Not one to keep its ideas safely inside of the metaphorical box, Nintendo decided once again to forgo the standard E3 press conference this year and instead broadcast its own "Digital Event" directly to the consumers. While this caught many off guard last year during the first attempt, Nintendo's modern approach to the press conference in this digital age was embraced by the public with open arms this time around. Hosting its presser digitally rather than in front of a live audience of journalists may diminish the necessity for copious articles from news outlets around the world, but it does speak volumes towards catering to the fans' desire for information right here and now.
Keeping up with its own lightning fast pace, Nintendo once again allowed North American gamers the chance to play game demos that would otherwise be available exclusively to E3 attendees in an event called Smash-Fest; it teamed up with Best Buy stores to place the new game into the hands of eager consumers. Rather than allowing players the choice between four different games to demonstrate, everyone was instead given the chance to play a four-player round of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. There were also several 3DS consoles on-hand to show off the portable iteration of the new game. It should come as no surprise that even fans who didn't live anywhere near one of the stores hosting the event made the trek for their fleeting minutes of multiplayer mayhem. Just like last year, we were lucky enough to make it out to a local Best Buy this year to attend the event, but it wasn't all smooth sailing.
Wednesday started out without much surprise. The event began at 4pm, but there were already about 100 people in line by the time we arrived at 3:45pm. Attendees at the front of the line claimed to have been waiting for about five hours already, a true testament to the desire that so many Nintendo fans feel for the forthcoming brawler. After spending some time talking to attendees and checking out the area, we finally decided to get in the line that was now closer to 200 people and forming outside the store. There was only one Wii U set up for Smash Bros. to be played on, and only one brave Nintendo rep organizing the whole thing while store employees worked on crowd control. It was immediately apparent that the wait was going to be long.
The next several hours consisted mostly of talking to the gamers queued with us and collecting StreetPass hits. Occasionally a Best Buy employee would be sent out to visit with the line and sell pre-orders of the game we were all there to play. We were told that once the line inside was completely expired, then they would allow our outdoor line into the store. Everyone was in good spirits, excited to play their new favourite game and connect with other local Nintendo fans. The weather was beautiful, temperature was mild, and the proposition of standing outdoors for fours hours to play two minutes of a video game didn't seem too bad.
After some time, we began to notice a lack of communication from the Best Buy employees. Smash Bros. players were coming out of the store claiming that others had jumped into the inside line. The outside queue that we were a part of for four hours hadn't moved, but people just arriving to the store were already playing the game. Word was that we, the growing group patiently waiting out of sight, had been forgotten.
There was a murmur spreading through the crowd. The once calm and hospitable gamers around us were growing restless, feeling cheated out of their chance to do the one thing they had given up an afternoon to do. The murmur turned into yelling, the yelling turned into arguments, and the arguments eventually turned into a plan.
That's when the rioting began.
Maybe calling it a riot in the traditional sense isn't fair. Torches weren't lit, cars weren't flipped, and tear gas wasn't spread out into the crowd, but there was a certain amount of chaos. All at once, someone at the front of our line broke through the flimsy barrier that was keeping us at bay and the crowd charged forward. Falling into mob mentality, we all moved as a unit, making our way through the front entrance and to the back of the store where our long awaited Smash Bros. stood. The crowd neared its target when a barrage of Best Buy employees stepped in to block our progress and send us all back outside. Some attendees argued and threatened to get physical. They were thrown out of the store and asked not to return. The majority of us returned to our original post outside, waiting for our inevitable punishment.
After a few worried minutes, the store manager came out and explained the situation. The interior line was still working through their initial group, an employee was stationed inside the store to make sure no one was cutting into the line as we had suspected, and we had not been forgotten. We were assured that we would all get a chance to play, but we were also assured that if we acted out again, the event would be cancelled and the police would be called. It was around this time that the crowd calmed down once again, realizing the mistake that it had made. The absurdity that some among us were ready to attack simply to play a demo of a game that is still months away from release is astounding. It was both impressive and frightening to see how strong of a hold video games have over some people.
The rest of the evening went by calmly, as was originally intended. We were eventually invited into the store and had our chance at experiencing the main event. There was no more yelling, no more rioting, and those individuals who were the most problematic were not heard from again. At the front of the line we were pleasantly greeted by the Nintendo rep who handed us our Pro Controllers. We played a round, handed our controllers back, and were thanked for coming out to the event. When all is said and done, the day could have gone much worse.
For as rough as the first day was, Saturday's event was surprisingly tame. The line was smaller from the beginning, but Best Buy had obviously learned from the mistakes made a few days prior. As patrons lined up outside, an employee would regularly come out to talk to the crowd and make sure everyone knew the plan. Rather than expiring the entire line inside of the building before inviting the outside line in, groups of about 15-20 players were shuffled into the store as the interior line shrank. This process ran smoothly and kept everyone patient enough to wait. There was no arguing, no pushing, and no hysteria this day. The line was still full of passionate gamers, many of who were present on Wednesday, but no one seemed interested in revisiting the problems that we had faced before. We once again made it to the front of the line without much hassle and had a second swing at the forthcoming game.
In the end, Nintendo and Best Buy's collaborative Smash-Fest should absolutely be considered a success. Between the two days, more than 700 people came out to a single store simply to taste what was coming. While we don't have all of the numbers, it's safe to assume that other stores around the country had similar results, doing well to keep the gaming public satisfied. Nintendo's odd approach to presenting information to their consumers is far from perfect, but at least it's trying something different. Only time will tell if events like this are worth the effort that they take, but for what it’s worth, we think that bringing the product to the consumer in a personal manner is exactly the sort of change that the games industry needs. Nintendo is a company that obviously cares about its customers and wants to bring the best possible experience directly to you.