Feature: How Nintendo Can Win E3
Posted by Mike Mason
Drop the bomb
The time is nearly here. In just a few days, Nintendo has to make the presentation of its lifetime at E3 2012. After being hit by the first losses in the company's history in recent months, and with the weight of proving a brand new home console's worth on its shoulders, there's no doubt that nailing this conference is crucial.
It'll be buoyed by a significant positive turnaround in 3DS' fortunes after its post-launch rough patch, but Nintendo must restore any other confidences lost, set up its core business for the immediate future and bring the winning spirit that spelled out such success in the Wii and DS era. We've got a few ideas on how the company can hope to pull off an E3 that emphatically beats the competition and turns the spotlight right back onto Nintendo.
Link to the past
Nintendo can learn much by looking internally at the conferences it's hosted over the last few years to figure out what worked and what didn't. Simply put: avoid the chart-pulling and chest-puffing of E3 2007 and balance content carefully so there's not a repeat of E3 2008's entirely 'casual' approach. Focus instead upon the moments that really excited the audience. Pull the rug from under everybody's feet with a final shock trailer, in the same fashion as the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess reveal. Seek to replicate E3 2006's rapid-fire, breathless opening salvo, launching straight into game after game after game.
Going into E3 2012, Nintendo holds a major advantage in that it'll be showing off a new platform that has been speculated over and hyped to high heaven during the last 12 months. Wii U needs an opening at least as powerful as Wii's was back in 2006, a show of strength that lodges it firmly in gamers' minds. After an entire year of near-silence on the console, everything must be done to ensure that its reintroduction is memorable, leaves no room for negative thought and throws any doubts of its potential right out of the window – even if only for the duration of the presentation. Last year's display, dismissed by many as lacklustre, must be consigned to the past; Wii U demands a cohesive, comprehensive and convincing showing that covers all bases and captures viewers' imaginations. Second time's the charm.
It takes two
Nintendo has accepted the need for partnerships now more than ever. By teaming with other companies it can hope to keep quality levels high, gain aid in areas that fall outside its expertise and expand the possibilities of its systems. E3 is the perfect platform for some of these plans to be shown off. We've already seen deals made with the likes of Autodesk and Havok that mean that third party developers will be able to use those companies' middleware on Wii U without additional fees, which will hopefully push down a few barriers to entry and encourage more developers to get on board.
It's certain that those aren't the only deals that have been struck up. The non-gaming potential of Wii U's controller can be shown off with help from multimedia partners such as Netflix, to stream movies into your hands when the television is otherwise occupied, or by working with publishing houses to allow e-book compatibility. 3DS' reach could be expanded with new initiatives, similar to the collaboration with the Louvre, and a greater breadth of 3D media content — perhaps even purchasable feature length films — would go down well.
And let's not forget the most important thing – the games. The third party exclusive is an ageing model that, with heightened development costs, is becoming closer to extinction by the day. It may not wrangle dozens of exclusives – the idea of predominantly multiplatform releases is perhaps too deep set at this point – but Nintendo needs to demonstrate that Wii U has third parties on its side, shared titles or otherwise. It's off to a good start, having forged a relationship with TT Games to work on an exclusive title in LEGO City Stories and gaining substantial support from Ubisoft, which will bring its multiplatform titles to Wii U as well as exclusive first-person shooter Killer Freaks from Outer Space.
There's always room for more, though, and to make a real splash Nintendo should be looking to show off a significant upswing in core third party support. An announcement of Grand Theft Auto V for Wii U – or other important core franchises such as Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil — certainly wouldn't go amiss; an encouraging beacon to other third parties and a grand statement of intent for the console's future.
Online functionality should be high on Nintendo's list of priorities too. After years of lagging behind, with Friend Codes, spotty voice chat and an absence of proper user accounts, the penetration rate of internet play can no longer be ignored. Even if Nintendo can get those core games, without a substantial online outlay it's all for nothing. Wii U's Nintendo Network needs to at least match the feature set of PlayStation Network – but to really push for that win, it should look to exceed each of its competitors' efforts.
EA, Gearbox and several others have praised Wii U's open online approach. We don't know what exactly that means just yet; is it a case of third parties being allowed to do whatever they feel, or merely that Nintendo has listened to their desires and implemented them into a single encompassing infrastructure that satisfies both its own ideals and the wants of its development partners?
It'd be great to see some of the hinted features in fully fleshed out form: video chat, an expansion of 3DS' multi-tasking functionality, a greater connection between television, internet, console and controller that allows for easier sharing of content. To really stand out Nintendo could go beyond this with features not seen elsewhere, such as streaming content not only between console and controller, but between consoles over the 'net, letting you watch your friends' progress from your own home.
Look to the future
And if we've not made it explicit enough already: games. Bring lots of games. The larger the variety the better, with plenty to cater to existing fans, but also clear efforts to expand the market once again. If Wii U has a launch title in the works that sells the system's ethos in the same way that Wii Sports did for Wii, it needs to be rolled out with a fanfare. Pull back the curtain on what Retro Studios, the numerous branches of EAD, Monolith Soft and all those other quiet teams have been working on.
But Wii U cannot be the sole focus, much as many would like it to be. Now back on track, 3DS requires its own compelling line-up to ensure that it doesn't slip off those rails once more. Its continued success needs to be secured with a formidable line-up that removes any lingering doubt that it's worthy of carrying on Nintendo's handheld line. Fewer – or preferably, no – ports, more original efforts to give 3DS the individual library it deserves. That push has already begun; it has to continue strongly.
With a relatively new handheld that's only recently finding its feet and a completely fresh home console, Nintendo has a lot to prove at E3 2012. The full unveil of Wii U almost guarantees a huge amount portion of coverage, but whether that coverage is positive or negative depends very much on how well some of the ideas above are approached. Only a few more days...