Nintendo Direct & fan expectations: Can the ‘hype’ be better managed?

Nintendo Direct

When Nintendo began its transition to online-only presentations in 2011, no one could have predicted how successful they would be. Many lamented that we may never see a live stage presentation from Nintendo again and miss out on fun moments like “My body is ready.” Fast forward to 2020 and Nintendo Directs have been established as events to look forward to. More often than not, Nintendo brings some great surprise announcements. However, despite how delightful this is for Nintendo gamers, it’s also had the unexpected side effect of skyrocketing the fans’ expectations of Nintendo.

As a result, fans that didn’t get the reveal they wished for in a Nintendo Direct end up disappointed and direct this anger back at Nintendo. So, how much of a problem are these expectations, and what is Nintendo doing about it?

The expectations

Initially, many gamers were not excited about the prospect of Nintendo Directs, particularly when they replaced E3 showcases. What changed this was the nature of games that would be announced at these events. Nintendo began to establish the “one more thing” section at the end of any given presentation, to reveal a surprise title. These announcements have often been huge first-party Nintendo games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. As a result, when a presentation doesn’t end with the kind of bang fans want, they can be disappointed and unfairly angry at Nintendo for not living up to their personal expectations.

That said, the blame largely isn’t with Nintendo. With the ever-increasing prominence of social media over the last gaming generation, it’s become easier to form online communities that enjoy coming together to get hyped over game reveals. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it can lead to raised expectations.

For example, fans on Nintendo Reddit pages often create bingo cards for the things they want to see out of a new Direct. While making a game out of predictions is in the name of good fun, it’s still an example of fans eventually setting themselves up for disappointment. Neither Nintendo nor its players are fully to blame, and there are times where the fan response is understandable. However, the backlash can often go too far, and something should be done to temper expectations so that fans can act better towards game developers.

Nintendo Direct expectations fans high expectations, frustration, disappointment, outrage, and backlash

The disappointment

When Nintendo doesn’t meet the expectations its fan create, they become undoubtedly disappointed. We saw this at the beginning of the year when Byleth was announced as the final character for the initial batch of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s downloadable content. Players didn’t know that there would be further DLC for the game (until later in that presentation), so it was reasonable that they would be upset over the final new character being yet another Fire Emblem representative. However, when fans were speculating that it could have been a character like Dante from the Devil May Cry series, it was always going to be hard to please them.

Fan backlash was even worse last year with the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Players were understandably upset at the news of fewer than half of all existing Pokémon being in the game. While it’s fine to be annoyed with a decision like that, many players took to the internet to harass the development team, which was a step too far. Pokémon events were canceled, and it even became bad enough that game director Junichi Masuda had to ask people to stop harassing him on his birthday. It’s okay for players to feel disappointed in Nintendo, but at the same time, their reactions should never reach the point of being abusive towards the people making these video games.

Nintendo Direct expectations fans high expectations, frustration, disappointment, outrage, and backlash Pokémon Sword Shield

What Nintendo is doing about it

As Nintendo often seems like it’s in its own world, you may wonder if they are aware of the potential negatives to their fans’ high expectations. From what we’ve seen, I believe Nintendo is both aware and has actively tried to take some steps towards managing these issues. One of these methods has been a continuing trend to shorten the lead times between Nintendo Directs being announced and releasing. By doing this, fans are given less time to speculate and theorize on lofty things that may not appear in the Direct. Another method Nintendo has been using is to name their Directs differently depending on the content.

“Nindies” or Indie World showcases are naturally focused on independent games, and the only “core” Direct we’ve had so far this year was labeled a “Nintendo Direct Mini.” While that Direct definitely wasn’t mini in terms of length, Nintendo likely named it as such to temper expectations for what games may appear in it. By informing the audience about the name ahead of time, it’s possible that fans would go in being more open-minded.

This was also apparent when Nintendo mentioned that no new fighters would be revealed in the recent presentation for Min Min in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. These are good steps towards managing fan expectations, but there is still more that could be done. We haven’t had a Nintendo Direct in a long time (for obvious reasons), but I hope that when the next one arrives, Nintendo can set expectations so that its fans can respond appropriately.

Nintendo Direct expectations fans high expectations, frustration, disappointment, outrage, and backlash

It may be a while till our next Nintendo Direct (or also maybe not, according to a rumor), but what will your expectations be?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.