It was a rather surprising announcement. Fans that were expecting a new lineup of games couldn’t have been more disappointed as the new project was announced; some sort of cardboard-based activity that is geared towards children. Labo is Nintendo’s new venture focused on the concept of pure play, rather than game software.
The possibility of the Nintendo Switch supporting VR/AR was a widely-discussed topic among fans. Many people wondered if the company would really pursue this path after the failure they experienced with the Virtual Boy. With the release of Labo however, it seems like the company is working in the opposite direction of VR/AR. Rather than bringing things from the outside world into the game world, Labo brings elements from the game world into reality. Although there have been plenty of products made of cardboard, Nintendo has added in the Switch’s features and software to create their own unique idea.
▲ Who would imagine that anyone would get excited over a cardboard game?
The Significance of Labo
Cheap and entertaining toy and external device
Labo’s design is based on three key concepts; it’s these concepts that take it from being a collection of cardboard to a new experience. These three concepts are: MAKE, PLAY, and DISCOVER. The objective is to make the different constructs, play by linking the Switch, and then discover all the different features.
Although the product is mostly geared towards children, the unexpected direction deserves acknowledgment. The public has actually been giving positive reviews for the product after its launch. It was an opportunity for gamers with children to give their kids a positive and physically interactive gaming experience. If Labo continues to get positive feedback, it could become a source of revenue that has fairly minimal costs.
Some are opposed to the project, saying that it’s dumb to get so excited over a pile of cardboard. However, the market may change depending on how this simple pile of cardboard is used. Think about the VR HMD Google Cardboard, which was made of cardboard as well. Even though it was simple, it set a record of exceeding 60% of the market share thanks to its cheap price in the year of 2016. Having a price that is more affordable compared to alternatives can be a strong weapon in the market.
The fact that the cardboard is combined with the Switch to create a wide variety of games is something that makes Labo stand out. Also, the cardboard can be purchased additional times, making it a consumable in a way. There is not as much worry since most of the interactive parts are inexpensive and replaceable. Additionally, other third parties can create different Labo with their games, which could lead to even more sales.
Bringing in-game content to reality
In what way can Labo deliver a distinct experience?
Aside from the market analysis and product perspective, the direction Labo is going already holds significance. The recent gaming trend can be defined as “going from reality to gaming”. There are many ongoing attempts to deliver more realistic experiences, and new devices are being made for that very purpose. However, Labo chose to bring the gaming experience into the user’s reality rather than bringing a user into the game.
The interaction between the external devices and the games becomes a form of the play itself. The Labo package includes the games for Labo, which also serve as the instructions for how to assemble Labo. In other words, the whole process, from assembling devices to playing the game, becomes a form of play.
Through its design, Labo becomes an experience that takes place in and outside of the Switch screen. According to the concept of pataphor, which in this context refers to a reality that is made from a virtual reality, it is an extension of the Wii because of how it enabled gamers to enjoy the game in everyday life even without any particular devices. A gamer isn’t immersed in the game through the device, instead, the game manifests in the real life by “creating” the device.
However, Labo recreates this on a more advanced level than the Wii. It isn’t just batting a virtual ball by swinging or throwing a punch with the Wiimote Controller. With Labo, pataphor is precisely created with the IR camera. The device shows better performance than the Wii through its ability to play piano and accelerate a bike only by pulling the right handle.
Unlike technology that aims to fuse the virtual and actual realities through visual features, Nintendo is attempting to break the boundary between the two by working in the opposite direction. Most are trying to bring reality into the virtual world, Nintendo is trying to bring the virtual into reality. That’s how Labo is taking a different direction, and the results have shocked quite a lot of people.
The Future of the Nintendo Switch and Labo
The foundation of Labo is built upon the Nintendo Switch
With Labo, the Joycons have even more use outside of just Switch games. Labo’s package names are called Toycon followed by a number. Given that, it is expected that the product will be launched as a series. Although there were other Labos shown in the trailer, they are not for sale at the moment. The production period for each product may differ depending on how much revenue it will make, but it is surely not a short-term project.
Also, if Labo is planned to be a long-term series, the lifespan of the Nintendo Switch will need to be just as long. If a new Switch or console is released before Labo’s run is over, they will likely share a similar design to the Switch, with Joycons and the main screen.The latter consoles must also maintain the separate devices with Joycons and main device. While Nintendo is known to change its controls with every new console, this may be where we see them carry on the same design.
It is somewhat early to say whether Labo will succeed or not, since it hasn’t even had its official release. Even so, the experiences that Labo presents are all based on the features of the Nintendo Switch, so if one remains the same or changes, so must the other.
Nintendo may have had some unpleasant past experiences with the Virtual Boy and Power Glove, but the company will not let their past keep them trying new things. Their unique ideas have sometimes fallen flat or been utterly brilliant; will their cardboard-based Labo lang on the winning side? What significance do you think these simple cardboard cutouts will bring to the market from both a business and design perspective? Only time will tell, once we get our hands on our new cardboard toys this April.
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