Talking Point: Nintendo Successfully Wooed Some Wii U Doubters at E3
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Its message of fun and innovation gets through
As a Nintendo-centric site, it's pretty obvious where the interests of our team and the community lie. While we'll be critical of Nintendo, its games, systems or policies when we feel such a stance is warranted, we are inevitably 'rooting' for the company. To nick the big N's slogan of choice right now, we all 'Play Nintendo', perhaps as a priority over other systems and content; it's therefore no surprise that when we asked you what you thought of Nintendo's E3, you were full of positivity and pleased with the company's efforts.
Those polls showed that, among the NLife community members, there was much love for the Digital Event and the company's performance as a whole, The Legend of Zelda and Splatoon were favourites, while a majority of voters felt Nintendo had 'nailed it' at E3 and even 'won' the overall event. We did enjoy that fact that on the question of 'winning' E3, 10% of you did select the "Bleh, I don't like this question" answer.
Even setting flag waving and cheerleading aside, though, as we try to in our editorial content, it's hard to argue against Nintendo having a strong E3 and, as a result, achieving a vital shift in narrative over the Wii U and the company as a whole. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime was as tireless as ever appearing in mainstream news outlets to plug its efforts, hitting up non-gaming outlets such as Bloomberg and The Seattle Times, among many others, but unlike in 2013 he had some positive weapons to tackle the toughest questions. As is his job there was plenty of spin and a little exaggeration taking place, but the message of prioritising fun above all else, utilising Nintendo's intellectual property power and bringing variety to the market all rang rather true. It helped that he could boast of a recent boost in Wii U sales courtesy of Mario Kart 8, too.
From that perspective the LA event couldn't have gone much better, but as a games site we naturally observed some seriously positive vibes around the company from major multi-platform press sites, a rarity after a low-key 2013 and mixed reactions in 2012 and 2011. Most impressively, Nintendo achieved this with its own approach, completely ignoring the tried-and-tested formula followed by Microsoft and Sony. IGN's review of E3 concluded that the Digital Event worked well, stating that it "worked out so well that I doubt we’ll ever see Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime in front of a live E3 audience again". Though concerns were raised over some key titles being 2015 releases as other platforms and exclusives perhaps enjoyed the most coverage, Nintendo's overall approach — including the rolling Nintendo Treehouse broadcast — was described as "an incredibly savvy move" that others may imitate in future.
Two major players did declare Nintendo as the "winner" of E3, if you like the term. Our colleagues at Eurogamer focused on the argument that Nintendo had achieved the feat on its own terms, saying that it "addressed the gaming community directly in a way that made its rivals and their noisy live stage shows look old-fashioned and wasteful". EG's Oli Welsh concluded as follows.
Will all this "save" Wii U from its ignominious sales? Probably not. Does it matter? Not in the long term. What matters is that it saves Nintendo. In my decade as a games journalist, and during many preceding years as an amateur industry-watcher, I've had a consistent watchword: never write off Nintendo. The Kyoto company is tenacious, inventive, wealthy enough to weather a long storm, and it just loves making games. After E3 2014, I'm not going to be changing my stance.
The tone of GameSpot was similar in its stance, praising Nintendo's risk taking and lively performance, talking up the company's choice to follow its own path, concluding we're "all better off for it".
A write-up on Kotaku, meanwhile, balanced out various factors when posing the question, "you're buying a Wii U now, right?". Many of the views echo those above, while considering the format and praising the diversity of games on show; it also emphasizes that Wii U was creating a lot of buzz on the show floor with attendees. This piece highlights some problems that the Wii U still faces, though makes the fair observation that, all going well, the system can still achieve profitability and a respectable market position should it hit a critical mass of owners in the coming year. Again, the focus was on Nintendo's approach targeting fans, rather than the press.
From the stop-motion sketches to the goofy Iwata-v-Reggie fistfight to all of the games on show, Nintendo's E3 has been about fun. Whilst the usual conversations about gaming's problems with representation and reliance on violence go on elsewhere at the show, Nintendo had been floating about in its own world. It might be out of touch with the rest of the industry, but Nintendo seems increasingly in touch with what its fans want.
To finish with Polygon, another big name in the all-format stakes, we should also acknowledge that it's a site that has, some would argue, been heavy-handed in its recent criticism of Nintendo. The opinion piece linked above argues that Nintendo could be a big player in the home console space... in 2015. There's optimism over some titles shown, but an argument that the most important of them are coming next year and therefore do little for the system in 2014.
We think you know where we stand, and that's in the generally positive camp. It's been a harsh opening 18-20 months for the Wii U, with grim sales numbers, relatively sustained criticism from major outlets and mainstream confusion over the system being a new console. That said, there have been high points, such as Super Mario 3D World's impressive attach-rate and early indications that Mario Kart 8 has boosted interest and awareness in the console. We don't think those that have invested in the system have found it difficult to enjoy some fantastic games, but it's been convincing many to take the plunge that's been the problem.
If E3 did anything of vital importance, it contributed to changing the perspective of many towards the Wii U. Press coverage, mainstream and specialist, can filter through to the public, to both dedicated gamers and general consumers open to owning a console. For example, late last year we heard a father in a game shop make some rather confused comments about gaming when looking at a PS4 with his son; he didn't seem particularly in touch with the technology or the market. At one point his son started playing a demo of FIFA, however, and he uttered the words "oh, we should get you a PS4, I hear it has better graphics than the Xbox One". That narrative was everywhere last year, and it had stuck.
So Nintendo will try to grab the positive vibes around the Wii U being the system for fun, unique experiences and push them as far as possible. Just recently we saw a mum go up to an assistant in a GAME store, on Mario Kart 8 launch day, and ask "what do I need to play this game". Nintendo will need to continue to get the message out there about the Wii U as a system, but it'll also help that, during E3, the world's biggest game sites and mainstream press publications were often talking about Nintendo's performance; generally in positive terms, too.
E3 was a big step in the right direction in converting the Wii U's image from 'doomed' system to being a fun console with must-have games. Nintendo's job is to make sure that's still the message for the rest of 2014 and beyond.