Nintendo recently scrapped its E3 event, vowing instead to focus on its own channel. David Killborn and James Gardiner debate the decision
David Kilborn: In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about Nintendo’s decision to forgo E3 this year and instead focus on hosting its own, closed door discussion with select press to reveal new projects and demos of upcoming titles. While many believe this to be a way of cutting losses and avoiding competing with rival companies Microsoft and Sony, I think it is actually indicative of a trend in Nintendo’s marketing for more direct advertising and information delivery. But does it work? Have you ever watched a Nintendo Direct conference?
James Gardiner: I have watched a few Nintendo Direct conferences, and in some ways I really like the approach they take. As their name aptly states, they provide a more immediate way of communicating with their core user base. This works well for smaller announcements like system updates, DLC, and the re-release of forgotten titles like Earthbound, as they’ve been mostly used so far.
At the same time, the more fan-centric nature of the conferences is also their main weakness: they don’t properly engage anyone who isn’t already committed to Nintendo. While things like E3 might be a bit overblown with pomp and circumstance, they offer the kind of wide audience appeal Nintendo really needs right now to help the Wii U.
David: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. The biggest problem with Nintendo’s model is that it speaks to more mature fans (those who remember Earthbound, for example) who already own the current consoles, as the easiest way to view these announcements is from your 3DS or Wii U. But from the marketing point of view, this method loses the millions of gamers who would love to enjoy the experiences Nintendo is offering, if only they knew. In particular when discussing the re-release of Earthbound or the upcoming Link to the Past sequel, I was surprised at how many friends had not heard of this at all; some of them swore to buy a 3DS immediately to play Link to the Past again. E3 might not be the best venue for Nintendo’s current audience, but only selling to your existing customers and relying on word of mouth is very risky in today’s market.
In regards to word of mouth, I also wonder if Sony is not trying a similar tactic. In the Fall, they laid off much of their public relations department and, as a result, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was the only holiday release game I was aware of without actively researching on my own. The sad thing was, I was really looking forward to the Harry Potter Wonderbook: Book of Spells! I doubt even five copies were sold at our local game store.
James: That wouldn’t surprise me. Sony’s handling of its big releases is bizarre in how little marketing they put out sometimes. The new Sly Cooper was a great example of this; it’s a fairly well-known franchise with a decent fanbase, but not one large enough to do big numbers on word of mouth alone. While I tend to doubt it had as large a budget to pay off compared to an Uncharted or Killzone title for instance, that’s not the kind of risk the publisher should be taking given the parent company’s rocky financial state.
That said, Sony’s PlayStation 4 event seems to combine some of the sensibilities of a Nintendo Direct and an E3 conference. It had the amount of showiness that E3 conferences have, but since it was revealed at its own event it was able to stand apart as PlayStation-centric. Plus, unlike Nintendo Directs, the PS4 reveal saw decent coverage from non-gaming press as well as the dedicated core.
David: In my mind, Sony needs that kind of press in order to get the hype it needs for a new console release. The PS4 reveal felt very premature to me and offered several ideas of what the console might do without many promises (such as, playing games while they are still downloading, streaming older PS games, and interaction with tablets and smartphones were all discussed with no indication they will be be features available any time in the near future). Heck, Sony didn’t even show the PS4 itself. However, by having gaming and non-gaming press cover the event, it reached a larger audience and started people talking. In the end, isn’t that what these conferences are all about?
I love getting hyped up for a big release, but in the end, when I want to research a game or console, I read reviews, not reveals. E3 is a hype machine and I think more and more people are realizing this fact and looking for more substantial information before making big purchases or pre-orders. It is hardly a coincidence that Nintendo is leaving E3 and both Sony and Microsoft are having side conferences beyond the traditional stage show. Gamers need more convincing than ever before to gamble on something new when there are so many established franchises and cheap/easy buys on existing platforms to distract us. How do you think companies can balance hype, publicity, and information in a way to reach the most people and grow their fanbase?
James: I’d say the ideal way to market a game for maximum effectiveness is a mix of various techniques. For an initial announcement, engaging your core fanbase directly with something like a Nintendo Direct is a great way to begin gaining interest, holding something in the vein of an E3 or Sony’s conference will help to gain real press coverage, and launching a full ad campaign will expand the public awareness of a game to a large enough degree to bring in sufficient sales. Axing key marketing methods the ways Nintendo and Sony have done might have been out of a desire to aggressively target their core fanbase, but that comes at the cost of the kind of large-scale consumer awareness the current AAA model needs.
David: I think that in the case of Nintendo, we need to see more centralized and specifically-targeted information distribution. Press releases, interviews, and non-Nintendo Direct/Iwata Asks presentations will help get information to the core gamers while commercial advertising and maybe parent-oriented articles and videos on their social media pages will help bring back that massive audience that the Wii gained, who currently think the Wii U is just some kind of add-on screen-controller-thing.
As for Sony, I think almost the opposite is true. More concise presentations to general audiences will help convince reluctant buyers to upgrade to a PS Vita or PS4. E3 is a good venue for them, but it has to be a start and not the main front of its advertising campaign.
This next year will really test the public relations and marketing aspects of video game companies. Changes in the economical environment and technological innovation will push developers to find whole new ways of marketing and expanding our gaming world. From the consumer standpoint, this is going to be a very exciting year.
Follow David on Twitter: @DavidInRealTime
Follow James on Twitter: @keltar93