Talking Point: Nintendo's Biggest E3 Challenge is Getting Noticed
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Up against a wave of new hardware
When Nintendo announced that it was foregoing the traditional live presentation at E3, a common initial reaction was one of surprise, with some interpreting the move as a sign of weakness in the face of big-hitting rivals. When considered with a bit more context and analysis, however, the argument could be made that Nintendo was once again going its own way and essentially shaking up the media game at E3. After all, it's not like Nintendo isn't attending E3, and in the build-up it's all felt very familiar, right down to the arrival snapshot of the company's most senior executives.
In fact, it could be said that the only people truly getting less Nintendo bang for their buck are the attending media, which can't file into a large auditorium to watch some clunky staged jokes and presentations play out on stage. There'll be a pre-E3 event for the press, which will consist of a presentation by, among others, Reggie Fils-Aime and Shigeru Miyamoto, and then hands-on opportunities. There'll also be lots of appointments, interviews and the occasional round table, while we don't yet know whether some additional Nintendo Direct snippets or broadcasts will appear over the next three days. So far, so E3 2012, but with a streamed video instead of a live presentation.
The problem for Nintendo is not only making this switch to a Nintendo Direct work, but doing so against the wave of press that will accompany the Sony and Microsoft presentations. Last year Nintendo was arguably the biggest show in town as it could talk about all-new hardware, but the tables are now turned, and its rivals will make a lot of noise about the innovation and power that they're planning to bring to the market. The Wii U is already an established presence, but faces a once in a generation issue of being noticed against the glare of flashlights on the latest hardware.
Another potential issue for Nintendo is timing, as it'll be the last of the major presentations to be aired. Microsoft's live show will take place first around the same time that this article was published, with EA and Ubisoft to shortly follow and then Sony rounding off the day. The E3 expo technically doesn't start until 11th June, but the circus is in town and premiering its acts ahead of time. This scheduling isn't uncommon at all, but the challenges for Nintendo when it eventually makes its case are, as we've already suggested, a once in a generation problem.
What we do know is that Sony and Microsoft will, if they have any sense, go all out in their presentations. Of the two system reveals in recent months we feel most would agree that Sony fared better, but in the end neither won universal acclaim; Microsoft, in particular, has had an extraordinary amount of bad press, mainly due to what can easily be argued as anti-consumer DRM practices on the Xbox One. There are headaches for both — Sony needs to talk more about how the system will work after a launch focused on UI basics, game announcements and a lot of graphics engine tech demos; Microsoft needs to try and distract people from the controversies surrounding its system and actually show some games, rather than a trendy executive watching TV and browsing the web by talking to his TV. Both may dodge release dates and how much the systems will cost, or perhaps they'll just end the suspense and put their cards on the table.
Nintendo's objectives seem to be two-fold. It needs to deliver multiple exciting games that immediately make an impact, and with big-name franchises being shown there'll be pressure to ensure that the first impression is of each series stepping it up a gear to ring in a new generation of Nintendo gaming, while those of a more demanding nature may also want some additional shocks and surprises to delight them. The second, perhaps more significant, challenge is actually getting substantial media coverage. While sites like Nintendo Life and others that are dedicated to the big N will be covering the reveals in detail, the question is how much screen space Nintendo can win on the biggest multi-platform websites and other media publications; today is all about new hardware, and when E3 opens proper on 11th June there'll likely be substantial analysis and commentary on all that passed beforehand.
So Nintendo will have to seize space from Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA both on gaming websites and in the broader media. It's a major test for the PR teams representing the company, with Reggie Fils-Aime already confirmed for interviews with online TV figures such as Geoff Keighley, and every carefully choreographed Nintendo Direct announcement will no doubt be released to the media and social networks in as many ways as possible. We'll truly get an idea of how much influence Nintendo can still muster with multiplatform media outlets, and how well its social networking hype generator is running.
Although only a one-off example, the coverage of this E3 around the media and social networks will tell us a good deal about not only Nintendo's performance, but where it stands in the mainstream market in terms of prestige and desirability. Our hope is that a fun, announcement-heavy Nintendo Direct will ignite interest in the Wii U and grab attention with some fantastic-looking games, allowing it to seize the initiative as the established, innovative system that's delivering experiences available nowhere else. A fear is that while we're obsessively watching, soaking up every detail and getting rather excited, the wider world will still be chewing over everything that came the day before, with a cursory glance or two to see what the new Smash Bros., Mario Kart and 3D Mario are going to be like.
Of course, Nintendo will have one obvious advantage over its rivals, and that's the fact that buzzed viewers can go out and buy a Wii U right away, making sales of the system worth watching as E3 progresses. With that in mind we should expect a section of the broadcast to show off sizzle reels of titles due in the next couple of months, such as The Wonderful 101 and Pikmin 3, while confirmation of a 32GB white Wii U model seems like a safe bet. Whether changes in pricing or additional bundles will feature is anyone's guess.
It's difficult to tell, frankly, at this stage, how overall coverage and consumer reaction will play out. Nintendo's prospects could certainly be boosted if Sony and Microsoft underwhelm, or if the Ubisoft conference includes some exciting Wii U-exclusive news — expect nothing from EA — to gain attention before the big N even makes its entrance. If Sony and Microsoft get their presentations absolutely right — which, to be fair, we'd argue none of the big three have actually achieved in recent years — then Nintendo has a job on its hands. Perhaps the most realistic outcome is that all of the Monday presentations will be the typical mix of highs, lows, and meme-ready gaffs; a scripted and pre-recorded Nintendo Direct may be a smart move, in that sense.
It'll be fascinating, however. Needless to say it'll be wall to wall buzz and excitement here on Nintendo Life when Nintendo steps into the spotlight, but how it plays out elsewhere will be one of the big stories of the expo. After all, E3 is primarily about building buzz and hype for games and products likely to pack out the vital Holiday season, so it'll be an early test for Nintendo's Wii U revival.