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The Current State and Future of “Exergaming”

By Jorge Figueiredo – January 24th, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to pose some questions about “exergaming” to Ubisoft Montreal game designer, Nicola Godin. After some phone interview glitches prevented us from connecting over the PSTN, he was nice enough to answer the questions I posed via E-mail. Here is what we talked about.

JF: Do you find that a lot of people don’t take “exergaming” very seriously?

NG: First, I think we can say that since motion gaming appeared, thanks to the Wii back in 2005, we notice a lot of interest in all of the dance and fitness games (games that we can consider exergaming). All of these are very interesting because they make people move, but personally I think that some of the games have a ‘’technology issue’’. For some of these games, it is sometimes hard to believe that your movements are tracked properly since you only have a remote control in your hand (especially when you are doing a full dance move or something similar). If you just shake the controller, it should do the trick [to fool the game].

So because of that factor, I can understand why some people are not taking exergaming seriously. But don’t forget that the people who are willing to try an exergame don’t always care about that, because their goal for them is to move and have fun first. Plus, there is a lot of games out there that are super fun, even if the technology isn’t perfectly solid.

Since the technology is evolving and developers know more and more about all these motion games, I think the audience for exergaming will grow a lot. Especially with the new Kinect. This Sensor can track the whole body anytime, so the feeling of being tracked is always present and efficient, and that changes a lot of thing about the new wave of exergames that will come. They will be more precise and professional and I’m sure it will influence of how we perceive these games.

What are the benefits of exergaming versus the traditional trips to the gym? Disadvantages?

Having an exergame at home is great because we don’t always want/have the time to go to the gym. If the gym can be in your home via these games, then there are more chances that people will open their consoles and play, even if it is for 15 minutes.

Not all gyms are nice and cozy; sometimes I feel I need to be dressed with the latest trendy kit when I go to the gym. Also, I’m not a hot muscular guy and I don’t feel always good about how my body looks. When you can exercise within the comfort of your home, there is no such pressure.

In a videogame, you can do things that you cannot do in real life. Punching blocks that will explode in fireworks is maybe possible in a real life, but dangerous and not accessible. In a videogame it is; because we can play with the environment, apply some special effects on the player and do all these crazy things that a gym cannot offer. Having this fun side also helps a lot when you want to keep someone motivated.

In a fitness game, such as Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, the coach will always be present with you and give you precise feedback about how you are moving. You can have that at a gym, but at what price? Will he always be on your side and always looking at every move you make in order to correct you?

Gym fees seem to be getting higher and higher. Let’s say you buy a Kinect with an XBOX ($300). After that, it’s only a matter of buying games ($50). I think it’s a great deal! How much is a whole year subscription at a gym $500 just to get access to the gym? The gym is a social place, where you can meet with other people and talk which is nice, but all the online play will come soon. At the gym you are also able to train with big equipment. That I cannot really comment on. You can use dumbbells and other type of light material at home, but not these big machines at the gym.

So when I consider all these facts, I personally see more advantages of playing an exergame than going to the gym.

What are the benefits of exergaming in the face of things like martial arts or yoga classes? Disadvantages?

When you go to a class at the gym, it’s a trainer with around 20 people. The problem I see with this is the fact of not having the personal feedback that we all need. The trainer will try to do his best in terms of feedback, but it will be never personalized. With exergaming, you always have the personal feedback you need.

Disadvantages? You miss the social side; but, again, this is only a technological point. A lot of hardcore games support multiplayer, so it’s just a matter of time until you’ll see a game where the players will be able to see and talk with other people while they are training.

Will there be more of a move towards a social aspect in exergaming? ie: working out with friends? A lot of people like going to they gym for the social aspect; does exergaming take this out of the picture?

Again, this is just a matter of time: the more the technology advances, the better this feature will be. The goal for us, as a developer (in terms of exergaming), will be to provide everything that the gym can offer, create stuff that cannot be done at the gym (like mini-games) and put it in a package that will be fun to play. The social side is definitely an important feature.

Do you think that exergaming applications will replace group instruction?

I don’t think so. I think it will be like the books, CDs, DVDs, etc. Exergamimg will attract an audience -a big one- and maybe convince some people that were used to frequenting a gym to switch, but I don’t think it will completely replace group instruction. It’s just a matter of grabbing a part of the audience.

Do you think that exergaming will actually permeate the fitness industry? (appearances in gyms and fitness clubs)?

Totally, and we can already notice it. In the seniors’ homes we can see the integration of motion game because they are simple, fun, and they make you move (Wii)! Even our game, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, it could be an interesting idea to display it at a gym, just to bring more variety. It always depends of the content of the game. To make sure it will work in a gym, as a developer, we need to make sure our game will be professional, serious, and also fun! Which is why we had three full time kinesiologists on the project: to make sure everything was checked by professionals. Also, the more we will work on AI, the better the game will be in terms of progression tracking.

Where do you see Exergaming going in the future?

First, I see a big emphasis on the online community. Maybe we’ll be able to display a hologram of your friend by your side while you are doing a fitness class together -all within the comfort of your home. Plus, the technology will progress; later, I’m sure a game will be able to see if you are tired or not, or even if you like an exercise or not and adjust the training to make sure you are always motivated.

The possibilities are endless, seriously; it just gets better and better starting from now!

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