So, the worst kept secret in the technology and gaming world is confirmed. Microsoft will be unveiling the next Xbox console on 21 May. Gamers are hoping the questions about always-online, Kinect 2, and everything in between will be answered in the hour-long press conference. Just over two weeks later, we will be treated to a deluge of games and features from a bunch of first and third parties at E3 2013, with one glaring exception.
On the same day that Microsoft signaled their ambitions for the next generation, Nintendo announced that they won’t be having a press conference at E3, and are instead opting for smaller press events and Nintendo Directs. This also coincided with Satoru Iwata admitting that the Wii U “has not lived up to consumers’ expectations” due to the “release pace of first-party titles” during Nintendo’s latest earnings call. He also alluded to the confusion in the marketplace surrounding the Wii U’s controller, admitting some consumers felt that it was simply a Wii add-on, and vowed to claw back the momentum of the console starting with the release of Pikmin 3 in August. Either of these announcements at any other time would be intriguing on their own. Together, though, they paint a very confusing picture of Nintendo’s strategy.
For me, E3 is the perfect opportunity to “relaunch” the Wii U. After two consecutive E3 showings leading to marketplace confusion and an incredibly rocky launch, now would be the perfect time for Nintendo to get on stage and publicly announce a ton of games for the system, and drill it home once and for all that yes, this is a new console, and no, you can’t just buy the controller for your Wii. A price drop wouldn’t hurt either, as was proven by HMV’s impromptu slashing last month leading to a brief sales increase. The mainstream media pick up on E3 conferences, and push the news from the show into the public domain beyond the specialist gaming press/web. I’ve said in my previous article, and indeed in this week’s podcast, that the Wii U is “A Nintendo console for Nintendo games”, similar to how the Wii ended up in its latter years. Quite why Nintendo don’t want to use a grand stage of an E3 press conference to position themselves as an accompaniment, or even an alternative to the new boxes being shown off, I’m not sure.
I fully expect this year’s E3 to be completely dominated by the news of the two new systems, and a smorgasbord of incredible new titles for gamers to get their mitts on. Hopefully we’ll get release info on both the PS4 and the new Xbox, and then there’ll be fanboy wars across the board as everyone dissects the individual specs of the machines and pledges their allegiance to a specific brand, over-analysing the “special sauce” that both of the consoles will bring. The problem is that Nintendo’s voice is going to be drowned out for the huge majority of gamers. With the majority of the headlines being grabbed (as usual) by the big press conferences, Nintendo will be left fighting to make themselves heard by anyone outside the ring of fans who will tune into their Nintendo Direct conferences. The third party publishers are also going to be totally focused on the next generation of consoles, and I honestly don’t see the Wii U being mentioned much, if at all, during these conferences, with the exception of maybe Ubisoft.
It’s difficult to see Nintendo grabbing any of the headlines the way that they have been doing in the past couple of years. In 2010, I felt they had by far the best lineup of games that were actually close to release. In 2011, they surprised everyone by jumping in with a new home console first, and last year they got people talking with the Wii U’s full reveal. They certainly didn’t “win” E3 last year, but they definitely had people’s attention. Late on Thursday afternoon, Nintendo announced that they were going to try “new ways of communicating to the consumers at home” during E3 instead of the traditional press conference route. Well, the saying goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and whilst Nintendo’s current output may be troubling to customers, their press conference showings at E3 certainly haven’t been “broken” for a number of years.
So that’s what Microsoft and Nintendo have been up to this week, what of Sony? Well, they released another video showing off the features of the Dual Shock 4, and Mark Cerny gave an unprecedented insight into the tech behind the console to Gamasutra (definitely go and check that out if you haven’t already), as well as confirming that the PS4’s launch line up will be “The biggest of any Playstation console to date”, which is sure to excite a lot of folks, myself included. The undercurrent of support for the PS4 is very strong with developers right now, and I’m really excited to see what the launch lineup for the system has in store for us.
With the gaming showpiece of the year less than two months away, and one of the “Big 3” not making an appearance, it certainly takes a little bit of the shine away from what promises to be a spectacular year for gamers everywhere. Nintendo are, or at least should be, acutely aware that their platform is not going to be the vast majority of gamers’ first choice when Sony and Microsoft’s new beasts are unleashed. They should, in my opinion, be positioning themselves as an affordable second console with some stunning first and third party titles, and sadly, I feel they’ve lost the chance to get a strong message out to a large audience. To me, the decision indicates a serious lack of faith in their console, and instead of coming out swinging for Sony and Microsoft, they’ve rolled over and thrown in the towel to cater for a safe audience.