Now virtual worlds are providing the exercise-wary with virtual worlds to engage both body and mind.
Pixels and Policy takes a look at how exercise is getting some positive P.R. through the implementation of virtual world technology.
Hitting the Virtual Track
Exercise machine developers have always sought unique ways to make tedious track sessions into minimally entertaining experiences. Stationary bicycles and treadmills come with attached televisions, attachments for streaming music, even the ability to upload your own video into the machine's computer.
Now one company is taking a high-risk gamble: Will consumers shell out $5,000 for an exercise bike that provides a more immersive virtual experience than ever before? The Expresso Fitness bike puts users in control of an avatar and provides the option of racing dozens of graphically compelling tracks while earning virtual trophies and building up a stat-heavy graph. The company hopes the very visible achievement system, coupled with interesting and diverse graphical tracks, will keep riders coming back.
Players can compete with others by linking machines, or the Expresso software can program virtual competitors. Tracks range from a flat one-mile loop to twenty mile jaunts up mountainsides. But does it sell?
The results have been poor thus far, with the company falling victim to a restructuring and a harsh remodeling of their business plan. Despite setbacks, Expresso plans to expand their product line, and recently introduced a stationary bike for children aged 9 to 14. Is it possible that Expresso might fail so that other companies may succeed? It wouldn't be the first time the first in an emergent field stumbled out of the gate.
Integrating emerging technologies into old systems is a complex and high-risk prospect, but companies that succeed open up huge market possibilities and enjoy minimal competition in the early years. Expresso can't be blamed for trying. The flaw lies not in the technology, it appears, but in the inauspicious launch of a $5,000 virtual exercise bike just as a global recession was beginning.
A recent report shows that, unsurprisingly, entrepreneurship suffers during recession as both the cost of doing business increases and the potential upside of consumer purchasing declines. Expresso suffered by releasing a high-end product, even if the technology is promising and the interactive nature of the races is novel.
Having pioneered the technology and proven that avatars, virtual environments, interactive leaderboards and a system of tiered unlockables can be viable in something as simple as exercise equipment, Expresso makes it possible for future entrepreneurs to build on and improve the exercise bike's virtual model. Once the economy picks up, we will likely see newer, cheaper versions of the Expresso bike.
Exercising could soon get a whole lote more interactive.