One of the most successful games of 2008 isn't really a game at all. Nintendo's Wii Fit is an exercise program with game-like elements -- an accessible bit of exercise software that is peppered with clever game design that makes it compelling. Users go into the package expecting not a game, but a piece of software that will help them live healthier lives.
Nintendo isn't alone here. Ubisoft's My Coach series helps users with everything from Japanese language study to smoking cessation. Announced last year, the series has already blossomed into three different branches -- learning, language, and lifestyle -- on two platforms, Wii and DS. Of course, Brain Age is the granddaddy of them all.
Niches can also be filled -- as with XSEED and AQ Interactive's impressive Korg DS-10 synthesizer and sequencer software, developed in cooperation with the long-established Korg instrument company.
There's plenty of potential here, and an audience who simply want interactive information, and are hungry for new challenges. Thus, this is a market that will only expand in the future, with Nintendo advertising its DS cooking tutor software on TV and in glossy gossip magazines being just the tip of the iceberg.
User-created content begets social connectivity, but social connectivity in games is something that is not important only in games with strong creative elements.
Whether it's the robust and customized leaderboards in N+ -- a game that encourages finesse gameplay and throws your friends' scores in your face every time you finish a level, encouraging replay and competition -- or Rock Band's comprehensive band rankings, these elements are absolutely compelling and will only increase.
Bungie.net has proven essential to fans of Halo 3, and this integrated and meaningful web approach is being carried forward by other games, like the Guitar Hero series and Insomniac Games' MyResistance.net - all of which provide practically a social networking experience on the web alongside your game-based social play.
What's next? Peter Ryan, VP at community site creators Agora Games, which built Activision's Guitar Hero site, believes in the future that "community will be as critical to the overall experience of a game as the game itself." And he may be right!