[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?