Nintendo has already tried their hand at VR 20 years ago in the form of the Virtual Boy. It was not a good system but it sure was innovative at the time. Nintendo has silently stayed out of the VR sector since then but they have dabbled in a little bit of augmented reality, which includes the upcoming Pokemon GO. However, when questioned about getting back into the VR game, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime explained why Nintendo was playing it safe this time around.
“For us, we want to make sure that technology is mainstream, […] We want to make sure the technology represents strong value to the consumer. So as an example, there was a lot of gyroscopic technology out there in the marketplace, but it really took the Wii and the Wii Remote to really make it mainstream. Even going back all the way back to the Nintendo DS, that was the first electronic device that really made extensive use of a touchscreen.
“So the way we look at VR or even AR, which we do have within our Nintendo 3DS system, for us the technology has to be at a point where it can be mainstream, and then it takes content creating companies like us to really make things that the consumer wants to experience, that they want to jump into the particular technology. That’s how we move it forward. We’ve been looking at the VR space since the days of the Virtual Boy. With us, we want to make sure that our next content is going to be mainstream and mass market approachable, and when something like VR is at that point, you can expect Nintendo to be there.”
Those are some long block quotes for sure, but everything Reggie is saying is important, true and very salient to the discussion around virtual reality. While Nintendo is sometimes the frontrunner when it comes to innovation, it’s usually taking something established and spinning it in a way that others haven’t done yet. They also have a strong focus on inclusion and family oriented playability.
The last part about inclusion and family orientation are the two most important parts of Nintendo’s ecosystem, and right now VR is neither family oriented nor inclusive. And by that I mean that one person puts on an expensive headset and is completely cut off from everyone else. It’s difficult to generate a local multiplayer experience around that kind of setup, and right now that’s the only kind of setup available for VR.
Console and PC hardware just isn’t strong enough to run multiple headsets all at once in a convenient and affordable fashion. Single headsets are still way too expensive, with the quality HMDs – in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – starting at $599 and running up to $1,000 in some bundles. It’s just not consumer friendly for the average household. VR is still very much enthusiast based.
Reggie drives home the point about the consumer market by stating…
“In my judgment, I think VR is a bit further out there for mainstream, mass market applications and applications that consumers can invest a lot of time in versus short snacks of entertainment,”
He’s actually dead-on with this estimate here and market analysts seem to believe the same thing. Revenue forecasts for VR have steadily been dropping throughout 2016, mainly due to delayed shipments on orders posing a problem for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive customers, alongside the hardware being extremely expensive. What’s more is that most of the software for the VR HMDs are all rather supplementary experiences that you play as “snacks of entertainment” instead of long-form gaming experiences equivalent to what you might find from a Nintendo product.
I’m pretty sure when there’s an affordable local multiplayer solution for VR and when the tech can allow Nintendo to do what they do best, then we might see them return to the VR head space once again. For now, even for a hardcore gamer like myself, I’m still very leery about VR and the only mainstream inroad to that market right now appears to be the PlayStation VR.