So what do both of these companies share a lack of that has spun me into a fit of editorializing? It is, put simply, a fundamental lack of understanding about the industry they are both in. When it comes to their standard craft, of course, both companies are the best at what they do however lately they have strayed a bit from the realm of logic and taken special interest in worrisome projects. It is one thing to take risks on new directions in the industry but I find it an entirely different matter when a company throws its full weight behind a project that I not only believe will fail but can demonstrably be seen as a bad idea. The two projects I have in mind are Sony’s Morpheus and Nintendo’s “Quality of Life” announcement. Both strike me as being more than a little desperate on top of being a fundamental misread of gaming trends.
Sony’s step into the hotly rejuvenated sector of Virtual Reality (VR) in fairness can be viewed as a partly well calculated maneuver. In the months leading up the Sony’s unveiling of Project Morpheus, the people at the recently acquired Oculus VR, Inc. had lit the internet’s fancy aflame with promises of Matrix style futuristic immersion and a wow-inducing experience in an industry lately bereft of them. Sony, seizing the Matrix analogies as well as the opportunity carved out by Oculus, then announced their own VR headset, dubbed Project Morpheus, that they made sure to declare they had been working on for a very long time. True as that may be, Sony, as they did with motion controls, forewent notions of opportunism for doe-eyed serendipity. But the problem does not lie with Sony’s opportunistic strategies, partly because if it did then all of Sony would be a problem, but because the idea of VR itself is fundamentally flawed in its present state.
The tech currently being demoed showcases a headset, likely to be wireless by the time consumers can get them, connected in some way to a host machine. In the case of the Oculus Rift the device will hook up to a PC, and of course Sony’s offering will connect to the PS4. This immediately relegates VR to the realm of the peripheral, which hurts the tech’s chances in many ways off the bat. Beyond that are the basic inconvenience factors that go hand in hand with a headset peripheral. Cutting off vision of anything but the screen and tracking head movement to control the game presupposes a level of dedication that I do not believe the average gamer possesses. In order that this concept take full root as a force in the industry beyond a curio best suited to the shelves of a Sharper Image (if that chain still existed) it cannot be more burdensome than what already exists. Not all of that burden is on physical inconvenience, but also on cost or the Wii’s motion control phenomenon would not have taken off. So, VR is not only asking an inordinate amount from the consumer physically to don the headgear but also to pay for the device (my guess puts it at least around $200) on top of the host machine required (a PS4 or PC). When taken together, it all comes into form as an attempt to reinvent the wheel and an attempt that would need full support of a lot of the gaming public, and therefore an attempt that baffles me in its earnestness.
Yet not content to be alone in the business of bad business, Nintendo has rushed to the stage of late to announce further tidings on their growth as a company. Sadly this is not the kind of growth I might have hoped to see at Nintendo as they are not acquiring more studio talent or partnering with another company to bolster their online capabilities. No, instead beloved CEO and famed banana holder Satoru Iwata discussed his intent on pursuing health and fitness related products as well as the production of games and game hardware. In a recent interview with Diamond.jp Iwata stated that “At the start of this year, I finally figured that the concept of ‘improving people’s quality of life with fun,’ with emphasis on the ‘fun’, would be perfect for Nintendo.” What worries me is not that Nintendo is looking toward other, less traditionally game-related business strategies, but that it is looking at this strategy in particular. It is a strategy I find there is plenty of reason to believe has been tapped out since the end of the Wii days and one that certainly has no room to grow on the ailing Wii U platform.
This move shows me that Nintendo’s solution to fixing the Wii U will include attempting to raise the specter of the Wii’s peripheral-frenzy success. It ignores, however, that the Wii U is very much not the Wii in terms of price, market penetration or mass appeal. Going off of the vague announcements Iwata has made on this Quality of Life project, this all assumes these efforts will tie in to preexisting hardware. If, by some odd chance, Iwata is actually planning to release separate standalone hardware for this project the matter has only brightened slightly. I cast my doubts largely because Nintendo is a company of slow-cooked ideas and any seemingly new one to come out of the company is likely just a reiteration on some old one they thought of years ago. In this case the notorious Brain Age released in for the DS is one of the earlier examples of Nintendo attempting to sell products aimed at promoting wellness. Later they would release the Balance Board peripheral for the Wii alongside Wii Fit to promote fitness. The problem with both of these attempts is that they were pretty poor at doing what they marketed themselves for. They represented attempts by a company that had no experience with, and likely no intent of, helping consumers with things like mental and physical fitness. Rather I believe these to be the attempts of a company continually interested in a sector of consumers who have not yet picked up a piece of plastic with “Nintendo” printed on it that it has driven their efforts so far askance as to no longer be in the same industry. The difference now is that they are more open about these efforts as being “other” than games in the traditional sense despite the likelihood that they will be little more than iterative Brain Ages and Wii Fits.
So do not get it wrong, folks, there is no one dunce of the industry as it plays host to many. At times I find it harder to find the non-dunce entities of this industry amidst the shallow cash-ins and meager foresight, but all is not bleak. No, because next week I shall reexamine these two industry darlings and point out their recent right-thinking efforts. In the meantime, tell me what you think about VR and Nintendo’s Quality of Life announcement. Maybe you are the type that would be a perfect fit for something like Morpheus or the Oculus Rift. Do tell!