Nintendo at E3: What to Expect

"Nintendo has the most to lose or gain this E3. Their backs are against the wall," says Jesse Divnich

In this analyst roundtable (following our look at Microsoft and Sony at E3), we examine what is arguably the most important of the three E3 press conferences: Nintendo. The house that Mario built is no doubt going to do its best to steal the show. Everyone is eager to see what Wii U will really be like.

Nintendo is facing intense scrutiny and has numerous questions to answer, and even with E3 the company may choose to deliberately not answer them all. Will Mario and Zelda both grace Wii U's launch? How much will Wii U cost? Can Nintendo strike a balance to retain its casual Wii audience while also attracting the core Xbox/PlayStation demographic?

It's going to be a very interesting E3 for Nintendo. Here's what the analysts had to say:

Jesse Divnich, EEDAR

Nintendo has the most to lose or gain this E3. Their backs are against the wall as their hardware numbers have fallen below expectations in recent quarters--but it is a position they've been in before and I'd argue some of their best decisions came while under pressure.

"Nintendo needs to demonstrate how Wii U will change gaming in a way that other systems cannot"

Billy Pidgeon

Nintendo is likely to put a big focus on all the third-party partnerships they have obtained for their Wii U line-up.  My only concern with Nintendo at E3 is that they might cater too much to the core audience by announcing/showcasing a plethora of HD ports that are already in development for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.  I think going head-to-head with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is a bad proposition.  Nintendo has succeeded on their ability to go against the grain and create demand where there wasn't any before.

And yes, I am more than positive that any HD Wii U port will each have Wii U specific features, but I don't foresee any of them being able to sway gamers who are already entrenched in these franchises on other consoles (Darksiders, Ghost Recon, Assassin's Creed, etc).

I am sure Nintendo will give us the usual Nintendo IP love with numerous Mario and Zelda trailers, which the fans will eat up.  Personally, I would prefer that Nintendo focus on why the Wii U can offer a superior differentiating entertainment experience.

If Nintendo really wants to impress the E3 crowd, they will focus more on content that is exclusive to them.  We all own an HD console and most see little reason to own another one, so it will be Nintendo's goal to persuade us that the Wii U is not "just another" HD platform.

Billy Pidegon, M2 Research

The stakes are very high for Nintendo this year.  Nintendo's heavily promoted E3 2012 press conference will focus mainly on Wii U, the only known new hardware at the show.  Millions of consumers will be watching.  Fans and haters both will be entertained. But gaming enthusiasts and mainstream gamers are going to be a tough crowd for Nintendo.

I think the Wii U launch window library will have more quality titles than any previous console, but expectations are higher now than ever before.  No Wii U launch line-up will satisfy everyone, unless it includes Mario, Zelda, Super Smash Bros, Metroid... you get the idea.  There will be third party titles, but these must be more than just updates to games already released on other platforms.  I'll be looking for hardcore third party titles in addition to the popular categories that do well on Nintendo platforms, such as dancing and party games.

Nintendo needs to demonstrate how Wii U will change gaming in a way that other systems cannot.  Last year we saw impressive gameplay integration with the tablet controller.  The tablet controller's NFC features will support interactions with other objects including toys (a la Skylanders).  That's a start, but not enough to sell a new system. Similar features have been or will be replicated in iOS, Android and Windows 8 ecosystems.

Surprises could include more changes or details to hardware specs to counter criticism that Wii U is no more powerful than PS3 or Xbox 360.  Also, supporting only one tablet controller per console limits the local multiplayer scenario, so Nintendo may announce that two or more can be used with a single Wii U.  Nintendo says price and date won't be revealed, but timing and value are crucial details in a console launch.

"The limited information announcement of the Wii U at E3 2011 was a major tactical error on Nintendo's part"

David Cole

Online features for Wii and 3DS have improved somewhat, but still lag far behind the competition. I'd like to see Nintendo roll out completely upgraded online network services at E3 2012, not only for Wii U but also for 3DS and Wii.  Microsoft and Sony are constantly improving their game-centric networks to improve multiplayer gaming, gamer interactions, digital distribution and online marketing.  Nintendo must not only match or surpass  Microsoft and Sony here, but all three vendors must compete with online marketplaces and multiplayer services for PC and mobile devices.  

For 3DS specifically, I'd like to see more quality software showcased at E3 to help move hardware units faster.  And if Nintendo plans to cultivate a core gamer audience for 3DS, they need to offer gamers better multiplayer interaction so they will be motivated not only to buy 3DS but also to bring it with them when they go out.  StreetPass and SpotPass were a good start, but Nintendo can and should do better.

Nintendo also needs to boost software sales for Wii.  Sales have been sluggish and could get slower with an impending Wii U release.  I'd be surprised if Nintendo did not reveal value bundles.  Price cuts for Wii, DS and 3DS would move units faster and would be great for retail, but these are less likely, particularly for DS, given the recent cuts. 

David Cole, DFC Intelligence

The limited information announcement of the Wii U at E3 2011 was a major tactical error on Nintendo's part.  DFC estimates that it probably caused Wii sales to be 25% below what they would have been if Nintendo had focused just on their current platform.  Much of that business went to Microsoft and Sony.  We hope that Sony and Microsoft have learned about the damage that can be caused by such an early announcement.

So at E3 2012, the Nintendo Wii U will probably be the big story and we hope Nintendo answers as many questions as possible.  This would include of course price, launch date, software, but also a lot of questions around the tablet control device.  Can two or more tablets work with a single Wii U?  If so, how do they plan to utilize that feature given that many users will only have one tablet?  We have been hearing many good things about the Wii U recently but right now they are just rumors.  There will of course be some 3DS software that we will be looking at, but with Nintendo the Wii U is their future and E3 needs to be a true coming out party.

Lewis Ward, IDC Research Manager

For Nintendo, besides a lot more detail on the initial Wii U bundle, I suspect a piece of the surprise will involve how connected the 3DS and Wii U will be. I think a reveal along these lines is that the 3DS will be usable as a second Wii U controller via the $20-30 Circle Pad Pro. That should draw a few oohs and ahhs. I also think video calls over WiFi will be enabled across 3DS's and the Wii U controller (and thrown up on living room big screens).

"The system looks to position itself to remain competitive with not only current, but next-gen offerings from rivals Sony and Microsoft"

Scott Steinberg

One concern I have about Nintendo is how powerful the Wii U's CPU/GPUs will be. I think it'll beat out Xbox 360 and PS3 from a processing and rendering perspective but it may not be by a lot. Now, the company's customer base may not be as swayed by these sort of issues as much as the hardcore crowd but computational power will impact system reviews and so forth.

The larger issue is that once the next-gen Xbox and PlayStation arrive in the next two years, if those platforms are a big leap forward in terms of processing/rendering, then the Wii U may find itself back in the same position as the Wii in recent years. But it's good for the industry if Nintendo has a strong E3 - so let's give them their honeymoon period if they deliver a couple big twists.

Scott Steinberg, TechSavvy Global

E3 2012 is ultimately Nintendo's to win or lose - the success of the Wii U will be paramount to reassuring investors and consumers, and securing the company's future place in the retail console market. Our team expects a wealth of announcements in terms of new software products, third-party developer support, digital offerings, and hardware feature announcements designed to clearly illustrate the system's core value proposition, and promote the idea that it's not simply a passing fancy targeted solely at casual admirers.

A broad launch lineup of third-party software should be forthcoming to complement Nintendo's usual first-party hits, supplemented by later launches by several major publishing houses. Also expected at the event are much more tangible and direct examples of potential real-world uses for the hardware, and/or ways in which it may interact with other systems, such as the Nintendo 3DS. Key series such as Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart should also be present in myriad form and fashion, and of course a large push will surround upcoming feature and software launches for 3DS handheld.

More details on digital and multimedia capabilities for the Wii U should also be revealed, as the system looks to position itself to remain competitive with not only current, but next-gen offerings from rivals Sony and Microsoft.

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Latest comments (6)

Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University7 years ago
Nintendo have already confirmed they will not reveal the Wii U's launch date or price at E3. I don't know why anyone would expect them too; they never have announced launch dates or prices at E3. They'll wait until closer to launch, when they know what games are ready, what manufacturing costs are etc.

I'd agree with Divinch's analysis the most, though I wouldn't get my hopes up for Nintendo to go overboard with their biggest franchises. Smash Brothers will have only just began development for both Wii U and 3DS, Skyward Sword was only finished late last year, so expecting a Zelda announcement for Wii U is optimistic at best. For 3DS, I'd expect them to date the software they already have announced: Animal Crossing, New Super Mario Bros 2, Brain Training, Luigi's Mansion 2, Fire Emblem, Paper Mario, Professor Layton, isn't a bad line up, though I expect to see Paper Mario slip to next year to avoid flooding the system with major Mario titles so early in its life span. A couple of 'big' 3DS titles should be announced, but I'd expect a lot of emphasis to go on eShop and what Nintendo will do there. There are some great games available already, but Nintendo need to lead so that others will follow.

Nintendo Network should get a decent shout-out; hopefully unified accounts will come across both Wii U and 3DS (confirmed for Wii U, but 3DS is still system tied) and eShop and Virtual Console will be cross-console services. Nintendo need to do more to tie consumers of their systems into a Nintendo 'eco-system', as it were, and allowing players to play the majority of their download software across systems would be great. The tablet pad is an excellent proposition for downloadable apps and games, and Nintendo need to utilise their biggest draw--their own software--to get that across.

As for Wii U, software is key at E3. Announce the right games, have the third party support, and Wii U will hit the ground running. Pikmin 3 and Mario Bros (I expect/hope that will be bundled with the system, preferably installed on the system rather than a disc) will definitely feature, and whatever Retro Studios are cooking up will serve as a good showcase for the system's capabilities. It's incredibly difficult to judge what Nintendo will have up and running ready to show on Wii U; big franchises like Zelda, Mario Kart and Smash Bros are almost definitely ruled out, because of the proximity of their latest releases/how soon development has began. First party software should do what Nintendo do best; go against the grain, as Divinch said.

I expect the biggest focus for Nintendo when it comes to third parties won't be cross-platform games. Sure, feature those in a show-reel, but Nintendo need exclusive software to sell their system. They already have some--Killer Freaks, Dragon Quest X, LEGO City Stories, Ghost Recon Online--but I expect the real talking point to be what third parties Nintendo are actively collaborating with. Iwata said at the last investor's briefing that E3 would be the point Nintendo would unveil new partnerships with outside companies, and he seemed to be talking about game development, after admitting Nintendo couldn't cover every base themselves and needed more resources. Nintendo could throw a curve ball and hand out one or more of their IPs to big, talented developers. Who wouldn't want to see Nintendo actively co-develop Metroid, F Zero or something else with Epic, Valve or Platinum Games? That's the kind of third party support Nintendo need. Not just multi-format titles, but active collaboration and development with companies whose expertise differ from Nintendo.

For me, it's by far the most interesting conference of the big three. I don't think a bad E3 would ruin Nintendo's chances; they had some of their best sales during years were they were distinctly unimpressive at E3 (2008, 2009 come to mind), so I wouldn't bet against them even if they don't blow everyone away. I;m hoping they've got a few special things to share with us. It's gone every quiet at Nintendo recently, and that's usually a sign they're about to come up with something great.

EDIT: Just to address the question of Wii U's technical specifications! Don't expect a spec sheet; under Iwata, that's not what Nintendo are about. Their most successful systems (DS, Wii, NES, GameBoy) rely on "lateral thinking with withered technology" and that's exactly what Wii U will do. More efficient, advanced versions of current HD console technology, with every trick (and more) current control options offer--touch screen, analog, d-pad, buttons, triggers, cameras, microphone, motion control. I fully expect Nintendo to show something that proves Wii U is a capable system. For all those doubting it, I'd recommend you take a look at the GameCube. A system roughly twice the power as PS2, packed into a box half the size, sold for less and profitable six months after launch. That's concrete proof Nintendo know how to make powerful systems. I don't expect Wii U to be on the same level as Sony and Microsoft's machines (has that mattered in the last six years?), but I don't think the gap will be huge in the way it has been with Wii and its contemporary systems.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 29th May 2012 3:37pm

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd7 years ago
I think people are missing some big third party collaborations, like the inevitable Monster Hunter 3G with online play added for the west. As for the Wii U, it's really hard to predict what they'll show. Hopefully Metroid...
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 7 years ago
I think Nintendo's conference should easily be the most interesting out of the Big Three. I think it's important for Ninty to launch a competitive OS ecosystem which ties their hardware together and enables them to become a genuine competitor in the digital age, and after the disappointing launch of the 3DS I've no doubt they're burning the midnight oil at Kyoto to get a strong line-up of launch window software finished.

Most of all though, I would like to see some new IPs front and centre. Bringing back dormant franchises like Donkey Kong, Pikmin and Kid Icarus is a great start, but I’d like to see them work their magic with some new characters, some new universes and some new genres, with IPs that in ten years can maybe stand next to the likes of Zelda and Metroid as their best of their line-up.
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Robert Programmers 7 years ago
Nintendos big win is that the consumer has already invested in the controler eco system.
This is every bit an upgrade to most users.
nintendo only need to justify that upgrade price.
expect iplayer
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers7 years ago
Nintendo won't announce a price or release date for the Wii U because they know they can get mileage out of that later. Also, they want people to concentrate on the games and not the price. Also, they never talk about hardware specs because it simply doesn't work in their favor. Again, they want to concentrate on the games for the moment and get people hyped up about that without people worrying about details like the price and how powerful it is or isn't compared to the competition.

I just want to note that I find the top image amusing. Playing = Believing looks like something you'd see during a parody of a press conference.
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Tony Johns7 years ago
I would like Nintendo to show off a new IP of their own, something that screams to the Mario/Zelda/Metroid crowd and is something completely different sort of game to really take advantage of the WiiU's tablet powers that can't be done on older systems before it.
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