Nintendo Labo Shows Potential for New Sustainable Corrugated Cardboard Applications

Colin McMahon
Oct 25, 2018

Consumer electronics specialist Nintendo has been enjoying positive growth. Its newest video game console, the Nintendo Switch, is proving quite popular among consumers who are seeking an innovative gaming experience at home and on the go. With its numbers back in the green, the Japanese video game manufacturer has returned to doing what it does best—taking creative risks. One of its most recent products, Nintendo Labo, exemplifies the company’s desire to push the envelope.

Nintendo Labo is a game unlike any other. Most traditional games use plastic controllers, but Labo is different. Users build their controllers—and sometimes other accessories—from corrugated cardboard. With their newly built interface, consumers can play the intended game or design a new experience of their own. Largely thanks to the growing popularity of quick-delivery services like Amazon Prime, the average American home has no shortage of corrugated cardboard. Labo expands the Switch’s versatility while also taking advantage of this cardboard surplus.

Figure One: Nintendo Labo Variety Kit

The result has been a hit. Over 1 million units have shipped since the product’s initial launch earlier this year, and Labo is already creating a niche market for third-party imitators. The game itself, however, could be seen as an extension of Google Cardboard—a platform designed to encourage the interest and development of VR applications using a cardboard viewer.

The question is, why is cardboard becoming such a popular construction supplement to advanced technological hardware? There are a multitude of other construction components (e.g., 3D printing), but many factors are working in favor of corrugated cardboard.

The 3D Printing Problem

When Nintendo Labo was first envisioned, it was designed with 3D printing in mind. Eventually, however, the project moved away from this material aspect. While those involved have stated that speed was the primary issue, Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends (InfoTrends) believes that other factors were also at work.

First is the installed base. While the global 3D printing market is growing (demonstrating a compound annual growth rate of 27.3% through 2022), few homes in America have a 3D printer. Now let’s think about corrugated cardboard. Due to the rising popularity of e-commerce sites, recent data estimates that the average American household receives 1-2 packages per week. This creates a surplus of raw materials that had no practical use—until offerings like Labo and Google Cardboard entered the scene.

By using Labo, consumers can have fun, be creative, and feel better about their sustainability practices. Research has shown that a product’s eco-friendliness matters, especially to younger generations. Although today’s printers can work with a range of materials, plastic remains one of the most common—and this is a component that does not biodegrade. Although previous games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero have certainly proved popular, many consumers hated the idea of being left with bulky plastic game accessories that could not be easily reused once the game lost its appeal.

Price is another factor that is working against 3D printing. Many homes still view 3D printers as a luxury item, and they have not attracted mainstream appeal. For 3D printing to be a viable platform for products like Labo, 3D printers would need to become a much more common household accessory.

The Labo Potential

Although it still represents only a sliver of the corrugated cardboard application market, Nintendo Labo represents a creative opportunity for cardboard vendors and manufacturers to find new uses for their products. It also creates a viable new path for digital printers—Nintendo itself already sells digitally printed premade construction designs in its Labo kits. There is no reason that other companies couldn’t follow suit and create their own specialty cardboard products.

Although cardboard has a limited shelf life, its accessibility and sustainability make it an appealing option for a number of applications. Nintendo recently released its third construction kit, and Labo is certainly enjoying some success. Now that a company like Nintendo has paved the way, it’s probably only a matter of time before another company applies cardboard to its own unique applications.

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