In the past two years, Virtual Reality has followed an odd trajectory throughout its descent into video gaming. At its core, the promise of VR is captivating. As gamers, we’re constantly seeking to narrow the gap between games and immersive reality. Just the simple quest of raising the visual bar with each passing generation is telling of an industry who desires a level of realism in the gaming experience. After all, I was completely astonished by the insanity of leaping from 2D sprites and visuals to 3D-rendered models and worlds in the mid-90’s.
With the recent news of modders locating a VR mode within the Nintendo Switch, the potential for Nintendo to introduce VR has re-entered the spotlight. Many have noted that Nintendo put the tools in place should the company decide to pursue the technology on its platform. Of course, nothing is certain, but we should also have learned by now to never say never.
Oculus and Sony have led the charge in the VR space of video games. But, this has been met with mixed to negative results commercially. As one who has tried a handful of VR experiences, including Sony’s PSVR, I can attest that I had a similar amazement to feeling immersed in the VR world as I experienced when shifting from 2D to 3D gaming. However, the longevity of this experience was dramatically cut short. Many will concur that there is a steep drop-off to that initial excitement after a short time with the technology. In other words, the positive experiences don’t endure.
Anything that falls into that description can usually be labeled as a gimmick. For instance, we’ve seen the popularity of motion controls, gaming with other peripherals like Guitar Hero, and even 3D gaming all rise and fall. Despite all of this, I hate to lump Virtual Reality technology with the rest of the gaming industry’s short-stint gimmicks. Virtual Reality is a wondrous technology that will only push the boundaries of all media experiences (not just games). But I don’t feel like the technology is ready for its place in the mainstream gaming arena. And, should Nintendo consider it in the near future, they’d be taking an extreme risk.
In case you’re wondering what exactly I meant by “the positive experiences don’t endure,” I’ll put it succinctly. Virtual Reality is simply more physically demanding than the gaming audience prefers. In 2016, medical professionals warned of the risk to eyesight that VR poses. At the time, Sony insisted that the VR headset is safe. But, in the same breath, they also recommended that players take a 15-minute break every hour at a minimum. Additionally, it is not recommended for children under 12.
Already, this puts a hard stop on the flow of your gaming experience causing players to break up the momentum. Of course, it is recommended that gamers take breaks when playing games for long periods regardless. But, whatever long-term medical issues that are up for debate when speaking of VR, one thing is for certain – the stimulating experience will cause eye strain and dryness. Furthermore, the use of motion controls will become tiresome. And all at once, it seems, the magic first experienced when booting up VR loses its luster.
How Nintendo’s strengths contradict the inclusion of VR
For better or worse, Nintendo has stood apart from the other competitors in the console space. But, by nature, Nintendo’s platforms have come to be synonymous with social and group multiplayer gaming. Look no further than the Switch’s current and upcoming titles such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Kirby Star Allies, Super Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and more to see that the console is known for its multiplayer component. This is not to be confused with online play because I’m referring to family and friends gathering around a single console and screen—a Nintendo tradition that dates back to the N64 days. The Nintendo Switch has only built upon this. Multiple Switches within the same vicinity can be linked together increasing the prospects for party-style games on the go!
Speaking of mobility, let’s not forget the space and hardware that’d be required for VR. This is, yet, another element that seems antithetical to Nintendo’s purpose for the Switch. Nintendo Switch fans bought into the console based on the premise that we can take a full console experience with us on the go. This feature has proven to be a strength for Nintendo’s platform. When recognizing these particular draws to the Switch console, an expensively isolating piece of equipment such as a VR headset seems counterintuitive to console’s primary purposes for existing.
The few and far between
We can take this a step further by examining the commercial performance of the PSVR in 2017. By the end of 2017, the PSVR topped 2 million in sales after being on the market for just over a year. Additionally, the PS4 was surpassing its 70 million units sold milestone. Therefore, less than 3 percent of Sony’s PS4 player base contributed to the demand for PSVR games.
One can only imagine why third-party developers would want to avoid the risk. And, that’s assuming that the full 3% wants to buy a particular game. Nintendo will also have to remove a large piece of their audience from their VR peripherals and games sales forecasts due to health concerns – ages 11 and under. Furthermore, because of Nintendo’s family and group-centric multiplayer appeal, the participating percentage of Nintendo’s player base has a high probability of being even lower than Sony’s.
The Nintendo Switch has certainly proven its worth in the industry. Complicating that with a costly investment in VR is something that’d be financially detrimental for the company given the technology’s current fiscal performance. VR has simply not been developed enough to extend beyond limited experiences. These reasons alone make a VR debut on the Nintendo Switch improbable. Also, Nintendo needs to continue pushing the strengths that the Switch was built upon. For now, let’s use VR in a limited capacity such as the London Mario Kart VR experience!
Did you have hopes for a potential VR component to Nintendo Switch gaming? Do you disagree with my assessment? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. So, let me know in the comments below!
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.