Thursday, June 07, 2012

After a disappointing E3, better communication needed from Nintendo

This may sound counter-intuitive as we've just had a 'Nintendo Direct' less than a week ago but after a second lacklustre E3 showing for Wii U, Nintendo needs to set out a strategy to talk to their fans, the press and their investors before it is too late.

Case in point -  Six years ago, Sony was on top of the world.  Then at E3 2006 president of Sony Computer Entertainment America Kazuo Hirai stepped on stage and announced the PS3 would retail later that year for $599.99.  In the few seconds it took him to articulate the price, the narrative was framed in terms of an overconfident hardware incumbent selling a high priced console.

Regardless of what Sony did or said afterwards, the narrative stuck.   Sony’s public relations nightmare that year was a gift to Nintendo for the company had also unveiled its next-generation console, the Wii.   $599.99 has transcended the issues of the time in to a shorthand to describe what has ailed Sony since.  So enduring is the narrative that six years later, a search of the price $599 brings up Sony’s E3 2006 performance in the top search results (your results may vary).

While Nintendo did not have a $599 moment this E3, there is a risk that the negative reactions bubbling among the fans and general public at large could have the same effect on the company .  The only saving grace for Nintendo this E3 was that neither of their competitors were ready to wow the public and all three put in sub-par showings.

However, only Nintendo is launching a major hardware this year and the onus is on the company to put on a good show and it is apparent viewing reactions and interactions online that the wind has been taken out of the sails of Wii U.

That said, when a Sony spokesperson engaged in a bit of chest thumping and spoke of their competitors “losing the plot”, referring in part to Nintendo’s disappointing E3 showing, it was surprising to see a significant number of gamers who do not normally associate just with Nintendo come to Nintendo’s defence, pointing out the irony of the statement and noting never to count the company out and that Nintendo’s core business being only about games gives them confidence in continued quality of their games.

Communication is Key

Despite all the negativity this week, there’s tremendous good will remaining for Nintendo.  The narrative has not yet coalesced around Nintendo ‘losing the plot’ but the window to rectify this E3’s mistakes will not be open forever.  The company needs re-energize fans with timely information leaks and or reveals on the Wii U on parts of the console that could be expected to play well with gamers.

There should be monthly and then weekly presentations leading up to launch day showing bits of the Wii U and familiarizing people with the various features of the platform as even developers of Wii U titles appear to be mostly in the dark about Wii U’s OS and features.

Key to their communication is to present a roadmap for gamers. Third party projects should be noted, major first party software should be confirmed and shown if possible.  More importantly, each presentation should touch on key features  that remain nebulous in most people’s mind.  Features such as the Nintendo Network, the Wii U accounts system and how it will work with the 3DS and Wii,  transferring of Wii digital downloads, on-line play and possible restrictions, the Miiverse in general, and finally the pricing and SKU.  This will generate interest and keep the attention on Wii U and change the narrative from ‘What an awful E3 show’ to buzz around what Nintendo just announced.

non-specific action figure 
If there were last minute omissions before E3 from whatever political or strategic reasons, be it Retro Studio’s project, a cloud storage system linking the 3DS, Wii U and future Nintendo platforms or the rumoured ‘Gamer Card’  peripheral that works like a mix between a Dreamcast VMU and a 3DS to allow players to streetpass  their Wii U and exchange data with local Wii U owners, revealing them as soon as possible would be ideal.  These were rumours prior to E3 that the public reacted well to and were sorely disappointed when none of the details were confirmed.

Communication will also help clear up and clarify a growing cloud of confusion around parts of the Wii U infrastructure.  The Miiverse and online systems remain vague, leading to plenty of conflicting reports  about pain points like the existence of friend codes rather than a real accounts system, and journalists noting that Nintendo would censor Miiverse posts with a 30 minute wait-time, which if true, would render the ‘Non-specific action figure’ concept video where the gamer was able to get immediate real-time help an unrealistic scenario for most people.

There’s no need to overreact to the fan uproar.  Fans will always be unhappy about certain things, and if there’s even a consideration to launch the system at a sweetheart price with subsidies to make the ‘value proposition’ more enticing in light of negative E3 reaction, those subsidy dollars would be better spent on third parties to ensure parity of Wii U with the 360/PS3 by the spring of 2013.  The fans will likely still show up on Day 1 at $299.99.

Finally, it should be emphasized that what has caused the negative reaction and the continued malaise in the company's stock price isn't the lack of major Nintendo IPs specifically, or the lack of major announcements generally.  But the lack of vision and direction with the Wii U.  Nintendo needs to set the record straight on where they see the Wii U in 1 year, 2 year 3 year's time  both in terms of features (online, Miiverse), first party games and finally third party offerings (It is no longer enough to simply build a console and hope they come.  Third parties should be actively courted, fans need to hear more than just platitudes about Nintendo's software 'partners')  Until then, fans and observers in the financial industry cannot be faulted for being sceptical.

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