Tuesday, April 29, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Nintendo inadvertently created quite the disruption last year when they announced that they were bowing out of doing a traditional E3 press conference. Instead of sinking millions of dollars into a bombastic press conference that would have surely gone to waste as it would have stood up against the Xbox One and Playstation 4’s coming out party, Nintendo decided to settle for their choir-preaching Nintendo Direct and, to make up for that approach’s lack in wider audience appeal, partnered up with Best Buy by demoing their games in over 100 locations throughout the US and Canada, bringing E3 directly to the consumer.

It turned out to be an incredibly cost effective way in pushing their game announcements to both core and less enthused audiences. While gaming enthusiasts knew to tune into Nintendo’s E3 Direct, at least hundreds of thousands had the opportunity to come within spitting distance of these unreleased titles (I myself didn’t get a chance to get hands on with Nintendo’s E3 announced games because the organization at the Best Buy that I went to was terrible).

Cost effective, but not successful. Evidenced by the Wii U’s catastrophic sales forecasts drops, Nintendo’s “guerrilla” E3 strategy didn’t work, while likely Microsoft and clearly Sony had tremendous success last year with Microsoft’s Titanfall exclusive and Sony’s wildly popular sucker punch to the Xbox One’s $499 price tag with their announced price at $399.

That inherently resulted in Nintendo’s dramatic shift in business approach with Iwata announcing plans to invest more R&D into the much criticized Wii U Gamepad, a very nebulous “Quality of Life” initiative, and a new focus on mobile development (which I have a strange feeling that this also includes their “QoL” initiative as mobile platforms don’t necessarily count as wearable devices).

So what about this year’s E3? Super Smash Bros. is instantly going to draw more attention than all of their titles from last year combined. Smash is Nintendo’s most popular franchise among the hardcore crowd (not to be mistaken with Mario Kart as their most popular franchise across the core and casual demographics). It lends itself perfectly to Best Buy demos, drawing crowds of spectators and fans alike to test out their new fighter.

But even with Smash’s popularity – along with information on Wii U’s next Zelda title and other unannounced projects – Nintendo’s announcements at E3 could fall into the expected trajectory for the company. Almost none of Iwata’s paradigm shifting plans would have crystalized into a presentable form by E3, which means that we may not see “new Nintendo” in 6-7 weeks. These ideas may not begin to come to light until Directs nearing towards the latter half of the year and 2015.

But the best answer is that I don’t know what to expect from Nintendo this year. Nintendo has pleasantly surprised us and disappointed us countless times over the years at E3. As far as I can see, this year is the Wii U’s best chance in increasing its sales, and we already know that this comes in the forms of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. But what of the games that we don’t know about? Will this year’s Zelda announcement be enough? Does Nintendo have more gold-mine first party titles up their sleeves? Is strong third party support even worth considering? Just a little over a month to go. 

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