Saturday, June 08, 2013

E3 2013: Advice for Nintendo - Do the unexpected

It’s been a year since I wrote about the Wii U reveal at E32012.  The Wii U launched to lukewarm public reception and Nintendo’s position heading into E3 2013 is precarious, with Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One nipping at their heels.

In this industry, the narrative can change on a dime.  After tearing through several E3s with record sales and the next Wii titled casual experience, Nintendo's last two E3s has been a lucklustre mess of disappointment and confusion.  It is probably not a surprise them that despite having one of the largest booth if not the largest at the conference itself, the company has opted to scale back its pre E3 conference to a business partner meeting and eschewed  the overproduced extravaganza that are notorious source for internet memes to a pre-recorded 1 hour show to be aired at 7am PDT on June 11th

Given whatever they wanted to say and reveal was likely decided months and weeks ago,  I have no expectation of this blog posting influencing them in anyway.  But if someone at Nintendo is reading, it’s worth noting that the consumer unrest around Xbox One’s restrictive consumer policies has handed them a golden opportunity to re-introduce the Wii U as gaming console as people understood it, not where Microsoft wants to take them.

Do the Unexpected:

We know what to expect.  Smash, Mario, Zelda &  Luigi.  They’re all fine.  We’ll undoubtedly see Smash Brothers and previews to the next big Mario game.  What Nintendo really needs however is a surprise or several of them.  A collaboration project, a new franchise, a third party exclusive that will fire people up.   At this point, most people who own a Wii U or is considering it knows it will be their Nintendo Box, that expectation is priced in.  Showing Nintendo’s traditional franchises will help clarify what is coming, but it may not convince any new people.  Nintendo really needs to work on the part of the expectations this is currently non-existent.  That is the ‘extras’ that will get new people to turn their head and look and push fence sitters to committing.

There are 3 angles to approaching this:

The perfect example is a marquee title like GTA V. People aren’t expecting GTA V to land on Wii U.  But if it were to be announced, with exclusive content, or even better a timed exclusivity, that could rain on Microsoft’s parade. 

In terms of smaller scale titles, buying exclusives for well loved games that has strong hardcore following but has largely been abandoned by their publishers (see Bayonetta) is also a good 2nd angle to get attention and hype.  An oft rumoured title is Beyond Good and Evil 2.  Beyond that could be revival of Darksiders from the now bankrupt THQ under Nintendo’s publishing  banner.  There is a graveyard of games from this past generation with only a single entry that were dropped by their publishers  due to high HD development costs and low returns.  Picking diamonds in the rough like Nintendo had with Bayonetta is a great strategy to immediately get mindshare among consumers with a known quantity.

Finally, angle digital content.  Minecraft seems tailor made for a Nintendo platform, yet Microsoft has it on the 360.  Getting a game like Minecraft, even if it never makes Nintendo a dime, would immediately boost interest in the Wii U, especially if there’s off TV play involved.    Consider it a loss-leader.

Nintendo’s long-time software partner Square-Enix has been on a tear with premium releases of RPGs on iOS and Android Play Store.  Priced between $5 and $15 those titles seem ideal for the eShop.  Yet, they have not released a single digital game on the eShop.  If Nintendo needs evidence for people’s desire for the kind of digital content Square-Enix is putting out, they need to look no further than the success Level 5 has been enjoying with their Guild01 imports – Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud.  There’s a hunger for high quality premium digital titles done by Japanese developers in under-served genres like Adventure games and RPGs.

Satisfy the Disgruntled Consumer

Nintendo’s biggest problem is it’s archaic digital policies.  Digital purchases tied to the machine instead of accounts, the slow pace and trickle of Virtual Console releases and non-transferable Virtual Console content between platforms has infuriated and disappointed many of their long time fans.

Unified Account System -   This is imperative if Nintendo is to exploit the consumer furor over Microsoft’s current DRM and used game policy.  Announce a unified account for all Wii U, and 3DS purchases that lets consumers access their content on more than one machine as long as they are signed into their accounts.  In this way, the games we buy are attached to the account, not the machine that it was originally downloaded.  Things break, people move, or buy a 2nd console.  They want to be able to seamlessly move content around, not wait 4-6 weeks  via mail for Nintendo to manually move content over.

The Apple Approach – Nintendo may already be heading in this direction  with their addition of 3DS software information on the Wii U eshop but it would be really nice to to allow certain digital content (Virtual Console, some eshop games) to work on the Wii U and 3DS.  1 purchase would allow access on two platforms.  This will be seen a positively consumer friendly and excite people.


3DS Miiverse -  This is long overdue.  A Miiverse app integrated into the 3DS operating system would be great.  What would even be better is for it to function exactly as it does now on the Wii U.   Suspend a game,  and make a post with a screenshot of the game at the suspended state.

 New hardware -  Nothing is more exciting than a new hardware reveal.   This may seem counter-intuitive but  a new piece of hardware that complements the Wii U and 3DS could be an interesting 3rd pillar for Nintendo.   What could this hardware be?   Maybe a box with a screen that allows the Wii U to stream content  to it as if it is a second game pad , but a game pad with an internal processor, SD card slot and memory that supports the 3DS eshop.    Price it right, and with the right content, this in-between portable could be a hit and leverage the aforementioned unified accounts system while serving as a Wii U as a game pad substitute and a portable digital only 3DS device.  

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