An accusation occasionally hurled at Nintendo is that it's slow or behind the times in social media, and failing to do enough on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. It would have been a valid point in past years, certainly, but it looks increasingly wrong with each passing year; 2014 brought some major improvements from the big N. Nintendo is still behind in some areas, absolutely, but various efforts in the last 12 months not only showed the company embracing the power of social media and video, but in some respects leading the way.
Looking back briefly on the years preceding 2014, Nintendo did already show an increasing willingness to relate to and communicate with online audiences. Nintendo Direct is testament to this, as the company took advantage of the fact that it develops or publishes the majority of its system's biggest games (itself arguably a disadvantage) to manage how it builds hype. Bypassing the typical route to a game announcements, bringing reveals and details 'directly' to fans has proven to be a sure-fire way to generate huge online buzz and attention. Sony and Microsoft have surprisingly not adopted the same approach, yet they're in trickier situations due to so many of the hottest games on their platforms being third-party, so companies like Activision, EA and Ubisoft have their own marketing strategies.
Despite the growth and success of Nintendo Direct, the company was slow in other areas, however. As recently as mid-2013 it received all the wrong kinds of press for imposing ad-revenue requirements on YouTube content. Was Nintendo legally entitled to do this? Absolutely. Was it a smart move? No. It backfired and Nintendo stepped back, also notably not being able to confirm fast enough that it wasn't involved in similar claim issues later that same year. While Nintendo was entitled to claim these revenues, it was short-sighted and old-fashioned. It was sacrificing the good will of power-brokers on YouTube for ad revenue, but in the process driving them away - if you have millions of subscribers, why cover Nintendo content and lose revenue when you can cover other games and pocket the ad money? It was a bad call that took time to retrieve.
To close out 2014 we listed five New Year's Resolutions for Nintendo, with the first point being "Build the Brand on Social Platforms". Twitter and Facebook were mentioned in passing, but we were really focusing on video with YouTube and - to a degree - Twitch. It may seem odd for someone writing an editorial on a website to emphasize this point, but YouTube in particular is hugely powerful in modern media and marketing. There are PC indie devs, in particular, that see sales spikes at crazy levels if a prominent YouTuber posts a video praising their game - or even criticising it. It's become such a powerful force that accusations often thrown at the traditional media of being 'bought' are becoming a topic on YouTube, especially if sponsored and paid-for content isn't clearly marked as such.
We certainly don't want Nintendo to get caught in grubby practices of questionable video promotion, which caught Microsoft out late last year, but it certainly needs to get back into the picture with the YouTube generation. There are plenty that likely spend more time watching YouTube videos than watching TV, making millionaires out of the platform's celebrities. For Nintendo, it's been scrabbling around and far too absent from some of the biggest channels out there - Minecraft is dominant, for one, but so much of YouTube's gaming content is focused on PC gaming, multi-platform blockbusters and more; Wii U in particular misses most of these areas, and it's out of the loop.
The Nintendo brand is still powerful, despite this, but the company's clearly realised that it needs to ensure it doesn't become a name of gaming's past at the expense of the present. In 2014 Nintendo had a fantastic E3, as it showed more awareness than its rivals - we'd argue - of what social media and online video demands. The Digital Event was mostly snappy and entertaining, the Super Smash Bros. Invitational tapped into eSports trends, and the rolling Nintendo Treehouse stream on Twitch and YouTube perhaps helped fans actually gain and learn more from watching online than those at the actual show. Throughout the rest of the year Nintendo ran more live stream events of tournaments, and even prompted an online meltdown at the start of one broadcast when it announced the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS demo. We should also mention the YouTube uploading options in Mario Kart 8, while Luigi's death stare provided priceless coverage that money can't necessarily buy.
Much of this Nintendo activity, excellent as it is, does have the side-effect of preaching to the converted. That's important, as its loyal fans of the company that have done much to sustain it in this tough generation, but winning over neutrals - those that embraced Wii and DS or are newer yet to Nintendo - is a priority. While we don't really know full details of what's happening with the so called "affiliate programme" for YouTube, recent weeks have brought us high profile videos in which Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen visited three prominent YouTube channels, each with different target demographics.
Below are the subscription numbers, publication dates and views so far (at the time of writing) from these appearances.
- Smosh Games (5.5 million subscribers) - posted 5th January (this year) and already has over 266,000 views
- iJustine (2.1 million subscribers) - posted 17th December and has over 223,000 views
- Rosanna Pansino (nearly 3.1 million subscribers) - posted 16th December with over 900,000 views
These are important beginnings, and the Smosh Games video was preceded with confirmation of a new weekly show dedicated to Super Smash Bros. It's possible that a number of you watching these videos were, like this writer, more interested in snippets of information that Shigeru Miyamoto let slip, but the priorities and focus of these channel's core audiences will have been different. Each channel has it own distinctive viewership, and it's these unconverted consumers that Nintendo is clearly targeting; it's doing so with its best known and most respected development figurehead.
When you combine these sorts of appearances with Nintendo's own efforts, and prominent roles at events such as December's Video Game Awards, there's an increasing sense that it's embracing the sizeable online audience that'd perhaps sooner watch videos of FIFA than Mario. While not a guarantee to win over those that'd prefer to play Call of Duty in 1080p, reaching out to diverse audiences and gamers of all types is vital for brand recognition; not only is it important for this 3DS and Wii U generation, but also for future hardware. The battlegrounds are continually shifting in marketing, and video services such as YouTube and Twitch cannot be ignored. Millions enjoy videos every day, and Nintendo needs to be involved.
Much credit should go to Nintendo for its efforts in 2014; it went its own way and came out well at E3, and it gave fans more chances than ever to watch official live streams and footage online. This mini-tour by Bill Trinen and Shigeru Miyamoto at the end of 2014 was also vital, as Nintendo gets some focus on hugely popular channels. The momentum will hopefully be kept up in 2015; the more popular vloggers and channels cover and enjoy Nintendo games the better, while more content to satisfy the most dedicated fans - such as those reading this page - will also be hugely welcome.
There's always room for improvement, but Nintendo is showing that it's ready to spread its message far and wide - more gamers seeing what it has to offer will bring improved chances of Nintendo returning to rule the roost in years to come.
Let us know what you think of Nintendo's efforts in online video in 2014, and what you hope it'll do throughout 2015.