What Does Nintendo’s Best Buy Partnership Say About E3’s Relevancy?

Yesterday during a Nintendo Direct conference, Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime announced a special partnership the company has entered into with American electronics chain Best Buy. The partnership will allow Nintendo to have demos of the games featured on the E3 show floor ready and available for fans to play at different Best Buy locations around the country, thus allowing the average Joe at home who isn’t able to gain access to E3 to play Nintendo’s upcoming games at the same time as the games media folks in Los Angeles.

Now, why is this significant? Because in a strange way, Nintendo’s actions around E3 this year speak volumes about the company’s future direction and what conventions such as E3 mean to the industry as a whole.

A few weeks ago, Nintendo also announced that they would not be doing a formal press conference at E3 alongside Sony and Microsoft, instead focusing on Nintendo Directs and smaller press events at E3 to discuss the company’s upcoming software releases.

On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. After all, both Sony and Microsoft will be devoting a large majority of their conference time to brand new consoles expected to launch later this year, and a lot of hype will be drummed up around the two companies and their offerings on the hardware scene. It’s possible that any momentum Nintendo would have generated from a formal E3 conference could have been overshadowed by the deluge of information regarding next gen consoles and games coming out in the next few months. This isn’t something they need, especially while the Wii U is still struggling to find its footing. By focusing on doing their own Nintendo Directs, the company  now has the ability to feed information directly to the viewers and fans in a much more direct manner a la Apple. Granted, many of the major news publications outside of the gaming industry won’t be covering a Nintendo Direct broadcast, but the masses who care the most about Nintendo will be the ones who tune in to pay attention to the stream and learn about what the company has in store for the future.

So the real question is this: does this change anything? Does Nintendo’s attitude toward E3 suggest a changing climate in the industry?

On the one hand, it could be argued that, no, this isn’t indicative of any changes whatsoever. In this case, Nintendo is simply playing it safe and pandering to their core audience in an attempt to drum up excitement where it will matter most.

But on the other hand, there is a growing idea that maybe, just maybe, E3 is slowly becoming more and more obsolete.

The mere idea of allowing fans to play demos during the time of E3 really hits this home. An article on Kotaku discusses this and its interesting implications in an interesting way.

“For all of E3’s history, gamers have had to depend on reporters and industry folks to tell them whether games shown at E3 were any good,” author Stephen Totilo says, later adding that “Nintendo’s Best Buy move lets you, the gamer, play the biggest games, at least from Nintendo—and as long as they’re putting the A-list content there.”

Many have asked why Nintendo wouldn’t simply make these demos available for download on the 3DS or Wii U platforms. Sure, it might be convienient for Wii U owners, but they aren’t the entire crowd the company is trying to reach. Wii U units need to move in a bad way, and this opportunity for non-owners to get in and play demos of hot games months before their release might help to get people excited and curious about the new platform. Hell, maybe it’ll even help people understand that the system is more than a touch screen add on to the Wii. One can only hope, anyway.

But this also suggests something much bigger. Consider with me, for a moment, a world where E3 didn’t exist. Where console manufacturers and publishers simply made their announcements during their own dedicated broadcasts and live streams. We’ve seen it already with the PlayStation 4 announcement and the upcoming Xbox reveal. Konami does it every year around the time of E3 as well. Doesn’t seem quite so radical a consideration, does it?

Of course, I can’t ignore the fact that, as a critic and writer about games and the gaming industry, this move could possibly change the face of what I do and what my role to play is in the long run. If Microsoft were to announce Gears of War 4 or Halo 5 and make the game’s demo available for a limited time to Best Buy customers, why would there be any need for previews or preview events? Exclusives? First looks? It’s an interesting thought to be had, and one that makes me equally excited and anxious.

Maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself here, and maybe this is the only year Nintendo pulls off to the side of the road to allow Microsoft and Sony to pass by at E3. But considering the developments around the move and the general direction in which the industry is headed, one can only wonder what the future might hold.