Opinion – Nintendo’s E3 Plans Target The Wrong Audience Again

by Mike Futter on Apr 29, 2014 at 10:52 AM

This morning, Nintendo announced its plans for E3 2014. Like last year, the company has decided not to hold a press conference. It’s doubling down on that approach this time, and won’t even hold a show floor briefing for media.

Last year’s plans were executed horribly, with a clunky presentation, a major announcement tease that fizzled, and a web stream that didn’t work. Instead of going back to a tried and true format and messaging strategy, Nintendo is narrowing the focus to the true believers (which number approximately 6 million Wii U owners and 13 million 3DS owners in the US and over 40 million worldwide).

Nintendo Direct presentations have consistently been targeted to and messaged for the audience that already owns a Wii U or 3DS. Reinforcement is a crucial strategy to keep fans loyal by reminding them of how their investment in a platform will pay off. 

Enticement is crucial, especially when adoption is far lower than it should be at this point in the life cycle. The two messaging strategies have much in common, as both focus on the value of the brand, however one assumes loyalty is already earned. The other is designed to woo new friends.

For all of its faults at E3 2013, Microsoft was successful in executing the wooing strategy. Before it focused on the Xbox One, the company introduced a new Xbox 360 model at a new price and suggested that now was a great time for new customers to join the family.

Nintendo can accomplish this goal by leading its direct with a pricing announcement. This will please retailers and perhaps capture the attention of those that have previously shrugged off the Wii U. With the Wii U trailing even Dreamcast sales relative to their life cycles, if Nintendo has a hope of salvaging the home console, something needs to change.

There is something Nintendo won’t be able to recapture with its recorded presentation. There is value to being in the room during one of these press conferences. Seeing company representatives speak just a few feet from you, hearing the chatter in the crowd, and getting a sense for how people are receiving the information in person are all intangibles with value that can’t be overstated. Often, the perception via stream is different than it is in the audience. The two pieces form a complete picture.

The lovable, unscripted goofs that have happened at press conferences throughout the years (“My body is ready”) and the pure elation of a packed house (the Twilight Princess announcement) simply won’t happen. Nintendo’s recent videos are amusing, but they are canned and unnatural. Some of the magic, and all of the participatory nature of having a dialog with the audience is lost.

The choice to go with a recorded message rather than an in-person presentation also carries with it a feeling of defeat. Nintendo might be positioning digital as a preferred format, but it feels less special. E3 press conferences in big auditoria have impact, and Nintendo is losing that sense of something special by doing more of what it already does throughout the year.

We’ll cover the digital presentation, of course, just like we do every other Nintendo Direct. But that’s part of the problem. This is just going to be another in a long line of recorded, one-way presentations targeted toward an audience that doesn’t need to be convinced.

I want Nintendo to succeed, but in order for that to happen, more consumers need to care about the company’s platforms. Perhaps the Smash Bros. Invitational tournament will be a hook for those that don’t have a Wii U. I certainly hope so, because there are great games coming.

We don't know the long term effects of a company not holding a press briefing at E3. We do know that Nintendo won't be part of that conversation, at least not how it once was.