Following their introduction in late 2011 and rise to prominence in 2012, Nintendo Direct broadcasts quickly became a primary marketing and awareness tool for Nintendo. In 2013 alone there were 16 broadcasts — counting the E3 equivalent — for the Western market; some were full-blown reveal extravaganzas, while others were focused on specific releases. They were a frequent source of news for the latest and greatest games coming from Nintendo.
2014, so far, has been rather different. There have only been four presentations branded as 'Direct' this year, and three of those were special presentations on individual titles — Mario Kart 8, Tomodachi Life and Super Smash Bros.. The last of these was on 30th April, and though there have been some broadcasts in Japan since, Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe — no doubt with strategies devised by HQ in Kyoto — have focused their efforts elsewhere.
E3 2014 showed us the beginnings of Nintendo's adjustments and expanded approach to spreading its message directly to consumers. Perhaps to avoid negative comparisons to the "retreat" of E3 2013 — as it was interpreted by many — the decision was taken to brand the equivalent video this year as the Nintendo Digital Event; in practice, it wasn't particularly unique or different to a Direct. It was flashier than a typical Nintendo Direct, with greater showmanship, animations and the now famous Satoru Iwata vs. Reggie Fils-Aime showdown, yet the end result was much the same. Games were introduced and briefly shown, and we all watched live online.
The fresh approach was what followed, and what led some to declare that Nintendo had showed the greatest energy and generated the most buzz of the three major console manufacturers — or 'winning E3', as some like to say. Although it started with technical hiccups with Nintendo Minute, the company kicked off three days of live streaming, combined for over 20 hours of footage. The presenters were the Treehouse team from Nintendo of America, and as a result they were best placed to show off games and enthuse over what makes them worth our attention. There could be some presentational improvements next time, of course, but it was an impressive effort over a sustained period that served as a gift, ultimately, to dedicated fans.
Aside from that we had the thoroughly decent Super Smash Bros. Invitational, which had more bombast and noise in front of a large live audience. In some respects it was pretty gutsy putting a development build of the game in the hands of the world's best Smash players, but it worked well, and generated plenty of excitement. If the running Treehouse broadcast was for the most devoted followers, the Digital Event and the Invitational were the key features that targeted a degree of mainstream coverage, particularly the former. It seemed to work, too, as the strength of the reveal line-up — and the manner in which it was shared — delivered a lot of positive press not just from the gaming media, but also newspapers and TV stations.
While we recently considered the many areas ripe for the Nintendo Direct treatment this year, the past month has demonstrated further how Nintendo is learning from its recent successes. The San Diego Comic-Con is a case-in-point, with a mix of plans at the event and online. Those in attendance are able to visit the Nintendo Gaming Lounge and demo a range of titles, naturally, but those at home can join in with Mario Kart 8 online tournaments, while from 25th July at 11:30 Pacific / 14:30 Eastern / 19:30 UK / 20:30 CET, there'll be the option to watch a live broadcast from the event, including a 3DS Super Smash Bros. tournament. Yet again, Nintendo is taking a fairly limited access event — not all, naturally, can go to San Diego — and allowing fans around the world to join in.
What this 2014 approach does allow Nintendo to do is to stretch its lineup and reveals out further, while as a company it's taking every opportunity to keep the gaze of 3DS and Wii U owners on games coming soon — in other words, those the big N needs to sell to boost the home console, in particular. Even beyond live events we've seen the company up its game in structuring announcements for titles like Super Smash Bros. and, in collaboration with Koei Tecmo, Hyrule Warriors. Just today we had the rapid localisation of a Japanese streamed programme to deliver the flashiest trailer yet for the Zelda / Warriors crossover, while hype reached fever-pitch last week when a three minute character reveal for Smash Bros. was announced four days ahead of time. We're not sure a three minute video has commanded such build-up and excitement ever before in the world of Nintendo.
Nintendo's upping its game through social media and online video, then, in a substantial manner. It's tempting to simply say that it's catching up with the times, yet the volume and frequency of its hyping efforts arguably outstrip the efforts of its rivals. We'd suggest the reasoning is simple — Nintendo's fighting back. The almost viral success of the DS and Wii era — in which the mainstream market flocked to the systems due to their concepts, and by-the-numbers celebrity ads were helpful extras — allowed Nintendo to simply accumulate wealth and accolades. The technology and gaming sectors have changed hugely since then, and 3DS success has been hard fought while the Wii U requires an even greater effort to drive it through to generational survival. These efforts above that we've outlined — along with others such as Miiverse events — are targeted at the dedicated gamer base, too. That alone shows how hard Nintendo is having to work to translate world class games on bespoke systems into financial success.
The battle for notable mainstream success will — high profile examples such as E3 aside — likely still rely on traditional promotion of exclusive, exciting games and good value hardware deals; with amiibo joining some big-name games this Holiday and beyond, Nintendo has the tools to target families and parents yet again. It's continually adjusted hype machine, outlined in part above, may have the welcome by-product of generating buzz and positive headlines to reach that sizeable audience, but it's primarily targeting us — gamers. It's enthusiastic gamers that buy the most games and support a console's infrastructure, and the efforts to bring the Wii U forward towards a solid state of affairs, and to keep 3DS games flying off shelves, are directed at this committed audience. In the past generation Nintendo didn't need to worry itself too much with its biggest fans, as they would follow and the company was sweeping all before them — new realities have sharpened the company's focus.
The key point is simple, though — Nintendo is doing its utmost to keep its gamers excited and happy to own its consoles. While issues of third-party support — for example — remain and won't go away soon, we've seen a doubling of effort to keep the flow of information going. Nintendo is also being smart, not going above and beyond on games that will sell regardless — such as Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire — but focusing on those that are fighting on key battlegrounds. Not only is it learning and reacting to what excites its userbase the most, but it's also setting trends, as it did at E3.
For Nintendo fans, it's nice to be loved.
Do you agree that Nintendo's efforts to excite fans are improving and evolving? Is there still much more it could do? Let us know what you think in the comments below.