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The logic behind Nintendo’s E3 strategy

Last year was the first time Nintendo “skipped” E3 and this decision was a shock to many.

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Reggie Fils-A-Mech

Confusion followed as Nintendo were still going to be present at E3 and renting out the Nokia theatre, quashing the assumption by many that the decision was a cost saving exercise.

When it was made clear what Nintendo was actually planning for E3 2013 some people questioned the point of having both a Nintendo Direct for those not at E3 and retaining a formal presentation (albeit considerably tamed down compared to before) for the press and retailers present at E3; when ultimately both covered the same things.

It was difficult to determine whether this approach was successful for Nintendo, but considering that the company did not have many big announcements, nor were they revealing a new home console like their competitors, it was considered a smart decision not to waste resources knowing they were going to be overshadowed regardless. Yet when it was recently announced that they were to do something similar this year some were puzzled that they would not return to a more traditional conference. However whilst there are similarities to last year, Nintendo are building upon that whilst also incorporating what they have learnt over the past year.

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This is particularly evident with the reveal for their planned activities at E3 this year. Instead of a formal announcement, Nintendo instead hired the video game comedy group Mega 64; who are known for shall we say risqué videos involving the public. The video created still adhered to Nintendo’s family friendly ethos but also remained very much a Mega 64 video. During which Rocco (of Mega 64) is so desperate to find out Nintendo’s plans before E3 creates a robotic suit that looks like Nintendo of America’s (NOA) President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime which he calls the Fils-A-Mech. During the video Reggie plays the robotic version of himself, fully committing himself to the joke.

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Throughout the video a number of announcements are made starting with the Super Smash Bros Invitational tournament at E3 and that the game will also be playable at Best Buy stores around the US. Signalling a dramatic shift to last year when Nintendo would not allow Super Smash Bros Melee to be streamed during the Evo fighting game tournament, even though the decision was quickly reversed the damage had still been made. In addition was the confirmation of the Nintendo Digital Event which is the online equivalent to their presentation during which all of the main announcements will be made. This is supplemented by Treehouse Live Streams which will be providing footage from the show floor as well as in depth looks at some of the games announced and playable at E3.

The video was well received by many who enjoyed this light hearted approach of informing people of Nintendo’s plans for E3 that was in a similar vein to the more recent Nintendo Directs which have benefitted from the use of humour whilst delivering the news updates. It is also the same Nintendo Directs which have contributed to the obsolescence of the traditional E3 presentation. They have allowed Nintendo the ability to carefully make smaller announcements throughout the year, giving them the attention they need, along with the gravitas of often stating that a game will be ready immediately after the stream has finished. This has reduced the amount of potential announcements but it does allow for more attention to be given to the truly big announcements that can be made at E3, hopefully generating more attention.

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Generating publicity is essentially what E3 is all about, and it is crucial that Nintendo’s message is distributed to its audience effectively; that being its “consumers” and retailers/stockholders. This is why the previous Nintendo E3 presentations have been deemed ineffective, because they have been trying to accommodate different audiences at once. Trying to please retailers/stockholders with sales figures (although currently there is little to shout about, a potential reason for the change if you want to be cynical) but also trying to appeal to its diverse range of potential customers, when only the more ardent fans are going to watch anyway.

By trying to please everyone the end result can often generate one which pleases nobody, and the intended message is diluted to the extent where the headline focuses more on the lacklustre presentation than the announcements made. This is why splitting up the presentation is such a wise decision. The fans still get a presentation to watch, and one which is actually tailored to them, and the press receive more detailed ancillary information which they can disseminate based on their own readership. Importantly this is the best way to inform the “casual” audience who are unlikely to watch the live stream and instead stick to mainstream gaming outlets or just mainstream press in general.

Last year’s presence at E3 by Nintendo was not spectacular, mostly because of the lack big upcoming releases being announced aside from Super Mario 3D World. Yet it was also not deemed a failure and very little negative press surrounded it. Unlike the disastrous conference of 2008 which saw the official reveal of Wii Music that for many symbolised where the Wii was going and is still looked back upon as one of the worst presentations by Nintendo. It was also the first time Cammie Dunaway (executive vice president of sales & marketing for NOA) presented on stage, this was followed in 2009 by an almost equally bad presentation. It did not come as much of a surprise when she was not present in 2010 presentation or when she left the company later that year.

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Having the wrong presenter, regardless of their business acumen, can be especially harmful in the video games industry and this further supports the benefit of having a pre-recorded stream that the public can watch. One where mistakes are removed from the equation, such as Miyamoto’s live demonstration of Skyward Sword, and where instead Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata can talk directly to the fans about what they care about in a more personal manner. This is accompanied by other key members of Nintendo who help add to some of the humour Nintendo’s videos are now becoming known for.

Nintendo is a unique company, as on the one hand it often stays true to its conservative Japanese roots, but on the other it is a company that is not afraid to take risks and do things differently. E3 is the most important event in the video game calendar and is not something that can be missed by any of the console manufacturers. It would be a mistake for Nintendo to skip E3, as doing so would result in future releases being missed by the mainstream press, an element with notable influence that those who get all of their gaming news from dedicated outlets often forget.

Another aspect gamers forget is that E3 is not strictly for them, it is still a trade expo for those in the industry, and tickets are not available to the general public. It is an event for business, and a chance for the gaming press to become aware of the upcoming releases that they will be covering over the coming year. Nintendo have realised the increasing importance of live streaming events, as evident with their Nintendo Directs, and have chosen to streamline theirs so that those of us at home get the information that we want and that is appropriate for most of that audience. That is not to say that all other companies are wrong, but this is a decision that worked for Nintendo last year and could really pay off this year.

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Despite studying Politics at Undergrad and then War Studies at Master's level, James managed to write multiple essays relating to technology and more importantly video games.

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