Nintendo should pull out of E3 entirely

Dropping out of E3 completely and showcasing its games elsewhere would be much better than the company's present half-hearted approach

You know a company has had a particularly miserable E3 when, before the show is even over, one senior executive finds himself having to officially deny that another senior executive has apologised for the state of their E3 offerings. That's exactly the situation Reggie Fils-Aime found himself in earlier this week, as the disappointment at Nintendo's extremely weak showing crystallised around a single tweet sent by company president Satoru Iwata. The tweet was in Japanese; various translations floated around, some more accurate than others, and the media gleefully seized on an interpretation which had Iwata promising to "do better" at E3 in future. It was the perfect stick with which to beat Nintendo for failing to live up to the standards accomplished by Microsoft and, even more spectacularly, by Sony on the previous day; look, even the company's own president thinks it was rubbish!

As it happens, Fils-Aime is quite right; Iwata did not apologise for Nintendo's conference. He said that the company was listening closely to feedback and would work hard, in future, to meet the expectations of even more people. This was prefaced with a comment related to the extremely late hour at which the show was broadcast in Japan (it didn't start until 1am JST; the Sony conference the previous day was at a rather more comfortable 10am JST, and nobody in Japan really cares about the Microsoft conference). In context (and context is king in the Japanese language), Iwata's comment is clearly a generic "thanks for your feedback, we'll work hard in future too", coupled with a tacit promise to try not to mess up the scheduling for Japanese viewers in future.

"Nintendo said 'we're not playing the E3 game' and attempted to dodge the inevitably negative contrasts with Sony and Microsoft... It didn't work"

Iwata didn't apologise. Of course he bloody didn't; the Nintendo boss is often frank and refreshingly direct in his manner, but the content of his statements is always, always on-message. The idea that he was going to take to Twitter to say "sorry, that was a load of old bollocks wasn't it?" after his company's event is ludicrous. Yet, at the same time, the fact that it seemed plausible to so many people is a reflection of something troubling; Nintendo's event was genuinely bad enough to make an apology from Iwata himself seem, if not realistic, then at least not ridiculous.

Nintendo, or at least a part of Nintendo - perhaps the Japanese part - didn't want to be at E3. That's partially related to NX; the company is the only platform holder which has acknowledged that it's working on future hardware, but isn't going to say anything further about it until 2016. It's also too early to talk about its mobile titles (and E3 probably isn't the venue for that anyway), and Iwata confirmed prior to the event that it wouldn't talk about its health, lifestyle and education related projects at a purely gaming event like E3. Nonetheless, there's plenty that Nintendo could have talked about but didn't. The choice to reveal only games that are locked in for release within the next 10 months or so isn't confirmation of a time-of-death being decided for Wii U (they did the same thing for 3DS, which has an installed base twice the size of the PS4 and isn't going anywhere any time soon), it's a decision which was taken, along with the decision to do an online broadcast rather than a live event - cutting out the whooping crowds and the spectacle that usually defines an E3 conference.

These are decisions which say, "we're not playing your game" - the game in question being E3 itself. Nintendo doesn't feel like it fits well with E3 right now. It's not just troubled by the dismal sales of the Wii U, it's also deeply uncomfortable with being the only major company in the industry that's still seriously committed to family entertainment. It knows that no matter how wonderful its software and franchises are - and I maintain that Nintendo is in a genuine golden age regarding the quality of its games - they make problematic bedfellows for the mainstream of distinctly adult-focused games and the monetisation of violent nostalgia for thirty-somethings. I think it's genuinely wonderful that the games industry's wings are spread so wide, even in the AAA space, that it can accommodate both the charming, gentle fun of Yoshi's Wooly World and the gut-wrenching, visceral violence of the Doom reboot; at the same time, I can understand why the creators of the former don't see much value in investing heavily in promoting it alongside the latter. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong audience. It's no accident that one of the very few third-party games to appear in the Nintendo event was Skylanders, a hugely successful franchise that's equally uncomfortable standing shoulder to shoulder with Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed.

By going digital rather than having a staged event, by replacing its executives with loveable puppets, by giving developers lengthy, meandering videos to chat about their creative process after showing off their new trailers, by refusing to talk about anything but the immediate future of its software line-up - by all these decisions and more, Nintendo said "we're not playing the E3 game" and attempted to dodge the inevitably negative contrasts with Sony and Microsoft.

It didn't work. It didn't work because it's an intrinsically dishonest approach, one which not only failed to establish a "Nintendo difference" that denied negative contrasts, but which also robbed the company of the chance to make a decent fist out of its showing. Nintendo hobbled its own event, making it even more disappointing than it needed to be, and all it achieved was to make itself look even weaker, even more troubled, next to the might of Sony and Microsoft.

Here's what Nintendo should have done - should have had the courage to do - nothing. They should have held no digital event. Some of Nintendo of America's activities, like the entertaining and light-hearted Nintendo World Championships, fit nicely with the week, but the digital event shouldn't have happened at all. The company is absolutely correct to think that its approach and its products don't fit E3 as it stands, but absolutely wrong to think that it can avoid the resulting negativity by just downscaling its involvement. Pick a lane and stick with it; given the choice to go big or go home, Nintendo's decision ought to have been "go home", not "can't we just go a bit small and hope for the best?"

"It failed so miserably that the Internet spent a few hours genuinely believing that Iwata had apologised for the whole sorry affair"

This would not be unprecedented. Faced with a similar disconnect between their games and much of the rest of the industry's direction, Nintendo - by far the largest games company in Japan - has spurned involvement in the Tokyo Game Show for many, many years. Being at TGS makes no sense for the company. It can achieve better exposure for its games in a more positive environment by holding its own event, digital or otherwise, at a different time; a month or two before the show, or after the show. This decision has never hurt Nintendo one jot - not in the way that a rubbish, half-hearted TGS conference every year would have.

Precisely the same logic applies to E3. Imagine if Nintendo had skipped E3 entirely; sure, there would have been a bit of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching in the media over it, but it would have been over soon, and a few people writing "Nintendo were conspicuous by their absence" in their show reports is hardly the end of the world. Then this week's digital event could have been held as an ordinary digital event a month or six weeks later; call it "Nintendo's preview of the next six months", or whatever. In that context, it would actually have been a pretty great show. Tack on a few seconds of new footage from the upcoming open-world Zelda game and one of Miyamoto's work-in-progress Gamepad titles, and you'd have a digital event that everyone would consider pretty strong, instead of an E3 show that everyone considered awful and weak.

To make this work, though, Nintendo needs to commit to the strategy. This year, it tried to have its cake and eat it; to participate in E3 without committing to it, without making a big deal of it. It failed so miserably that the Internet spent a few hours genuinely believing that Iwata had apologised for the whole sorry affair. Skipping E3 entirely - or at the very least, dropping all pretence of holding a conference during E3 week - would have been preferable, and ought to be the company's strategy for the future.

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Latest comments (18)

James Coote Independent Game Developer 7 years ago
Depends if they are going to abandon the hardcore market or try to recapture it with NX. That's the more interesting debate, as clearly Nintendo are at a crossroads.
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Brian Coyle Professional tutor, Darlington College7 years ago
A harsh response to a company that is trying to practically re-build itself after the last few years. Yes they had a poor E3 this year but last years was great in my opinion. Many people find it far to easy to be negative towards Nintendo whilst they are still producing fantastic games. Nintendo do their own thing and I find it refreshing to be honest, they are the only company that is having fun with their presentations. They should be at E3 as they are still one of the very best game developers out there, no other company can produce and nearly individually sustain a platform like nintendo do.
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Gwyn Howell Developer 7 years ago
Harsh, but true, especially for this year. They are clearly concentrating efforts on NX and mobile back in Japan not leaving much resource for Wii U/3DS. Next years show should be immense. This year though, not so. Would have been a bolder move to stay at home this time, I think I agree.
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Show all comments (18)
Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com7 years ago
This would be more persuasive if Nintendo hadn't had such a spectacular presentation last year. Nintendo competed just fine against Sony and Microsoft then; this year they just did a really bad job.

For me this is the first year in the last few where Microsoft's presentation wasn't hugely disappointing, yet I don't recall anyone ever suggesting Microsoft should pack it in. There's just something about Nintendo that makes game journalists want to shove them in a little corner.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop7 years ago
yet I don't recall anyone ever suggesting Microsoft should pack it in
March, most recently
It might be much better for Xbox if it was a centrepiece project for a company whose business objectives matched its strengths
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee7 years ago
Nintendo often have 'not so amazing' E3 showings, so its nothing new. Every once in a while though, they come out with a new product and a load of new games, where thousands of people if not millions continue to praise them.

E3 is a great stage but I think the importance of Nintendo turning up in a big way is neither here n'or there. Most people do not have a chance to attend E3 and there are many other channels to promote products, which Nintendo have done a pretty good job of, even with the WiiU moving slowly.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 19th June 2015 3:52pm

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Caleb Hale Journalist 7 years ago
Nintendo is a different kind of video game company, that much is certain. Yet, I don't find the suggestion they should become an outright recluse when it comes to industry trade shows a sound strategy. Particularly for the sake of Nintendo of America, the company needs to be in the fray at E3, especially considering the show is starting to open its doors for more consumers to interact with the games on display. Admittedly, Nintendo's showing this year wasn't its most exciting, but it was an open and honest look at what the company has planned through next spring.

The glowing reviews on the PlayStation showcase are deserved, but if we're being intellectually honest here, Sony did very little to convince anyone they needed a PS4 before 2016. Hell, one of their game announcements (Shenmue III) was only an announcement contingent upon a $2 million Kickstarter goal being met, and I fully expect the majority of Sony titles announced this year to be back on the show floor, release dates pending, at E3 next year.

I'm not sure what passes for a good E3 show year to year, but this time accolades seem to go to the company that directs everyone's attention so far into the future, they don't even notice there's not much waiting for them right now.
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Iain McNulty Person doing things 7 years ago
And so goes the way of clickbait headlines that other online publications have fallen to.
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William Usher Assistant Editor, Cinema Blend7 years ago
I don't think they needed to abandon the show entirely. Last year's show had many people claiming Nintendo won E3. This year they were a few decent moves away from having an okay show. They just messed up not showing the right things or focusing on the right products, especially for the Wii U, which is the one in desperate need of attention.

I also agree with Caleb that Nintnedo needs to be at E3, for better or for worse. Stepping away from E3 shows that the company has poor confidence in their own products competing in the market against Sony and Microsoft. So why would people be excited to purchase a Nintendo product if it appears as if the company isn't interested in selling them on the grandest stage of them all?
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
I guess their presentation should have had about ten minutes of dead air spread out between game videos and interviews. Why? Well, to show black screens with WORK IN PROGRESS: NX (or Wii U or 3DS) on stuff that's currently being tackled in Japan and elsewhere. At least having those moments (with some nice elevator music made from classic Nintendo tunes) would probably have built up some better anticipation.

In other words, next year's show should be one where we (hopefully) see TOO much new stuff and the writing here and on other industry sites turns to crow-chomping apologies and heaps of praise. Or not. We'll see (and I can wait patiently with one set of fingers crossed). :D
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Peter Caddock Head of New Technologies, Studio Liddell Ltd7 years ago
Some comments remind me of those businesses which think year on year they can increase profits by a magnitude which is completely unsustainable!

E3 is a great show, and for many it's their one 'fix' which they wait 12 months for, however...

Nintendo fans get their 'E3' most every month, it's called 'Nintendo Direct' (40 minutes of content showing what's happening in Ninty land) it is our channel for constant updates and see new stuff. We find out in depth what's going on and I personally really look forward to them, indeed although I enjoy seeing the big boys (Sony and Microsoft) doing their stuff once a year, I prefer having year long, monthly treats delivered, Directly to me.

I think E3 this year, for Nintendo fans, has been quite satisfying. Did you see the Nintendo World Championships? The 'Live Tree House' broadcasts? 7+ hours each day which has actually been quite brilliant in my opinion. Ok, we haven't seen NX, Zelda Wii U (yet?), but they told us up front we wouldn't so no biggie!

There were a couple of great surprises in AC Amiibo Festival looks great - AC on the WII U at last! and Special Wii U Skylanders, plus tens of new Amiibo's and Amiibo Cards, Happy Home Designer, let alone two new hand held Zelda games, Fire Emblem Fates, Metroid, Chibi Robot (which Im not fond of...) and plenty more besides. Oh not to mention the Muppets! Ha ha ha! :) and Skyfox Zero (first proper look), Pokemon Mystery Dungeon... need I go on?

All in all a pretty good E3 by my estimate. I think if you were disappointed with Nintendo's offering that's a shame, I wasn't.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Peter Caddock on 19th June 2015 6:13pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
So Sony should have abandoned E3 after 2006?

Oh and no show at E3 at all is far, far, far, did I mention far? worse than what they presented.
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John McCaul Web Developer, DevPhase.Net7 years ago
The mini Direct, World Championships and Nintendo Treehouse were all very positive to me. I think they cut too much content from the Digital Event which got pushed to their Treehouse section.

Uncharted 4 didn't run right, that's it Naughty Dog should never attend E3 again.
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 7 years ago
Via Twitter, I really did enjoy this analysis of where Nintendo were post E3 in 2005.
It's about why Nintendo's hardware was doomed, just a year before they announced the infamous flop "Wii" console.

As someone else on Twitter commented: "War never changes".
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Nintendo: Doomed since 1889.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
Well, I didn't have the patience or bandwidth to sit through any of the Treehouse stuff, so I missed a game that SHOULD have been in that E3 presentation (in my opinion and welcome back FF!):

Feh. Nintendo should have shown a montage of all the games they have coming out at the end of that puppet-packed presentation as it seems a lot of people just saw the Direct video and made their overall impressions from that. Oh well.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 7 years ago
I think that Nintendo no longer having E3 press conferences and instead focusing on their Nintendo Direct shows year round should be the extent of them pulling out of E3. It's ok if they have an Nintendo Direct E3 edition, it's not like it will ever be worse than this year(hopefully). Plus I always watch hoping for new 3DS game announcements so i don't want that to go away.
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Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 7 years ago
We were showcasing our game next to Nintendo and I must say I liked their booth and their new games, also people seemed to be enjoying themselves! So it raises the question: Were you actually there?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Farhang Namdar on 22nd June 2015 10:13pm

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