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Why Nintendo’s Direct Approach Need Not Be Its E3 Approach
For over a decade, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has composed three simple expectations: three console makers, three press conferences, one big show. The likes of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have long made up a kind of holy trinity governing the media spectacle, seemingly holding together the very fabric of gaming’s one true spotlight of fame and fortune.
Nintendo bucked that trend last year, releasing a prerecorded Nintendo Direct rather than the star studded displays of their peers. While the stream unfortunately suffered under the weight of thousands tuning in simultaneously, the experience was an otherwise engaging one, showcasing such surprises as Super Smash Bros.’ Mega Man and the Villager. Nevertheless, it was hard to deny that such reveals were relatively small in hindsight to casual fans and while sights like Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 on the showfloor were appreciated, they were entirely unsurprising to say the least. A year later, does E3 really matter to Nintendo? It better.
Reggie Fils-Aime thinks as much. Speaking to the press just under a year ago now, the Nintendo of America president assured fans that the unorthodox move was entirely based on special circumstances, confidently saying the company was far from done with E3 and they probably wouldn’t have done it any other way.
In retrospect, there really couldn’t have been. After all, with slumming sales figures and the similar wait-and-see attitude that the company still seems to hold nowadays, there was little way Nintendo could have hoped to contend with Sony and Microsoft’s battle of the titans. Getting bulldozed by PlayStation and X-Box news bulletins wouldn’t have served them well with most of their bigger, more recent reveals still in the wheelhouse. The Big N played it quiet, and slinking away with a few happy fans was better than having gone hoarse screaming against the next-gen juggernauts.
That said, the playing field’s more than changed for everyone involved, or at least from a press perspective. At long last we finally have all of our next-gen hardware out the gate, from consoles down to handhelds. The Wii U, the PS4, the X-Box One, 3DS, and Vita all finally make up what hardware we’re gonna be playing with for a good 5-6 years. Now it’s time to find that killer software that sells a system all the way to the bank and keeps on doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if the Wii U has any shortage of gems. Despite its slow pace, the system’s mustered ridiculously good first-party support that outright embarrasses most systems at present. Yet they’ve long needed a game that finally converts casual audiences beyond the few that know what Pikmin 3 is or that rightly adores Mario’s cat suit. Those games are Mario Kart 8 and, to some extent, Super Smash Bros. pumping up both the 3DS and Wii U. Quality may speak for itself in an art gallery, but that’s not always the case to consumers. Nintendo can’t afford to putter around and retain the quiet demeanor that was last year’s Direct.
For months, Nintendo’s news provision has been erratic to say the least. Few know when to expect Directs and fewer can ever gauge their importance. Sometimes we’re treated to something as special as a Smash Bros. direct courtesy of Masahiro Sakurai himself, other times we’re merely told Kranky Kong will playable in Tropical Freeze. Even when Tomodachi Life is dropped on us like a ton of bricks to people’s well-deserved delight, it’s often so sudden that it’s difficult to absorb it all. Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, no one comes in, no one goes out it seems and we all just stand outside Nintendo, waiting for Satoru Iwata to wave his cane around, tip his hat, and give us lucky few an everlasting gobstopper of info.
Communicating the Wii U’s message has forever been the company’s weak point amidst the PR that’s been taken to an art-form through Sony’s limitless push for the PS4. It more than deserves your wallet, and it has and is still getting the games to back it up. Nintendo just has to make it noticed. Of course there are valid arguments how to go about it. It’s Nintendo’s prerogative to control the message being given, and its Nintendo Directs represent a kind of personable format that endears itself to the company’s charming sensibilities and “direct address” of fans’ concerns. Its live conferences haven’t faired as consistently well, often booed for parading its NintendoLands or Wii Musics against the Battlefield 4s and Watch Dogs of the industry. However, there’s the fact that Nintendo Directs appeal to their core base alone. A conservative gathering of loyalists isn’t what’s called for so much as taking back the global stage.
E3 itself has long remained that key and it’s grown into nothing short of a monster of an event. It’s become something of a literal Mecca for media types and game retailers alike, all sandwiched between the still present mobs of fans on their annual pilgrimage to the gaming gods. At the same time, it’s that very pomp and circumstance that’s made the show into such a commercial triviality as of late. It’s said that the Internet has killed its actual usefulness to the consumer in a time when millions more people are reading and watching their news online than depending on live shows. E3’s a party that’s over and everyone’s simply too shy to leave.
E3’s simply not about fans. At all. It’s only mainstay these days is undoubtedly as a press junket, one that’s more influential and rarer than ever as an outlet even the New York Times to the Wallstreet Journal cover through thick and thin. Nintendo’s undoubtedly been the oddman out more often than not amidst Sony and Microsoft’s nonstop bells and whistles, content with fans first and politicking a distant second. That’s often to its benefit as something beyond the towering Call of Duty banners, as somewhere a Pikmin plush could be shown with pride. Conventions exist almost exclusively to stroke journalists’ egos, but a critic ostracized is certainly no friend at all. Nintendo’s shown before that it can garner universal appeal. Why not cater to both audiences?
For that reason alone, it’s more apparent than ever that Nintendo stay and stay for good. If E3 or any game convention is anything anymore, it’s that its spectacle is a public one. It’s felt that Nintendo has always been the people’s company, and that needs to remain the same across more than its core audience. Converted fans may not need a function like E3 anymore, but critics certainly want it, and Nintendo shouldn’t ignore even a necessary evil to reach across the aisle simply because it can.
While the company may not be raking in buckets of cash at the moment, let’s not forget the hefty pile of Wii and DS cash Iwata and co. are literally sitting on by this point. Spending money to make money is something the company can afford and must do to keep itself alive in fans minds, and making a big splash at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo would be money well spent.
With an enormity of games yet to be dated or titled like Bayonetta 2, Yarn Yoshi, X, Shin Megami Tensei Vs. Fire Emblem, Hyrule Warriors, and the elusive core Zelda entry for Wii U, E3 is an opportunity to finish a to-do-list that’s been too long in the making. Further, it could deliver a simple larger than life presence to folks still ignorant about the system. Public relations aren’t everything, but they’re certainly not nothing when it comes to the social media age.
Nevertheless, conference or not, company showings are driven by content above any delivery. Nintendo’s news can only be as disappointing or exciting as anyone’s based upon what they reveal and when they date it. More than any Mr. Caffeine Man or any technical bugs, players and critics alike demand a splash that changes the company’s standing for the better. People need their everlasting gobstopper to chew on for more than a Kranky Kong length of time. Maybe enough to get into high gear and know the Wii U’s a worthwhile investment for a good while to come.