With the premise of virtual reality slowly making its way into the minds of modern gamers, many have wondered which of the big three console manufacturers would be first to release a consumer product utilizing the technology. Sony, of course, demonstrated their intention to eventually release a virtual reality headset to consumers at GDC this year; however, this headset could be years away. Many have wondered whether Nintendo should be the first to pioneer virtual reality on consoles, just as it did with motion control on the Wii. A few people even suggested that it should have been Nintendo, not Facebook, that should have purchased Oculus Rift. Before anyone gets too excited, I strongly urge Nintendo to move with the utmost caution when approaching virtual reality. The Oculus Rift is no Wii and Nintendo should not jump the gun on virtual reality with a considerable investment until it is proven to be marketable and affordable.
Two big things separate virtual reality from motion gameplay: cost and ease of use. Arguably, one of the biggest reasons why the Wii was so successful was because it was able to offer up consumers a revolutionary experience at a cost that was far cheaper than the competition. $250 was affordable for most of the population, whereas the competition was priced $150-$350 more. What made the Wii even more successful was that it was profitable while the 360 and PS3 lost Microsoft and Sony money until games were purchased.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, shares no such cheap cost. In addition to the already expensive console one must buy, the actual virtual reality headset is another major expense that could easily deter consumers from purchasing the technology. An Oculus Rift currently sells for several hundred dollars and, although the cost of the technology could decrease in the future, all indication points to high costs of entry for those who wish to game with virtual reality. Thus, where the Wii was able to capture the hearts of most of the world, virtual reality may only be able to capture the money of those who have big enough wallets.
The Wii was also very easy to pick up, play, and understand. Within moments, anyone could understand the concept of picking up a Wii remote and bowling or swinging a tennis racket. In my experience with the Oculus Rift, virtual reality is not nearly as easy to pick up and “get.” As to be expected, virtual reality takes much longer to get set up, but more importantly, virtual reality isn’t as “user friendly.” It takes several minutes to really get into virtual reality. Sure, it is a very cool experience, but due to the low fidelity of current virtual reality headsets, it can take just a matter of minutes before the user feels motion sickness. Furthermore, the sides of the glasses are constantly visible on the outer edges of the screen, creating another factor that easily takes users out of the experience.
What if Nintendo were to buy Oculus Rift? First, they would lose about two billion dollars in cash out of the ten billion that the company has saved up. Is Oculus Rift really worth 20% of Nintendo’s cash reserves when they could better spend that money on ensuring the Wii U’s success? What is more important is that Oculus Rift is not a completed project, which means that Nintendo would spend even more funds to ensure that the Oculus Rift would be marketable to consumers.
How about if Nintendo sits back for a change? Instead of being the innovator, why not allow Sony or Microsoft to take the large risk of virtual reality first? At least in that time, those two companies could perfect the flaws of current virtual reality headsets. Then, without Nintendo needing to spend large amounts of money on creating marketable virtual reality headsets, they could simply improve on what is already in the market.
Finally, let us not forget that most of Nintendo’s games may not even benefit. Most games run in first-person on virtual reality headsets, as that is the most immersive way to experience a game. It is true that virtual reality has the large potential to influence the way that people play The Legend of Zelda or Metroid, but what about other offerings? Is Super Smash Bros. really going to benefit all that much from a headset as opposed to a large TV? Is Mario’s platforming going to be all that more engaging when playing in virtual reality? The truth of the matter is that Nintendo does not have all that many first-person games or many that would benefit from something like the Oculus Rift. As such, they may not have such a large need for virtual reality as some of the other consoles on the market.
Nintendo has tried to innovate gaming more than just a few times; sometimes, it works, sometimes, it does not. Virtual reality is not a surefire hit nor should it be expected to be. Instead of throwing money at virtual reality, hoping that it works out in their favor, Nintendo should focus on improving its current Wii U situation. Let the other companies take the risk of virtual reality and capitalize on the opportunity only when it becomes feasible for the market. After all, we may not know it yet, but virtual reality may just turn out to be another GamePad.