Roundtable: Is Nintendo making the right call on E3?

By skipping the usual media briefing, is the Mario maker adapting to the times or just admitting defeat?

On Monday, Nintendo revealed that it will not be participating in annual E3-opening media briefing blitz. Instead, it will be holding separate, smaller events: one for its retail and publishing partners, and another at its E3 booth where a small group of journalists will be invited to play their latest games.

While it's still unclear exactly how different the impact of Nintendo's E3 showing will be without the traditional media briefing, the GamesIndustry International staff pondered a different set of unknowns. With the largest E3 headlines expected to go to new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, just how significant is Nintendo's absence from the media briefing arms race? Does this move speak more toward Nintendo's position in the market, or the relevance of the decade-old E3 formula for an industry in upheaval? And perhaps most fundamentally, is this a wise move on Nintendo's part?

Steve Peterson

Nintendo's decision to skip a big E3 event in favor of smaller events and some Nintendo Direct videos seems puzzling. Sure, putting on a big event at E3 is expensive (both in staff time and money), but it's a cost-effective way to reach mainstream media (the gaming press will cover Nintendo news however they get it). Why would Nintendo bow out?

"Nintendo's got a weak hand, so they're trying to play E3 as cost-effectively as possible."

Steve Peterson

I can think of several reasons. First, it is expensive, and Nintendo's trying to hit that 100 billion yen profit goal for the year with Iwata's job on the line. Second, Nintendo's event last year didn't generate the wave of enthusiastic press coverage they were hoping for, so why try again when it didn't work last time? Third, Sony and Microsoft will certainly get lots of attention with brand-new hardware; Nintendo's Wii U is not new and thus will suffer in direct comparison.

It's the direct comparison that Nintendo is looking to avoid, since the Wii U doesn't compare to the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft in raw performance. Plus Nintendo won't have anywhere near as many important new games to talk about as the competition, and certainly the Wii U won't have the level of third-party support the other guys will. Nintendo's strategy is to play it lower key, let the other guys have all the hoopla and spend all the money, and look to get some attention for a few important Wii U software titles.

Nintendo's got a weak hand, so they're trying to play E3 as cost-effectively as possible. There's no way Nintendo would win a direct PR battle at E3; better to save the money and spend it on marketing at Christmas, since sales are the ultimate goal. Nintendo will focus on direct connections with retailers and media, hoping to leave a good impression with minimal spending.

Brendan Sinclair

Yes, Nintendo bailing on the Big Three press conferences is an admission that the company doesn't have faith in its ability to go toe-to-toe with Sony and Microsoft's new system unveilings. But that's just being realistic at a time when Nintendo can ill-afford to blow money for the sake of keeping up appearances. But I think the more interesting thing this move tells us is not how Nintendo feels about its own efforts, but how it feels about the relevance of the gaming media in general, and E3 in specific.

"Nintendo has realized that its fans want big, eventful news, but they don't actually need a big event to deliver it."

Brendan Sinclair

By putting its announcements into a series of Nintendo Direct videos, Nintendo has realized that its fans want big, eventful news, but they don't actually need a big event to deliver it. All they need is a pre-recorded streaming video of announcements and a countdown clock. If Nintendo can provide that, gamers will show up in droves, because it delivers on the things they value (excitement, immediacy, and actual news, in that order) while eliminating things they don't value (an expensive venue, the uncertainty of a live event, and the media's function as a filter of information).

As for E3, it's clear the show doesn't work for everyone; it's just too big, too busy, and too expensive. The industry tried adapting to those realities in 2007 when it had a radically downsized E3 in Santa Monica. The show received a mixed reaction from attendees and publishers alike, and was returned to the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center the following year. But the gaming industry was still growing in 2007, just a year ahead of its all-time peak. If the Santa Monica experiment were held this year, it's hard to picture the same support for moving the show back to essentially the format that everybody complained about in the first place. It's doubly unlikely once you consider the products E3 was designed to promote--packaged retail games--are no longer the focus of the industry. Times are tough, and companies are increasingly pragmatic when it comes to expenses of any kind.

Nintendo's move is simply an acknowledgement of this, and an attempt to optimize its limited resources, putting them where they will do the most good for business, not image. It's an approach you can expect plenty of other companies to follow, which should be more concerning for the gaming media and E3 as a whole than it is for Nintendo.

Mike Williams

So Nintendo is backing out of its E3 press conference this year. My colleagues mention cost as a possible reason, but according to IGN Nintendo executive editor Richard George, Nintendo will still be renting out the Nokia Theatre for the behind-closed-doors business presentation. So the money is still being spent on providing a large presentation, it's just not showing the song-and-dance to the public.

"If Nintendo wants to reach out to the blue ocean, Nintendo Directs aren't going to cut it."

Mike Williams

Is it because the Nintendo Direct format is so useful and efficient? Nintendo president Satoru Iwata is a personable face for the company and enthusiast fans certainly are taking to the ongoing format. The problem is if Nintendo wants to reach out to the blue ocean, Nintendo Directs aren't going to cut it. Mainstream organizations like CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times don't cover Nintendo Directs. Those outlets' gaming coverage is typically hosted in their already-crowded tech sections. Without a media-focused event at E3, Nintendo will miss out on coverage from those mainstream news sources.

That leaves Nintendo acknowledging that Microsoft and Sony will dominate this year's E3 due to their new console reveals. Even if Sony and Microsoft have revealed their consoles prior to E3 proper, leaving mostly software announcements for the actual conference. It's worrying that Nintendo believes its upcoming software can't stand toe-to-toe with new software for the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox. If it can't stand at E3, can it stand against the new HD twins this holiday season?

Nintendo not having a press conference at E3 is not a strike against the event. Changes at E3 are focused around the fact that a number of other events have risen to prominence in the past few years. E3 isn't the big man on campus anymore; it's just another face in the crowd. E3 is joined by Gamescom, Eurogamer Expo, three PAX events, and San Diego Comic-Con. Publishers and developers now have multiple chances during the entire year to reach out to press and consumers. It's a shift in the industry and E3 needs to adjust accordingly.

Matt Martin

As Mike points out there are multiple events on the calendar besides E3. But Nintendo often doesn't show up for those, either. Nintendo's insular world is all toadstools and green pastures, but that's only because it's got its head stuck in a pipe and it refuses to look around at the wider market. Sure, I can understand why it doesn't want to be compared to Microsoft and Sony. But tough, it's going to be measured against them, regardless.

"I can understand why Nintendo doesn't want to be compared to Microsoft and Sony. But tough, it's going to be measured against them, regardless."

Matt Martin

Nintendo Directs are preaching to the converted. "Hi Nintendo fans, here's some Nintendo stuff you like." But E3--as crude, clumsy and loud as it is--is a chance for the whole industry to stand up on a world stage and show off, get coverage across mainstream media and have a global impact. Nintendo needs Miyamoto and Iwata on stage wearing silly hats demoing loads of twee games. Just don't roll out the charm-void that is Reggie Fils-Aime and it'll be fine.

After two years of being battered by the rest of the industry, 2013 needs to be the year of the console. Yes, Microsoft and Sony will make a lot of noise and look fresher with their shiny new hardware but that's exactly why Nintendo should turn up. Ride the hype, go along with the circus, toot your horns for a week, make some goddamn noise. The games business isn't quiet, it isn't modest, it isn't humble. Outside of the industry, no one is paying any attention to the Wii U. It's dead at retail and we all know how cutthroat the shops can be. If momentum continues to crawl, retailers will drop it like a stone without waiting for new game releases, not when they can decorate their displays with the PlayStation 4 and new Xbox. Nintendo has to roll out Mario, Zelda and some new home-grown projects to reignite interest, and if it doesn't have the confidence to do it at E3, the Wii U really will become the new GameCube.

Matthew Handrahan

Matt got there before me, but the word I keep coming back to is "momentum." In plain terms, right now the Wii U has precious little, and what's left is ebbing away with every disappointing sales update and damp-squib software launch. I can scarcely imagine a less desirable scenario for Nintendo than to leave the devoted few who actually bought a Wii U staring blankly at its plastic casing, but in backing away from the spotlight it has guaranteed that outcome.

"Sony and Microsoft are very much Nintendo's rivals, and it has ceded the floor to them at precisely the wrong moment."

Matthew Handrahan

I'm tired of hearing Iwata and Miyamoto complaining that the public just doesn't 'get' the hardware and its myriad wonderful uses, because, frankly, if that's the case then it can only be Nintendo's fault. And if it's not, then all those people actually 'get' the Wii U perfectly well, but have no strong desire to advise their friends to jump on the bandwagon, as so many did with the Wii. Either way, Nintendo is running out of time to act, to build up that momentum again.

Now, I have no doubt that Nintendo has plenty of new Wii U software in store for E3, even if it is likely to be just new dollops of Mario and Zelda. They do nothing for me, but I'm content to be in the minority on the appeal of these hoary industry staples. And I can't help but feel that, if you really must place nostalgia at the bedrock of your company's strategy, you might as well do so on the largest available stage. Nintendo obviously has its reasons for backing away from E3's traditional triple-header. They may be some, all or none of those suggested by my learned colleagues, but I'm not convinced that the reasoning even matters, because we can already see the end result. Nintendo may not be able to win the fight for coverage against new hardware, but backing down in favour of clandestine meetings and Nintendo Direct streams should never have been an option.

A few years ago it seemed that the Wii had removed Nintendo from the traditional console rivalry, but the Wii U's stumbling start has exposed that as a misconception. Sony and Microsoft are very much Nintendo's rivals, and it has ceded the floor to them at precisely the wrong moment: the most anticipated E3 since the last time these three companies all lobbied for our attention with new consoles. The E3 where every eye from every corner of the media will be on that stage, looking for the future.

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Latest comments (23)

Nick Parker Consultant 4 years ago
It's the consumer who needs educating, not the industry. The Wii U target market is not as switched onto E3 news as PlayStation and Xbox gamers, therefore may never hear any headlines. The Wii U needs marketing and key franchise titles to sell the features and benefits plus maybe a price review before the year is out, all to take some of the wind out of its competitors sails. Hiring out a theatre and supplying coffee and blueberry muffins is not expensive and therefore is not the reason Nintendo would pull out. We work hard to ensure our key titles don't clash at launch with competition, why would Nintendo risk being overshadowed by Microsoft and Sony at E3?
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Big press conferences are old school with the way everyone gets media today, so what is the big deal? They don't even have a booth at the Tokyo Game Show
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
Im ok with what they are doing. While other will be talking and promising games that arent even made Nintendo will be showing and allowing you to play games that are either finished or in playable form.
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Show all comments (23)
M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer4 years ago
Big press conferences are old school? I disagree. Apple still does them twice annually, at least. Google. Microsoft announced Windows 8, Windows Phone 7/8, and Surface at one. Samsung. HTC. Facebook just did one to announce its new Newsfeed.

Facebook on ABCNews

Apple on Fox News

Samsung on CBSNews

Big press conferences are how CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc get gaming news. A larger focused event to reach out to those media outlets who otherwise could care less. No searching on their part, just the straight shot of news. Nintendo Direct information, as I said, doesn't reach those outlets. And those outlets are still important. If it's about educating the consumer then Nintendo needs a similar event, not focused at us, but at mainstream outlets. That's hype.
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John Scalzo Editor-In-Chief, Warp Zoned4 years ago
E3 needs Nintendo a lot more than Nintendo needs E3. Without Nintendo, E3 is wall-to-wall space marines and explosions. With Nintendo, their "face" expands beyond the big budget blockbusters a bit. So good news everyone! Nintendo will be at E3!

All of the discussions above seem to ignore that Nintendo will still have a big presence at E3, they're just not putting on a splashy press conference. They're still going to show Mario Kart Wii U, the next 3D Mario game, and Super Smash Bros. 4 (all confirmed for E3) and they're probably going to knock our socks off with a surprise Zelda reveal to top it.

Whether the world first hears about those games during a big press conference or a Nintendo Direct presentation, it won't matter. Because it will be reported on because new Mario, Zelda, and Smash Bros. games are a big deal and a welcome counterpoint to the MS/Sony blockbuster model.
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Shawn Clapper Programmer 4 years ago
The negativity against Nintendo in the press is mind blowing sometimes. They received nothing but speculative complaints before the Wii U was released and now that it's out and they ARE making a profit articles are still worded as if they are failing.

50 years from now when Playstation and Xbox are both long dead, Nintendo will still be kicking.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
Like I said in the other thread, Nintendo's last several E3 press conferences were mind-numbingly boring so this is no big lost to gamers who like to keep up with the latest gaming news. But it's the mainstream press that they could have used from this. I already knew they would be overshadowed by Sony and Microsoft's conferences this year but forget that for a minute. I'm still wondering why they aren't using January-October of this year for nothing but big game announcements and reveals/releases. To me that would be a sure fire way to steal atleast alittle bit of thunder from the other two upcoming systems.

Plus they really need to get a nice huge mainstream marketing campaign going. It's sad to say this but the Wii U as a console is barely more well-known than the dead-on-arrival Ngage. More than half the people I talked to don't even know theres a new Nintendo console. Nintendo needs to start turning this sinking ship around. Make sure the entire world knows you have a new system and that it has already been released. Luckily they still have their successful handheld division to keep them going but the time for action(for the Wii U) is now.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 27th April 2013 12:34am

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Dominic Jakube Student 4 years ago
Dammed if they do, dammed if they don't.I could easily see them getting lost in all the next gen hype but they can't afford to lose consumer mind space and retail shelf space.
Maybe the WiiU will be a slow burner like the 3DS but I think an original Wii size sucsess if out of reach now with the next gen storm on the horizon, I'm seeing N64 market share at best and Game-Cube at worst.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange4 years ago
Nintendo's at it again. While everyone's trying to climb up that high wall to get their message across, Nintendo's placing C4 and blowing a hole to go through it.

Nintendo Direct's more accessible, every journalist who couldn't afford to go to the event can be just right at home and get the big news. A lot of people is underestimating the efficiency this medium has at being more viral and effective at spreading 1st hand and accurate information.
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Its not just Nintendo doing this.

Sony announced the PS4 already, at their own E3 style event. They didn't want to wait/risk it.

Microsoft is announcing the next XBOX at their own event - only weeks before E3. Is anyone asking why? ... For exactly the same reason that Nintendo isn't there now.

Much easier and more effective to do things "your way", and on "your terms".
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 4 years ago
If it can't stand at E3, can it stand against the new HD twins this holiday season?
Perhaps on something that will be a lot more in consumers faces at Christmas time than now: price.

When a consumer is looking at $499 for a PS4 or Xbox whatever, for all its failings, a $289 Wii U is going to look pretty good. And it wouldn't take much of a price cut to make it half the price of the other two systems, also bringing the deluxe version down to something that looks more than just $100 cheaper.

However, Sony and MS can fight back, MS with their $300 plus $15/month deal, which is actually more expensive than their $500 model but at least looks cheaper to many, and Sony with PlayStation Plus, if they can ever get in to gear to market it properly. (Ideally, you should be able to buy a disc right in the shop for $49.99 that includes a code for one year of PS Plus along with the season's free games downloadable from the disc to avoid long waits for the downloads. Or heck, just pre-load them on to the HDD. PS Plus is probably Sony's most powerful weapon; I have no idea why they don't do a harder sell on it.) Of course, the one issue with PS Plus is that the initial selection of games for the PS4 might be rather limited.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University4 years ago
The mass market importance of E3, the hype bubble at E3, and most importantly, the importance of the press conference stage to market success is massively over-stated. Did 3DS's excellent reveal translate into market success? Did the apathy that greeted Wii Fit, as well as Nintendo's entire 2008 and 2009 conference, translate into financial disaster for the firm?

The answer is a resounding no. It also makes no sense to attempt to convey huge amounts of information to every disparate group you want to please. Why talk to retailers, investors, consumers and journalists in one go, when with less money spent, you can generate a more efficient, if less hyped, message? Nintendo won't lose retail shelf space--they are speaking to their North American retailers and distributors at E3.

They won't lose the column inches where it counts. We pretend that "winning" or "losing" the press conference stage is important: to the absolute hobbyist consumer, sure. But to the general consumer, who doesn't hone in on that message, and who has an increasing array of gaming options to explore? Not important. Nintendo's announcements will still come. Play-tests, previews and roundtable reports will still come. Nintendo will be present on the show floor. Nintendo's trailers will still be viewed many times on the internet. All that has changed, is the manner of delivery.

It's not as if this is totally out of the blue. The fact so many people are surprised and even outraged or predicting doom, is a sign of how out of step the E3 mega conference is with market and information reality. Sony's Future of PlayStation event was a tremendous success. Nintendo Directs have seen everything from Miiverse to Bayonetta 2 to Link to the Past 2 to EarthBound Virtual Console being announced--and they have a bigger audience every time. They generate column inches. Next Box isn't being unveiled at E3, it's coming May 21st.

And who was last year's big E3 success story? Ubisoft. Why? Because they concentrated on key titles rather than a huge spread of information. And the simple truth is, for all the excitement and hype PS4 and Next Box generate, that doesn't translate into guaranteed market success. What matters is the software that hits the shelves. And it wouldn't be surprising, and indeed, it should be expected given historical norms for console launches, that Nintendo have the stronger software in the second half of this year. It might not be recognised this E3, but if it's recognised by consumer's wallets, that's all that ultimately matters.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
The E3 style conference is still 'cool' in its own way but I don't see how it would benefit Nintendo. I also feel that the relevance of E3 when it comes to launching the biggest console products has definitely waned.
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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer4 years ago
Nintendo doesn't have to have a conference at E3, but they do need to have a conference for the reasons I stated before. People point out Sony's event and Microsoft's event and I reply, "those are the type of events Nintendo needs." Nintendo Directs are great for fans, but will not cut it with mainstream press.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
So Nintendo can send out press invites to CNN to attend a physical press event but they can't sent out a press invite to CNN to watch their Nintendo Direct?
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange4 years ago
Exactly Jim. It only takes an email with a link to Nintendo Direct to get the message across. They can even do it ala snail mail if they want to make it fancy and personalized.
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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer4 years ago
Alas, we'll see. Not much left to do but sit back and enjoy the show.
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John Arnold Video Production 4 years ago
I don't understand why people are depriving Nintendo on this news. E3 was initially intended for shareholders not consumers; this is why the PS4 announcement idea worked very well. Why should Nintendo have to create an event for both shareholders and consumers? Gamers and the media in general are incredibly reluctant on this vital event that happens once every year. If Nintendo flopped again like they did at the last E3 they'd have ten times the amount of stress and none of their directs would be enough to make up for their own mistakes, it's not a shot worth firing. The biggest event in the games industry determines their moves and it's not one worth bothering with.

Regardless of this, I would like Nintendo to have a big event with crowds watching at least once a year on top of Nintendo Directs. I bet a lot of analysts and websites such as IGN were hoping E3 2013 would be another opertunity to bash Nintendo as a dozen thousand squad of uninformed fanboys would go on to post pathetic troll threads on GameFAQs.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by John Arnold on 29th April 2013 6:33pm

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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
Nintendo Direct is preaching to the converted. Useful for introducing new software for the Wii U, but it's not going to help Nintendo reach a broad audience that has never heard of the Wii U. E3's main utility lies in the way it attracts the attention of the mainstream media, which usually cover the show very superficially... and they often focus on which company 'wins." So Nintendo's opting out of that race. They can compensate with more marketing dollars during the holidays, and more aggressive PR efforts aimed directly at specific media outlets -- but they have to have an interesting story to tell. Will their holiday Wii U titles look very strong next to whatever arrives for the PS4 and the next Xbox? After E3 we will have a better idea.

Still, I think if Nintendo had a really strong slate of software for the holidays they would not be avoiding a big press event at E3. It's a very efficient way to reach the mass market with a compelling story. If you're story's not that compelling, and you don't think you'll win the PR battle, better to stay out of that fight and look for other ways to maximize sales. Which is what I think Nintendo is doing.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
Steve, I ask again...Nintendo can send out press invites to CNN to attend a physical press event but they can't sent out a press invite to CNN to watch their Nintendo Direct?

This is what I keep hearing from you guys. I'll concede that traditional media coverage would normally prepare a few days in late spring/early summer to cover E3 in person but why in the bloody hell can't they cover a Nintendo Direct? If it's merely because mainstream media do not know about Nintendo Direct enough to cover it, then what is stopping Nintendo from sending out those pretty little invites to the mainstream press to watch their Nintendo Direct?

Whether you are there in person or watching a video feed, you can still write content on it. They still have a press web site for details and media kits. They still have a presence on the show floor which is often covered by some of the mainstream media to some degree.

The only difference is they aren't going to be shuttled from their hotel to the Nokia Theater but rather watch the video feed from their hotel room or hotel conference room for group staff coverage. And if they don't have anyone in LA to cover E3, they can still write from the comfort of their office.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University4 years ago
@ Steve, I really don't think not taking part in the annual press conference shouting contest is an admission on Nintendo's part that their big titles won't be enough to compete at the end of the year. They might not be able to win the battle of hits in E3 week itself, but that has negligible impact on sales when these titles will have another four to six months of time to build publicity before release.

The best selling exclusive software of this year will be Nintendo published across 3DS and Wii U--I'm willing to bet on that. Animal Crossing, Pokemon and Zelda on 3DS, Zelda, and most likely 3D Mario and Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. You're talking about titles that could all sell five million copies each at the end of the year, and in the case of Animal Crossing and Pokemon, ten million copies each. More relevantly to the conversation of home console success, those three Wii U exclusives will be multi-million selling titles. Can we really be so sure that PS4 and the new Xbox will host guaranteed hits like that from day one? Their biggest, most interesting titles--Destiny and Watch Dogs--are cross-generation, and one of them is confirmed for Wii U too. How likely is it that Microsoft will pull Halo or Gears out of the bag so soon after new releases? Will Sony have a PS4 exclusive Gran Turismo ready? Nintendo's failure so far lies in the fact they haven't released a blockbuster title for Wii U. I don't see how much sense it makes to assume that they now believe their biggest franchises and most bankable stars aren't enough to compete against any new console launch.

The commercial success or strength of software isn't dictated by an E3 press conference--and that's particularly true of Nintendo's family friendly titles. Let's not forget Pokemon X&Y and Zelda for 3DS were both announced through Nintendo Directs, not saved for E3. Is that an admission on Nintendo's part these titles are no longer important, or commercially viable? Will an onstage demo of Mario Kart 8 convince millions of consumers they need to buy it? Or will a television advertisement in November be more effective?

I think you're half-right, Steve. Nintendo are staying out of that PR battle, but that's by no means an admission that they don't have the software to turn Wii U into a hit this Christmas. It's a simple of reflection of what Nintendo need to do--allow Microsoft and Sony to beat seven hells out of each other, while Nintendo let their software speak for itself and compete indirectly. The truly important battle comes when every product is on the shelves, and by that time, any E3 press hype will be out of the mind of the average consumer wondering what to buy this Christmas/holiday season.
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Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 4 years ago
Main press is useless, its all in the blogs and the youtube stars. Why bother creating hype when you have good products that need to reach the right people. Its a very American approach to shout it off the rooftops that you have "a game", you just need to tell the right people you have "a game" nothing more.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
Another accurate, well thought out post by Daniel Hughes. Wouldn't really add anything there...
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