Or “What Nintendo should take away from their last 3 E3 Presentations”
Another E3 has come and gone, and we now have three years of Nintendo online press conferences to look back upon. This year was not the strongest for a variety of reasons, and I’ll be breaking down why throughout the article, but with the assumption that Nintendo will be continuing these Digital Events for future Electronic Entertainment Expos, I feel that it is important that we– Nintendo included– look back over the past three years and pull out just what exactly Nintendo should take away from three years of digital press events.
Synopsis of the Past Three Years
To begin, let’s look back and remember what exactly happened in the last three Nintendo Directs, as many games have been shown and announced over three years, and the structure itself has been shaken up a bit since the online presentation first debuted.
2013 was altogether a fairly average showing. A total of only 4 games were revealed that year, being Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U. While all these games got fans excited, we should remember that only one was a surprise. 3D World and Mario Kart were expected as Iwata had mentioned we’d be seeing them during a direct earlier in the year, and Smash Bros. was known since two years previously. The only surprises then, were Mega Man being in Smash Bros. and, of course, Donkey Kong Country, which was being developed by Retro Studios– of whom many thought would move on to a different franchise as they were just coming off the release of a Donkey Kong Country title on the original Wii.
In total, 12 games were shown during this direct, which took the format of Nintendo’s other Nintendo Directs where Iwata would present and then comment on a game before moving on. The middle part of the direct felt a bit lacking with titles such as Wii Party U, Wii Fit U, Art Academy, and a sizzle reel of indie and 3rd Party titles taking up a big bulk between Mario Kart 8 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Curiously, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which released later that year and was arguably the best game of the year (behind only Fire Emblem Awakening, of course), was not shown during the event, albeit being playable on the show floor. In general, it was an event full of very high highs and fairly low lows.
2014’s Digital Event, which dropped the “Direct” feel and began the excellent format of discussions and trailers split up by short animated segments, is likely the consensus pick for the best online presentation of all three. Only five games were revealed at this E3, but 4 were complete surprises (unless you don’t include Mario Maker, which leaked earlier that day) and the fifth was the new Zelda game for Wii U. With Smash Bros. bookending an event that featured games like Yoshi’s Wooly World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and Splatoon, 2014’s Digital Event was a virtually filler-less ride that showed off a lot of games that fans were excited to see.
If you are a Nintendo fan and have been online in the past two weeks, it’s likely that you know the general consensus on Nintendo’s 2015 Digital Event. 2015 followed the format that Nintendo set up last year. This year, Nintendo had a whopping 7 new games to show off, with only one of those was leaking early in Hyrule Warriors Legends, while only one other was vaguely known about from last year’s E3 in Star Fox Zero. The latter game opened the show, with an excellent Jim Henson skit transitioning into the trailer. That was immediately followed with the big business partnership that was announced between Nintendo and Activision by putting Nintendo Characters into Skylanders. After a Zelda discussion bookended by two new Zelda games, Nintendo went in with trailers for Metroid Prime: Federation Force, Fire Emblem Fates, Genei Ibun Roku #FE, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival.
The Digital Event featured the same amount of Discussions as last year, with the biggest change being that all but one discussion was joined by a trailer or was a game that had gotten a discussion the previous year. The discussions did not appear to be spread out. As noted above, there was a long stretch in the middle of the presentation where we were given 6 straight trailers. The final 4 games switched between trailers and discussions, revealing Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash in the interim, but the poor balance was obvious– especially considering the longest stretch between discussions last year was only 3 trailers.
Why this Digital Event floundered in the eyes of the fanbase, I would argue is a twofold answer. The first is the games they presented. There was obviously a hole to fill with the Wii U Zelda title not making an appearance, which didn’t help the chances of Tri Force Heroes, which looks interesting otherwise, but the real issue was likely just fan expectations, especially when considering Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Animal Crossing: amiibo Party, which stray from the course of their respective franchises while still keeping the brand name. Federation Force has received the most vitriol, with some going so far as to sign a petition to have the game cancelled.
Those are three of the seven games revealed during the Digital Event. Hyrule Warriors Legends suffers from the same problem as Tri Force Heroes, while also being a 3DS version of the original Wii U title. Star Fox, while excellent to see, is both not that large a franchise, and still maintains questions about how well it will play and look, even after gamers got their hands on it. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is another Mario Tennis game– a franchise that arguably found its greatest innovation on its GBA iteration. The biggest surprise of the show, then, was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. With video game fans coming off the dream show Sony put on the night before, it’s not hard to imagine why many were disappointed in Nintendo’s showing the following day. They may have shown more games, and revealed more games than they had done in the previous two years, but the problem was that the games shown were not what the fans wanted. It is an unfortunate problem, but one that does not often happen two years in a row.
Which is why the second reason it failed is arguably more important to address. Every few years, Nintendo puts on a bad show because it doesn’t have the game lineup fans would like to see. It happens. We can’t forget 2003 and 2008, and we definitely shouldn’t. The second problem is about structure. Not specifically the Digital Event itself, but how they chose to structure the event this year. Some online have already started calling for Nintendo to drop the digital presentations because, in their minds, “It just doesn’t work.” That is not what Nintendo should do, especially after proving that it can.
The concept of the Digital Event and the structure Nintendo implemented in 2014 when they began calling it as such does work. The Nintendo Direct style, which Nintendo used in 2013 where Iwata would introduce games and then talk about them, is good for updates, but not for the kinds of big announcements and flow that Nintendo needs in its E3 presentation. Outside of individual stream issues, a prerecorded event avoids the pitfalls of technical errors and other mistakes that plague the live press events every year. It also allows Nintendo to put together skits like those made by Robot Chicken and Jim Henson studios that easily would have fallen flat elsewhere, and makes good developer commentary possible through tightly knitted editing without sacrificing good gameplay.
Despite how poorly received Nintendo’s 2015 Digital Event has been, it does not mean that the concept is questionable or failed, it is only in need of fine tuning and the addressing of problems that plague E3 conferences of all types. What they should be looking for when going about fine-tuning the structure of future press conferences is what this article is here to address.
Where to Begin
I thought I’d start out by going over the lighter side of the last two Digital Events. The openings for the last two years have been truly entertaining and well executed. Personally, I felt that the 2015 opening was the better of the two. While the jokes were definitely there in 2014, especially the Mother 3 joke, the whole segment didn’t play as well into the opening reveal as the Star Fox skit in 2015 did. Cold opens, from what the last two years have shown, should be a good mix of comedy and a well-done final transition. Nintendo seems to have that down.
The skits interlaced within the Digital Event the past two years, though, could do with a little work. They should be made to be off-beat and garner a slight chuckle without taking up too much time. They need to work as diversions without becoming distractions, and can sometimes offer to be some sort of transition. My favorite skit from both years is easily the callback to Iwata staring at a banana.
I feel that if anything gets brought over from the Nintendo Direct structure, it should be those sorts of quirky callbacks that have created so many memes in the past. Something like Reggie’s feud with Bill Trinen or Iwata’s Wii U unboxing video are the kinds of friendly and quirky things that everyone loves about Nintendo. Aiming to try doing something like that, or calling back to those quirks like the banana skit does is an excellent way of going about making those skits. Hell, I’d even suggest developing the skits during the year prior and implementing the quirks you plan on calling back to in Nintendo Directs throughout the year.
But after using Robot Chicken and Jim Henson studios to produce the openings and skits, where do you go next? Technically speaking, both are puppet animation– the prior being puppets filmed in stop motion and the latter being, well, actual puppets. Fans are likely to expect something new next year, so what should Nintendo use? In my mind, there are three clear options, and which ones are used should depend on what games Nintendo intends to show off next year.
Going off of Robot Chicken’s stop-motion puppet animation, a logical follow-up would be Claymation. This type of animation would be especially useful if Nintendo decides to reuse the art style used in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Several franchises Nintendo owns seem like perfect fits to transition into using a Claymation feel as well, from the aforementioned Kirby, to Earthbound, Animal Crossing, and even Mario. The best part is that going with Claymation would allow Nintendo to continue its trend of collaborating with established and historic animation studios, since the most well-known Claymation studio is Aardman Animations, animators of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
But if we’re talking innovations within the last two decade, and the clear most popular and well regarded animation styles of the modern day, Nintendo might consider going with computer animation. Personally, this is not my favorite idea. Because of the video game industry, CGI trailers run rampant and therefore may not feel special, even if put together by a well known studio, such as Pixar, Dreamworks, or Blue Sky. On the other hand, it could work really well to transition into a brand new HD Metroid title. Personally, if this happens, there’s actually only one team I want working on it: the Adult Swim team that makes the Toonami animation block. It may be a little niche, but that’s just the kind of thing you do to draw good will your way.
The last option I feel would work really well is the one option that would instantly draw attention to Nintendo’s Japanese-ness, and that is Anime. There are obviously a whole lot of Studios that Nintendo could go after to do this, so many that it isn’t worth trying to list them as any argument for one over another is highly disputable. Except Studio Ghibli. There’s no argument to choose any studio over Studio Ghibli. The studio worth mentioning at the moment is Shaft, which produced not only half of the Kid Icarus: Uprising shorts, but the Palutena reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Of course, because of the type of animation it is, there are specific art styles that match up well. As the Smash trailer showed, both Zelda and Kid Icarus both would work well, and the various posters made for Super Smash Bros. suggest that anything from Fire Emblem to Mario and Metroid to F-Zero could work just as well. Of course, since they’ve already had anime series, Kirby and Pokémon are also clear fits.
But when it comes down to it, there’s a wide range of art styles in 2D animation that many fans who grew up with Nintendo might recognize from their childhood. You could almost throw a dart at a board of cartoons that have aired on Cartoon Network or network television in the last thirty years and easily find one with an art style that fans would adore.
Surprise us, Nintendo. That’s part of the reason Muppet Iwata was so entertaining. You can arguably do no wrong in whatever choice you go with, which isn’t something you’re as easily afforded with in the areas that the rest of this article– or maybe I should call it an essay at this point, intends to discuss.
The Rules of Showcasing Video Games
Rule #1. Win With A Big Three
As a rule of thumb, there should always be at least 3 big games to anchor any E3 press event that I refer to as the show opener, closer, and midway peak.
The Show Opener shouldn’t be the biggest game you have, since you don’t want it to overshadow everything else in the event, but it should be able to easily hype up the audience. It doesn’t have to be a new reveal, but it should show new things that fans want to see. Sony knew to do exactly that this year when they showed off The Last Guardian right off the bat. Star Fox’s excellent showing could have done the same thing this year for Nintendo, but nothing really came close to being as big throughout the entire Digital Event. On the other hand, last year’s showing of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U was spot-on.
The Show Closer, as the name suggests, ends the event. It doesn’t need to be the biggest game of the event, but it very well can be. More importantly, it needs a build-up, or at least be led into by a healthy round of games that gives the press event the feeling that it is winding down. The Show Closer is the “Before I leave you, I have one more reveal” game. Essentially, it needs to be the game that avoids part of the problem Nintendo has had in the last two years where many people watching were left asking the question, “That’s it?” Its job is to make the press event feel complete and end it on a high note that sends fans off feeling good about this year’s E3 and the games they’ll be playing in the future. 2013’s press event did this very well with the reveal of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, which returned to do the same thing in 2014, and many can’t forget the emphatically received reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in 2004. 2015, however, did not have this in the slightest. Mario Tennis devolved into a discussion about Super Mario Maker, which is a game that does look cool, but was well known at the point of its showing due to the Nintendo World Championships, and ended up not even being the show closer when the Let’s Super Mario video ended up taking over. This is the kind of thing Nintendo should definitely try to avoid in the coming years.
The Midway Peak is the most interesting of the three. Normally, you want either this or the Show Closer to be your biggest game of the event– unless it is 2014, and Nintendo decides they’ll make the Show Closer and Show Opener be the exact same game. In any case, whether a reveal or not, the job of the Midway Peak is to set up a central tentpole in the middle of the press event. By doing so, it helps strengthen what could otherwise be a mushy center in between a strong opening and closing and helps viewers remember the games shown throughout the event. You don’t want two peaks and a boring valley in the middle. Zelda for Wii U was the clear Midway Peak for Nintendo last year, but nothing really stood out this year. Metroid Prime: Federation Force appeared to be trying to be that game, but that, alongside the other trailers in the middle of the conference, fell flat and couldn’t offer what Zelda had done the year before.
So without any sign of a good Show Closer, a Midway Peak that fell utterly flat, and a Show Opener that ended up overshadowing the rest of the Digital Event, it’s even more clear why a lack of big games hurt Nintendo’s Digital Event this year. As an excellent foil, you could look at Sony, who opened with The Last Guardian, closed with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and had arguably two big midway peaks with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3’s Kickstarter. Alongside a great showing from a new IP in Horizon: Zero Dawn, those four games were all anyone could talk about when referring to the Sony press conference. Because they had that, no one really cared about things they otherwise might get upset about like a terrible first-person trailer for Batman: Arkham Knight, a deal for Call of Duty that is seven years too late, or whatever else it was Sony did in the second hour of their still-far-too-long of a press conference.
Every company says they’re all about the games, but really, all you need to be about is having three big games and some filler that doesn’t look bad in between. It worked for Nintendo in 2014, and it would have worked for them in 2013 if Wii Party U, Wii Fit U, Art Academy, and the 3rd Party and eshop reels were ignored and replaced with a single Link Between Worlds trailer. Nintendo could easily do it again.
Rule #2. Find a Good Balance Between Developer Commentaries and Trailers
One thing that Nintendo began implementing along with their new Digital Event format in 2014 were the developer commentaries. Through these segments, developers get to talk straight to the consumers in tightly edited discussions that often give insight into the backstory and development of the games they are making. Nintendo has kept the number of these commentaries at 5 per Digital Event for these past two years, and it’s likely to remain in that range as long as they continue to make use of them. What changed this year from last year is how they are used. With that in mind, I thought it would be best to try to lay the groundwork for how and when developer commentaries are best used in the future.
Rule 2.1 Developer commentaries should be used sparingly and smartly. Looking at this year, it was clear that there were several games that needed commentaries and others that did not. Commentaries allow the developer to reveal new information about a game and how it plays, while at the same time, explaining why they made those decisions and what they think gamers should take away from those decisions. As entertaining as hearing “4 Links was Too Tall” was during this year’s Digital Event, having both Tri Force Heroes and Hyrule Warriors Legends get discussions was completely unnecessary. It was obvious how both games would play and what content they were adding from their trailers alone and it is debatable whether they added anything that the trailers did not already tell us. (Hyrule Warriors Legends just played its trailer underneath Aonuma’s commentary before playing the full trailer.) Likewise, Yoshi’s Wooly World definitely did not need a developer discussion, especially after having one last year for the same game. Seeing the development coordinator talk about how the Yarn Yoshi Amiibo came to be was interesting, but not at all necessary to have in this event.
It didn’t help that the discussions were jammed into only the beginning and ending of the presentation. The Digital Event began with 3 straight games being shown alongside discussions before Nintendo rattled off 7 straight trailers without discussion. As stated previously, the balance wasn’t there, which is unfortunate because many of those games, such as Federation Force, Genei Ibun Roku #FE, and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, could have all greatly benefitted by the developer talking about what they wanted their games to be– something that became painfully obvious as they appeared on Nintendo Treehouse’s livestream and performed interviews throughout E3.
Rule 2.2 Games should not be given trailers and commentaries in the same presentation. This rule comes with exception, as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS had both a trailer and commentary in 2014, and everyone ate that up, but it should be noted that while the trailer for Mii Fighters and Palutena did reveal new information and were interesting, they mainly served as hype mechanics at the beginning and ending of the show, whereas Masahiro Sakurai’s commentary went in depth to reveal a whole lot of information he couldn’t possibly reveal through a simple trailer. Plus it brought a lot of hype and that was a game that people were very interested in learning more about, which strikes a big contrast to Miyamoto’s commentary for Star Fox, which did very little to give more information about the game and instead talked a bit about how he came up with the idea for Star Fox.
The start of the presentation this year felt very bloated because of the developer discussions, and only three games in, viewers were left wondering whether every single game was going to end up getting one. Because of how much time the developer commentaries have to take, tacking a trailer onto the end of it can often feel unnecessary and lengthy, which happened not only to Super Mario Maker at the end of this year’s Digital Event, but also Splatoon at the end of last year’s– which was arguably the only time last year where the event felt like it was spending too much time on a single game. Not to mention, that in virtually all cases where a trailer and a discussion were both presented, information was given to the audience multiple times, dampening the effect of either. It also allows viewers to easily tell which was more necessary, as GiantBomb’s Jeff Gerstmann exemplified upon conclusion of watching 2014’s Digital Event.
Nowhere is it clearer how bloated a conference can feel than looking at all of 2013. Every single game shown off was presented in the Nintendo Direct style, with a Nintendo executive or employee such as Satoru Iwata, Reggie Fils-Aime or Bill Trinen talking to the audience about a game and providing an opening and closing buffer for trailers. In 2013, this lead to Iwata introducing a game, showing a trailer, and then talking about said game– often repeating information that the trailer made clear on its own. To me, dropping that is the single greatest improvement to Nintendo’s digital presentation in the 3 years they’ve been running it.
But moving on, I want to talk about exactly when and for what I think commentary and trailers should be used.
2.3.1. Commentary should be used to explain and help viewers understand the concepts behind why a game was designed in such a way, while still offering the information that a trailer would provide. The best uses of commentary in 2014 were Super Smash Bros., Yoshi’s Wooly World, The Legend of Zelda for Wii U, and Hyrule Warriors. In 2015, the best use was for Super Mario Maker. Of those, only Smash and Zelda had trailers as well. I’ve already gone over how Smash got away with having both, but Zelda’s reasoning is much simpler: the trailer was merely a teaser, and since this was arguably Nintendo’s biggest and most anticipated game of the presentation, it made sense to offer more information to viewers past what they could actually show.
Super Mario Maker technically didn’t have a trailer, but it did have a tangential video that followed. What was more interesting was how the discussion followed along the lines of Star Fox and Yoshi’s Wooly World, in that they spent a lot more time talking about inconsequential side information about the development of the game and its franchise, but where the Yoshi information could probably have been left to a single video on Nintendo’s YouTube channel, the design documents for the original Super Mario Bros. being shown off was absolutely mesmerizing.
Other than Yoshi and Mario, the only other “commentary” that took place this year was with the Skylander’s developer. But rather than just presenting a tightly edited discussion where it feels like he’s being asked questions, Nintendo actually wasted time in letting Reggie ask those questions. This, like most of this article, is merely my own humble opinion, but considering this format is not used anywhere else in the Digital Event, perhaps it would be best to just stick to how you’ve been doing it otherwise.
2.3.2. Trailers should be used (1) to present a game whose concept does not need further explanation by the developer or (2) to be able to present information quickly and visually without slowing down the rest of the Digital Event. Nowhere was the fast pace of trailers more evident than in this year’s Digital Event between Federation Force and Animal Crossing: amiibo Party, where trailer went by, one after the other, without slowing down to allow viewers to catch their breath. That being said, several of the games in that run, and a few that came a bit later, did exactly what a trailer should do and were all that Nintendo needed to do with those games.
In 2014 the games which were given only a trailer and rocked it were Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, Bayonetta 2, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. All of these games possessed mechanics that fans were intimately familiar with due to previous entries in each game’s franchise. A game that received a trailer in both 2014 and 2015, Xenoblade Chronicles X, did not need a discussion as a whole lot of information about the game was already known before being shown– especially in 2015, as the game had already released in Japan. It executed its mission in showing off story elements and demonstrating the scale of the world and the creatures within it. This year, Fire Emblem Fates, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, Yo-kai Watch, and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam each worked well with only trailers for basically all of the reasons the previously mentioned games did.
On the other hand, some games that could have benefitted from getting only a trailer were Splatoon last year (albeit you could go both ways on this one since the game objective and mechanics are easy to understand just by watching it), and Star Fox, Hyrule Warriors Legends, and Yoshi’s Wooly World this year.
Rule #3. Show (at least some of) What Fans Want to See
When considering the pifalls of 2013, there are 3 games that can easily be pointed to as general cause: Metroid Prime Federation Force, Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, and The Legend of Zelda Tri Force Heroes. While from three franchises that many fans always love to see, the concepts for these games– as I laid out earlier– weren’t what fans wanted to see. Now the problem here isn’t that Nintendo showed off games from a franchise that fans didn’t want to see. The problem is that there wasn’t much else that they did want to see. As many have pointed out since the Digital Event, if any of these three games had come with the announcement of another game in that franchise that they did want to see, they would have been satisfied. This is why no one was getting up in arms over Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, because they felt that a non-spinoff Wii U iteration of the franchise was in the works.
This ties greatly into Rule #1 as well, since it’s hard to really have a big three to hold up your metaphorical tent if fans don’t want to see the three big games that you have. It’s hard to make a new IP look amazing at E3 and stick in fans minds. And if you can, there’s a high chance you might be faking it. Take a look at what happened to Watch Dogs for a clear example. Put simply, show at least a few games that fans want to see if you want a good reaction to your Digital Event– or any press conference for that matter. All Sony did this year was show games that fans really, really, REALLY wanted to see… at least for the first half, I can’t remember what happened in the second.
Rule 3.1. Respect the viewer’s time. Like the last part of Rule 3, this rule ties into a previous rule, and is arguably the most important part of building any press event. If a viewer feels like you’re wasting their time, or that they are wasting their time in watching your presser, the possible outcomes are generally not going to go in your favor. Rule 2 is all about respecting the viewer’s time.
All three of the big first party developers have been guilty of not doing this in each of the last three years through spending too much time on non-gaming related topics. There are videos upon videos making fun of how often Microsoft said “TV,” “Sports,” and “Call of Duty” in 2013– both at E3 and at the Xbox One reveal event earlier that year. Sony spent time on a PlayStation Plus television series that got about as much love as Microsoft in 2013, and made a repeat appearance at the 2014 presser. More notably, they’ve failed to budget their time wisely with project Morpheus in either of the last two years as well. Thirdly, but certainly not the last of the examples I could dig up for this, is how long Reggie’s intro went in the 2014 Nintendo Digital Event, and more notably, the incredibly aggravating “Let’s Super Mario” section of 2015’s event, which was the final nail in the coffin for this year’s Digital Event in the public mindshare.
Of course, making sure to respect viewer’s time applies to what games you show off and how you go about doing so. You have to make sure that a single game doesn’t feel like it’s running on too long or clogging up the flow of the press event. Skylanders drew ire this year for how much time it took, simply because the franchise is looked down upon by many gamers– mainly for the company publishing it. Another thing to avoid is too much time on games that fans have seen before or know a lot about. Yoshi’s Wooly World feels like it was given too much time for a game we’ve seen a lot of already and that had already been released in other territories, whereas a game in a similar position, such as Xenoblade Chronicles X didn’t take up much time at all. Take a guess which one more people zoned out on during the Digital Event.
One of the best things Nintendo has done for years is limit their press event to under an hour. Sony doesn’t do this, and because of that, they often have filler that no one cares about or spend too much time on one game or another. Brevity is very important when tying a story together, as a tightly knit press event often has viewers coming away with the impression that the presenter had a lot of information about a great many games and didn’t spend too much time to show you what they were. Obviously, you don’t want to rush it, but showing off a lot of games that gamers can get excited about in a compact presentation should really be the ultimate end goal.
Rule #4. Have at Least One Big Surprise
This rule is honestly more like a guideline, and I mean it in all seriousness. You don’t actually need to have a surprise, no matter what everyone seems to believe. Nintendo’s 2015 Digital Event did not flop with fans because there were no surprises. Like I said, Nintendo revealed 7 games this year, which is a few more than they revealed last year and the year before. 2013, while flawed, is still looked back on as a good E3 for Nintendo, even though they only had 4 new games, and all but one were known about going into the digital presentation. More importantly, people weren’t even that thrilled with the one that wasn’t, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, because many wanted Retro studios to be working on something other than the franchise they had last completed a game for.
But as a guideline, it’s always good to have at least one big surprise. 2014 surprised everyone with a Captain Toad game, a spiritual successor to Kirby: Canvas Curse, Mario Maker (albeit leaked during the day of), and a brand new IP in Splatoon. All of these weren’t exactly big game reveals, but at the end of the day, they were nice, small additions that went well together and helped elevate that year in the minds of fans as the clear best of the 3 Digital Events. In other words, you can get away with just following Rule 3, but if you really want to blow the lid off the metaphorical auditorium you would be in if these presentations were still live, adding in a surprise will really nail it down.
Rule #5. Coming Fall of This Year
This is far and away what Nintendo did best in 2015. While E3 2015 may not be remembered fondly, the year 2015 may very well be. While Nintendo will miss out on the many, gigantic multiplatform games releasing on PS4 and XBO this year such as Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront, their exclusive lineup looks very strong on both systems in comparison to the exclusive lineup of their competition– except, perhaps Xbox One, if you are a fan of Halo and the latest Tomb Raider.
As the staff of GameInformer and GiantBomb pointed out while watching the E3 presentations this year, many of the games that the other first-party developers showed off are not coming this year, and could even be a few years off. (Note that the three big surprises at Sony’s presser– The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Shenmue 3– all pretty clearly fit this bill.) That isn’t the case with Nintendo, as they chose to only show off games that are scheduled for release in the next 6-8 months. It’s not surprising to see, either. Nintendo has gotten flak in the past for having so many of the games at E3 with a release window in a following year. In 2013, only half the games released in the same year, with only one more coming in the early months of 2014. The following year 5 of 11 games were scheduled to come in the same year, and only two more were released before this year’s E3. One game in each of the two years, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Zelda for Wii U respectively, are releasing (at least) two years later than they were first shown at E3. Nintendo’s goal was to completely avoid that this year.
A grand total of 10 of the 15 games shown at this year’s E3 are scheduled for release this year. That’s double what was shown in each of the past two years, and the other 5 games are all scheduled for release in early 2016. It will obviously be curious to see if any get pushed back as Yoshi’s Wooly World was in the US, but you have to figure that at least one of those games– Hyrule Warriors Legends, Metroid Prime Federation Force, Fire Emblem Fates, Genei Ibun Roku #FE, & Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam– will take the late May/early summer release that so greatly benefitted Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon in each of the last three years.
In essence, when the Digital Event wraps up, a year is going to be running through any given fan’s head, and it’s preferable for Nintendo to make it the current one. Having a year that isn’t the current one come up at the end of a trailer can dampen its effect significantly– which was the case for a lot of people with The Last Guardian at Sony’s presser this year. Because of that, you want to have a large portion of the games shown at your event to have a targeted release date in that same year.
That being said, don’t be afraid to show a game that might be a year or two out. I think this year showed that more than anything. If instead of jumping into the “Let’s Super Mario” campaign, Reggie had said “And one more thing” and shown off new Zelda Wii U footage, I can guarantee that Nintendo fans would have been ecstatic about this year’s E3. That exemplifies the biggest downside to only showing games releasing in the coming year: if you don’t have the games in that year to fulfill rules 1, 3, or 4, it just won’t work. Sometimes you have to reveal a game or two that aren’t that close to being completed. Of course, there’s the issue that you may lose a surprise for a future E3, but that’s a risk you take in making that decision and, honestly, I can see that being the reason Nintendo didn’t show some games that are further out.
And that’s fine. Not going too far out is definitely a good plan. Look at Square Enix. They announce games 3 or more years in advance, possibly without having even started on the project they’re announcing. Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV were both announced 2 years ago- scratch that, as I’m pretty sure Final Fantasy Versus XIII was actually supposed to be a launch title for the SNES CD. Who knows how much longer they’ll take to be completed? And don’t even get me started on Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Now this is starting to feel like a term paper. Actually, now that I think about it, this might be longer than any paper I wrote in four years of college. Oops.
As long as this article has gotten, most of what I’ve written has been examples and comparisons to support a few basic points of interest for Nintendo to consider when putting together next year’s press conference. Just so we’re clear as to what they are, I’ll just list them off quickly:
- Continue the excellent cold openings and skits by collaborating with outside animators and consider setting them up in Directs throughout the year
- Have 3 big titles that will get fans going at the beginning, end, and middle of the Digital Event
- Only give developer commentaries to the games that need the in depth and behind-the-scenes looks they offer, make sure they are spaced out well throughout the Digital Event, and never give games both that and a trailer
- Keep in mind what fans want to see and use that knowledge to better budget your time so that you don’t spend too much time on something fans and viewers don’t care about or don’t need to know more about
- It isn’t necessarily a requirement, but consider having at least one big surprise to sweeten the deal
- Try to put a focus on games coming out that year and early next year, but don’t be afraid to pull a game or two from further down the line if you need to
- Keep it short, sweet, to the point, and well compacted.
Part of the reason I wrote this article is that I felt– besides fan expectations– it was the structure and design of Nintendo’s 2015 Digital Event that had more to do with its failure in the eyes of fans than anything else. I do wonder– had the event better followed the guidelines I’ve gone over in this piece– if the resulting fan reaction would be significantly different. It’s certainly a possibility, and one that I would be willing to put into practice.
We know now that Nintendo actually had new footage of the Zelda game to show but decided to pass on doing so. If and when that is ever released, when taken into consideration alongside developer commentary and gameplay from the Nintendo Treehouse Livestream and subsequent interviews, there should be enough content to create artificial developer commentaries and trailers in order to knit together a custom Digital Event and see what the reaction to that would be. So I may do that in the future, but it is only an idea.
However, that idea was the real turning point in my inspiration for coming up with these guidelines. And they are guidelines. They can be bent and broken and still probably achieve similar intended results– assuming they are bent and broken correctly. In fact, the ideas I’ve laid out here could apply to any E3 press conference. Virtually all of them could have made Square Enix’s press conference not complete garbage. Can you imagine if that had happened?