As we reach mid-February we've realised something - this is our first article of 2016 with the words 'Nintendo Direct' in the headline. Internally we thought there may have been one in early- to mid-January when there was a hefty amount of downtime and maintenance for the Nintendo Network, though little emerged from it and we continue to have small but regular periods of maintenance. Then the Q3 Nintendo Financial Results came and went with little revealed, and we've now passed Valentine's Day without so much as a sniff.
Based on the current momentum of broadcasts and past history, we should - in theory - have a broadcast around the corner. In 2014 there was a 13th February broadcast, while the first presentation in 2015 came in mid-January. The pattern was the same in both of those years - the first Direct tided us over until April, and that early Spring broadcast would then hold us until E3. For that pattern to hold an announcement needs to be imminent; perhaps more importantly, there's value in maintaining that routine.
Nintendo's approach to this year so far, from a publicity perspective, has been rather interesting. If you were to combine some of the best trailers and biggest reveals of the year to date you could certainly bring a Direct-style news drop together. We've had a number of release dates finalised, a whole load of reveals for the Pokémon 20th Anniversary, major details on upcoming games like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD and more besides. It's been a slow drip-feed that's also - occasionally - lacked cohesion between regions. We have the bizarre situation, too, of Nintendo Account and Miitomo registration being due to open this week, and the only official 'news' from Nintendo came through a presentation to investors and a low key press release.
What we have, overall, is Nintendo sliding towards an awkward piece of timing; with so much to reveal and launch through the second half of 2016 - more mobile games, NX to (at least) be revealed, surprise current-gen games - Nintendo is shrinking its timelines to build hype and anticipation among its fanbase in the first half of the year. No Direct typically comes within two months (in recent years) of E3, yet if Nintendo is to hit us with the usual output of broadcasts its window is slowly closing.
Perhaps the challenge, for Nintendo, is simply juggling its priorities and actually having enough to talk about before the E3 madness of June. Producing a Direct takes time and money, of course, and beyond that a great deal of co-ordination. Following the devastating passing of Satoru Iwata in mid-2015 the wait for November's broadcasts was unsurprising, and when they did come around it was telling how independent Nintendo of America and Europe were of each other. It wasn't the first time this has been the case, naturally, but it was a relatively rare instance of a 'main' broadcast having no tie-in links from Japan. Iwata-san would often (though not always) open the show and appear throughout, providing continuity between regions.
Tatsumi Kimishima, we can safely say, is unlikely to take up that mantle simply because he's a very different kind of company President, or at least appears to be. Whether that link to Japan can return is up in the air, largely depending on whether a host can be found to take on the role on a regular basis - Shigeru Miyamoto would be a popular choice, yet whether he actually has the time is a key question. A more left-field choice could be Shinya Arino of GameCenter CX, for example, if Nintendo would be willing to spend some money; he'd be recognisable to a number of Nintendo aficionados and has the charm to win over those unfamiliar with his work. Even if his appearances were subtitled, it'd still be a fun way to link Nintendo in Japan with its regional broadcasts.
In any case, a Direct could be a good way to spread the word on some key upcoming releases, even on details that will be slightly old-hat to most readers of these pages. As mentioned above Nintendo has done little communication to the broader world, so far, on Miitomo and the My Nintendo loyalty programme, while titles such as Pokkén Tournament and Star Fox Zero - the latter of which has fallen victim to whispers of problems - could do with co-ordinated blow-outs of information. We're not saying there haven't been press releases, trailers and details for titles such as these - and more besides - but are merely pointing out that they could do with a push to the broader world.
As we've argued in the past, Nintendo Direct broadcasts have a fairly unique power in seizing the news cycle, even if it's just for one day, across a broad range of media. From multi-platform sites covering major announcements to YouTube videos reacting to what's happened, to a whole load of excitable #NintendoDirect tweets, these streams get Nintendo on gamer's lips and generate buzz. The company's done a decent job in some parts of its early year marketing, but some details - shared through YouTube trailer uploads, tweets or press releases - have fallen somewhat flat and generated little heat outside of websites dedicated to the big N. In the battle for hearts and minds, that's far from ideal.
Nintendo's make-or-break periods this year will likely come from June onwards, but that's not to say earlier Nintendo Direct broadcasts are without value. From updates on Miitomo to details on the new Nintendo Account system, to major retail games and inevitable download arrivals (in the West) such as Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge, along with inevitable small surprises and promoting the likes of the Pokémon Anniversary, there's scope to build some current-day hype. A Direct this month could also give the upcoming retail release slate a little extra exposure.
We're hoping this talking point will soon be rendered obsolete with a Direct announcement to help kick of the early-year gaming period. Tatsumi Kimishima spoke last year of the format continuing onwards, potentially with some adjustments, and as we've argued in the past it remains an important marketing tool for the company. It'll ultimately be interesting to see whether we'll have a presentation shortly and then another around April time, or whether Nintendo shakes up the pattern from recent years.
In any case, we'd love so see a return of the buzz and excitement that only a Nintendo Direct can bring.