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Conference Call-Off: Nintendo’s Ambition and Gamers’ Suspicion

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Nintendo’s role at the last couple E3 events was something of an anomaly. After the insane success of the Wii system, many thought the Wii U would take control of Nintendo’s showings, but even at the supposed juggernaut of E3 2012, the Wii U made too modest of an impression. It never drove the idea home that the Wii U was a must-have console. The announcement of a lack of a major Nintendo press conference at E3 2013 was very shocking and equally concerning. The Wii U is still clearly in its “launch mode”, where a significant drought of launch window titles plagues sales of the system. After a steady spread of first-party hit announcements earlier this year, E3 2013 looked to be the best opportunity for Nintendo to show their biggest franchises on their newest console. But lo and behold, Nintendo announced that they won’t have a major press conference in the vein of their competitors Sony and Microsoft at E3 2013.

Instantly this sounds like a shot in the foot for Nintendo, as it should’ve been a showcase moment for the Wii U’s services, its capabilities, and most importantly, its game library. Instead, Nintendo is focusing on smaller showings featuring American software, similar to the surprisingly successful Nintendo Direct broadcasts. Nintendo’s Wii U showing at E3 2012 was pretty mediocre, so this year should be the time to bring out every big gun in Nintendo’s armory. Zelda Wii U, Wind Waker HD, Smash Bros., Bayonetta 2; this list goes on. So why would Nintendo choose this perspective over the bombast and excitement of a major press conference? There really is no easy answer, but this could illustrate a number of points on Nintendo and the game industry in general.

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I’m sure that I’ll get some disagreements on this, but I’m starting to get the impression that E3 is starting to lose its luster. Last year’s E3, despite Nintendo’s Wii U library detailing, was incredibly underwhelming in my opinion. In fact, many of us at DefaultPrime.com called Ubisoft to have the best press conference at the show (I know! Ubisoft?!). But this year is different. This year will be all next-gen, as Sony’s Playstation 4 will be detailed further and Microsoft’s supposed Xbox 360 successor will be in the cards too. Gamers from all over will be glued to their monitors, smartphones, and tablets just to hear what Sony and Microsoft will do with their next systems. Nintendo, however, is likely to be ignored in favor of their competitors. But individual examples aside, E3 is pretty difficult to get excited for compared to previous years. After the major Wii U Nintendo Direct, Sony’s special PS4 event earlier this year, and Microsoft’s scheduled Durango conference in May, much of the adrenaline has been distributed to events like these instead of the huge tug-o-war seen at the competitive E3 event.

So in that regard, Nintendo might be making an intelligent move here. Why send a giant monster to fight other giant monsters when a tiny sprite can simply slip past them unnoticed? In fact, the Nintendo Direct broadcast that occurred shortly after E3 could very well have been BETTER than Nintendo’s E3 2012 press conference. At that point, it wasn’t about the spectacular aspects; it was intimate and a bit more personal, seeing Iwata against that wood background (he kind of sounded like an old college professor of mine). Nintendo didn’t have to show up its rivals with it; it was all about Nintendo and what Nintendo was doing, not what Nintendo was doing in response to its competitors. With Nintendo Direct, all eyes are on Nintendo and the viewers aren’t tempted to look over their shoulder to see what Sony and Microsoft are up to.

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The last few Nintendo Direct videos have been quite successful for the company. Many of the Wii U’s biggest announcements have come from Nintendo Directs, not from huge press conferences. The conferences themselves, actually, have become a bit too sensational. Think about that Usher appearance at the Microsoft conference a while back. Was that at all necessary for Microsoft to do that? They obviously weren’t trying to appeal to gamers with that. This theatric element seen in some press conferences in recent years has discouraged many E3 viewers that it’s not about games anymore. Nintendo Direct changed that considerably, with minimalist presentation and a straightforward message without any distraction.

Of course, there are plenty of negatives to Nintendo’s E3 schedule decision as well. With E3 being such a huge event both for press and gamers, Nintendo’s subdued appearance could evanescently dissipate among major launch announcements from both Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles. More people will be watching Nintendo’s press conference just to see how they respond to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings instead of what Nintendo is doing purely through the “Nintendo” lens. If Nintendo is deciding to step back from the big stage and take things in a more personal direction, they’re not likely to be considered “proud” enough to debut new wares in such a setting. While I don’t think that implies that Nintendo is scared of its rivals, it definitely seems like a reactionary tactic, one that is response to Sony and Microsoft’s agendas.

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But Nintendo’s rivals are just one thing. It’s the audience that is watching the closest. This tactic in general doesn’t inspire confidence in the major gamer circuit. The typical gamer will find the lack of imposing presence from Nintendo to be a weakness, one that displays cowardice, insecurity, and confusion with its future. The Wii U, regardless of its growing library, won’t be able to benefit from that grandiose panache if the conference is so minute, and with the press and stockholders watching like hawks, this could be something to get very nervous about. Gamers aren’t going to follow Nintendo forward unless the goods are delivered in full and the stockholders will impulsively begin selling their shares unless something truly marvelous comes from Nintendo. This major shift in image won’t appeal to all gamers and Nintendo is definitely going to sacrifice a lot of attention by toning down the mass-media flooding, especially with the Wii U.

It’s far too early to see if this change in approach will be the way to go for Nintendo, but it’s clearer than ever that a lot is riding on this move for the company. This new format could be a powerful tool for the company’s future, but it also could be a timid admittance of its rivals’ imposing stature. Even though Nintendo isn’t leaving E3, something big seems to be taken away here. How that space will be filled is still in the works. Regardless, Nintendo’s decision is part ambitious, part suspicious, but all worth keeping an eye on.

It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.

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