Talking Point: The Wonderful 101 Direct and Demo Set the Standard for Wii U Marketing

Removing confusion and doubt

The Wonderful 101 has had a slightly peculiar route to the Wii U, in terms of visibility and awareness. At E3 2012 Nintendo used its live conference to make peculiar jokes about zombies liking French food and provide a rather thorough walkthrough of Luigi's Ghost Mansion in Nintendo Land. That presentation had good moments, but the pacing was arguably off, and we were talking about the main presentation in Nintendo Life HQ when Nintendo produced footage where Satoru Iwata stared at a banana, for example, and some crazy game called Project P-100 was shown off. It was colourful, looked gorgeous and was bonkers, which made its omission from the main presentation a head-scratcher.

Perhaps its absence on the live stage was due to its relatively distant release date, as it became clear even in the summer of 2012 that it wasn't an imminent release; we knew this because so little was said about it. As 2013 snapped into gear and the focus shifted to what was to come after the excessive "launch window", it still seemed to be mostly under the radar. Pikmin 3 was a prominent subject as Shigeru Miyamoto set out on a media tour of North America, while a blockbuster January Nintendo Direct set the agenda with hot franchises coming to the Wii U, some of which were shown and dated at E3 2013. Nintendo, unsurprisingly, was directing as much attention as possible to major first-party franchises being parachuted in over the coming months.

And as for The Wonderful 101, prior to this week we had snippets of game footage and one peculiar appearance in May's Nintendo Direct when we were given release dates and a logo, but no footage. The lack of substantial details led to some rather iffy misunderstandings spreading around, too, with one description of this title being like an action-packed Pikmin 3 as an example; in practice it plays nothing like Shigeru Miyamoto's fabulous title, as you're ultimately controlling one character and it's exceptionally fast-paced. Yes, there are dozens of little characters, but you don't toss them into action or manage them as resources in quite that way; there's one attack that can be vaguely comparable to the Nintendo title, but on the whole this is an entirely different, unique and classically PlatinumGames product.

And yet, while the above may be considered criticisms, we can't help but notice how perceptions around the web of this title are evolving from "huh, what was that game again?" to something resembling hype and excitement. For starters, PlatinumGames recently started blogging some details, going into fairly significant depth for those that want to learn all about the title, catering nicely to the enthusiast's demographic. In rather typical style, Director Hideki Kamiya even joked about the confusion that's surrounded the game.

Anyway, since “The Wonderful 101” is a completely new game, I’m sure most people out there still have no idea what it’s about, despite the fact that the release date is not too far away. Most people seem to be going “Oh, that’s that game with the ridiculously large crowd of characters running around, right?” or “Wait, is that the game where you play as a dog?” or “Wonderful What? Never heard of it.”

...If I had to give a brief description of this game, I would say that it’s a simple, pure Action Game in which you become a hero and defeat bad guys. It doesn’t require a lot of deep thought. It’s just that there’s a few… well, a LOT… more heroes than in your average game.

If that blog was the start for the keenest of games, this week's special Nintendo Direct broadcast did a great job on a number of fronts. First of all, anyone asking those questions outlined by Kamiya-san should now have their answers. There were 12 fairly methodical minutes where different aspects of the title, for there are a good few, were introduced clearly and demonstrated well. We then had a seven minute trailer that ramped up the "epic" scale, with bombastic music and an explosive mix of game footage and story cut-scenes; if anyone didn't understand the extent of the adrenaline rush that this game shoots for, that trailer settled the matter.

We were also told the release date, over and over again. Some have said this was evidence of the presentation being short marketing clips stitched together, but surely they could have been edited out? Let's remember, this is Hideki Kamiya and PlatinumGames, so we wouldn't rule out the possibility that it was part of a 'nudge-nudge wink-wink' joke, lightly teasing the Nintendo Direct format that's become its own iconic part of the big N's branding in recent times. Kamiya-san even plugged his own Twitter account, which is about as un-Nintendo as it gets, suggesting this was a script where Nintendo allowed its third-party partner to have a little fun. Can you ever recall a Nintendo Direct that featured a seven minute trailer as outrageously dramatic as that at the end of this broadcast?

And then, of course, there was the demo announcement. PlatinumGames teased news on its own blog, but it was ultimately all about the demo release confirmed in the European broadcast, which subsequently hit North America just a few hours later. That tease may have been cheeky in the context of what was actually delivered, but the Nintendo Direct piqued interest with its footage and then combined with the demo to prompt plenty of "oh snap what's this?" reactions on social networks. For some, The Wonderful 101 seemed to go from barely registering on the radar to being a game strongly worth consideration.

It's been classic high-impact marketing, and while admittedly it targets the enthusiast market rather than the average consumer on the street, that's probably about right. PlatinumGames is a studio loved by many gamers and its releases are an asset to any platform, but it's not necessarily a major mainstream draw. And yet Nintendo needs to draw in dedicated gamers and existing Wii U owners, not just attract big future sales with established franchises, so such an approach seems suitable. That's not to say The Wonderful 101 can't target some serious mainstream sales; show any gamer footage of a giant sword hacking at an enormous mech and, just maybe, they may want to play it.

This is an approach that, if the social marketing research and gamer reaction stacks up, should perhaps become a regular feature. Combining a short game-specific Nintendo Direct with a demo release may be a solid tactic to keep gamers talking about Wii U releases as 2013 progresses. Not every game will be suitable, especially for the demo treatment; as shown by the Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate experience, a demo doesn't always do a game justice, and similar issues would possibly affect and rule out demos of games such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Yet with titles such as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, presentations and demos could perfectly show off each game's charm.

Nintendo's own brands naturally carry great weight on their own, but that doesn't mean that this approach for The Wonderful 101 isn't worth utilising regularly. In an increasingly competitive market, 15-20 minutes of fun footage, some showmanship and then free demos can combine to create buzz and spread positive word of mouth as Wii U owners jump in. Social networks can produce thousands of mini hands-on impressions, and if Nintendo's backing its games to impress that should be considered a benefit.

The Nintendo Direct format has been a terrific addition to Nintendo's arsenal, with many of the presentations being full of wit, humour and charm. The Wonderful 101 Direct was no different, and combined with the immediate demo release showed how much impact is possible with relatively modest effort. Nintendo repeatedly charms us with its multi-game presentations, and those are as vital as ever, but we always want to see more of the biggest games.

If Nintendo wants the wider gaming community to believe it when it says that its upcoming Wii U library is full of fun, exciting experiences, game-specific Nintendo Directs and demo releases could provide the perfect proof.