Take your minds back 28 months to a time before Nintendo Direct existed. It was a time before Rihanna was number 1 with "We Found Love" (yes I looked that up), it was a different time. Before Iwata, Miyamato and the gang would get together infront of clean white backgrounds to update us on the latest goings on at Nintendo Towers. But before November 2011, we didn't have the fun, unique updates that are symbolic of the quirky nature of Nintendo. Little were we to know back then that these Nintendo Directs would also provide regular disappointment to those that watched them.
But why is it always this way? Well, for a few reasons really, and not all of them are down to Ninty themselves. Let's take a look.
Firstly we have to consider the purpose of the Nintendo Direct itself. Obviously they are there to provide key information about Nintendo's new software, hardware and to a lesser extent, their strategies. But who to? Whilst Nintendo's presentations are available to the entire region they are aimed at simultaneously, it would be naive to think that everyone knows about them, let alone tunes in.
Fundamentally the people who are aware and watch Nintendo Directs are going to be those working in the industry, aspiring to be in it, or already have a distinct interest in all things Nintendo. Which means right from the off, Nintendo have a fairly tough audience to please. And not least because the perception of the big N in recent years has been waning. Just ask Matt what he thinks of the Wii U, give him the soap box, stand back, and you'll see what I mean. But ironically this perception doesn't mean the audience wants Nintendo to fail, in fact it wants the complete opposite, and this heaps the pressure on any announcements of any kind. Because we as a group turn up full of hope and expectation of that big story, that new strategy that is going to revert the fortunes of one of the pillars of the gaming community.
But what's even worse for Nintendo, is the knowledgeable nature of their audience - they know a lot about Ninty and the industry in general - they are aware of the possibilities, the competition and the current climate. As such it's likely they all have their own opinions on Nintendo and more crucially their own theory on what can turn around the company. Indeed with recent results being so poor, particularly on Wii U, many journalists and gamers alike have pitched in their two cents. And they're all gonna be tuning in for that next Direct when it gets announced, to see how right or wrong they were.
It puts Iwata in the unenviable position of trying to solve the company's problems - or at least do enough to convince the rest of us that things are changing for the better - in a 30-40 minute presentation, something that is downright impossible. As such the viewers are left feeling deflated - despite some sometimes pretty exciting announcements or updates. For example during Thursday night's Direct we finally got a release date for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. Is this great news? Of course it is. Do I think this is going to turn the Wii U's fortunes around? No. Because as fun as I'm sure that game will be, there are just too many obstacles to people buying Nintendo's new console right now, and no new tidbits of information on games, no matter how big are going to convince people to take the plunge, especially given the competition, fan base, price, lack of awareness and other barriers.
So if Nintendo Directs are for showcasing updates on the upcoming titles, but the audience of those Directs needs something different, then one of two things needs to change, either the content or the audience. And I'm pretty sure that if Nintendo was sitting on the content their audience wants, i.e. the answer to it's problems, it wouldn't hesitate to shout them from the rooftops, therefore we're going to have to question the target audience of Nintendo Directs themselves. The question isn't simply who watches Nintendo Directs, but who should or could watch them?
The simple answer is, the people who should be watching are those that aren't at the moment. With Nintendo in a situation where it needs to convince people of it's relevance in the current console market, as well as for people to part with their cash, Nintendo Directs would be better served as a method of reaching out to potential new customers. It would need an overhaul of the delivery of the Direct - less assumption of prior knowledge of Nintendo Directs or games, more promotion of current line up, highlighting differentiation to competitors etc to make it credible. It would also need to be marketed (yep, step up Nintendo Marketing Department, earn your crust) correctly so that people outside of the usual audience were aware of it and actively wanted to tune in. But if done correctly, it would transform the Nintendo Directs that could be so much more powerful for the company in it's turnaround plan.
Also with one fell swoop, this notion of disappointment is dealt with too. With the audience more geared towards the Directs being a fact-finding exercise, news is simply that, news. The expectation is removed, because these newcomers either know very little or expect little from Nintendo, and the only way is up. Ultimately this new audience will decide with their feet and wallets on whether it was enough to tempt them from their preconceptions about Nintendo, or lack thereof.
So problem solved right? It was all to do with audience being wrong. Well no, in reality there's also a fair chunk of the blame for the Nintendo Direct disappointment factor that needs to be put firmly at Ninty's door.
The first issue is one we touched on a little earlier - audience hype. Now initially it may seem unfair to blame Nintendo for the hype that it's audience creates on it's own. But, let's think about what generates hype for a moment. Sure part of it is the knowledgeable audience, and their wishing of Nintendo to do well that we discussed earlier, but there's also more to it. Hype and expectation is also based on both historic performance as well as the feelers and teasers that Nintendo put out themselves prior to these announcements.
From a historic performance perspective, Nintendo has a lot more than most, having spent 25 years in the industry. And it would be remiss of even the most ardent naysayer of the Big N to say there haven't been a few special moments over the years. The first video trailer reveal of Twilight Princess at E3 2004, or Super Smash Bros Melee three years before both sent audiences crazy. They gave the audiences what they wanted and much, much more. And people remember those amazing reveals, and it sets future expectations higher because they know what the company is capable of.
And whilst it may seem unfair to criticise Nintendo again for unfair expectations, there has to be some context here also. Nintendo as a company are well aware of this hype and expectation, they know people are going to be excited for their news. But even given this, Ninty seem to still be unable to differentiate between it's big and small announcements - particularly in their Nintendo Directs. The simple presentations become essentially glorified lists of updates, with minimal pacing or crescendos to the big reveal. And Nintendo do themselves no favours either as when they do divert focus and excitement to particular news, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. The drip-feed of the character roster in the latest Smash Bros game is a prime example of the gap between Nintendo's lofty belief that people will hang off their every word and the reality that people just can't get excited about a single character reveal in a roster of many - no matter how new and different they are. And it is ironic that the biggest news for Nintendo about Mario Kart 8 in it's latest Direct was around playable Koopaling characters, when what everyone else was focusing on was the release date.
This feeling of being out of touch with what constitutes news, and what should be given hype is alarming, especially given that Nintendo - and their failing Wii U machine - can't afford to get this wrong for much longer. Sure I'm not suggesting that the small updates aren't important, sometimes there's no other way of communicating lesser news than in the way Nintendo currently do in their Directs. My issue is the fact that I'm not convinced that they are aware of what constitutes big news, nor how to showcase it as well.
And what's more alarming is that Nintendo could also be unwittingly doing more harm than good with these Directs when you consider their failing Wii U vs their successful 3DS. Having to juggle both in (most) Direct updates poses a problem for Nintendo. They need to provide for the majority of fans / industry who are behind their 3DS, with software to get excited about and maintain momentum and share in the handheld market. Therefore Nintendo Directs need to have a strong 3DS presence. Unfortunately it's a presence that will always be stealing air time from the Wii U - arguably a console that needs more things to shout about. What ends up happening as a result is a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom for Nintendo's new console. Because if they can't demonstrate new and exciting stuff for it, then why else should people believe in it? If Nintendo's Direct focus more on the 3DS than the Wii U, then so will everybody else, and the final nail in the coffin for the Wii U is hammered in with a resounding thud.
So where does that leave us? Well, it means Nintendo's decision to use Nintendo Directs means they are delivering uninspiring updates that serve those in the know, or those who have already bought into Nintendo's machines. As such these presentations become little more than tarted up bullet point lists, a more glamorous investor call if you will. And as with all investor calls, the expectations are high, and are usually not all met, and that awkward feeling of disappointment sets in when they're over.
But what's the solution? Well a rethink about how to deliver messages would be a start. Clarity and disparity between different types of news and announcements would help, and would also manage expectations of the audience. There also needs to be an adjustment on who Nintendo serves this information to aside from the industry and the converted. It needs to figure out how to reach gamers who have become disillusioned with Nintendo, or people who aren't aware what they offer. And to do that is going to require a lot of synergy with their Marketing Department. That could be TV, it could be social media, it could be lots of things, but Nintendo need to refine their communication strategy for the different messages and audiences they should be catering to. Then they can focus on how these strategies can incorporate the two different situations their two consoles are in.
Then Nintendo Directs (and indeed any different communication channels that Nintendo choose to use to tailor their messaging) would not only become more beneficial to Nintendo, but everyone would be clearer on what to expect, and you'd get a lot less people feeling disappointment afterwards. Who knows you may even get some smiles, some anticipation and some opinions changing for the better.
Oh and that super-cool, top-secret idea that you've been working on for the past 3 years Nintendo? Revealing that would help too.