The moment Nintendo announced its plans for E3, we suspect some immediately began to sharpen their metaphorical knives and state that the company was, once again, in retreat at the world's highest-profile games industry showcase. Undoubtedly E3 2013 had been a partial retreat, forgoing the live press conference due to — at least this is the popular and reasonable view — the inevitable onslaught of Sony and Microsoft. The big N's rivals had brand new home consoles to show off, and the Kyoto company was in the midst of a poor run in that same space, albeit with the 3DS picking up much slack.
The Nintendo Direct that did arrive at E3 2013 was reasonable, and had some truly exciting moments, but only Nintendo's humour and quirkiness — arguably — prevented its appearance from falling completely flat. In terms of the gaming and mainstream media, meanwhile, the noise was all about PS4 vs Xbox One; Nintendo was on the back foot.
This year, the game is on and Nintendo has an opportunity to seize more headlines. The PS4 and Xbox One are entering that post-launch lull that now seems standard in an era of ever-growing development costs and delays; the issue for these systems isn't necessarily a total absence of games, but a lack of headline exclusives to whip gamers into an excitable fury; this may be the year of multi-platform titles and remastered releases to take those systems forward. While Sony and Microsoft no doubt have major news to share, and the former may use its Morpheus VR headset to steal headlines, Nintendo does have a chance to get valuable attention and hype on its side.
An E3 that stands out in recent years, at least for this reader, was in 2012. There was a pre-stage presentation video that showed more of Miiverse and the Wii U's operating system, the live show focused on major releases for the soon-to-be-launched home console, post live show videos showed more games, and then there was a live presentation at a smaller venue that was all about the 3DS. It covered every conceivable angle, mixing live events with pre-recorded videos.
For starters, Nintendo is making a live appearance, and is doing so in a rather clever way. With eSports continuing to grow in popularity and typically being the preserve of hardcore gamers and fans, Super Smash Bros. is a franchise that can win a portion of that audience, as it's a notable presence in competitive gaming tournaments. The Super Smash Bros. Invitational will not only have 16 skilled players putting the Wii U game through its paces, but will take place in the sizeable Nokia Theatre and be streamed extensively online. Touted as a celebration of the series, this is Nintendo's equivalent of a live presentation in terms of venue size, but replaces an occasionally stilted, scripted presentation with what could be a vibrant, exciting event. In terms of promoting Nintendo as an exciting brand for gamers of all types, including that dedicated hardcore base that has so-far drifted away in this generation, this appears to be a smart move.
The standard reveal-fest, meanwhile, leaves the large venue to the Smash tournament and has been branded as the "Nintendo Digital Event". It's an interesting name choice, especially in light of the enduring popularity of Nintendo Direct, and its description as "a new kind of video program" has grabbed our attention. It could be empty press release phrasing, but as optimists we hope that this will go steps further. There are multiple ideas and strategies Nintendo could use to make a video stream even more engaging. For one, we've seen Nintendo up its game in social media over the past 6-12 months, and this is the perfect opportunity to take that further. Imagine a demo for Super Smash Bros. on 3DS or — if we're very lucky — Wii U is confirmed, and Nintendo offers to adjust the available stages based on community votes via Twitter hashtags and Miiverse replies; perhaps a Miiverse smartphone app (to join Wii U, 3DS and web browsers) can be launched prior to the broadcast to make further use of these ideas.
A pre-prepared broadcast also gives scope for a truly polished, impeccably structured presentation. Nintendo's been on pretty good form recently, with entertaining videos for Super Smash Bros., Tomodachi Life and, most recently, Mario Kart 8. Humour, style and confidence have been common across those broadcasts and, allied with major reveals, could combine beautifully.
We're also rather intrigued by the promise of Nintendo Treehouse: Live @ E3; this will supposedly "provide in-depth game demos live and unscripted from Nintendo’s booth", and will be "live streamed during all hours of the E3 show". That has the potential to be a huge deal, especially as we don't yet know what delights are going to be revealed and playable in LA. The Treehouse is a vitally important part of the company in bringing games to the West, so the prospect of constant demonstrations around new games could, again, drag a lot of eyes to Nintendo's coverage for sustained periods of time.
Then we have Super Smash Bros. Smash Fest @ Best Buy, following on from a similar idea that worked rather well in 2013; it's a nice touch that shoppers in the U.S. will be able to play new demos, and terrific for those that make it to stores. The more outlets are included the better.
It strikes us that Nintendo has potentially found a combination of events and approaches to get valuable coverage from the media, yes, but to also tap into ideas to excite Nintendo fans and, hopefully, gamers still on the fence. For various reasons debated ad nauseum over the past year some segments of the gaming population may never return to Nintendo, yet they're groups that were arguably lost in the GameCube and Wii era regardless — we mean those primarily interested in FIFA and Call of Duty-style brands and little else. As Wii proved and 3DS continues to do so, the gaming world is far larger, however, and content is ultimately King. Through these diverse methods of presentation Nintendo has an opportunity to show content that only it can truly deliver.
Some live stage presentations can fall flat or be cringeworthy, yet with its 'Digital Event' Nintendo can deliver a show that's polished and maintains momentum. As highlighted above the company isn't running from the live arena, either, but inviting thousands to attend a tournament for one of the year's most hyped Wii U games, while tapping into the eSports trend that continues to grow. Who knows what delights will emerge from the constant demonstrations from the Treehouse team, which may in themselves be revealing. What Nintendo isn't doing, with these offerings, is catering to the standard formula that some in the gaming media demand — a live show and then hands-on time at the booth. Those aspects are happening, but in different ways.
Different doesn't necessarily mean bad, and while many of us have treasured memories of iconic live presentation moments, there are also segments and even entire years we'd like to forget. 2008, perhaps...
There's no doubt that Nintendo is making a much bolder play for headlines in E3 2014 compared to 2013. A Nintendo Direct and modest side-activities this year would have been disappointing, but what's on offer is potentially so much more.
It seems, to this writer, that Nintendo has learnt a lot over the past 11 months since E3 2013, in terms of how to communicate its message. There's the eSports aspect, of course, yet the teaser trailer for E3 also recruited the hugely popular YouTube channel Mega64. In a battle for hearts and minds, perhaps the big N is finally realising that old ideas and practices of holding fans at arms length and sticking to tried-and-true marketing no longer works. Social media, YouTube personalities, public access to games, truly selling the message are all part of the modern market. Sales and attention won't just come to Nintendo as a matter of course as would happen in the 1990s and, to a degree, in the DS and Wii era. There's so much other noise that Nintendo has to earn the right to be heard.
We're excited about the announced plans for E3, as they could help Nintendo gain some ground. It seems to us that the game industry has never been in such flux before, with boundaries constantly shifting; the Kyoto company must react. E3 is still a big deal for the media attention it brings and — more importantly — fan buzz that's generated. Nintendo seems to know this, and is going all out.
It could be a hugely exciting event.