For any company whose products happen to be popular among children, the education market has always been one of the most lucrative to target – but it's one which poses a stern challenge, too. A manufacturer has to offer something that appeals to kids and teachers alike, being helpful for the latter while keeping the the former entertained and educated. And while almost every well-known enterprise is represented in this sector in one way or another, only a handful of them score really big – and Nintendo could be one such firm once Labo hits store shelves in April this year.
Moments after the Switch-powered interactive cardboard building kit was introduced, the social space was filled with thoughts and impressions, most of which were the result of people mentally projecting Nintendo Labo into their everyday lives – the same deal happens every time Nintendo announces a new piece of hardware, to be fair. On closer inspection, however, Labo feels to me like the first Nintendo product which hasn't been designed purely to win over households, but one that also goes out of its way to be attractive to educational institutions.
It’s worth noting that Nintendo’s previous 'edutainment' efforts, as far as its history as a video game company goes, were mixed at best. Being the first and only game in the NES 'Education Series', Donkey Kong Jr. Math turned out to be so bad both as a learning tool and a piece of entertainment that Nintendo avoided making similar titles for a long time – and when it did try exploring the prospect again, it resulted in a bunch of subpar third-party Mario games which are best remembered for their downright horrific sprite work. Nintendo finally struck gold in 2005 with Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo DS, but the company’s focus soon shifted to motion control just few years later, and subsequent titles in the series arguably didn't get as much of a following.
On the other shore of Nintendo’s “blue ocean”, things were getting way more exciting. Wii Sports was designed to bring Nintendo’s new home console to the attention of people who would never normally play video games, and greatly succeeded in doing so, selling over 100 million units in the process. But, combined with Wii Fit released shortly afterwards, it built a brand-new image for the Wii, and (by extension) Nintendo itself. For plenty of people (not to mention health foundations) the Wii become more than just a video game console with a little bit of physical immersion added, and was instead seen as a powerful exercise tool. Nintendo’s one-two punch saw Wii installed in nursing homes, military bases and health centres, an unexpected boon for the Japanese company. While Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus were able to keep the momentum going for a while (and helped Nintendo net the American Heart Association endorsement), this health-focused fad faded away few years later.
Nevertheless, Nintendo has made it clear in the past that it's not going to focus exclusively on the traditional video game market moving forward. In 2014, it announced plans to recapture the health market with the still-mysterious 'Quality of Life' device. While most people tend to forget about that endeavour except for when Nintendo drops some tidbits about it in its corporate reports, it’s quite notable as it would mark the first time since the '70s that the company has branched out into an entirely new market. But, as we discovered a few days ago, anyone expecting a QoL announcement early in 2018 was betting on the wrong (Trojan) horse – the education market could well be what Nintendo has its sights set on right now.
To call Nintendo Labo a series of games for Switch would be doing it a huge disservice, as it has the potential to be its own platform – not entirely unlike the QoL concept, in fact. While the Switch (with its Joy-Con controllers) is the element which makes the magic possible, Labo goes a little way to distance itself from the core Switch image. Effectively splitting the marketing in half is pointless if both branches are aimed to the same audience, but, in case of Switch and Labo, it makes perfect sense - especially when you consider that the latter could be presented to school management, too. Even the bundled software has its own style of packaging, making it look like a school workbook – complete with a field to write the owner’s name.
Marketing a product the right way does not make it automatically suitable for the chosen field, but Nintendo has thankfully equipped Labo with a unique and appealing image that will draw in players and educators alike. It’s quite impressive that, even in the crowded and well-explored market of educational toys, Nintendo has found its own audience and offered a product which does not have any direct competitors – it's a capable smart construction kit which is accessible to elementary school children. The accessibility is a key part, as even the best products in this class have a tendency to be a bit too complex for kids aged 6 and up – the exact audience Nintendo wants you to bring to Nintendo Labo hands-on events.
This author distinctively remembers their first experience with LEGO Mindstorms, a robotic platform which combines LEGO blocks with micro-controllers, sensors and servo drives, at the age of 10 – the minimal recommended age for the toolkit going by LEGO’s official classification. Even in its comparatively limited first-generation iteration, it was ultimately overwhelming for a kid who had just started exploring his interest in STEM, and I’ve ultimately spent half a year in the robotics club being envious of high-schoolers’ awesome creations.
Nintendo Labo shares the cool tech aspect of LEGO Mindstorms with a focused approach of traditional construction kits. At the same time, it also captures the attention of children who are more interested in arts and crafts than science and technology, as Nintendo wants players to see the Toy-Con they’ve built as interactive canvases, encouraging them to go wild with decals, markers, and colourful sticky tapes – and then there's the Toy-Con Piano which was selected as a showcase for the Labo series, a design which will have budding musicians very excited indeed. Compared to Mindstorms – which has been popular in schools for years – Labo has a much wider remit.
Speaking of the software, as far as we can judge from early impressions and Nintendo’s own press materials, it meets the highest modern standards for interactive schoolbooks – the instructions are well-structured and filled with amazing animated 3D schematics you can zoom, rotate, and playback. If the instructions prove to be as good as they look now (and Nintendo Life Editorial Director Damien McFerran has nothing but praise for them after his hands-on experience), I’ll definitely get excited by the (unlikely) chance of Nintendo becoming a digital book publisher in the near future.
We know nothing about Nintendo’s plans on the Labo platform beyond two initial packs, but it’s clear they will continue to develop new Toy-Con – after all, a good chunk of the introduction trailer featured models not present at launch. The potential of Labo makes plenty of business interrelation scenarios possible; for example, Nintendo could provide Labo to schools as a service, giving them new Toy-Con kits the moment they launch while leasing the Switch consoles on a yearly basis. Variety Kits could be allocated so each pupil gets to work on their own Toy-Con, while the ones like Robot Kit could serve as a centrepiece of group projects. Some children might want to go beyond following the instruction and develop their own project, and there is nothing stopping them from pursuing that goal: preview footage suggests the Labo software offers some sort of scripting environment called “My Toy-Con”, which lets you assign the input methods to the hardware to create new Toy-Con routines. While we are yet to see how robust this actually is in practice, the inclusion of this mode extends the age group Nintendo Labo wants to capture way beyond the elementary school.
For all parents and older siblings out there, it’s hard not to get excited about Labo as a learning tool which might come to your child's school very soon. We can only hope Nintendo will handle the relationships well, providing schools with the consoles and a variety of Labo kits – even if that will undoubtedly make your kid beg you for several of them at home, too.
That could be another way ingenious of increasing potential revenue, come to think of it.
Has to be better than those licensed Mario educational games.. shudders
Own all 3 systems but this really doesn’t appeal to me as an adult, it looks overpriced and the games look very throwaway. But, I own PSVR and I know tons who say the same about that, I upgraded to the One X so my 4K T.V could really pop and I know tons who say it’s pointless. So if you order this, I truly hope you enjoy it, I just personally don’t see the appeal and that’s ok.
Well teachers have touch-screen smart boards, the Switch is touch screen, the possibilities are endless.
This will be another instance of edutainment done right. Hope Nintendo expands more on the idea though
I don’t know about schools, but I can tell you for sure that I know a lot of librarians that are excited about this. Paired with something like FUZE4, or if Nintendo releases some developer tools for it (let’s see more of this supposed scripting environment!), it can be a coding and design project hitting just about every part of STEAM education.
I doubt it but we'll see. It could help crack the TP market. No not Twilight Princess, but instead Toilet Paper.
It's just a cardboard kit you put together and play mini-games with. I doubt there's much use for it outside of its intended use; fun to play around with. It's not like you can program it yourself and build your own Labo toys, and that's where it limits the potential of being used in classrooms.
I agree, this could definitely be a good entry point to the education sector for Nintendo.
A lot of people also might not realise that these Toy-Con could easily be integrated into other games from Nintendo or different developers too. They could be used to create a variety of interactive scenarios or different control styles. They're not just limited to a quick mini game.
I'm not sure where you guys live, but I have to buy all the classes school supplies. Somehow don't think they are springing for a $300 Switch and $70 for a base kit. That's just for one set mind you when in order to be educational you would need to provide for the entire class.
Wait until the Toy Cons 03, 04 & next announced.
More possiblities way of playing.
Imagine dancing, typing, shaking, etc with Right Joy Cons and Cardboxes.
Surprise me, Nintendo !
@Anti-Matter I like those ideas 😀 It's exciting to think about what else they'll come up with
@MailOrderNinja Ya, that's what people are forgetting. You have to spend €400 and like you say that's just for 1 child. Plus, kids batter toys, so how long can cardboard stay in one piece? There's far cheaper and sturdier alternatives out there.
If there really is a 'My Toy Con' scripting element to this it could be huge - like, huuuuuge.
The incredible brilliance of the idea is 3 fold:
1. the materials and practical skills to produce your own Toy Cons is available to all.
2.the joy cons are packed with cool interesting tech to play with - and the potential is being demonstrated brilliantly with the kits.
3. Nintendo has already proved it can make game making software super fun with Mario Maker
It won't matter how rudimentary and rough the creation - if you can succeed in making your own toy cons and ways to make them satisfyingly interact with the software you have programmed - that will set people off on some incredible journey of invention and entertainment.
This could be really exciting - the mind boggles!
I imagine Paper Mario Maker from LABO.
If the school are really really supporting LABO ideas, money can talk.
If the school have adequate budget for 1 Switch + 1 set LABO kits for each class, the class will be a Heavenly place for kids to visit. They can't wait to see Nintendo Switch & their LABO Toys everytime they enter their classroom.
Ha! That would be the day if schools would ever get the kind of funding to ever put Labo in their schools
Man, you guys at NL are REALLY pushing this Labo thing. It's like Pokémon game is being released or something, but nothing has been physically released yet.
Guess I'll leave NL for a few weeks or something, I just have no interest in it at all. I'm sure it'll do very well, and kids will love it, but, meh.
@MailOrderNinja Yeah, I see you point, schools are not exactly flush around where I live.
But there is potential for schools to invest in leasing them if there is a My Toy Cons element - then they're using a tool to invent new stuff using basic, cheap materials - and they wouldn't need loads of kits. 10 for the school maybe. Still not cheap but if the potential is there to invent and re-use then its a different prospect - it becomes a specialist yet accesible and fun resource for teaching core STEM ideas.
Don't know about "School school" but one of my first reactions to seeing this is summer camps. STEM summer camps are HUGE business in the US. If you didn't know that then you probably have never been a parent to a 6-8 year old and that's ok, you have no reason to know.
Places like Destination Science will buy this stuff up. Maybe not this summer b/c it's too soon but by next year when they've had time to budget for the Switch. .
Public libraries also usual offer a lot of summer classes. My library and several others around us have recently gotten in 3D printers. I can see a Switch and the kits having similar build classes.
Not sure if these will make into public schools b/c they are really a build and done toy, but our middle school did give Chromebooks to every incoming 6th grader this year - my kid entered 7th this year, no Chromebook for him - so it's possible they'll get some. Also possible this could become an after school club activity like Lego, chess, computers.
Robots are big too. As it stands now Labo is just a toy. But It isn't lost on me that Ntinedo named these Ntinedo Labo, not Switch Labo, they must have bigger plans than just video games. So a programmable Labo is probably on the way. Nintnedo named these for longevity, it isn't just Wii Play. Though the included software is certainly Wii Play minigame like.
OK. This is the kind of articles that NIntendo Life should have. Not like the Pachter one yesterday that was so childish and nonsensical.
@Octane "It's not like you can program it yourself and build your own Labo toys,"
They just announced it last week. They showed a 2 minute video. They showed a kit that looked like Wii Play ($50 for a Wiimote and 10-12 minigames in case you missed that one) for Switch and a robot game that may be a full game experience akin to several indie giant robot/monster games I've played. They also showed 4 or 5 kits they haven't announced yet - bird, camera, shotgun, pedal. So you're right, we can't program it now, but we dotn' know whats; coming next. I think the fact that they called it Nintendo Labo rather than Switch Labo means they have potentially long term plans for this. Plans that could include a custom build, something akin to Lego Mindstorm or Sphero or any number of other programmable toys. It's actually really hard for me to believe we won't get something programmable as nearly everything is programmable these days. Maybe not as build it programmable as Lego, but most of the simpler programmable toys are just balls and cars and little talking robots. Nintnedo coudl do something like that with cardboard.
It's actually possible some of the ones we've seen can be programmed on some basic level. The hexbug one for instance. We've seen it operated using the touchscreen on the Switch tablet - Switch is such a tablet in all of these builds - it's an easy jump from there to setting up an obstacle course where you tell it - hit the right button 3x, left button 5x, right button 2x, left button 6x, to go thru the obstacle course and cross a finish line. That's not the kind of programming that's going to get you a job, but it's similar to Code-a-Pillar. My godson has one, he and his sister have tons of fun with it. They're 3 and 4. Labo I'd say is more 8-10.
Then you have the piano. Doesn't move much, but if kids record a song for a self playing piano, well that's kind of cool for them. Keys won't move, i'ts just a keyboard app at that point, but kids can do stuff with it.
Give it time, I think this is a long term project, and I think some type of coding is inevitable. They already have the tape and stickers, just a matter of time before they have a big kit that can be assembled several ways, plane, car, tank or octopus, alien, grasshopper.
Unless it bombs b/c it's too expensive, but I believe they only announced this with longevity in mind. Launch with the simple stuff, build up over time to the more complicated stuff. Lego didn't start with Mindstorm, that was decades later.
I don't see myself buying soon-to-be trash at those prices. Nintendo is way too weird for me sometimes. I'll stick to Zelda and Mario.
Coming soon...old rope dlc. tie your joycon to the end of the "joy rope" an it becomes a snake
@rjejr The issue is that Labo only works one way. The Joy-Con and Switch are great at receiving information; using the IR scanner, gyro, etc. But all they can do in terms of responding is vibrate. Which works for the little bug, but you can't do anything more complicated than that. That means that most of the toys will have you interact with the Labo, instead of the other way around (the Labo kit reacting with the world around them through programming).
Sure, you can give the bug small instruction (vibrate left, right or both), but you can't program the piano to do anything. Same applies to the fishing rod, the motor cycle, and house and the giant robot kit.
On top of that, you're restricted by the games and cardboard Nintendo provides as a result. You can't build your own cardboard creation and build a game around that, not unless you know basic programming at least. These Labo kits to me are like the Wii accessorizes, except that those plastic Wii Remote extenders didn't anything to change the gameplay, whereas the Labo kits can only be played with the cardboard kits. So they provide a different and new way to interact with the Switch and its games.
I can't see classrooms getting it. That would be too many hands using not-so-durable material for a minimum of $370 before tax. Children in private schools will likely already own it if their parents deem it useful, and for public schools I'd be surprised if $370 was less than an entire year's worth of materials for a classroom. The homeschooling parents are the true educational market for Labo.
@Octane Well maybe we can't off the top of our heads, but Ntinedo makes games for a living. Some really good ones, but they also made Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, so they know how to make games where nothing happens as well.
So here's a few maybes. Maybe kids can program their own fish to catch, ones that are really hard or really easy. Or just design their own fish for on the screen. Or design their own videos depending on what keys they hit on the keyboard. Maybe flowers bloom or fireworks explode. That entire keyboard is just inputs, kids could design a "Missile Command" type game where each keys makes a different location shoot. Neither of those are making the cardboard move, but they are letting the kids program what's on the screen and what moving the cardboard does. Sure, Nintnedo could just let them program games using the Joycon buttons themselves, but I think kids might have more fun making a piano into Missile Command. Maybe that fishing pole can turn into a light saber? I'm not really sure what's going on there. Or a jack-in-the-box game, turn the fishing reel a few turns, pass it to your friend, like hot potato, whoever pops the box loses.
You are right about the moving, vibrate is all it can do, and vibration is only going to get you so far, but they made a hexbug and a man fall down so far, so there are possibilities. Maybe a Jenga type game. 12 boxes, 1 kid hides the 2 Joycon in 2 of them, then you stack them all up, then you hit buttons on the screen and have to guess which 2 boxes the 2 Joycon are in while the tower vibrates? OK, not a lot of coding there, but the kids can build different structure, tower, bridge, teepee, see how long it takes to knock down. Heck I want to try that right now but we threw out our $50 worth of cardboard blocks when the kids outgrew them. Can we vibrate the Joycon from the touchscreen now? If we could, we don't need Labo.
Also. Switch is an accessory machine. It's a tablet with bluetooth and WiFi. Why not sell Labo motors and wheels that Switch controls? It doesn't HAVE to be just Joycon and cardboard, they can sell whatever they want, have Switch touchscreen control it. As I said before, I'm guessing "Nintnedo Labo" is a long term strategy for them, not just Switch accessories and games but something they grow like Lego. We'll see.
@Yorumi "kind of looks like a wiring diagram"
I'm going to guess you mean this one. I saw that too. So did these guys.
I think Labo can help Nintendo crack the furniture market. Nintendo can compete with IKEA using their cardboard furnitures.
Hobos will love it in their cardboard house. 😂
I'm stoked to give the software and construction a go. I love that Nintendo wants me to use the system for software and hardware. The system itself becomes a toy. Squeee!
At this point in time I just want the damn thing to be released so we can stop this boring speculation and see if it does in fact sell. Next thing NL is going to write an article on how kids can become the next Stephen Hawking by playing with Labo.
The education budget here in America is been slashed so much that teachers have to buy their own pens and pencils for their classrooms. I highly doubt any school is going to be dropping nearly $400 per student to teach cardboard engineering lessons.
Im not a professional analyst. ..but my gut feel is that I don't see this labo thing going anywhere. I just don't get it. Then again, I also poo pooed the switch when I first heard about it...now its my favorite system.
Labo™ toys made from cardboard for a cleaner future, from the company that brought you Virtual boy™.
@Kit hey, does Switch support docked touchscreen? That would be pretty great.
@TJM I didn't think of that.
Thanks for the new perspective.
There's an interesting reaction video on youtube by a gamer who runs an after school workshop who was waxing lyrical about the price, apparently a kit that he was trying to buy for the class would cost 10 thousand dollars from a specialist company with similar functionality to labo, so the overpriced argument may be defunct.
What I find interesting about this whole concept is that once you've built the sets and understand how they work you could actually subvert the concept, the robot may be a giant backpack but it doesn't have to be how long before a completely redesign comes along you could shrink the entire set down to a handheld device.
@MailOrderNinja If Labo takes off as an educational tool, I would expect Nintendo to mirror the early days of Apple (a company they clearly think highly of). Free (or very inexpensive) units for schools.
A generation of kids grew up playing Oregon Trail on Macs at school. That same generation now remains so loyal to Apple that they'll pay $1000 for a phone with the Apple logo on it.
Nintendo: Creating mensa candidates daily - one cardboard box at a time~
Educational tool? For a school of fools, maybe. Ha!
I love the potential. The first thing I thought was that there could be some engineering lessons in there for me. Well, maybe the second, the first was more like a shrug of perplexity.
I don't know that I'll go for it in the end because of cost, time and other priorities, but at least it's interesting and innovative. I didn't feel that way at that E3 where we had amiibo Festival, Ultra Smash and Star Fox Zero. This is way better than that.
It's going to be hilarious to see this Nintendo Arts & Crafts cardboard concept beat gow4 in sales starting on the same release date.
Teacher here. Already waiting for the maps to be available for my class this year!!
I actually want to play/try Mario Teaches Typing again. If they released it on Steam for a few bucks with a hassle free download/installation I'd be down
With a the things the USA education systen needs - this is not one of them. Would be a Massive waste of tax payers money.
An interesting thing I have to say. But I don't believe that this could bring any real education to schools but looks funny. I think that any speech writing service like this site for example. And this plastic stuff will be destroyed soon. I'm not against this but It looks too unreal for everyday usage. Agree or not but I don't think that Nintendo is good for educational purpose. It's great for fun, not for serious work.
@johnbale I agree with you. This stuff won`t help children to get into university. There are plenty of semi-useful things in the world and https://instagrowing.net/buy-instagram-likes/ and Nintendo are in this list
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