- [We're going to be posting these Games For Health write-ups for a little while, because Kyle Orland kindly took a full set of notes for us, and there's some genuinely interesting stuff in there. This time (with transcription help by Mathew Kumar, ta!), a look at the frantic Nintendo DS 'serious games' market in Japan.]

In this session from the Games For Health Conference, Toru Fujimoto from Serious Games Japan gave a comprehensive report on the state of serious games development in the Japanese market.

He noted that while developers including Namco are producing unique titles for patient rehabilitation, the majority of the market is obsessed with producing a glut of titles for the Nintendo DS, without rhyme or reason.

Fujumoto opened with an introduction to Serious Games Japan. Started in May 2004, two books on serious games were published in Japan in 2007: "Don't Bother Me Mom, I'm Learning" and a research report by Digital Contents Association of Japan.

Researchers and developers involved in the creation of the report, which was written to introduce Games For Health projects to Japanese audience -- such as the Games Prescription project, which was developed in collaboration with Namco and Waseda University.

Games Prescription

The four goals of Games Prescription project, according to Fujimoto, were to:

* Research psychological/physiological effects of games,
* Evaluate videogame interaction,
* Examine effects on children with developmental disorders,
* Examine literacy learning using multi-layer display for dyslexic students.

Fujumoto revealed that the effect of games depends on type of game -- more skilled and concentration-based games had more active effects.

Namco produced 99 Tears for Nintendo DS based on this research, a digital novel that is intended to allow players to "weep and heal" with a personality test that determines which story they get.

Fujimoto also revealed that Namco are also making "rehabilitainment games" using modified arcade units, such as Prop Cycle and Taiko Drum Master for the elderly. They are currently used at 122 hospitals, and a new game, Doki Doki Snake Beater, is a "Whack-a-mole" game that uses the feet, intended to train leg muscles to prevent falling in elders.

SG Lab is another Serious Games initiative, performed by Square Enix and Gakken, with a focus on advergames and serious games. It produces Flash-based content for Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health in Tokyo, and has video instruction and mini-games to protect children from "dangerous household things."

Nintendo DS Explosion

Next, Fujimoto took a look at the Nintendo DS "explosion", noting some specific facts of interest. For example, he stated that Brain Age 2 sold almost as much as New Super Mario Bros., (4.7 million copies to 5 million) and the first Brain Age is fourth in total sales of DS software with 3.7M.

English Training is eighth with 2.1M in sales, and Brain Age has sold 17.1 million copies worldwide as of last October.

As a result of the success of Nintendo's Touch Generations games, many imitators have been created, and 220 of 810 DS titles released are learning/practical/non-game titles in Japan.

Over 40-50 are explicitly brain training/puzzle titles, but there are many new types of non-games for DS in Japan, including travel guides, gardening, wine selection, household bookkeeping, stock trading, school subjects, entrepreneurship, magic tricks, guitar playing, digital books, classical music and driver's license training.

There are even titles for diet and medical support, with titles including DS Calorie Navi (IE Institute); beauty care for women,including Facial Training (Nintendo) and Dream Skincare (Konami); Relaxation and mental care with Dokodemo Yoga (Konami); eye and hand coordination with Flash Focus (Nintendo); and fitness, including connectivity with Hudson's Pedometer device Teku-teku Angel Pocket.

Fujimoto noted that with so many titles on sale in the Japanese DS market, one of the main lessons to be taken is that selling in the DS market is "very tough."

"It looks attractive because of Brain Age sales," he said, "but if you're not Nintendo, it doesn't sell. Nintendo has the top 7, 8 sellers in the top 10. You need a good game, a good customer base and a marketing budget."

As an example, he claimed that while the average DS title sales are over 100,000, the median sales are only 9,000. "The huge Nintendo sales skew the average -- most games sell very badly. Nintendo's marketing advantage is very large in Japan."

"Just producing a game is not the goal," Fujimoto argued, "There needs to be a lot of effort after that."

As part of his conclusion, Fujimoto placed part of the blame on game companies "shoveling out" health/brain games without researcher collaboration.

"The market is overheated," he stated, and quoted Brain Age's Dr. Kawashima, who warned: "There are potential liability problems in the serious games market. Game companies should make a good use of researchers' help."