Why Did Nintendo Virtual Boy Fail?

Virtual Boy
Source: Dokokade

More than two decades before the release of the Oculus Rift headset, virtual reality gaming was about to take off big time, but the dreams and hopes of many gamers came crashing down because the Nintendo Virtual Boy couldn’t deliver on its promises.

What Is Nintendo Virtual Boy?

The Nintendo Virtual Boy was a game console developed and manufactured by Nintendo. The console was released in 1995, promising to let players experience the wonders of virtual reality by using a parallax effect to create the illusion of depth.

The console sold only 770,000 units before it was discontinued in 1996. In comparison, Nintendo’s 3DS handheld console sold more than 75 million units between 2011 and 2020.

What Are the Reasons for Virtual Boy’s Failure?

The Virtual Boy was an ambitious console that couldn’t possibly live up to gamers’ own expectations of virtual reality gaming. What’s more, Nintendo elevated them even further with its misleading marketing.

  • Not portable: Gunpei Yokoi, former head of Nintendo’s internal R&D1 division, envisioned the Virtual Boy as a true head-mounted display like the Quest 2. The console Nintendo delivered came with an integrated stand that required players to be stationary while playing.
  • Uncomfortable: The stand the Virtual Boy came with was small and not as adjustable as it should have been. As a result, gamers were forced to lean forward and tilt their neck unnaturally, causing them to feel discomfort after only a few minutes of gaming.
  • Only 3D: Today’s VR headsets track your head movement and change the virtual scene in front of your eyes accordingly. The Virtual Boy is not capable of head tracking. It can only create the illusion of depth using a parallax effect.
  • Red & black only: As if the absence of head tracking wasn’t bad enough, the Virtual Boy could display only two colors: red and black. As you can imagine, the console’s graphics were anything but impressive.
  • Eye strain: Because of the severely limited color palette and the low-resolution screens, the Virtual Boy was notorious for causing eye strain and even headaches. Nintendo itself warned that the console was not supposed to be used by players younger than 7 years.
  • Poor selection of games: Only 22 games were officially released for the Virtual Boy during its short lifespan, and 8 of them were exclusive to Japan.

These are some of the main reasons why the Virtual Boy is still considered to be one of Nintendo’s biggest failures.

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