduced the Nintendo Wii to global success. The Wii consistently outsold competitors by the tens of thousands, and kept the more powerful Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 playing catch-up. Despite being graphically less-intensive than its two rivals in the video game hardware space, Nintendo proved that it can outperform their rivals by creating a better product on the first try.

So it’s not a surprise when Nintendo revealed an interest in health and medical tech, when the company attempted to market something along those lines way back in 2009.

Vitality sensor


The Wii Vitality Sensor was meant to perform a whole range of wellness programs, from monitoring the player’s heart rate to relaxing them. At the time, the plastic dongle, which fit over the player’s finger ,seemed like a complimentary accessory to the company’s wildly successful Wii Fit exercise game and peripheral. It was another revolutionary idea which married its video game hardware to a lifestyle and health program which appealed to millions of casual consumers.

Health tools, it turns out, have been a big part of Nintendo’s hardware for a long time. With fitness trackers and “wearables” becoming increasingly popular accessories for the average consumer, Nintendo’s continual interest in these spheres, along with their affordable and sleek design, could actually make the company quite competitive against the likes of FitBit and Apple. The 3Ds already includes step-counters and health trackers, but a standalone device meant for fitness tracking that includes an interface starring its many beloved franchises could become a massive hit. Just imagine a tiny Mario mascot helping keep track of your steps.

Nintendo is comparable only to Disney when it comes to the strength of licensed characters. It’s why Nintendo can staunchly remain a first-party publisher despite developing hardware that essentially excludes every other publisher from its platform. News that Nintendo could be developing movies and television shows based on its characters, either independently or with publishers like Netflix, has drawn considerable amount of speculation. Again, like health and fitness technology, Nintendo has ventured into licensing their characters for films before, to considerably less than stellar results. One only needs to remember the strange nightmare film that was the Super Mario Bros. movie to know that adapting a game about a jumping plumber can go horribly awry.

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It’s understood that Nintendo’s characters can spearhead wildly successful media properties. One look at the many Pokemon cartoons and movies can attest to the strength of their licenses. Recently, Nintendo has made inroads into marketing its characters outside traditional game spaces. The company announced a partnership with Universal Studios Japan to create an immersive amusement park experience populated by Nintendo’s biggest characters. A concentrated effort to redefine characters like Mario and Link in popular culture as TV stars and movie franchises could do wonders for the company, and be one of the few attempts at a cinematic universe that could compete with Marvel and Disney.

When Nintendo ventures into a new market space, it’s always important to pay attention. The company is typically cautious about its businesses, which has led to the company scrambling to play a little catch-up. Only this year did the company release a licensed video game on smartphones, acknowledging their importance in everyday lives. There’s no doubt that their licenses can compete with the best of them, the only question is whether or not they’ll be reintroducing a shelved project from their past, or embrace modern marketplaces like smartphones, video streaming, or wearables.

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