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VR vs. An Inconvenient Youth

Kids: The audience VR is pretending isn’t there.

So. If you followed VRFocus over the weekend –  and if you don’t you probably should do because there’s always stuff to see – you’re likely expecting me to talk about our Virtual Reality Challenge (VRC) game jam we held over at Google Campus in London. Well I could. I mean it was a super duper rare chance to see virtual reality’s (VR’s) fourth most popular Kevin actually out in the wild at a VR event. An event I kinda had a hand in running. So it would make logical sense I would talk about that right?

Nope. I’m afraid I have to drag you kicking and screaming back to the topic of my observations of Insomnia 58 instead – but as usual I do have my reasons. In fact I want to ask you all a question.

As you may recall I spoke previously about one of the reasons I wanted to be at Insomnia was not necessarily to try VR (although one item I’d been wanting to try is in this week’s VR Moments) but to see how people were reacting to VR. Well one of the things I noticed, apart from VR being particularly popular and big ol’ crowd-pleaser was the fact that the most frequent users I saw using it were kids. Kids. Children. You know, the ones recommended by all corporate sides not to use VR in case little Jane and Johnny’s eyes pop out on stalks. It was they who were the ones most enthralled, most embracing and, from what I saw, they also asked a lot of questions. There was the ‘oh my god’ moment of putting the head-mounted display (HMD) on, for the HTC Vive the realising there was movement correlation and the joy of causing mayhem.

I saw one very young child trying Job Simulator. He probably wasn’t up to my waist he was so young. He understood what was going on though, or picked it up very quickly at least. His height did have one unexpected problem as he was thought to be so low down by the Vive that he was standing on tiptoes to look over and into the virtual box of donuts on his cubicle desk. There was something wonderful about that scene. There was also something ever so slightly sad. I saw another kid, probably about eight or nine judging by eye. He questioned the demonstrator, genuinely curious as to how it was all done.  At the end there his grin faded a bit. “Our PC won’t be able to handle that.” He said sadly. His dad, previously looking on in happiness, frowned.  There were kids queuing to shoot lasers, kids queuing to beat the blazes out of balloons at a fun house, kids queuing to magically paint in the air. So with all this in mind my question is a simple one.

Are Nintendo right – and also wrong?

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Yes, Nintendo. Nintendo who can’t seemingly make up their mind on VR, but are at least still looking into it. Depending upon who you ask, and even more interestingly when you ask them, VR is either promising or they don’t see anything in it. One thing Nintendo has always understood though is children, they know what makes them tick and how to press their buttons by getting them to press Nintendo’s. When I think about it probably the only other company with the same sort of ability is Pixar. The undisputed master of this process is Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto. He’s been questioned about VR directly several times now and the answers he’s given have certainly been interesting from the point of view of both the game industry and Nintendo shareholders.

To quote Miyamoto back at E3: “It did not feel like VR was that big of a topic. This could be because VR is not that much to look at for the spectator.” I feel pretty bad for saying this, but I think you’re dead wrong, Miyamoto-san.  Insomnia 58, as well as the growing number of Let’s Plays (you know, those great advertisements for games that Nintendo isn’t too keen on you doing with their products) on YouTube from specialist channels and big names prove there is definitely an audience. People like watching other people have fun. I’m not sure why Nintendo has such difficulty grasping this concept in general.

Moving forward then to the investors meeting. A meeting at which talk of VR came up time and again. “We are also looking into how to make sure that a parent doesn’t need to worry when their child puts on a VR device in their living room.” Miyamoto confirmed and this is where they might be very right indeed. Because if Insomnia showed me anything it’s that kids really want to try out VR and Nintendo are determined that if they’re going to do it they’re going to make it so that it is available for everyone. Which is good for those kids, because whilst they can use VR the other headset makers would much rather they didn’t. Nintendo are the only ones saying that’s wrong, and in this case I do think they’re right. They seem to be the only company actively working on a solution to the problem that we are aware of anyway.

Kids get the potential. They’re your excitement level times ten with a cherry on top. Kids are going to try VR despite any warning you put on the box and if Nintendo unlocks a way how to provide it to them without that worry, then everyone else should watch out. The idea of ‘gaming for everyone’ is a profitable one. You’re increase the available market for you to target and it has a track record of working as the Wii demonstrated by transforming the way we look at the console gaming market.

Remind me who made that again?

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