In 1989, Mattel released a piece of hardware that was sworn to change the face of the game industry: the Power Glove. This space-age looking piece of hardware was meant to revolutionize consumer gaming.
Designed by engineers Grant Goddard and Samuel Cooper for Abrams/Gentile Entertainment (AGE), the Power Glove was intended to show real-time feed of where the glove was in time and space. Three ultrasonic microphones on L-brackets attached to the television, the CPU system calculated the relative distance from the microphones based on how much time it took the ultrasonic tone from the glove to reach the microphones. With that data, the CPU triangulated the location of the glove and translated that onto the screen.
Mattel's biggest strength as a company was in marketing, and they pulled out all the stops with the Power Glove. The reputation the glove developed can best be illustrated by the reference in the movie The Wizard, in which the antagonist Lucas Barton said when wearing the glove, "I love the Power of Glove. It's so bad." Kids were stoked on it; parents wanted to try it. You were the cool kid on the block if you had the Power Glove. The company sold 100,000 units at $100/ea. in the first year of the product release.
Despite the hype and the media attention, the Power Glove was a commercial failure. There was one huge oversight with the release of the product: Mattel released a piece of hardware without the software to support it.
Upon the release of the Power of Glove, there were two games that were specifically designed for the glove: Super Glove Ball - a 3D puzzle maze game and Bad Street Brawler - a fighting game.
Mattel released a piece of hardware without the software to support it.
Despite the fact Mattel only released two games with the glove, they marketed it as though the glove was compatible with ANY Nintendo game; and unfortunately it wasn't. One of the first commercials for the Power Glove featured an older kid playing a series of games with the glove, some of which weren't accessible to the general public or didn't even exist. This was a huge source of contention for Power Glove buyers.
How does this is this relevant to virtual reality? Recently, a group entitled Giant Bomb, an American company that provides commentary and reviews for video games, spent ten hours inside the HTC Vive testing out games and content. Their reviews weren't glowing, with the overall commentary that the games were not quality games. In their video review, you hear them continually gawking at both the price and the overall lack of headset-specific gaming experiences.
What we're seeing with virtual reality is a history repeat of the Power Glove: companies have created the hardware, without the software and content to back it. Now, developers and content creators are scrambling to get games and VR experiences into the world, but they are rushed, not well thought through and not headset specific. Game Bomb stated many times in their review these games may have been better overall experiences outside of the VR headset.
We need to ensure the experience of the content backs the experience of the hardware.
How do ensure VR doesn't suffer the same fate as the Power Glove? Quality content. In asking such a hefty price for the hardware, we as a community need to ensure the experience of the content backs the experience of the hardware.
This is rooted in having a good understanding of what makes for an impactful user experience, both in storytelling and in gameplay. Both VR Dribble and Stanford d.school have great resources on what makes for a good story in the virtual reality setting.
The Power Glove could've been a huge commercial success, had they marketed properly and released a larger variety of quality glove-specific games at the time of the product release. Let's hope VR can learn from history and not follow in those footsteps.
To learn more about the Power Glove, check out the documentary The Power of Glove.