Another E3 has come and gone; and despite favorites being uncovered from the heaps of announcements and demos, the overall verdict was that there was no clear winner. Rather, the whole event was quite underwhelming — a lot of focus on already known IP with very little surprises.
If anything, 2012′s E3 was a textbook study of company philosophy. On a high level, Microsoft played a familiar hand showcasing its tendency to favor 3rd party partnerships ala Nike. Sony touted its tried and true dedication the developer network, letting Quantic Dream take the stage with Beyond: Two Souls and front runner Naughty Dog with The Last of Us. That left Nintendo.
Many knew Nintendo had a lot to prove, as it was the only one with new hardware to promote. Its strategy was a savvy one with three presentations strategically placed: one just before, one at the beginning and one toward the end of the expo. Of course, the goal was to put Nintendo and the Wii U at the top of everybody’s minds. This strategy didn’t quite work, however, but not because its lineup or hardware was lackluster as many may think.
Nowadays, Nintendo is not focused on games. That is a bold statement, given that this industry is all about the games. But, there it is. The truth of the matter is that the 123 year old company is now focused more on the player culture. Namely, Nintendo seeks to influence the way players interact with the hardware and one another. “Together. Better.” was the message they wanted to leave us with at this year’s E3; and the reason why their presentation was so underwhelming to most was that this message got lost amidst the (lack of) games and the hardware hype.
Just because they didn’t get this message across well at E3 doesn’t mean that it will not pervade the gamer psyche indefinitely. If history has a part to play in this argument, it’s the proof that Nintendo has the capability to move in a completely radical direction and come out well ahead of any competition. Case in point: up until recently, the Wii had been the most popular console on the market, outselling the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 by approximately 20M units by FY11 all without high definition, DVD/Blu-Ray support or a considerable library of hardcore titles. You can even thank the original Wii motion-based controls for influencing the Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move, as well as Microsoft and Sony’s short lived craze over casual games.
The following pre-E3 video may have been painful to watch. Luckily, we’ve honed in on the 30 seconds or so that illustrates Nintendo’s unorthodox point about “Together. Better.”
Sure, both the 360 and PS3 have Web 2.0 elements. They are mostly 3rd party integrated, however, with Facebook or Twitter. Nothing is so built into the foundation of the console like the Wii U’s Social Window. While the Social Window got only a brief mention at the actual conference, the video above shows very unique social interactions — dedicated game feeds, mobile integration, video chat — all built in and supported directly by Nintendo.
With Nintendo so focused on controlling the experience, one can only draw comparison to Apple’s quasi-totalitarian, yet wildly successful, focus on UI. And such control can only suggest that Nintendo has an unyielding vision for how they want players to play. Thus one can expect that every moment of play on the Wii U, no matter if it’s Super Mario Bros. U or Assassin’s Creed 3, you will be playing the way Nintendo has prescribed.
This is not such a bad thing. When a controlled experience is done right, it usually translates to widespread adoption. Think of the original Wii’s nun-chuck controller, a truly unique pieces of hardware that revolutionized how we interact. Coupled with a game like Wii Sports with such a low learning curve, you could pick up the controller and play without a manual or in-game tutorial. That is when you know you have an effective interface.
It would be falling into a trap to say the Wii U will succeed because the Wii succeeded, however. Past success with something so new and unorthodox only suggests that Nintendo has the ability to pull it off. There are major hurdles to jump before this happens; one being the fact that the Wii U’s GamePad is far more complex than the Wii nun-chuck.
Perhaps Nintendo is relying on the fact that today’s generation of gamers are experienced enough with smart phones and touch pads to pick up the Wii U GamePad without any qualms. The company is definitely making the right move by having backwards compatibly with previous generation peripherals. But then, there’s also the threat from the competition nipping at their heels.
Microsoft’s SmartGlass is promising an experience comparable to the GamePad’s touch screen and multi-screen interaction. Apple’s Air Play and Apple TV will also most likely have something to say about in-depth gaming with a touch screen. Might as well throw Sony into the mix with its still unproven integrated play between the Vita and PS3.
Most likely, we can expect a messaging and marketing rush to come soon from the gaming giant. Rightly so, because the Social Window has yet to be fully explained. Core gamers want to see more hardcore titles. And they really need to flesh out what they mean by “Together. Better.” Ultimately, Nintendo is now tasked with overcoming the lingering doubt left at the floors of the Nokia Theatre.
By redirecting the conversation away from it being all about the games to it being all about how we play them, Nintendo will need to be constant and consistent in their messaging in order to coax a large portion of the gaming populous into their way of thinking. Nintendo is promising it all; and the Wii U is certainly poised to deliver. Now, all there is left to do is wait and see.