Published on May 2nd, 2013 | by David Chandler5
Nintendo and the Case of the Missing E3 Conference
There were rumors that Olympus had fallen, that the house that Mario built was crumbling. We saw widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth (on the internet) and heard rumors of possible riots (on the internet). Nintendo apologists took to the stand to defend their holy company against the attacks launched by jeering dissenters. And while battles rage and people cry, somewhere deep in their underground lair, Shigeru Miyamoto, Satoru Iwata, and Reggie Fils-Aime play Wii-U and wait.
It’s been one week since Nintendo’s big announcement that they will not hold their standard E3 press conference, and the world is pretty much the same. After the dust settled from the big N’s pseudo-bombshell, the wonderful world of game journalism and enthusiasm has seen all sides of the debate and then, just as quickly, moved on. Honestly, I find the flare-up response and its subsequent snuffing-out quite telling of how a fanbase can react quickly to any bit of news that comes as controversial and shocking, but it bears little to speak on that a week after it happened. Instead, let’s look at Nintendo’s controversial decision on its own terms as a company fighting to remain relevant in a constantly changing industry.
Let’s look at the news that set the world on edge for a while. Here’s the quote from Iwata that ignited the fire that has since burned out:
“First, we decided not to host a large-scale presentation targeted at everyone in the international audience where we announce new information as we did in the past. Instead, at the E3 show this year, we are planning to host a few smaller events that are specifically focused on our software lineup for the U.S. market.”
No big industry announcements, no lists of facts and figures, no brand new hardware to command an entire audience’s attention. Nintendo’s strategy focuses on delivering smaller conferences to show off software. I was just as shocked as anyone else then I first read this news, and I thought that the move more-or-less solidified Nintendo’s giving ground to the more powerful systems of the next generation, letting the two titans slug it out while disappearing into the background. I’m not so sure, however, that this is a cowardly move or even a poor one.
Nintendo has had some pretty good luck with its Nintendo Direct program, but it still doesn’t have the scope of mass appeal of a gigantic conference. Plus, I will miss moments like Miyamoto brandishing a sword or pulling a Pikmin out of his pocket. But that grandiose information model may no longer work for Nintendo. By breaking up into smaller, more focused mini-conferences, Nintendo can more directly deliver concentrated doses of news of presentations to select audiences, giving them more control over the way they facilitate their E3 presence. Forcing a big conference without any big announcements would be a waste of time and ultimately a disappointment, and the last thing Nintendo needs is a piss-poor show.
It’s really not all that surprising, when I’ve had a week to think about it. These big press conferences are so often masturbatory, hype-fueled, celebrity-laden showcases that it’s almost more noble of Nintendo to try something new. Maybe breaking away from this system reveals not Nintendo’s obsolescence but the waning potency of the conferences themselves. Giant, overblown shows often forgo in-depth coverage in favor of general spectacle. If such a model is on the out, I cannot say I’ll miss it too terribly, and I admire Nintendo for being the first to lead the march against it.
What we’re seeing, of course, may be none of these things. It could just mean that the minds behind Nintendo didn’t have enough to command an audience and thought it a better use of time and money to forgo a big conference. It’s a significant risk; Nintendo Direct, as great as it is, speaks to a very specific Nintendo audience. The Wii U isn’t exactly flying off the shelves, so opting out of a significant press event seems a bit of a misstep.
Still, deciding to move away from the catch-all conference in order to focus on software aimed at specific audiences strikes me as refreshing. I look forward to smaller presentations about games at a gaming conference. It’s a turn to substance instead of style, content over spectacle. I can’t say if it’ll be successful or not, but I’m not counting it out. All we can do is wait and see.