Virtual Reality May Be Coming Around Again for Nintendo

Nintendo is looking into virtual reality, 20 years after its failed Virtual Boy console, suggest reports that surfaced Tuesday.

Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima reportedly described VR as “interesting technology” during an earnings call to discuss the company’s Q3 financial report.

Two decades have come and gone since Nintendo released the Virtual Boy. With VR finally appearing poised to break into the mainstream, and with Nintendo’s hardware sales struggling, the company could find a way forward by returning down an old path.

For its third quarter, which ended Dec. 31, the company saw about a 2 percent fall in Wii U software sales. It reported an overall profit of about US$241 million, down about 36 percent year over year.

Down That Road Again

Despite its early failures in the field, Nintendo has more experience with 3D than most other companies, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

The company rebounded from the failure of the Virtual Boy by developing and releasing the 3DS, a handheld console that has holographic 3D baked into one of its two displays. It has been shipped nearly 58 million times and has shifted more than 264 million pieces of software.

The 3DS isn’t quite the fully immersive VR the industry now promises. There’s a ton of cost associated with pulling off that sort of refined VR, Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

“And given where Nintendo likes to operate, in the low-cost band, there is every likelihood this will fail unless they both decide to create a premium product and they get unique content that will drive gamers to the brand,” he said.

Pioneers of the second wave of VR — the current generation — have to crank up the creativity to keep people from churning up their lunches. Most VR is still making people sick, and new VR titles have to take that into account, noted Enderle.

“However, given Nintendo’s experience, there is a slim chance they could get this right first,” he said. “Given their recent history, however, I have my doubts whether that will happen.”

VR Space Race

Augmented and virtual reality are expected to be a $150 billion industry by 2020, though the latter is projected to account for only about $30 billion of that, according toDigi-Capital.

Still, most of the video game industry’s major players are at least looking at the second coming of VR, according to Ted Pollak, senior analyst for the games industry atJon Peddie Research.

“I think just about every single video game hardware and software company is looking into VR, whether announced or not,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“However, the adoption rate of VR as a primary gaming platform is unproven and speculative. Its lack of standardization could cause the technology to falter, as did 3D gaming,” Pollak added.

Nintendo’s experience with virtual reality and 3D in general could give it a boost, he noted.

“Of all the companies in the world, Nintendo had the largest success in 3D with the auto stereoscopic 3DS,” Pollak said. “So if anyone can make VR gaming accessible, they have a good chance.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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