Blog Insight

How to Get Couch Potatoes on Their Feet

We’re in the midst of a digital revolution in health and wellness—and it’s only gaining momentum. Wearable fitness trackers like Fitbit, originally viewed as a passing fad, are now projected to grow into a $5 billion market by 2019.1

Another force in the digital health and wellness revolution is the fitness video game, which includes products like Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit U, Nike+ Kinect, Your Shape, Zwift, VirZOOM, and Peloton. Its market is not as large as that of wearables, but it has grown considerably in the past decade. Motivating gamers to exercise is now more than a $750 million a year business.2

Let’s take an in-depth look at the fitness video game market, a genre that has the potential to improve the health and wellness of many people but has yet to achieve widespread adoption.

How can fitness video game companies leverage audience insights to create a bigger market for their games?

Why It Matters

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exercise is critical to health and wellness, but only 20.8 percent of Americans meet the guidelines for adequate aerobic physical activity and muscle strengthening.3 This lack of exercise contributes to national health epidemics like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

Conventional wisdom dictates that video games encourage people to stay on the couch instead of getting out, worsening America’s health crisis. According to CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, video games are commonly credited with contributing to obesity, antisocial behavior, poor eye health, and a host of other maladies.4

However, some game designers and health experts have begun to tell a different story: one about the power of video games to transform lives for the better. Initial research conducted by the American Council on Exercise shows that fitness video games can yield positive health benefits, so long as players use them properly and consistently.5

So how can more gamers be encouraged to play fitness video games? We identified several key considerations for companies as they determine gameplay features and make their marketing decisions.

Who is a gamer?

Think of a gamer. Do you see an unemployed, 25-year-old man-child living in his parents’ basement, wading in dirty laundry?

Think again. Gamers span all demographic groups: age, race, gender, income.

And a typical gamer? Turns out that she—yes, you read that correctly—is over 35 years old and employed.

The only gamer stereotype that still holds true is that gamers aren’t particularly health conscious.

Winning Over the Gamer

According to data from the Cubeyou audience insights tool, gamers aren’t motivated by health consciousness, so they won’t play a game simply because it’s good for them. Instead, fitness video game companies need to offer gameplay features that will resonate with gamers to make them want to play.

Diving deeper into the data, one major trend stuck out: men and women game differently.

In order to attract gamers, fitness video game companies need to offer gameplay features that are compelling to both genders, and segment their marketing to approach male and female gamers differently.

Female Gamers

According to Cubeyou data, women tend to prefer social games, like Farmville, that emphasize social interaction over games that emphasize immersive environments.

That preference is already affecting the fan bases of fitness games, even ones that offer virtually identical services. We took a look at two very similar and newly released cycling games: Peloton and Zwift. Peloton’s messaging focuses primarily on its social interaction features that connect cyclists remotely with trainers, whereas Zwift’s marketing focuses primarily on its immersive gameplay experience. Both games combine social and immersive elements, but women much prefer Peloton.

That’s the power of knowing your audience.

Male Gamers

Male gamers, according to data from the Cubeyou tool, prefer racing and simulation games, closely followed by sports games. As I mentioned earlier, they also prefer immersive gaming experiences—especially virtual reality technologies—while female gamers do not.

The best strategy to attract male gamers would emphasize elements of sports and racing video games, like high-octane on-screen action and a highly immersive environment. Such games would allow players to step into the shoes of their favorite sports stars, or drive the car of their dreams (powered by a stationary bike, not gasoline, of course).

Again, recently released fitness video games seem to have capitalized on this gendered preference to attract more male fans. For instance, players can race against other avatars in Zwift’s Tour de France experience, or even wear virtual reality headsets to cycle their way through a fully immersive adventure world in VirZOOM.

The Future

Fitness video games have the potential to revolutionize health and wellness for millions of American gamers if they are approached in the right way. By focusing on what gamers actually want from a video game while being mindful of gender differences, companies can tap into a big market of consumers who could really benefit from their games.

1. “Connected Fitness Trackers to Exceed $5B by 2019,” Parks Associates. Dean Takahashi, “Report says fitness video games are proliferating as gamers get off the couch,”
2. June 27, 2013. Exercise or Physical Activity, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. “Young gamers turn virtual-sports screen time into real-world field time,” CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, September 26, 2014.
4. “Can a Video Game Make Your Kids More Fit? Exclusive ACE Research Proves Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) Can Be a Tremendous Workout,” American Council on Exercise, February 6, 2008.