Last night, as part of its 2012-2013 Financial Results Briefing, Nintendo slyly announced that it would not be hosting a traditional press conference at 2013′s E3. This announcement was made on the heels of the release of Nintendo’s financial data, which, it must be stated, was not pretty.
The two announcements in concert amount to Nintendo deciding to take its ball and go home, to retreat from the harsh spotlight that is E3, and to instead focus on communicating directly to its fans. By retreating back into the sanctity of its personal echo chamber, Nintendo has assured itself a reduced level of scrutiny, as Nintendo fans are always up for patting the (is it fair to say embattled?) embattled console-maker and publisher on the back and whispering “it’s alright” into its ear.
This year’s E3 is shaping up to be a big one, as both Sony and Microsoft are going to make huge splashes with the further revealing of their respective next-generation consoles, including (hopefully) price point and release day. EA, Ubisoft and others will all be lining up as well to show off their next-generation wares, the bulk of them exclusively for the PS4 and whatever the next Xbox winds up being called.
Nintendo was doomed either way, it seems. Either hold a press conference in which you re-announce games that were just announced (such as the sequel to Link to the Past), announce new games that recycle the same gameplay elements and style (like a new Smash Bros. or Legend of Zelda) and generally show how much third-parties have deserted you, or just disappear. They’re just as relevant to the larger conversation, regardless.
Yet, the most famous videogame company in the world essentially deciding that it’s too embarrassed to display its work next to Sony and Microsoft is a tacit admission that they simply cannot compete. They weren’t ashamed to demonstrate the Wii to audiences when its visuals couldn’t compete with its contemporaries. They weren’t ashamed to hold the 3DS (rightfully) as a system capable of generating superior experiences when compared to iOS devices and even the PSVita. Now, however, its as if Nintendo looked at its lineup of plumbers, dinosaurs and space heroes and decided that it just didn’t have anything appealing enough to demonstrate in front of a captive audience of hundreds of millions.
The biggest problems with the struggling WiiU have been Nintendo’s doing. Messaging on the system has been milquetoast at best, and downright confusing at worst. The first reveal of the system made it seem like an add-on to the Wii, and the company’s refusal to keep up technologically has made the WiiU look like a second-class system. It’s only going to get worse as more next-generation titles that simply cannot exist on WiiU are shown.
This E3 was Nintendo’s opportunity to send a strong message that the WiiU is worth investing in, that Nintendo’s ingenuity will not get left behind by the raw muscle of Sony and Microsoft’s offerings. Instead, Nintendo has meekly receded into the background, content to stand in the corner with its shrinking circle of friends scoffing at the “cool kids” while wondering why nobody takes them seriously. The Nintendo echo chamber will always be self-sustaining enough to keep the company afloat (at least, this is what Nintendo believes), and it’s easy to continue to keep putting the same mis-truths out there to a willing fanbase that does not question or criticize.
The Nintendo Direct presentations aren’t inherently bad. They’re a good way to rally the troops and demonstrate that Nintendo isn’t just sitting on its hands as the WiiU sinks. However, the reach of any one Nintendo Direct (or even a host of them in rapid succession) isn’t anywhere near the reach of an E3 press conference, and redefining your brand to people who’ve already bought into it isn’t going to improve the sales outlook of the WiiU. The Wii’s success was built largely on the back of mainstream media influencing the purchasing decisions of casual users who purchased the system for the experience. It got hot, like a new toy, and it rode that momentum for years. By abstaining from swaggering out onto the stage at this year’s E3, Nintendo denies itself the chance to recapture the imagination of middle-class non-gamers, and it allows Sony and Microsoft to dictate the conversation.
The big E3 press conferences are like a political debate. By removing itself from the equation, Nintendo has assured Microsoft and Sony that their power plays will run unopposed, making this essentially a two-horse race.
It’s sad, really, because Nintendo’s innovation always stood as a stark contrast to Sony and Microsoft’s displays of technological muscle. Now, however, it seems that Nintendo is being left behind, and its only response is to watch everyone move on, and to wistfully return home, wondering what could have been.