Nintendo Blinked? Understanding what really happened at E3 2012
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 10th Jun 2012
Those two observations became important in the middle of Microsoft's Pre-E3 Press Briefing on Monday when, after opening the show with the next game in the Halo Series -- Halo 4 -- they then gave the official opening welcome, introduction, and partial briefing, followed by an edge-of-the-seat presentation of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist from Ubisoft. This was quickly followed by FIFA 13 and Madden 13 which we learned about from EA's Andrew Wilson with an assist from Super Joe Montana, and then oodles of Forza Goodness in the form of a trailer for Forza Horizon, some basic housekeeping with respect to the Xbox 360 Dashboard from Don Mattrick, and then came the surprise.
Judging by the soft reaction in the first 48 hours after the presser it is obvious that a significant percentage of the games journos in attendance at the event missed the real news that Xbox Live's Marc Whitten delivered when he briefed us on Xbox SmartGlass -- but before you nod your head and tsk tsk to be honest it is actually understandable that so many failed to recognize the massive significance of that app, because after all, there was not supposed to be a next-gen element to the presser.
SmartGlass = Next-Generation
Whitten took us through the carefully crafted take on owning your personal media in the guide of Xbox SmartGlass and then confirmed that the app will eventually be available on Android, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone and on Windows 8, allowing seamless screen switching on all of the media devices we own -- which was in essence a sort of paint-by-the-numbers broadside attack against Nintendo that on the surface appeared to be something else. Which is probably why it took a while for the enormity of what the app actually represents to sink in.
At E3 2011 Nintendo's unveiling of the Wii U was followed by its unveiling of the screen-equipped new game controller for the Wii U, and the news that the built-in screen would function as a second display on some games, allowing for a much more personalized game play experience in some games. It is not difficult to speculate how some games will take advantage of that capability, especially with respect to local multi-player play, since it basically untethered the screen, neatly slicing the invisible rubber band that exists in a lot of games that forces the players to stay within a set distance of each other on screen.
The section of the briefing that highlights the features of SmartGlass revealed much of the feature-rich app...
That sort of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking is what Nintendo is well-known for, so the unveiling was certainly sensible... Had the Japanese game manufacturer immediately followed the announcement by releasing the new console and controller this easily could have been a different story, but they did not. Instead they planned to use this year's E3 as a platform to further flesh-out plans for the new gaming tech and game play path, which they confidently plan to release in time for the 2012 holidays.
I say that it might have been a different story because, had they released it for last Christmas, we would be talking about the massive sales numbers and how Nintendo once again moved to redefine gaming tech in this new era, but the SmartGlass App that Microsoft has developed pretty much kills the Wii U and its screen-equipped controller before it even leaves the gate. If that makes it sound like Nintendo blinked, or that they made a mistake, well, that would be unfair -- the point behind the early announcement of the new tech last year was part of a strategy to carve inroads into the traditional gamer population -- something that Nintendo does not have.
The Wii U Strategy
Being an armchair quarterback is easy when the issues are obvious -- not so much when it is more complicated -- and the entire debacle that second-screen gaming is turning into is a very complicated matter indeed. There are plenty of examples of how simply adding new and innovative tech to your gaming system is not sufficient to guarantee position and numbers in the real world gamer community -- for proof of that we need look no farther than the Sega Dreamcast, which was a console way before its time that embodied many of the features that are now industry standard today. No, to do it right requires more than a good idea and some nifty hardware; you have to market the image and concept and sell gamers on the logic of the choice.
For Nintendo the marketing train was put on the tracks well before E3 2011, it simply left the station when the Wii U and its new controllers were unveiled there. As it chugged along the track and we marked its progress there were some key stops along the path, starting with hard-won agreements that Nintendo worked out with developers and publishers to get mainstream titles made for its Wii U that are the sort of games you have to have on your console if you really expect mainstream gamers to adopt it.