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Why does Nintendo shy away from VR?

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Nintendo, the iconic Japanese gaming company, is renowned for its innovative and family-friendly approach to gaming. However, one question has lingered among gaming enthusiasts for years: Why hasn’t Nintendo ventured into the world of virtual reality (VR) like some of its competitors? In this article, we delve into the reasons behind Nintendo’s hesitation to embrace VR and explore their unique gaming philosophy.

Nintendo’s Gaming Philosophy

Nintendo’s primary objective has always been to create broadly accessible gaming hardware that serves as a platform for its exclusive library of family-friendly games. While this approach may seem simple, it forms the cornerstone of Nintendo’s strategy. They excel at providing what their audience is already familiar with while introducing new elements that players can either embrace or ignore.

Much of Nintendo’s success can be attributed to Gunpei Yokoi, a prolific designer responsible for pioneering the company’s handheld gaming segment. Yokoi’s philosophy revolved around “lateral thinking with withered technology.” In essence, Nintendo thrives by utilizing mature technology that is both cost-effective and well-understood and then applying it in innovative and fun ways to gaming.

Virtual Boy: A Misstep in the ’90s

Nintendo’s previous attempt at VR, the Virtual Boy, was released during the VR craze of the ’90s. However, it fell short of being a true VR headset. Despite its stereoscopic displays, it lacked essential VR features like head tracking and motion controllers. Players experienced eye strain, nausea, and headaches, ultimately leading to its demise. Priced at $180 in 1995, it failed to compete with the Nintendo 64, which offered true 3D graphics.

Nintendo’s takeaway from the Virtual Boy was not that VR was a failure but that innovation should align with their core principles. They continued to focus on portable gaming, introducing Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo 3DS, ensuring backward compatibility to enhance the user experience.

Labo VR: An Experiment

In 2019, Nintendo dipped its toes into VR with Labo VR for the Nintendo Switch. This DIY cardboard accessory introduced family-friendly VR experiences using Joy-Cons. While it was an intriguing experiment, it remained a one-and-done deal with limited native VR content. Third-party developers could create games for it, but the headset’s design was not conducive to long-term VR play.

The big question remains: When will Nintendo embrace VR as a full-fledged gaming platform? Given their recent focus on merging handheld and console development with the Switch, a dedicated VR hardware release seems unlikely in the near future.

Nintendo has expressed skepticism about VR in the past. Shigeru Miyamoto, a prominent figure at Nintendo, stated in 2014 that VR did not align with their vision of a broadly accessible player experience. However, the landscape of VR has evolved significantly since then, with advancements like mixed reality passthrough becoming standard on standalone headsets.

Nintendo’s Patent for Mixed Reality

Nintendo has actively pursued patents related to mixed reality systems. One such patent from 2022 showcases a multiplayer game on a proposed tabletop platform. This suggests that Nintendo is keeping an eye on mixed reality technology, albeit with the caution that has characterized its approach to cutting-edge technology.

Nintendo’s modus operandi involves focusing on one significant innovation at a time, often accompanied by additional functions and unique input methods. While the future may hold surprises, it’s likely that Nintendo’s next move in the VR realm will be another experiment or an add-on that leverages mature hardware in an innovative way.

Nintendo’s hesitation to enter the VR market can be attributed to its commitment to a unique gaming philosophy. They prioritize delivering accessible and family-friendly gaming experiences over chasing technological trends. While they have explored VR with Labo VR, Nintendo’s cautious approach to emerging technology remains unchanged. As technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see if Nintendo’s stance on VR undergoes a transformation or if they continue to focus on their tried-and-true formula of gaming excellence.