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Nintendo, WTF are you doing right now?

by Eric Frederiksen | April 27, 2016April 27, 2016 8:30 am PST

Nintendo… what is going on right now? We understood when the company decided to change up its E3 format to a digital experience coupled with a genuine booth on the show floor. That made sense.

The announcements that arrived this morning? We’re not even sure the company understands the imperative nature of its situation any more.

Let’s back up for a second and recap before we move forward. Nintendo announced, first, that the Nintendo NX won’t release until March 2017. They went on to announce that The Legend of Zelda has been delayed into 2017, too, and that the game will sell for both the Wii U and NX.

They also announced that E3 2016 will only feature one playable game. Nintendo’s only bringing the Wii U version of The Legend of Zelda to the showfloor in Los Angeles, CA. That’s it. No NX, no 3DS, just Zelda on the Wii U.

What is happening?

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Eric Frederiksen

Did you ever read that book, Console Wars, detailing the battle between Sega and Nintendo in the 1990s? I can’t help but think of that right now. Sega of America took a huge bite out of Nintendo, and then Sega of Japan started making all kinds of weird decisions that were counter to everything that had brought them so much success.

That feels strikingly similar to what’s happening here, both in terms of how strange it is and how potentially dire it could be for the company. Nintendo certainly has more mindshare and nostalgia power with fans, and deeper pockets as well, but they’ve packed so many weird choices into a single calendar year that it’s hard not to stare.

Joey Davidson

Right, I think that’s a fair comparison right now.

I have to admit, between the two of us, I’m normally the one giving Nintendo more leeway in their decisions. This one, though, is baffling. The whole collection of decisions, really, has me scratching my head.

Let’s start chronologically, I suppose. E3. What? Here, let me grab this full quote from the press release itself for you to chew on. It’s just, well, here:

Nintendo changes its approach to the show every year. This June, Nintendo will focus its attentions on the upcoming game in The Legend of Zelda franchise. The Wii U version of the game will be playable for the first time on the E3 show floor, and it will be the only playable game Nintendo presents at the show, in order to provide attendees a complete immersion. Additional information about Nintendo’s E3 plans will be announced in the future.

Such a weird decision. Why not just skip E3 altogether instead of holding a preview event for a game that won’t release for, like, 10 months?

Will having a single game at E3 help or hurt Nintendo?

Eric

I’ll say this: if any one Nintendo game can hold up an E3 booth, it’s Zelda. I don’t even think a Mario game could despite the character being just as big in many ways. Zelda is an event, and it can be treated as such.

And I think the problems with this approach to E3 aren’t simply with the one-game show. It’s also a one-system show. The next Legend of Zelda is heading to Wii U and NX. The Wii U version is, in buyers’ eyes, the sub-standard one. The back-up. The bone thrown to the consumer. The NX version is sure to be the more impressive one. Not showing that version, I think, is a mistake.

Not showing anything for their other big system – you know, the 3DS? – is a huge mistake. Absolutely huge. One of Nintendo’s announcements today was that Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing are going to be two of their mobile franchises. The lack of a 3DS showing at E3 (and this holiday, for that matter), coupled with the announcement of two big franchises popping up on mobile reinforces a worry many fans have and one that Nintendo tried to discourage when they announced their mobile initiative: That Nintendo handhelds will be downplayed in favor of mobile.

I think Legend of Zelda can hold up the Wii U section of a Nintendo booth, but I don’t think it can hold up the booth itself, and I think the glaring absences speak volumes whether they’re meant to or not.

Joey

The 3DS has a massive glaring absence, too. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon will release before 2016 wraps up, and they’re completely missing from the show floor? Surely, if any Nintendo franchise is as massive as Zelda, it’s Pocketmenz, right?

Nintendo’s using E3 to advertise for a game that won’t release until March 2017 at the earliest, while they have arguably smaller games coming in 2016 that could use some attention.

I won’t suggest these games occupy the same mindshare as Zelda, but Nintendo’s ignoring Paper Mario, Dragon Quest VII, Dragon Quest VIII, Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.

Look, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon will still sell without a presence at E3. Heck, Zelda will sell without a presence at E3. Federation Force? Tokyo MIrage Sessions #FE? These are games that need all the press they can get to generate revenue for the company.

Instead, Nintendo’s sweeping them under the rug in favor of the Wii U version of a game most Nintendo fans would buy anyways.

Even further, E3 is one of the major times suppliers and investors check out what companies are offering. These folks don’t care about Direct presentations and Best Buy demo kiosks. Nintendo is telling them, “we have Zelda!… and nothing else.” How will that affect stock? Perception? Retail presence?

Then there’s the delay. I don’t mind delays, really. I see that piece of news as the least consequential here. If Nintendo isn’t ready to ship Zelda in 2016, that’s fine. They know best when it comes to quality.

The in between space? If you specifically pay attention to what Nintendo’s showing at E3, you’d think nothing is set to release between now and Zelda. That seems bonkers to me.
Even further, what does this mean for E3? I don’t intend for you to answer this question directly, but the lack of NX at E3 is one more tent pole dropping for the convention that’s been leaking exhibitors this year.

Eric

I think the question of what’s happening at E3 is too big for this discussion, but I’ll say in short that I don’t think you’re wrong.

Here’s what Nintendo says about the new launch date for Zelda:

The latest installment in this classic franchise is scheduled to launch simultaneously for both Wii U and NX, and both versions of the game have been in development in tandem.

They don’t say right out that the game is going to be a launch title for the NX, but it seems like a safe assumption. My guess is that that also determined the decision to launch the NX in March rather than closer to the traditional holiday time frame we’ve seen with consoles for most of the last three decades.

Along with leaving a huge blank space where there shouldn’t be one between now and March, Nintendo is banking a lot of stuff on next March. I can’t help but think of the way so many companies time releases with March because it’s the end of their fiscal year and they want to fit it in to make investors happy. It feels like an investor-motivated decision. March isn’t an empty time of year anymore, either, so I don’t think they’re necessarily avoiding a rush, either.

Joey

I’m not too upset about that March launch date. I think the gaming business calendar has changed dramatically in the last decade. We see titles sell incredibly well on random dates throughout the year.

I think Nintendo is sacrificing that early holiday surge of sales by launching their console in March; however, they’ve given themselves a chance to dominate the news cycle for a long, long time. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be silent while Nintendo swings big with the NX.

The same is true for not bringing the NX to E3 this year. Odd choice, sure, but they guarantee their own spotlight at a private event. I think this move speaks more to the increasing irrelevance of E3 itself than anything else.

Now, at the same time, that also means that the NX and, by extension, this new Zelda are incredibly, incredibly important for Nintendo. The hardware and software combination could very well define what customers think of Nintendo for the next several years, and possibly reverse their current state or cause it to plummet further.

Listen, I like my Wii U. I don’t regret the pick up at all, and I still play it fairly often. I think Wii U fans are the minority right now, and the rest of the gaming world is disillusioned with Nintendo. This is a company that abandoned the core audience with the Wii, released the Wii U to attack that casual and stagnant sector and fell flat on its face.

Now, Nintendo has to make amends with gamers who left it during the age of the Wii as well as those frustrated with Nintendo’s decision to move on to the NX after only making games for the Wii U for four years.

If the NX isn’t a total knockout, and I mean a completely genius stroke of a machine, Nintendo’s going to lose even more mindshare. Would the company even recover from another blunder? Financially, I know the warchest they have could see them through several flops, but what about in the way consumers perceive them.

Does Nintendo of Japan recognize the importance of the next year? I’m not sure.

nintendo-games-photo

Eric

That takes us back to the beginning – 1990s Sega. Like Tom Kalinske and his team back then, I think Reggie and his team are probably very aware of the climate their company exists in and the position they’re in with fans. But just like that situation, and like you said, I wonder if Nintendo of Japan does. Maybe they have a sure-fire hit with the NX. Maybe it’s an amazingly powerful, ultra-low priced machine with a grand-slam launch line-up. I want that! How cool would that be?

But I, too, get the feeling that this is a make-or-break spot for the company. That warchest can only take them so far before they can’t push against investors anymore and have to start thinking about making money. Making games and making money were the same thing for them for a long time, but it seems like that’s been harder and harder to synch up lately. They have to bring those two in line again, or the Nintendo we’re talking about five or ten years from now could be a very different company.


Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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