Nintendo first entered the virtual reality industry back in 1995 with the launch of Virtual Boy. The product tanked in Japan and North America, which led the company to refrain from selling the device in other regions. Complaints about the device included headaches caused by the monochrome screen, the high retail price, and its failure to create an immersive experience. Virtual Boy only lasted seven months (give or take) on the North American market.
Despite its Virtual Boy failure, Nintendo may not be entirely out of the VR picture. Nintendo’s new president Tatsumi Kimishima told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday that the company was indeed researching VR products. He called the technology “interesting,” but only that: he gave no sign that the company would produce a product in the near future.
News of Nintendo’s new journey into VR isn’t surprising. Sony is developing a VR product of its own called PlayStation VR that’s slated to arrive in the first half of 2016 for the PlayStation 4 console. The headset packs a 5.7-inch OLED display with a 1920×1080 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. Microsoft, on the other hand, is currently developing HoloLens, which is powered by Windows 10 and supports holographic computing. The HoloLens developer kit is expected to arrive in early 2016.
Nintendo is currently working on its next gaming console, codenamed the NX, which is slated to be revealed later this year. Unnamed sources said back in October 2015 that the company was handing out the software development kit to third-party developers, and that the NX will be a console/mobile hybrid device sporting “industry-leading chips.” If Nintendo is indeed working on a VR headset, the console powering the device will definitely need all the horsepower it can get.
Nintendo is in need of new streams of revenue, and VR certainly could pay off if applied correctly. The company just announced falling numbers in its fiscal third quarter earnings report, revealing a net profit of Y29.1bn ($241m) in the October/December quarter, down from Y45.2bn earned in the same time frame last year. The company saw a 2 percent decrease in Wii U sales compared to a year ago, and 3DS sales saw a 28 percent drop.
One stream of revenue Nintendo investors are banking on is in the mobile sector. The company’s first mobile game is called Miitomo and is slated to arrive in March 2016. The game will be free-to-play but offer in-app purchases. Nintendo plans to launch a total of five mobile games before March 2017, the second of which promises to feature a “best-known character.”
On a whole, Nintendo will need to impress both consumers and investors with its new hardware to regain the momentum generated by the original Wii console. And because of the Virtual Boy failure, the company may face some hesitation from consumers regarding the introduction of a new VR headset. Still, if the recent high demand for VR equipment is any sign of things to come in 2016, we’ll likely see a VR hint from Nintendo before the end of the year.