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Analysis: Nintendo's E3 Press Conference - Moving Forward Or Standing Back?
Analysis: Nintendo's E3 Press Conference - Moving Forward Or Standing Back? Exclusive
July 16, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff

July 16, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Gamasutra's Brandon Sheffield was at Nintendo's E3 2008 press briefing, and here looks at the major announcements made and asks - was there anything truly new on show, and if not, does that really matter?]

The Nintendo press conference at E3 2008 opened with a cheesy montage, which felt a bit like a commercial for Lifetime Television, hammering home the idea that all genders, races, and ages love the Wii. The theme for the conference was, “We promise to keep the world smiling…”

The first smiling presenter was Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo’s VP of Marketing and Sales, who recounted a tale of difficulty snowboarding, in which she took a fall. “Snowboarding is really a lot harder than it looks. But the fact is I don’t like a smile taken off my face for anything. And I really don’t like giving up. I decided that as a snowboarder, all I needed was a little help from a friend. A really talented friend. And I think I’ve found the perfect answer.”

The curtain rose to reveal a shoeless Shaun White, red-topped snowboarder extraordinaire, playing the Wii snowboarding game on the Balance Board. Shaun White then partook in the continued cavalcade of scripted banter for the fun-looking Ubisoft-published product, after which Cammie proclaimed: “Now if everyone would welcome me in joining our president... ‘Satooroo’ Iwata.”

Iwata was, as usual, and perhaps by design, the most sensible person to take the stage, claiming that “A big change, actually a big paradigm shift has taken place in the global game market.”

He mentioned that during E3 2005 everyone held a pessimistic view of Nintendo. But he understood this, because he says everyone was taking a common sense view of the game industry, saying that not even employees at Nintendo “would have imagined that we would be selling millions of bathroom scales around the world.” (referring here to the Balance Board)

Iwata made the bold statement that “A common sense view (of the game industry) doesn’t work anymore.” He continued on to highlight a few points about the current state of the industry from the Nintendo perspective, noting:

“In the past it seemed impossible to expect any software to sell for two years or three years. But titles like Nintendogs and Brain Age are doing just that - also New Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart DS. To use a western term, these titles seem to be evergreens.”

The Nintendo exec continued: “I believe it is no longer commonsense that players seek new titles only with more sophisticated graphics, and more complicated contents.” He also hinted that Nintendo’s more traditional design teams are cranking away at new products, stating that “Our internal team that creates Mario games, and our team that makes Zelda games, are both hard at work. They will bring new games to the Wii.”

Iwata admitted that people get tired of new ideas eventually - “This happens faster when others try to reproduce the initial change" - perhaps referencing both game-specific and hardware-specific Nintendo copiers?

"There is danger in standing still,” he added. “Personally I believe that we must find different ways for players to become engaged. We at Nintendo always challenge ourselves to be pioneers, seeking new paradigms.”

From here on out, it was game announcements, stats indicating Nintendo’s current and projected future dominance of the handheld space and successes in the console space. The inevitable Star Wars Clone Wars light saber game, Raving Rabbids TV Party and Call of Duty World at War all got equal time on the reel of third party Wii titles.

Perhaps the biggest announcement, which was demonstrated with no images or videos, aside from a logo, was Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for DS. It was somewhat telling that this was the ‘big announcement’ for core gamers.

Certainly, Grand Theft Auto is a huge license, and a big deal to be on a Nintendo platform. It stands to reason that this GTA will be the best selling of all of them, given the installed base of the DS combined with name recognition and media hype.

But on the other hand, it’s clear that the core gamer is not what Nintendo is targeting - not that it really matters ultimately in terms of sales, considering how small the core gamer market is when compared to the potential markets they could reach with more accessible software.

One intriguing element to me was in the upcoming Wii title Animal Crossing: City Folk. Certainly there was the WiiSpeak microphone announcement, which allows a room full of players to converse with another, but this is far from an innovation.

I was most intrigued by the almost off-hand comment that users will be able to send messages through Animal Crossing, with pictures, to friends’ cellphones and PCs, as well as other users in the game. Depending on how Nintendo creates the interface and infrastructure for that service, this could be a Trojan Horse to get some larger-scale networking capability and interactivity with the Wii.

Reggie Fils-Aime was the main numbers man, speculating that the DS would soon reach the 100 million sales mark. He also indicated that 19 different third party games on Nintendo platforms have exceeded 400k+ units – coming from 11 different publishers. And Cammie returned to say that as of 2007, 48% of DS recipients are female.

She hinted at the potential future of the DS as a personal assistant as well, posing: “What if DS and air travel came together in a different way? For example, when I land, why can’t my DS provide information on where to get my luggage? What about the nearest ATM?”

When Reggie reclaimed the stage to talk about Wii MotionPlus, he admitted, “As every game player knows, technical advances can be empty promises without software.” Nintendo’s answer is the successor to Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort.

The Reggie/Cammie duo demonstrated the one-to-one movement ratio of the new device, which does look quite precise. Then the scripted one-liners returned. After Cammie played catch with a dog, she said, “Oh Reggie, you’ve got to admit, is that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

But Reggie, ever the man, posed that guys would rather play the jetski game, which he then demonstrated. “Guys like power stuff,” he said. The third Wii Sports Resort game they demonstrated was what looked like Kendo. Reggie and Cammie faced off, for one real match with Reggie winning the first round, and taking a fake fall the second round.

The last big announcement was Wii Music. Apparently you “play” instruments by pantomiming, and the software takes care of the rest. The demonstrations that ensued were uncoordinated at best, and even somewhat dissonant at times.

It’s clearly aimed at the casual market, though with the drums, you can use the Balance Board as foot pedals, and you should be able to take lessons as well – but without the tactile response of actual drums, it seems less effective than Rock Band at teaching, perhaps.

So what did I take from this? These are all logical extensions of Nintendo’s strategy. Reggie mentioned at the end of the presentation that the goal, after successfully disrupting an industry, is to disrupt one’s own thinking. I would pose that the announcements here were not disruptive to Nintendo’s currently line, but rather follow them to the letter.

That’s not a problem, as it’s working, and these new interpretations of what the Wii Remote can do will likely succeed for the company. But it’s not anything truly new. And does that really matter?

I would say not. It’s perfectly acceptable to go with what works for some time – after all, that’s what everyone else is doing, by and large. Small innovations work well. Large disruptions can only come every once so often.

So while there weren’t any huge announcements per se, Nintendo's E3 press briefing was in line with expectations. And frankly, what can one expect from a press conference other than a lot of pomp and circumstance?

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Roberto Alfonso
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Companies exist for the money, so it is obvious they target the biggest market, just like TakeTwo now has to target the Nintendo DS.

Regardless, I am somewhat disappointed. Of course, I understand E3 is not targeted to developers or users, but instead the media, but I expected a few more announcements, especially regarding the MotionPlus. Good to hear it apparently worked.

When numbers are on your side, there is little you can argue about.

Bill DiGangi
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That press conference was lame at best. I really hope the Wii dies or the true gamers are going to lose big.

Matt Ponton
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I have to say my opinion on their conference. After having to watch it on G4's feed I have to say that Nintendo now definitely not only isn't targeting the hardcore, but also has forgotten what a 'hardcore' game is. I felt personally attacked that their 'hardcore' game was a small handheld version of a famous whore-beating, gun-toting, car-jacking game. It just felt like they were telling me, "here, this is what YOU like." When it just isn't. When I want a hardcore game, I picture games like Okami, Ico, Zelda, and Final Fantasy JRPGs.

Then, to add insult to injury, after the event Reggie sat down with G4's panel. One of their viewers had mentioned they were upset about the lack of 'hardcore' games. When the panel brought up the question to Reggie, "What would you say to some people like that?" He was flabbergasted: "What else do you want?! We have Animal Crossing for the Wii, and GTA for the DS!" It just further cemented what I was feeling from them, as if a hardcore gamer was this little gollum coming from the shadows screaming "Give me my precious..." and Nintendo just needed to throw a bone or something and let it go back to the shadows. Thinking of it that way, along with the European's comment about 'hardcore' being Otaku, just really pushes me to the idea that Nintendo didn't "break psychological barriers" but rather is seeing through the eyes of all the people who looked disgusted at me when I told them I make Videogames. It really sucks.

Lastly, their whole one-liners just made the entire conference (with the exception of when Iwata and Miyamoto spoke) feel like one of those 2AM product commercials, "Hey look Mary! With the Magic Bullet you can make 3 meals in only 4 minutes!" This was especially prevalent when Carrie & Reggie were 'demonstrating' Wii Sports Resort, "Hey Reggie have I got a cute game to show you! (As if Reggie hasn't seen this game)"

That's one of the reasons I could enjoy the Sony and Microsoft presentations much more. Microsoft felt like they were addressing the crowd, and Trenton with 98% of the show felt like he was talking to the otherside of the TV.

Nintendo has blown it in my eyes, and with their comment of "Don't worry our Mario & Zelda teams are one-in-the-same and they are working on something." Just leads me to the other feeling that Nintendo is 'throwing us a bone' by relying on their old IPs to attract the hardcore. Really, I don't own a Wii. If Smash didn't do it I don't see what will because I just haven't been able to "smile" while using motion controls.

P.S. I found it especially annoying that the opening montage was 75% female, and the % of females increasing could also just mean that the % of males is decreasing.

Matt Ponton
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Oh yeah and there's something to be said about the "social" mic, instead of a single-user mic. How one of their hardcore games won't be so hardcore when everyone in the room is coming from one character. I just find that awkward.

Geoffrey Mackey
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Great comments Matt. I have to agree completely. Let me get this strait make a Wii version of Animal Crossing that looks nearly identical to DS and GC version and expect people to be impressed with a mic?! I really can't believe they didn't even try to cook up a CG Zelda teaser. Nintendo may be profitable which is great, and they might be selling consoles, but casual women gamers like my girlfriend buy one game a year. Guess I'll keeping pumping hundreds into the Xbox.

Matt Ponton
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Sorry for the misspelling of Tretton's name.

In general, one thing I'm tired of hearing (and I know it's a BUZZ word but come-on) is the word "Innovate" and all its subsects. My issue is with all three conferences but the one that really pushed me over the edge was Guitar Hero DS' expansion pack. The devs used the words "innovate, innovation, innovative" multiple times in a 2 minute promo. I'm sorry if I don't feel that it's 'innovative' to have your expansion pack share songs with your original. Innovative should be describing game mechanics like when RE4 introduced the over-the-shoulder 3rd-person shooter to help with a player's line of sight. Innovative should not be used to describe game mechanics like 'we are able to get 30 player online battles.' I fail to see "innovation" in that when the PC has been doing it for years. Innovation should not be thrown in as a placeholder for 'new feature to our game' at a whim.

Christina Beard
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I'm not sure what I feel about the press conference. I expected them to target the casual market since that is ultimately what the Wii has been marketed for since its release.

I can say I was disappointed by not hearing more about the new Zelda or Mario, but I can definitely see some of the possibilities for third party development with the new toys being released for the Wii.

I just hope Nintendo doesn't completely abandon there hardcore gamers, otherwise I'd cry.

Russell Carroll
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I'm split on the conference, but not happy.

Pro - Wii Motion Plus, if it delivers as well as it seemed to, will be fantastic fun.

Con - Just about everything else. I wasn't as excited for WiiMusic after the presentation and I was pretty shocked to see a lack of games. Last year we had Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros. and even a couple of 2nd tier titles in Fire Emblem and Battalion Wars, not to mention Zelda for the DS. This year...?

I've been a huge fan of what Nintendo is doing, I love my Wii and play it daily. I'm very concerned that Nintendo has miscalculated this Christmas or brought out all the heavy hitters too soon.

On the other hand, maybe they are giving other companies a chance to shine. EA, Platinum Games and others look to have products that fill a good breadth and variety and perhaps this is a calculated move in releasing the fewest and least varied Nintendo line-up since N64 days.

Regardless, Nintendo's E3 showing made me more interested in 2009 than in 2008, and that's not a good sign on the morning after.

Peter Dassenko
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I'm curious where the innovation that they talked about is?

They trotted out an improved motion sensor but I don't think improvement & innovation are interchangeable. They also trotted out no less than 8 sequels. Spore's original, but on every console & those other consoles have far better graphics, so I don't see myself purchasing a Wii for Spore. Finally, Wii Music to me seams like an application where users can generate noise.

This announcement only confirms that they could care less about core gamers. It was bad enough that Super Smash Bros & Mario Kart were severely gimped, but it appears now that they just aren't interested in releasing anything that doesn't appear to 5 year olds.

Innovation needs to be chalked up with phrases like "It is what it is" & the use of the word "absolutely"...

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Wii MotionPlus just looks like a replacement accelerometer for the subpar one that the Wiimote has. I'm not seeing anything fundamentally new about it, it just looks like a better-made piece of hardware. I'm not really seeing any innovation or "new ways to play" from Nintendo, and introducing "Wii Speak" is absurd. IT'S A MICROPHONE. Those already existed, and everybody else has had VOIP in their games for years. Nintendo is the only console manufacturer who didn't have it at launch, so they're coming very late to the party, the last one to arrive, and then acting like they just showed up and invented the concept of partying. Kind of like what they did last year with "Mario Kart will let you play online against actual other human players in remote places around the world." Yeah, Reggie. It's called the Internet. Welcome to 1995. Thanks for the innovation.

Thomas Grove
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Brandon, how do you know what "a commercial for Lifetime Television" looks like?

Is this how you've been spending your Sunday afternoons? I'm shocked!

Doug Poston
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I hope nobody takes this too personally, but I'm surprised why any large company would care too much about the "hardcore gamer" market.

Yes, they buy games but, compared to the “casual gamer” or “possible gamer” markets (i.e. anybody with disposable income and a TV) they’re almost a niche (as Nintendo’s sales have shown).

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Does anybody knows what are the games that push customers to buy the Wii?

I'm not a casual gamer and have been waiting to buy one just for Metroid, Zelda, Super Mario, Resident Evil and the SNES and N64 games available (I'm considering all these not casual games).

I wonder if the games presented in this conference could make someone desperately go and purchase a Wii like Metal Gear 4 did with PS3.

My question is: If the Wii is casual gamer oriented, which casual games are pushing customers to make Wii the best selling console? I bet it's the best selling console because of the "hard-core" games they have available right now and the hope of seeing another super mario and zelda games in the near future.