Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wii U E3 2012 Reveal: Lessons for Nintendo

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP

Yersterday’s hour long Wii U software rollout did not go as planned for Nintendo.  While the media in attendance may have walked away with some inlking that Nintendo has a vision that if executed well will result in another success, the gaming press and gamers were left bemused, uninterested and evenly outwardly hostile.  There were certainly more than a few posts on Nintendo’s facebook wall expressing disappointment with the presentation.

Coming off last year’s confusing reveal of the Wii U, expectations were high that Nintendo would correct their mistakes, namely, the failure to emphasize the Wii U as a ‘new’ platform and not an add-on peripheral to the Wii.   While Nintendo has made that clear this year, last year’s Wii U reveal had at least a concept reel showing how the tablet controller might be used in casual and hardcore gaming situations.

This year, there were plenty of examples on how they could be used for specific games and applications, but little in terms of the soaring rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from Nintendo with their DS and Wii.  Perhaps Iwata’s Pre-E3 presentation on Sunday of the Miiverse might have ‘saved’ this E3 presentation had it been included into the main event.

What was equally problematic was the lack of software to enthuse gamers.  Nintendo of America’s President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime had promised 23 games at the start of the hour-long presentation.  It started off well enough, with Pikmin 3, Scribblenauts Unlimited and New Super Mario Bros U and confirmation that up to two GamePad tablets is now supported.  However, the software presentation fell into the trap Nintendo had fallen into in E3’s past.  Too much emphasis on things gamers didn’t care about.  We were treated to a meandering list of games, a few were already known from Ubisoft’s presentation a day earlier, and many of which were months old ports mixed with extended trailers and previews of casual games like SiNG and Wii Fit U.  In this year’s presentation, there wasn’t the gut pull the Wii reveal had six years ago when Miyamoto walked on-stage to conduct a symphony, to many gamers and Nintendo fans it felt like a current-generation Xbox 360 with a screen controller.

All that could be forgiven perhaps if there were something for the fans to look forward to. Perhaps a teaser of a major IP from Nintendo tacked on at the end similar to how Twilight Princess was revealed in E3 2005. Instead, the denouement to a whirlwind year of speculation was NintendoLand,  a Nintendo theme park/mini-game hub that Nintendo hopes will do to Wii U what WiiSports did to Wii.  Wii U software planner Katsuya Eguchi overstayed his welcome demoing a Luigi’s Mansion-themed multiplayer mini-game in NintendoLand, which was essentially a riff on  Pac-Man.   Ironic in that it echoed of Nintendo’s E3 2004 presser when Nintendo’s response to Sony’s announcement of the PSP was a 4-player Pac-man for the GameCube,  positioned as a flagship bonus game using GameBoyAdvance connectivity.

Hardcore gamers are notoriously fickle and high maintenance bunch.  Their reactions to the Wii name reveal indicates that a company need not fold at the slightest hint of an uproar. That said, it would be wise to dig through the hyperbole and understand where their fans are coming from. 

While gamers eventually got over the Wii naming and became great ambassadors for Nintendo when they showed-off Wii sports to family members after the platform launched, creating something of a viral trend, the Wii U may not be afforded the same luxury.

The British industry publication Edge Magazine had ripped into Microsoft’s press conference as contemptuous and declared console gaming doomed earlier in the week and was somewhat kinder to Nintendo, but only because of their complete ambivalence to the conference.

“It looks like Nintendo’s going to try to pull another Wii on the world,”  noted the Edge op-ed, “hoping that a controller with a screen will be enough to win it attention in the flare of flashier other platforms. Can we stand to see this happen again? How will thirdparties feel about having to craft cut-down versions of their games, which also incorporate second-screen functionality, to also release on Wii U?”

“The challenge is on for Nintendo to convince that it’s the tool of tomorrow, rather than simply the tool of today.”

The message from the Edge Staffers was that all the stuff looked neat but it’s not really for us (gamers).    And that is ultimately what Nintendo needs to answer for this E3 which they have failed to do. 

There is still hope to amend this year’s E3 presentation.  In a twitter reply in Japanese, company president Satoru Iwata promised more games from Japanese developers will be revealed at a later date, likely at the Tokyo Game Show or at  Nintendo’s own re-run of their E3 press conference in Japan for a Japanese audience later this month.

There will also be another Wii U press conference in a few months to reveal pricing and launch details.  This is an opportunity for Nintendo reveal more games, more details to the launch package including their cloud service, accounts system, apps environments, and on-line features, and or to confirm more games coming from the conspicuous absence of certain major third party franchises such as Call of Duty and Resident Evil.

This is Nintendo’s market to lose.  Releasing into an open field of aging consoles with fresh ideas on how to integrate social media into hardcore gaming, Nintendo has a vision that it needs to execute and execute well.  It also needs to be mindful of the people who have been with them for decades, buying their games because their games are still some of the best in the world.

No comments: