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Remembering Nintendo's First Attempt (And Failure) At 3D Gaming: Virtual Boy

pklepek
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Posted March 24, 2010 - By pklepek

Virtual Boy was a failure, Nintendo's biggest miscalculation during its many years in video games.

Virtual Boy was also Nintendo's first flirtation with 3D gaming, albeit using a earlier and cruder version of the technology and through hardware that required consumers to strap on a pair of table-mounted glasses. Since then, 3D has come a very long way, but simultaneously, Nintendo's leadership has publicly decried Hollywood's desire to force viewers to wear glasses. Oh, the irony.

I'm sure Nintendo themselves would love nothing more than to scrub Virtual Boy from our collective memories, but thanks to the Internet, the embarrassments are digitally preserved forever.

The 3D hype quotes from the old Virtual Boy press releases, archived courtesy of the now-precious website Planet Virtual Boy, are absolutely worth their weight in gold. Ready, readers? Let's time travel!

Remembering Nintendo's First Attempt (And Failure) At 3D Gaming: Virtual BoyNintendo announced Virtual Boy, "the first virtual reality system," on November 14, 1994. They promised hardware that would "produce a 3-D experience not possible on conventional television or LCD screens." Nintendo wanted to sell three million in Japan by March 1996.

"Virtual Boy's unique design eliminates all external stimuli, totally immersing players into their own private universe with high-resolution red images against a deep black background. The 3-D experience is enhanced through stereophonic sound and a new specially designed, double-grip controller which accommodates multidirectional spatial movement."

"It has always been Nintendo's strategy to introduce new hardware systems only when technological breakthroughs allow us to offer innovative entertainment at a price that appeals to a worldwide audience," said Nintendo Co. Ltd. President Hiroshi Yamauchi. "Virtual Boy delivers this and more. It will transport game players into a 'virtual utopia' with sights and sounds unlike anything they've every experienced -- all at the price of a current home video game system."

As of January 1995, Virtual Boy hadn't been officially unveiled, only teased with demos to select media. The official unveiling would come later, but Nintendo was already hyping the future of games.

"New technology is a primary focus for the 1995 WCES [Winter Consumer Electronics Show] and Nintendo continues to take the lead. A prototype of its new exclusive, portable 3-D video game system, Virtual Boy, will be previewed on the Show floor for select media and guests. While this 32-bit system will not be officially unveiled until summer, the prototype will provide U.S. audiences with the first glimpse of what the future of video gaming will hold."

Just a few months later, Nintendo announced their plans for Virtual Boy's launch plans. Virtual Boy would launch in August at $179.99 (that price would soon drop) and backed up by a series of games like Mario Clash, Mario's Dream Tennis, Galactic Pinball and, uh, Waterworld. Yes, Waterworld.

"Virtual Boy is unlike anything available for the home," says Peter Main, Nintendo's vice president, marketing. "We're bringing a totally unique, 3-D gaming experience to market at an affordable price and in time to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. We expect to sell more than 1.5 million hardware units and 2.5 million units of software by the end of 1995."

Virtual Boy went on to sell just under 800,000 copies total in its short lifetime.

Remembering Nintendo's First Attempt (And Failure) At 3D Gaming: Virtual Boy

When Virtual Boy launched, Nintendo faced a problem they may very well encounter with the Nintendo 3DS, as well: how do you demonstrate the 3D technology through a 2D medium? To sell people on 3D, you have to show it to them. Commercials aren't enough. That was (and may be again) a challenge for marketing, so Nintendo partnered with Blockbuster Video and NBC for a hands-on rental campaign.

"We knew we had an outstanding product, but faced a real hurdle in showing it to people," says Mark Westcott, Nintendo consumer and trade promotions manager. "But because of the true 3-D images, we couldn't demonstrate the visuals to our players if we relied solely on traditional two-dimensional print or television advertising. By tying Virtual Boy in one promotion with both the national retail presence of Blockbuster, and the hip prime-time programming of NBC, we've found a way to generate excitement and wide sampling behind this truly unique video game system."

Remembering Nintendo's First Attempt (And Failure) At 3D Gaming: Virtual BoyIt didn't take long for Nintendo to realize Virtual Boy needed help, so the $179.99 price tag was dropped in October 1995 in favor of $159.99. That didn't last long, either, as Virtual Boy's retail tag was lowered to $99.99 just in time for E3 1996. Here's how Nintendo described their decision for the original cut in the fall of 1995:

"Virtual Boy has created a new dimension in gaming, and now with a new price, the world's only true 3-D home video game system is even more affordable," said Peter Main, Nintendo's executive vice president, sales and marketing. "We understand consumers are concerned about how much the `next generation' systems cost. The recent changes in the yen/U.S. dollar have now allowed us to pack even greater value into this great new technology product."

By E3 1996, Nintendo's attention had turned from Virtual Boy to Nintendo 64. Nintendo also revealed the wildly popular Game Boy Pocket and Virtual Boy was dropped to the bottom of the company's E3 announcements, signaling support for Virtual Boy was waning.

"Nintendo continues to support its portable 3-D video game system, Virtual Boy, with two new second half software titles. Launching in August, Dragon Hopper is the latest 3-D action/adventure game. Also debuting in August, Bound High immerses players in multiple levels of challenging 3-D game play. In addition, Nintendo has announced new affordable price points for Virtual Boy with a manufacturer's suggested retail price for hardware at $99.95 and $29.95-$39.95 for software."

At this point, Nintendo had all but given up on Virtual Boy. Despite consumers saying "no thanks" to Virtual Boy, Nintendo hasn't ditched the prospect of 3D gaming, but it's biggest lesson from that debacle is obvious: no more goggles. A set of good games demonstrating why 3D works wouldn't hurt.

Source: Planet Virtual Boy

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