The breadcrumbs have been laid out and sources have told us VR could be coming to Switch soon.
Nintendo World Report believes that Nintendo could make its first VR-related announcement as early as this year, according to multiple sources. We also believe that a small, select number of traditional first-party software titles may receive VR support in the not-so-distant future. While this news may surprise some, Switch’s VR capabilities have been public knowledge for quite some time. Last year, CNET reported that data miners had discovered a screen-splitting “VR mode” hidden within Switch’s system firmware.
Over the years, Nintendo executives have tried to downplay the company’s interest in VR. In an interview last year, Philippe Lavoue, Managing Director of Nintendo France, expressed doubts that VR can appeal to the mainstream. “Consumers are not patient with entertainment if you’re not able to deliver an all-inclusive package,” said Lavoue.
However, there is mounting evidence that suggests Nintendo is actually very interested in the technology. In June 2016, Digitimes reported that Nintendo had delayed Switch’s launch to March 2017 to enhance the console with Virtual Reality (VR) capabilities. During that same year, it was also revealed that Nintendo had filed a patent application for a head-mounted display that could house Switch’s tablet screen.
Four months ago, Reggie Fils-Aime, President and COO of Nintendo of America, confirmed to Ars Technica that the company was actively experimenting with Virtual Reality for its software. And in a 2017 interview with Nikkei, former Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima stated that the company had been studying the possibility of adding VR to the Switch.
Furthermore, Anime News Network reported last month that 13 Japanese companies established a joint enterprise named “VRM Consortium.” The enterprise’s goal is to develop the international virtual reality business. Nintendo is currently participating as an “observer” of this newly-joint enterprise. Participating companies include Unity Technologies Japan, Dwango, and Crypton Future Media.
All of this wasn’t even Nintendo’s first brush with VR. Nintendo’s ill-fated Virtual Boy might not have been a success, but when it was released in 1995, it was advertised as a “portable console” capable of displaying “true 3D graphics.” Unfortunately, that description didn’t quite match (virtual) reality. The system was far too large and bulky to ever be considered truly portable, and the monochromatic graphics were limited to a red-and-black color palette. The box was plastered with warnings about how playing too long could eventually lead to health issues. Virtual Boy would go down in history as Nintendo’s worst selling console, getting discontinued after less than a year.
It’s been 24 years since the release of the Virtual Boy, and technology has gone through much advancement since then. Two months ago, IDC issued a report that the VR market received a 8.2% year-over-year growth during the third quarter of 2018. IDC believes spending on VR and AR products and services will increase by 69% this year. Nielsen-owned SuperData Research predicts 2019 will be the year when virtual reality actually goes mainstream. SuperData are also anticipating growth of mobile augmented reality over the next few years due to Google and Apple.
Nintendo might have been absent from the VR wars of the past few years, as companies like Sony and Oculus wage war, but chances are good that we will see Nintendo enter the fight at some point in the near future. If their past is any indication, it very well might hark back to the age-old Gunpei Yokoi quote: “lateral thinking of withered technology.”