Nintendo is currently “studying” the potential of Virtual Reality on the Nintendo Switch, clarifying that Nintendo are still “in a phase of investigation” when it comes to VR and there are no definite plans to bring a device to Nintendo’s latest console.
This came after fevered speculation that Nintendo could be making their return to Virtual Reality after twenty years. Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said in an interview with Nikkei they are “studying” how to add VR to their latest console, the Switch if they “are able to resolve the issues with playing it for long hours.”
The “issues with playing it for long hours” is a reference to the discomfort some players feel when playing virtual reality systems, including eye strain, nausea, headaches and the physical weight of the machine. Current virtual reality experiences are generally designed to be fairly short due to continued concerns about playing VR games long stretches..
The comments, made in February, came amid speculation that Nintendo would be joining console rivals Nintendo and Microsoft in introducing virtual reality support. Playstation VR is already on store shelves and Microsoft have announced VR support in some form for their Xbox Scorpio system. With them, as well as Oculus and Valve’s SteamVR, Nintendo were the only major gaming company without concrete plans in virtual reality.
How it Could Work
A patent filed in June 2016 includes a mobile VR-style solution where the main Switch unit would slot into the front of a head mounted display. Whilst this theoretically could severely cut the cost of a potential VR unit, the Switch’s built in screen is an incredibly low resolution for virtual reality. A single 720p screen strapped to the player’s face could lead to major problems with blocky graphics if that is the way they choose to go. This is before the fact that the Nvidia Tegra based portable hardware is far less powerful than many if not most non-mobile virtual reality devices. This begs the questions as to whether Nintendo’s new machine can really provide an immersive VR experience.
Nintendo could theoretically solve both these issues by augmenting the Switch’s hardware with some kind of add-on, either connected to or built into the prospective headset. Nintendo have already experimented with that concept with the Switch’s base station having additional hardware to boost the specifications in docked mode. However, on top of increasing the cost of the unit, power consumption would become an issue to deal with, particularly since the Switch does not have a very long battery life to begin with.
Would it Succeed?
There is of course Nintendo’s VR history to consider as well. It has been over twenty years, but the infamy and damage caused by Nintendo’s ill-fated Virtual Boy still affects them. The difficult development and poor sales hurt Nintendo’s invincible aura and contributed to the end of major consumer interest in virtual reality devices. Nintendo have been wary in the 20 years since to return to VR. The comparisons to the Virtual Boy would be inevitable.
Nintendo have succeeded in several areas that have become incredibly important in recent years for VR. This includes increasingly sophisticated gyroscopes and motion controls on the Wii, as well as augmented reality with the 3DS and Wii U. The Switch itself has as well as these features two advanced controllers known as Joy-Cons. They not only have gyroscopic motion tracking but also have an infrared depth tracking sensor and advanced haptic feedback. This could could make the Joy-Cons perfect motion controllers if the Switch does go VR.
Ultimately, Nintendo have branding on their side as well. Avoiding a Virtual Boy style disaster, a Switch VR would sell on the basis of being made by Nintendo. As proven innovators, bringing huge success and unique uses with limited technology before, it is fascinating to see if Nintendo takes this any further.