Nintendo NX - Social VR
Image: Red Bull

It's no secret that the Virtual Boy - which recently had it's 20 year anniversary - wasn't the greatest success for Nintendo. Launched in 1995 to almost complete consumer apathy in North America, it bypassed Europe entirely and was discontinued the following year. Could this negative experience in launching a VR product have put Nintendo off dabbling in VR ever again? Not according to financial analyst Digi-Capital which has recently been sharing its thoughts with UK trade magazine MCV. It is convinced that the upcoming Nintendo NX console will in fact be a VR machine.

To understand the logic, here is a soundbite from NoA's president Reggie Fils-Aime from June this year on the subject of VR:

What we believe is that, in order for this technology to move forward, you need to make it fun and you need to make it social. I haven't walked the floor, so I can't say in terms of what's on the floor today, but at least based on what I've seen to date, it's not fun, and it's not social. It's just tech.

Shigeru Miyamoto shared these sentiments too:

The current types of virtual reality aren't really a good fit for Nintendo's philosophy of trying to create entertainment that people can play together in the living room. We're constantly looking at different technology and experimenting with different elements of it, but we're not feeling virtual reality is currently in a place where it's ready to be released – as a product that fits with our philosophy of fitting in the living room.

Digi-Capital has interpreted Nintendo's previous comments about VR and has now come to the conclusion that Nintendo isn't completely dismissing Virtual Reality - it is simply criticising the current implementation. Therefore it thinks there is a chance that the NX may well be the first true "social" Virtual Reality console, offering a range of augmented reality games which can be played with friends.

The speculation is that Nintendo may well be planning a low-cost console with a specification similar to the PS4 and Xbox One, but one is is optimised for Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality. This would be bundled with some type of headset and a fancy new controller which would do the same for VR that the Wii Remote did for motion controlled gaming.

Here are some more thoughts from the analyst:

Incorporating smartphone HMD holders could split processing between a central console and multiple smartphones, enabling social gameplay by lowering total system costs to the user. This might be achieved with a low cost console for co-ordination amongst players, position tracking, controller interactions etc, with additional AR/VR processing handled by CPUs/GPUs in smartphones in HMD holders and/or dedicated HMDs.

This approach could also allow iOS/Android game developers to leverage existing skills and IP with a dedicated SDK (i.e. lower game development costs and earlier commercial viability). High quality positional tracking integrated with HMDs/controllers could further enable Immersive VR like the Vive and Oculus, but at a much lower price point. Lastly, the DeNA partnership could be leveraged to incorporate the now dominant free-to-play (or "free-to-start" as Iwata described it) business model.

What do you think of this analyst's speculations? Do you think Nintendo is planning to have another crack at Virtual Reality, or would it be virtual insanity for them to attempt this?