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Would Nintendo Try Again at Virtual Reality? Not Yet, but ...

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime weighs the pros and cons of VR's second coming.

Eric Johnson

The consensus at this year’s E3: Virtual reality is back, and it’s going to work this time.

Nintendo learned the hard way that last time, the technology really wasn’t ready. The company’s Virtual Boy headset, released in 1995, is one of the few dark spots in its history, an ambitious but notorious device that lacked head tracking and gave its players headaches and nausea.

Times change, though, and this year Nintendo’s E3 booth is sandwiched between those of Oculus VR and Sony, both of which are preparing VR headsets. And both had substantial lines throughout both days of the conference so far to try some well-received new titles.

In an interview with Re/code, I asked Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime about VR, expecting a noncommittal answer like the one I heard from Xbox head Phil Spencer. Instead, he explained at length why Nintendo hasn’t tried again, at least not yet.

“In our view it has to be fun, it has to be unique, differentiated, and it has to be social, whether that’s multiplayer social or in-room social,” Fils-Aime said. “As we look at the technology today, we think it has a ways to go before it can do those three things.”

So, what needs to be fixed? Partly, he said, the old problems of motion sickness and discomfort are still around for some people.

“But the other thing is, you need a gameplay mechanic where it’s going to work,” he added. “That, for us, is the driver. When we create new hardware, we challenge ourselves: ‘What is the new gameplay mechanic that this provides that I can’t do anywhere else?’ That’s the other piece that we haven’t quite seen yet.”

Which raises one of the biggest questions — Nintendo has a long history of only making games for its own platforms. If the headset were comfortable and it could find a good game mechanic, would Nintendo make its own headset again?

“If we project into the future — and that’s a big if, underlined,” Fils-Aime stressed. “If this virtual reality space becomes something that the consumer is saying is a must-have experience, then likely the Nintendo response would be, ‘Okay, how do we do this, but how do we do it in a uniquely Nintendo way?’ That’s always going to be the thrust for us, which is how do we do something in a uniquely differentiated experience?”

He quoted Nintendo franchise mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto, who was once asked if he could make a shooter game: “Of course I could. But I don’t want to.”

The company’s newest IP is, natch, a shooter game — but, in true Nintendo style, it’s more than a little weird.

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