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Nintendo's Third Pillar: How Nintendo Plans to Improve Your Quality of Life

by James Jones - February 3, 2014, 10:28 am PST
Total comments: 22

In a few words, Iwata provided quite a lot of information on Nintendo's newest business venture.

Note: This is the first in a series of articles examining the possibilities of a "Quality of Life" platform. This article focuses only on the facts Nintendo has presented thus far.

The lead-up to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's investor conference had the sort of fevered expectancy that seems more befitting a major console announcement than a quarterly financial report. Granted, the situation didn't seem all that different. In the previous week, Nintendo had announced a staggering projected 35 billion yen loss for the fiscal year ending in March. The hum of analysts, journalists, and social media all seemed to have the answer for Nintendo's salvation: make mobile games, or become a third party, or replace the Wii U, or stay the course. A consensus on the way out was the furthest thing from reality.

It would be wrong to say Nintendo punted. Some information was provided on their future plans for Wii U, and there was a fairly limited --but significant-- discussion on Nintendo's perspective on mobile devices. However, the biggest announcement Nintendo made was the launch of entirely new division of their business: "Quality of Life improvement" tools.

Before diving into theorizing about what Nintendo has planned, it's worth reviewing the very limited information Nintendo offered.

  1. This is not software for an existing piece of hardware
  2. This is a new division of the company, and not a pivot away from their core business ("Dedicated Video Game Platforms...Will Continue to be Our Future")
  3. This new division of the company will be producing its own "platform"
  4. Their product will not be "wearable"
  5. Their product will begin with a focus on heath, can expand outwardly
  6. Details will be announced in 2014 with an eventual release in 2015

The basic announcement can be paraphrased as follows: "Nintendo has created a division to develop a new platform that will focus on offering 'Quality of Life' enhancing software via a new platform, beginning with - but not limited to - a target on educating people to lead a healthy lifestyle."

Obviously, Iwata did not provide much information, and as a result there are a few questions that need to be answered. Why does this new division require its own "platform?" Is the term "platform" synonymous with hardware? What kind of "awareness" are they looking to provide? What is the market potential here?

Before attempting to answer why Nintendo needs a third "platform," it important to define what constitutes the term. During the same presentation, Iwata explicitly discusses the concept of "platforms." The primary thrust of his comments were that shifting from distinct hardware generations to account-based interactions somehow manifestly changes what constitutes a platform. That isn't to say he was suggesting Nintendo will move away from generational hardware releases, but rather that unified accounts will produce consistent interactions with Nintendo that somehow change the generation-to-generation nature of the video game industry.

With respect to smart devices, Nintendo intends to move user interactions that can be done on smart devices in that direction. So, to some extent, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Quality of Life "platform" in question is a piece of hardware that does connect with Nintendo Network IDs and is not software for existing smart devices - although it may interface with them. He explicitly cited Nintendo's control over both the hardware and software as a major asset. Iwata also stated that the QoL Platform is "non-wearable," which is both an acknowledgement of the upsurge in visibility those devices have had achieved recently and tacitly confirms that this is a device of some configuration.

So why, then, does this Quality of Life platform need to be on a distinct piece of hardware? Here, Iwata offers no details. There are a two potential reasons that make a lot of sense, and they will be explored in more depth in a later article. One likely reason is that Nintendo wants to establish a totally independent revenue stream from their video game division, and that they desire for it to not be impacted by the needs of their video game division. An equally likely option is that neither of their current hardware offerings (3DS, Wii U) are capable of performing the tasks Nintendo needs this new QoL platform to do.

So what do they want this platform to do? This is, of course, what will dictate the success or failure of the platform, and indeed this entire new business Nintendo is launching itself into. Iwata spoke of software to boost "awareness" of healthy living. At the most basic level, we know it will run dedicated software. Nintendo, of course, has made previous forays into this field. Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus, and similar products have all featured some form of fitness-focused content. Additionally, Nintendo's "Touch Generations" line has featured multiple products that can be classified as "Quality of Life" focused, and indeed Iwata pointed out some of those products while discussing Nintendo's vision for this Quality of Life platform.

The last question: why is Nintendo pursuing this new business? Iwata's own words offer some hint. "We strive to promote our existing strategy of expanding our user base even further... our QOL-improving platform will attempt to create an environment in which we can expand the population of those who are conscious about their health and use that expansion to expand Nintendo's user base." Nintendo views this as a logical extension of the "Blue Ocean" strategy they laid out during the lifespan of the Nintendo DS and Wii. How they intend to do this will drive the design of this new platform. As such. some theories will be included alongside the discussion of what they want this new platform to do. But, in short, they see the chance to make money.

Nintendo found itself in a position of explaining how it would return to profitability. People wanted to know if they had plans to "save" the Wii U, or move to mobile platforms, or fundamentally change how they view their role in the video game industry. Instead of offering meaningful answer to those questions ("DS Virtual Console and a loyalty program," "No," and "We do not," respectively) they instead unveiled an entirely new business. While they didn't offer much information, the details they did provide can give some insight.

With all the facts out of the way, it is time to start coming up with theories ranging from conservative to crazy. Please check back for future articles that will attempt to answer the big outstanding questions about Nintendo's Quality of Life platform.

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Talkback

BlackNMild2k1February 03, 2014

Nintendo, as usual is late to the party, but better late than never.

They should have jumped on this back in 2009 when Wii Fit, Wii Sports & Wii Play were sweeping the nation and hospitals, rehab institutes & retirement communities were snapping up Wii's specifically for this software, which is what led to people buying this for their parents and grand parents which now meant everyone was truly playing video games together.
Starting this QoL at the tail end if that craze would have been the perfect time to start this new venture, but like I said better late than never.

CericFebruary 03, 2014

Wii Fit Gym.

I thought of this why reading the article it makes since.

So you have an ID going into a Gym.  Lets say for ease its RFID.  You setup a profile.  Get your vital stats loaded and then you work out.  A custom exercise plan specified to your requirements is made.  I Wii Fit trainer is their to help you digitally.  They recommend you start with the Bike.  You hop on the bike and the bike knows what you should be doing so it sets itself up for you and you start you work out.  Now your done with the bike.  The trainer gives you encouragement then hops to your next workout location.  They go over what you should be doing.

In the end a True digital Personal Trainer that has all the equipment to do its job well.  All ran by a set of interconnected devices.

BlackNMild2k1February 03, 2014

Nintendo had a patent for a bike pedal device.

they have the balance board.

It would be awesome if they opened a prototype gym NintendGym with a bunch of interconnected hardware (stair climbers, treadmills, elypticals, weight machines, etc etc) that worked with a RFID worn in a "smart" watch that would double as a pedometer and vitality sensor.
It carries your info with you from machine to machine, displaying your "Personal" trainer on the screen attached to each set of equipment who is watching you using cameras also attached to the equipment. It would be a Gym of the future that could sync with your @home version of NintenGym software for those that want to do more at home.

EnnerFebruary 03, 2014

Interesting article. Looking forward to future ones.

Ian SaneFebruary 03, 2014

My fear is that this is no third pillar at all but is Nintendo giving up, like I felt they did with the Wii.  The Gamecube was supposed to be their comeback from the N64 but they flubbed it terribly.  That was when I realized that Nintendo was not some brilliant company that had made one big mistake but that they were legitimately incompetent and out-of-touch and had no idea why the N64 had the problems it did.  Their reaction to the Gamecube's failure was to quit.  They would give up on the traditional gaming audience and focus on a new one.  They saw the situation as hopeless, instead of stepping back and looking at what THEY did to turn off core gamers.

Well now the casuals have lost interest as well and the Wii pretty much poisoned the core market for good and they're failing again and don't understand why again (or are in denial) so they're quitting again.  They can't cut it on consoles and don't realize why (or won't admit why) but they know that Wii Fit was successful so maybe they can find a new audience again with health stuff.  Nintendo doesn't admit mistakes or make any real effort to correct them.  No, they just give up when their stupid ideas bite them in the ass and search for a new audience.  And eventually it won't work and they'll have to finally shape up, after 18 years and counting of running away from their problems, or DIE.

BlackNMild2k1February 03, 2014

Wu Tang Financial says "You got to diversify your portfolio"

That is exactly what Nintendo is doing, and they should have done it sooner.
The Health, Fitness and Physical activity craze that made the Wii successful should have rang their dinner bell sooner. There was a whole wide market out there that got involved because it allowed then to be physically involved. Nintendo didn't do enough to keep them engaged when they were attentive, so the Wii fad died.
This is Nintendo going back to 2009 to do now what they should have done then, and that was branch off into a different market that will give that same casual "blue ocean" audience a home with Nintendo and in-roads back to the core business of videogames.

I don't know exactly where Iwata plans to go with the idea, but I think trying to build up to something like that NintendGym is a good place to start.
I know lots of people (myself included) that would love to work out more, and anything that made it fun, interactive and/or competitive only helps to get you started and stick with it.
I think there is definitely a market out there for what Iwata wants, I just hope he knows how to go after it properly.

broodwarsFebruary 03, 2014

Look, so long as Nintendo gets their head in the game (so to speak) and starts really pushing for new ideas; new franchises; & the establishment of new studios with fresh talent in the gaming space...they can do all the stupid peripheral fitness stuff they want. I really don't know what to make of this "Quality of Life" stuff, but so long as it doesn't interfere with my games the way motion controls did on the Wii, whatever.

pandaradoxFebruary 03, 2014

Dear God, please let this be a Net Navi. Bring on Summer Wars!

HyawattaFebruary 03, 2014

Can anyone list out each of the games associated with Health, Education, and Lifestyle on the Interaction With Games slide?

ShyGuyFebruary 03, 2014

Quote from: Hyawatta

Can anyone list out each of the games associated with Health, Education, and Lifestyle on the Interaction With Games slide?

From what I can see...

Row 1, Health: Wii Fit U, Brain Training, and not sure

Row 2, Education: Wii Music, Art Academy, and not sure

Row 3, Lifestyle: not sure, not sure and Personal Trainer Cooking

One of the not sure titles is probably the Flash Focus vision title.

DonkeyBilly KongFebruary 03, 2014

What sprang to mind was a device similar in size to the 2DS that would have software with a personality that evolves with you... a device that you could build a connection with.  Checking in with it daily would allow you to input stats such as weight, as well as wirelessly pairing with devices like the vitality sensor.  It would get to know your habits and make observations or recommendations about diet, exercise, sun exposure, etc.  It might also surprise you with a digital gift when you are feeling sad or uninspired, or suggest that you check in on someone else in your circle who is struggling.  I could see a device like that catching on with a wide range of people.


An area that could be really interesting for Nintendo to get into would be toys.  They did some cool stuff historically, and I wonder what they might come up with.

Quote from: ShyGuy

Quote from: Hyawatta

Can anyone list out each of the games associated with Health, Education, and Lifestyle on the Interaction With Games slide?

From what I can see...

Row 1, Health: Wii Fit U, Brain Training, and not sure

Row 2, Education: Wii Music, Art Academy, and not sure

Row 3, Lifestyle: not sure, not sure and Personal Trainer Cooking

One of the not sure titles is probably the Flash Focus vision title.

I believe an English version of the slide had Personal Trainer Walking on it.

syn4aptikDave Mellert, Associate EditorFebruary 04, 2014

Anecdote, n=1, just IMHO, etc. but...


I am a very active person and would work out and run whether I have a device or not. But I got a Misfit Shine for Christmas and love this thing more than I should. I think it's because I am a scientist. The ability to graph my own personal data and follow my own activity and sleep habits is just too compelling.


On the other hand, I have some friends that were not active, then they got into Fitocracy (game-ified exercise social network). Now they are workout fanatics to the point where I am more than a little tired of seeing shirtless pictures of my friend on Facebook.


If Nintendo gets into this game, I am sure they'll make some money on it. It's a thing :)

OblivionFebruary 04, 2014

I love Fitocracy.

Black JackalFebruary 04, 2014

Imagine if they began this venture at the peak of the wii and wii fit craze. It would only make sense to have software support for this on the wii u and 3ds to help move units.

Black JackalFebruary 04, 2014

Quote from: broodwars

Look, so long as Nintendo gets their head in the game (so to speak) and starts really pushing for new ideas; new franchises; & the establishment of new studios with fresh talent in the gaming space...they can do all the stupid peripheral fitness stuff they want. I really don't know what to make of this "Quality of Life" stuff, but so long as it doesn't interfere with my games the way motion controls did on the Wii, whatever.

It would be interesting and beneficial to us but Nintendo is so conservative they are hesitant to put out a game with a new character ie: putting kirby as the main character in Kirby's epic yarn. It was originally going to star a character called Fluff.

smallsharkbigbiteFebruary 06, 2014

I know I'm in the minority here, but I wonder if the physical component of this will be a tablet that interacts with a Wii Fit board, Wii U pro controller, Wii Fit Meter, and other fitness devices.  They sell the tablet under the QOL marketing and connect the eshop and some of the Wii U accessories to it to allow for gaming.  Then if it's a success, they pull out of consoles and focus on this.  Remember the DS was the third pillar to the GBA?  It wasn't, it was a replacement?  Oh, well I guess that third pillar talk doesn't really mean anything.

smallsharkbigbiteFebruary 06, 2014

Sorry a continuation of that thought. Nintendo operates under a fatally flawed software model for consoles. By that I mean sony/microsoft have thousands of titles in their libraries. Without better 3rd part support (which Nintendo won't commit to) there is no way nintendo can bring that many games to market even with acquisitions. I think acquisitions nintendo would consider would be eithet ebook software providers or emovie providers. That to me seems to be the biggest gap for nintendo if they were to develop a tablet. They could even use it under their QOL umbrella since exercising the mind and relaxing are important.

Ian SaneFebruary 06, 2014

I agree that "third pillar" could be just their way of not damaging an existing brand if the Quality of Life thing flops.  Clearly there was never any real intention of having the DS co-exist as a third product line with the GBA and Gamecube.  They just called it a third pillar so that if it failed it did not damage the Game Boy brand.

Though in this case a product that just focuses on health apps does have a clear separate purpose and target market so it would make sense to be a third pillar.  The DS was far too similar to the GBA to come across as a unique product line.

pandaradoxFebruary 06, 2014

If you give everyone a far more personal Mii (themed, something you'd be proud to show off), then this could be insane... like Tamagotchi+pokemon level.  Literally like Oz from Summer Wars.  Streetpass is still relatively successful and having this avatar serve as a liason between all your systems (The rumored NFC application for WiiU, Streetpass-esque connectivity of 3DS, and wifi spots everywhere). 


Nintendo sees their devices as toys, why not embrace that in a way that Sony and Microsoft couldn't?  You make it classy enough to catch the adults and young adults but fun enough to catch the kids too and this could provide an amazing segue into Nintendo gaming.  Everyone just wave their QoL device over the gamepad to log their character in.  Having your 3DS sync with the device allows for a more personalized experience while providing a possible "Key" to accessing your 3DS.  It's a perfect time for it to pair with Smash Brothers too.  Much like what the wiimote was supposed to do. 


Maybe it's time for the VMU to return.  :p

smallsharkbigbiteFebruary 06, 2014

@Ian - I agree I could be wrong.  I just think some of the ques they've given is they either have no solution for video games or think it's not profitable enough.  The video games discussion was basically status quo small adjustments.... but QOL will make everyone happy and alot of money so everyone should be excited.


I'd be really surprised if the Wii Fit board and Wii Fit meter didn't interact with the new hardware in some fashion and the eshop under the new unified O/S approach.  As such, I don't think it would be that tough to allow the Wii U pro controller to work with it.  Now that the Wii U has a touchscreen, I'd be surprised if they ever dropped touchscreens from future hardware.  I just think, depending on how they bring it out, the hardware will probably not be altogether that different than the Wii U.  Tablet that interacts with a TV and has a bunch of blutooth accessory compatibility.  Nintendo knows they still have to sell Mario, which they could do in QOL setting under the marketing of engaging the mind, playing with others, and relaxation from other fitness activities.  I think all future hardware Nintendo develops will have Mario games in some fashion. 

Black JackalFebruary 06, 2014

Quote from: pandaradox

If you give everyone a far more personal Mii (themed, something you'd be proud to show off), then this could be insane... like Tamagotchi+pokemon level.  Literally like Oz from Summer Wars.  Streetpass is still relatively successful and having this avatar serve as a liason between all your systems (The rumored NFC application for WiiU, Streetpass-esque connectivity of 3DS, and wifi spots everywhere). 


Nintendo sees their devices as toys, why not embrace that in a way that Sony and Microsoft couldn't?  You make it classy enough to catch the adults and young adults but fun enough to catch the kids too and this could provide an amazing segue into Nintendo gaming.  Everyone just wave their QoL device over the gamepad to log their character in.  Having your 3DS sync with the device allows for a more personalized experience while providing a possible "Key" to accessing your 3DS.  It's a perfect time for it to pair with Smash Brothers too.  Much like what the wiimote was supposed to do. 


Maybe it's time for the VMU to return.  :p

You are brilliant. The Avatar and being able to have it interact with your devices. Imagine being able to take your saves and controller settings to your friends house to play smash bros seamlessly. I can tell you there wouldnt be a person at a smash bros tournament without one.

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