Talking Point: Nintendo's Changing the Media Game at E3
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Abandoning the big presentation
So here's how the E3 game is supposed to be played by the three major game manufacturers. They appear at E3, talk up how exciting it's going to be, and then hold a high-profile press conference that's viewed by thousands of gamers before being mercilessly dissected. At that point senior figures conduct interviews to talk up what was revealed, and much debate is had about who "won E3", with a focus typically on those three major press conferences. That's the game, and Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are all supposed to play it.
Except Nintendo has decided not to play. If this was a playground, Nintendo would be saying "I'm taking my ball over here instead, and I'm going to bounce it and kick it however I want", as Microsoft and Sony go back to some enthusiastic arm-wrestling. Satoru Iwata informed investors, and those of us snooping at the President's Presentation targeted at those moneyed men and women, that Nintendo would instead host its own smaller events, meetings and presentations:
At the E3 show this year, we are planning to host a few smaller events that are specifically focused on our software lineup for the U.S. market. There will be one closed event for American distributors, and we will hold another closed hands-on experience event, for mainly the Western gaming media. Also, I did not speak at last year’s presentation, and I am not planning to speak at these events at the E3 show this year either.
Apart from these exclusive events for visitors, we are continuing to investigate ways to deliver information about our games directly to our home audience around the time of E3. We will share more information about them once they have officially been decided.
During the E3 period, we will utilize our direct communication tools, such as Nintendo Direct, to deliver information to our Japanese audience, including those who are at this financial briefing, mainly focusing on the software that we are going to launch in Japan, and we will take the same approach outside Japan for the overseas fans as well.
We asked you what you thought about this surprising news, and you can see the result below.
How do you feel about Nintendo's approach to E3 2013? (358 votes)
It makes sense, less E3 and more Nintendo Direct broadcasts is better
They should do both, E3 and Nintendo Direct
They should concentrate on E3
I'm confused, what's my name?
As a snapshot opinion, it's clearly fairly divisive, with a close to even split between two main arguments, one supporting more Nintendo Direct focus over E3 and another stating that Nintendo should simply do both. In fact, doing both was exactly what Nintendo decided to do at E3 2012, which perhaps makes this a reasonably surprising decision. Last year we had a pre-E3 Nintendo Direct broadcast focused on the Wii U's functionality, the main E3 presentation, a post-presentation broadcast showing more games and Satoru Iwata staring at a banana, and also a live 3DS presentation at E3 itself. It was quite the promotional blitzkrieg, some of it very impressive, but it was arguably the main event that fell short. We gave plenty of opinions on Nintendo's major press conference and, give or take the expected variations in perspective, our stance seemed to be that it was a good effort without necessarily being a knock-out.
Perhaps the trouble with that presentation, and it afflicts Microsoft and Sony in similar ways, is a difficulty in getting the overall messaging right. Dedicated fans are the most invested in the event, but it's being broadcast to a wider audience that includes consumers that are less committed or on the fence about the brand. Companies are trying to impress the media packing out the hall, but need to also show the public why they should be excited. The right balance is rarely found, with an hour-long presentation, from Nintendo or its rivals, often lopsidedly veering from high octane action titles and sizzle reels, to laid-back "casual" games and dawdling presentations explaining basic ideas. Nintendo's presentation at E3 2012 arguably fell into those traps, starting with a bang, but stumbling around ill-fitting genres — platforming to survival horror, to dancing, to sizzle reels and then a mini-game collection.
For one thing, Nintendo may feel that the format and expectations don't show it in the best light. In truth the reaction from the mainstream media, in fairly generalised terms, has been muted or even critical of Nintendo's last two presentations; there are exceptions, of course. The Wii U reveal in 2011 caused confusion, while last year's effort wasn't exactly praised and sung about from the rooftops. In trying to fit in content to suit everybody, there's a danger of satisfying nobody, and with systems such as Wii U and 3DS that target such a broad range of consumers, there's a danger of muddling messages and incurring the wrath of bad press reviews of the event. Nintendo doesn't want newspapers or mainstream websites telling thousands — or even millions — of readers that it dropped the ball or failed to impress.
And so we'll apparently have smaller, targeted events. Some will be behind closed doors for industry figures, some will be press events, and others — likely to be Nintendo Direct broadcasts — will target the public. It's an approach that'll allow Nintendo to be region specific, with Western presentations being different from similar broadcasts running in Japan at the same time. An argument could be made that Nintendo was actually at its best in the last E3 in its smaller broadcasts and presentations around the main event, as they featured more of the quirky humour and light-hearted approach for which it's becoming famous. For Nintendo enthusiasts, we'd suggest the main presentation was its usual mixed bag, but wondering why Satoru Iwata was staring at fruit or marveling at the Non-Specific Action Figure meme defined E3.
And yet, there's the rub, Nintendo enthusiasts may feel that way, but Nintendo is throwing away a potential ticket to the undecided masses. With all of the risks of negative press or unbalanced presentations, it should be remembered that the main E3 presentation is an enormous shop-window. E3 is an event that's almost defined by bombast, and we can be sure that Sony and Microsoft will be screaming about their products as loudly as possible. By sacrificing its grandest fixed stage in exchange for its own plans, Nintendo does face a danger of lacking a presence with the mainstream media and the watching public. It's not always the most enticing or imaginative voice that's heard, but that which shouts the loudest.
Nintendo will have its reasons, both from a public relations perspective and that of maximising its impact at E3; the company hasn't been competing at the top table of the video game industry all of this time without being organised and logical in its business. Some insight was actually given by Satoru Iwata in his recent financial results presentation; the Nintendo President highlighted that it's become common for Nintendo Direct videos to be viewed 500-600,000 times on the 3DS eShop, with far lower figures on YouTube. With increasing online connection rates of Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo is no doubt hoping to drive a lot of traffic for its E3 efforts on existing systems, while using social media and those smaller events to grab the attention of the wider world. Will the word get out beyond enthusiasts? Who knows, but we doubt this decision has been taken without a good deal of number crunching and analysis.
In any case, this could be a rather peculiar E3 for Nintendo fans. Microsoft and Sony will be showing off new hardware and declaring that they're launching a new generation of systems, while Nintendo won't have an equivalent event — of equal bombast — to say that the new generation is already here, while showing footage of huge Nintendo franchises on an over-sized screen. We may not all like the loud marketing of E3, but it'll nevertheless be strange to see Nintendo abstain from the game.
Perhaps the existing model of a big presentation is stale and losing impact, and Nintendo will pull off a social networking and media relations triumph to seize the day. Or perhaps, alternatively, Nintendo will try to achieve that but be drowned out by relentless chatter about the 75 minute shows put on by Microsoft and Sony. We'll find out soon enough, and Nintendo is once again — for better or worse — going off and doing things its own way.