Opinion: Why LABO isn’t really working here

I’m a big fan of LABO as a concept. I think the designs are ingenious. I think the software-creation element is not only clever but really instils a love for computer engineering at a young age in a new and unique way. I’m not even so concerned about the quality of the included games. Sure they’re not going to be winning any GOTY awards any time soon, however, some really do well in highlighting the cardboard constructions. And I even found the LABO Toy-Con 3‘s game quite fun, if a little simple.

All that being said, I can’t help but feel that LABO is not having the effect on the market it could. In an interview with Kyoto Shimbun (translated by Nintendo Everything) Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said:

It hasn’t sold as well as our other hit games have, but we did have an increase in sales for Labo during the end of the year.

Although Furukawa is clearly talking about global sales – I’m sure in our tiny SA market, the numbers are at least just as low. In fact, barring a few friends in the games writing industry I don’t think I have really met anyone that has bought themselves a LABO kit. Now, of course, I understand that LABO is not for everyone. It’s sort of a niche product within a niche category. Firstly, Nintendo is just not as popular in South Africa as it is in America or Japan. The Switch has gone some way to start to change that, but the audience is still relatively small. Then, you consider that LABO is directed at the sub-category of ‘parents and children’ of that small-ish demographic. Finally, the kicker: the cheapest complete LABO kit costs R1,199.

It’s all about the money and ‘coolness’…

At that price point, many parents are just not able to afford it (especially here in SA where many do not have well-paying jobs). Now, I completely understand that video games as whole are virtually costing that much. Even more so since last night, when the local eShop prices got a pretty significant increase. But, LABO has the ‘cardboard’ moniker. And in everyone’s mind – cardboard means cheap. So right off the bat, it’s a hard sell. You can get some child-focussed cardboard toy, or the latest Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game – oh and the latter is slightly cheaper. It’s pretty easy to deduce which one mom and dad are likely to go for.

LABO also, unfortunately, plays right into the ‘Nintendo is just for kids’ idea popular here in SA. Despite the local community flourishing of late, it is a company that has struggled to break free from many people still considering it an ‘uncool’ and ‘childish’ brand. And no matter the product, once price and ‘coolness’ become factors – its going to struggle to sell.

Clip the cardboard

And that’s really disappointing. LABO is really something special and different. I really wish more young kids and more parents had the opportunity to try it. Nintendo is trying to broaden its appeal. Continuing in the interview mentioned above, Furukawa mentioned how Nintendo is “working on formulating new methods that convey its allure”. We’ve seen a little of this here and there – especially with the partnership with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The upcoming Yoshi’s Crafted World game also looks like a no-brainer in terms of having a LABO connection.

However, in my humble opinion – the structure of the packages could also do with a little tweaking. Instead of including all three vehicles in the Toy-Con Kit 3, could they perhaps be sold individually? Also, instead of packaging the Toy-Con garage with each kit, why not provide it (or a slimmed-down version of it) free-of-charge as a download? This would not only whet appetites and encourage the purchase of the kits themselves – it would give wider-audience access to this great feature. The games themselves are also not a big selling point. So why not offer them as optional downloads, rather than including them as an expensive cartridge?

The detailed and beautifully illustrated instructions would still have to be included somehow, but ideally here in SA, I think if smaller kits at around R400 could become a reality – perhaps this would finally broaden LABO’s appeal. Sure this may never work from packaging or marketing angles, however, if nothing is done, I’m sad to say that I worry that LABO will be a great idea that died a rather premature death. A death of less than a thousand paper-cuts.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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