Thursday, April 25, 2013

New DIRECTions for Nintendo?

Lots of interesting news from Nintendo this week.  Lacklusters numbers for 3DS and Wii U, encouraging numbers for digital downloads, Satoru Iwata expanding his responsibilities  and no giant press conference at this year's E3.  All of these things point to the challenges Nintendo (and other companies) now face in our rapidly changing game economy.

On the surface it may appear that these developments reveal a Nintendo that's flailing around trying to find a way to get back on track.  Certainly the introduction and subsequent launch of the Wii U indicate that Nintendo did not do enough to explain just why anyone would want one.  I own a Wii U and while it's getting a lot of use as a video streaming device and Lego City Undercover machine, it's a little difficult to recommend one to family and friends.

But over the last few months it has become clear that Nintendo is once again employing a set of tactics that are wildly different than what you will likely see from Sony or Microsoft.  And I don't think this is out of desperation.  I believe what they are doing it more in line with their core philosophy than anything we've seen from them in the past few years.  I'm talking about Nintendo Direct.  Go ahead, check it out.

What you are seeing here is not the slickly crafted, PR-slathered message we've gown accustomed to seeing (and ignoring) from large game publishers.  It's direct communication from Nintendo to players.  And it's not some community manager, it's FROM THE GLOBAL CEO OF NINTENDO.  Do you get how incredibly out of step this is?  It nearly goes against everything we've been taught to expect from large companies.  And you imagine EA being honest about the Sim City debacle?  How about Microsoft with regards to their always online Xbox?

Iwata comes off as passionate, genuine, and most importantly honest.  In January's Nintendo Direct address, Iwata revealed games that we would see soon, but also made a point to explain that we wouldn't see anything new for Wii U until March.  He made it clear that Nintendo was working hard to make sure the games were good but would not be rushed.  AND THEN HE PERSONALLY APOLOGIZED FOR THE DELAY.  This wasn't a press release.  This wasn't damage control.  It was a way of sidestepping the ongoing bullshit from game websites and journalists and appealing directly to the consumer.  It was a show of respect.  And there's no better way of generating goodwill for your product or service than to show that you have respect and empathy for your customers.

This is one of the things I've always felt was at the core of the Nintendo philosophy.  Respect your community.   In my past life in the game journalism circles I had many dealings with Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.  Whereas Sony usually appeared supremely unhelpful and dismissive and Microsoft had the unique ability to never assemble a coherent message about what they were about, Nintendo always came off as warm, professional, and genuine.  And that's the feeling I get from Nintendo Direct.

So no big press conference at E3?  No big deal.  Those things are always a circus.  Executives take to the stage and unleash a staggering amount of scripted bullshit.  They toss out some red meat so the throngs of press have something to cheer or boo about.  Much will be made about "Who Won" or "Who Lost."  But really, what Nintendo wants you to ask is "Who Cares?!?"   Either you like the games that are coming out or you don't.  Either you like the direction the company is going in or you don't.  Nintendo has a concept for what the Wii U (and 3DS) is supposed to be for consumers.  Going through the regular PR channels they have failed to make contact with their consumers. So they are removing the middle man and appealing directly to their customers.   And I say, "Bravo!"

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