Nintendo's 7 Biggest Failures and What They Taught Us

From the Virtual Boy to the disastrous deal with Sony that led to the PlayStation – Nintendo has had a few big misses

Virtual Boy (1995)
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Virtual Boy (1995)

Until this point, Nintendo's master inventor, Gunpei Yokoi, could do no wrong. But by the late-Eighties, the creator of the Game & Watch and GameBoy handhelds was reportedly feeling alienated by the mainstream console business and its technological arms race. So when Massachusetts-based company Reflections Technologies started showing off its prototype for a portable LED display named The Private Eye, Nintendo licensed the concept, and put Yokoi in charge of finding something to do with it. The result was a weird hybrid of handheld games console and head-mounted display, with a stereoscopic monochrome screen that showed very basic red-tinged visuals. Nintendo rushed it to market in July 1995 (August in the States), hoping that the gadget's quirky charm would attract families fascinated by the emerging concept of consumer VR.

That’s not what happened. The product was expensive at $180, the visuals weird and indistinct, the games (like Mario Tennis and Wario Land) were unconvincing and it was giving people headaches. Only around 20 games were ever released, and while Nintendo of America chief Howard Lincoln projected sales of 3 million for its debut holiday sales period, it sold just 1.26 million in its entire lifetime. Very quickly the decision was made to abandon the system in favor of the coming N64.

What we learned: Generally we discovered that consumers weren't ready for experimental VR products in the early Nineties: they were expensive and they made you throw up. As for Nintendo, Peter Main, former VP of sales and marketing at NoA, said, "One thing I guess we learned, as Sega did before us, is that working on two brand new platforms simultaneously, with a finite number of creative and competent game developers is a very, very tough proposition."

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