Virtual reality has been the ‘future of gaming’ for several years now. The tech has slowly but surely been getting better but is still a very niche sector of the market. If there’s one company that could really push it to the mainstream, it’s Nintendo. One of the biggest rumors surrounding the Switch before release was that it would support VR. What if Nintendo really did bring the tech to the Switch: could it work?
So far, the PS4 is the only console that supports virtual reality. Sony released the PlayStation VR accessory for the system last year, and it’s done decently well so far. Even so, the amount of PSVR users is totally eclipsed compared to the total number of PS4 owners. On PC, the gulf is even wider between VR players and those without The main reason why the virtual reality gaming community is still pretty small is that it’s not the most affordable area of the market. As ‘cheap’ as the PSVR is (in comparison to other high-end headsets), a lot of gamers still aren’t willing to invest a few hundred dollars into the tech alongside a system. With that said, Nintendo’s first hurdle would be to make its hypothetical virtual reality tech very attractive.
When it comes to making affordable experiences that get the general consumer excited, Nintendo has quite the history of doing a good job at that. Look no further than the Wii and DS, both of which were systems that sold well mainly due to the fact that they were cheaper than the competition. On top of that, they each featured unorthodox technology for game systems that made people really pay attention. For the Wii, it was motion controls. For the DS, it was the dual-screens (one of which being a touchscreen). Seeing that these are still Nintendo’s most successful systems to date, they’re good examples to look at for how the company would approach a challenge like virtual reality.
Truly affordable VR does already exist, but it’s currently limited to mobile devices. For example, mobile headsets like the Google Cardboard and Daydream are very inexpensive, but they offer a very limited experience compared to that of the aforementioned PSVR. In fact, even the PSVR, despite being a quality headset, is also very limited compared to that of the truly high-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Interestingly enough, going back to the Wii and DS, Nintendo has quite a bit of knowledge of making the most out of limited technology.
Nintendo has quite the history of taking unorthodox technology and bringing it to the masses. The same could possibly be done for VR.
The Wii and DS were not powerhouses by any means, but Nintendo still managed to craft some excellent gaming experiences on them. With the Switch also being limited in power by today’s standards, the Big N is pretty much still making the most out of less powerful hardware. This would make its approach to VR using the Switch an interesting challenge since engaging VR experiences do require relatively advanced hardware. That isn’t to say it isn’t doable on Switch, it would just be a hurdle.
Interestingly enough, the Switch already fits the role of being a VR device pretty well. Due to the console itself having a tablet-like design, making a head-mount for it would put it at about the same size as other VR headsets. On top of that, both the Joy-Cons and Pro Controller have the motion-control technology already built in that VR makes heavy use of. So, you can say that Nintendo technically already has one foot in the door when it comes to making strides in the VR world. But, more still needs to be done.
For one, the Switch’s screen would need to be upgraded a bit in order for the console itself to provide a truly decent VR experience. The Switch’s current 720p screen looks great at normal viewing distances, but, the closer a screen is to your eyes, the blurrier the image gets. As a result, a boost to a 1080p panel would be a lot better for the Switch. Another thing to note is that while I just said that the Switch’s controllers already have motion-control technology, there would still need to be another device used for properly tracking the infrared signals to bring the Switch VR experience in-line with that of the PSVR and other complex headsets (like how PSVR uses the PS Camera). All of these upgrades/new devices would, of course, make the Switch a pricier investment for Nintendo, but the company does have the bank balance to handle it.
After all, Nintendo has tried it before. Think it’s worth a retry?
Really, the biggest question to answer is: will any of this be worth it? As I said at the beginning of the article, VR is still a niche sector of the market. The PSVR has apparently been doing pretty well, but it still remains to be seen if virtual reality as a whole is here to stay or just a fad that will fade away. Nintendo has commented on the topic several times, but the latest statement on the matter comes from Nintendo of America president, Reggie-Fils Aime. According to Reggie, Nintendo is keeping an eye on VR but doesn’t really plan to jump into it until it meets the company’s standards of being ‘fun’ and ‘social’ enough. Ironically, I think it’s Nintendo who are the ones who could make that happen.
In that same statement, Reggie pointed to how the mainstream wasn’t really into motion-controlled gaming until the Wii came along. He also brought up the example of how the 3DS pushed augmented-reality (AR) into the forefront (which we see is getting big with devices like the iPhone X). These are great examples, and also fundamentally the key to VR being a truly big deal in the mainstream market. Like I said before, if there’s any company that could really sway the masses, it’s Nintendo. Perhaps Reggie’s statement was a roundabout way of saying Nintendo actually is looking into the technology but wanted to make it seem like it’s currently not a big priority. Or, maybe Nintendo really is just waiting for VR to meet its standards from other companies pushing it. Still, I stand by my statement that Nintendo is really the company that can get things moving; just look at how the Switch has everyone loving the concept of a hybrid system.
So, could VR on the Switch really work? If Nintendo is at the helm, probably. I can’t really think of an exact concept for a potential Switch VR system, but maybe you can. Sound off below on how you imagine Switch VR being like.