The sedentary American lifestyle has contributed to an obesity problem that has left people as big as houses. Americans get winded just walking up to a treadmill. So why are some entrepreneurial thinkers suggesting consumers should get more fit by playing more video games?
A new video game market is emerging that requires players to physically interact with the game. Last year, Sony Computer Entertainment America launched the EyeToy, a motion-sensitive camera that plugs into a PlayStation 2 console and literally puts the player's image in the game-it's sold more than 3.5 million units worldwide. While the arcade game Dance Dance Revolution was the first hugely successful "active" video game, the EyeToy is the first product to have significant success in the home market.
Richard Marks, inventor of EyeToy technology and manager of the special projects group in the R&D division, says the intentions behind creating the EyeToy were to make gaming appealing to consumers who don't like joysticks or traditional button controls-the possibility of making people healthier was a positive side benefit they anticipated.
Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, says the new niche of physically interactive games may not dominate traditional games but will remain popular. "The health benefits are an added value to what is already an entertaining experience," says Lowenstein.
But there are companies that have built their products to specifically thwart lethargy. Greg Merril, co-founder and CEO of Powergrid Fitness in Laurel, Maryland, says it was through the exercise boredom of co-founder Phil Feldman that the kiloWatt was created. The kiloWatt, which works with any major console or PC, is basically a big joystick that the user moves around by pushing and pulling-resulting in an exhausting, anaerobic game-play experience.
Merril says the product will be available this month and believes they're in on the beginning of a huge trend, as it's hard for people to get motivated to exercise because it requires a change in lifestyle. "The beauty of the kiloWatt machine is that it taps into an activity that so many people are already doing," says Merril. "They're motivated to play these games. These games are addictive, and it makes that addiction a healthy addiction-it turns that couch potato activity into a sport."
Gamebike, invented by Ted Parks, an orthopedic surgeon in Denver, is another product for those who find the gym unappealing. The Gamebike, which Parks licensed to bicycle equipment retailer Cateye, is essentially a stationary bike that plugs into Sony's PlayStation consoles and forces the user to pedal to play games.
Marks, who came to Sony with the intention of creating EyeToy and wanted the backing of a big company to help him get it to the mass market, sees this market as a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop games geared toward hardware devices. "Traditional developers in the game companies don't have people to make these kinds of games," he says. "I think a small team of people could now make a game that would be competitive in this space."