Nintendo’s dedication to driving players towards in-person gaming experiences — “local multiplayer” in the parlance of gaming — is infamous, and sometimes to the detriment of its players’ interests.
Take, for instance, Nintendo’s approach to online gaming: the company only offers online features on its own terms.
Do you want to play “Mario Kart 8” online with friends? Go for it! Uh, except, sorry, you can’t actually talk to your friend while playing (only in the game’s virtual lobby before matches). Nintendo could’ve just enabled voice chat, but intentionally didn’t. Conscious choices like this one — to disable a feature otherwise standard on other game consoles — are standard for Nintendo.
In a perfect world, you’d be playing “Mario Kart 8” multiplayer with a bunch of friends in your living room, on a single television. Just like old times!
Except we live in modern times, where silly things like geographic location don’t hold us back from dominating friends on Rainbow Road from afar, and talking smack to said friends while doing so. The approach can feel antiquated, despite Nintendo having players’ best interests at heart.
It’s this approach that Nintendo’s taking to the next frontier of game playing: virtual reality.
The man who created some of gaming’s most iconic franchises — from “Super Mario” to “The Legend of Zelda” — sees virtual reality (VR) as a medium destined for solitary gaming.
“I have a little bit of uneasiness with whether or not that’s the best way for people to play,” Nintendo’s general manager of game development, Shigeru Miyamoto, told Time last year. He continued:
When you think about what virtual reality is, which is one person putting on some goggles and playing by themselves kind of over in a corner, or maybe they go into a separate room and they spend all their time alone playing in that virtual reality, that’s in direct contrast with what it is we’re trying to achieve with Wii U [the company’s latest home game console].
But that was a year ago, when VR still seemed far away. Now we’ve got a final version of the Oculus Rift from Facebook, and Sony was showing off full games in its PlayStation 4 VR headset, Project Morpheus, during the game industry’s annual trade show last month (E3).
Miyamoto’s tune this year hasn’t changed much, but the reasons have: “At this year’s E3, I noticed a number of dream-like demonstrations for which the schedule and format for commercialization are unknown,” he told Nintendo investor’s during a Q&A last month.
More directly: Nintendo doesn’t know how VR will make money.
The current software for these virtual reality devices cannot be played simultaneously by a number of people, and since it is generally expected that the development for the applicable software for a high-performance device will take two to three years, there were a number of visual demonstrations for virtual reality devices.
Despite the fact that, yes, some VR games can be played by multiple people at once (though not within the same headset of course), Miyamoto argued that VR games are not the same type of experiences that Nintendo is aiming to create.
Of course, Nintendo’s own experiments with VR have been happening for years. Nintendo even released a VR headset back in 1995: the “Virtual Boy.” It looks like this:
It launched in North America in 1995, and was subsequently taken off the market in 1996.
Nintendo also experimented with stereoscopic 3D technology in its latest handheld game console, the 3DS, with far greater success. Still, the 3D element of the 3DS — which enables a sense of depth on a 2D plane — is far from the selling point of the console.
With two serious forays into the world of VR behind it, and little incentive to try again, Nintendo is consciously not competing in the burgeoning VR field.
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