Since its launch last April, Nintendo Co. Ltd’s line of Labo crafting games for Switch has inspired kids (and a few grown-ups) to create some pretty imaginative cardboard constructs.
The kits, which come with interactive in-game instructions to build some remarkably complex cardboard machines, from fishing rods to a rope-and-pulley robot suit, also feature a freeform mode called Toy-Con Garage that allows users to visually “code” behaviours into their handiwork, which has resulted in kids creating everything from working musical instruments to analogue clocks.
This immediately caught the eye of many STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — educators, including those at Actua, a Canadian charity with educational programming that reaches a quarter of a million kids across Canada annually. The non-profit organization partnered up with Nintendo to design a learning framework for both younger and older kids using Labo kits, letting them use the unique crafting and programming platform to design cool things like customized RC cars with infrared sensors that can detect specific objects.
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Post Arcade had an opportunity to chat with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé via phone this week to pick his brain about this new application of Labo technology, from the company’s initial inspiration to get involved with educators to how he expects Labo will be used by Actua.
Post Arcade: How has Labo, in all its iterations, performed for Nintendo? If my kid’s any indication, I’m assuming it must be doing fairly well…
Reggie Fils-Aimé: It has done well. Nintendo Labo, across all three kits, has performed to our expectations. This is a different product with a different type of sales curve. We’ve seen ongoing steady rates of sale, which is different than the traditional peak and then valley of the video game business. So overall sales are strong, and we expect them to be exceptionally strong during the holiday selling season. We think that from a gift-giving standpoint Nintendo Labo will perform quite well. We know that there’s tremendous word of mouth both amongst kids as well as parents in terms of the experience that it offers.
When did Nintendo first see educational potential in Labo? The name, Labo, sounds like a short form of “laboratory,” as though education was almost baked in from the beginning.
Back at the very start of this calendar year we had a variety of hands-on experiences for Labo before the product launched. It happened that there were a number of educators and teachers at these events, and they came to us and said how they would want to use Labo in the classroom. So this has been an organic process. Even with their excitement and push, we needed to take some small steps to ensure that the experience would be fulfilling, and that it would fit in the educational space. In Canada we’ve been partnering with Actua for several months, and they’ve been giving us tremendous feedback. Similarly, we’re doing work with an organization in the United States. So while it may have been obvious from your perspective, for us we really needed to see how it played out in the market, and to make sure that the market would respond positively to this type of effort.
How did the partnership with Actua come about? Were they at any of the hands-on events you mentioned?
The way it worked is after we’d done these hands-on events the team in Canada started this exploratory process to see what type of organizations would work well with us as we tried to push into this space. Actua is the leading organization in Canada. They’re partners with key schools and universities, and their approach and footprint really made sense for what it was we were trying to do.
How are you anticipating Actua will put Labo to use in its programs?
We’re providing Switch hardware as well as Labo Variety Kits. Soon we’ll also be providing them with Labo Vehicle Kits. They’ve created some guides and approaches for how to utilize Labo and various kits in their network locations. What we envision is that there will be hands-on experiences and that it really is going to be focused on going under the hood of Nintendo Labo, to be exploring the coding elements, the different elements of Labo that bring it to life, such as the IR sensors that are used within the Joy-Cons as well as some of the kitting we provide. Our expectation is that it will be a member-driven program by Actua. Actua has outreach locations. There are 37 network members across Canada. Based on how this initiative goes, and based on how the initiative in the U.S. goes, we will continue to explore it. We believe that Labo has tremendous learning capabilities for youth in Canada as well as across the United States.
Where does Labo go from here? Will it be an ongoing product line? Do you have other plans for its use in educational or other settings?
Nintendo’s fortunate. Our products tend to sell at high levels over an extended time frame. Nintendo Switch, as a product, is still new — it’s only about to experience its second holiday season — but we do believe Labo will have a long life and that it will be a product platform that we will continue to innovate against. How that continues to play out from an educational standpoint, we will continue to see. But this is an area we’re very excited about, and we believe the unique nature of Labo, the DIY, hands-on nature that has additional deep experiences in coding and engineering aspects, is something that young people across Canada and the United States will continue to want to experience.
This interview has been edited for length and flow.