Has E3 become Too “Fluffy”?
Has the act of announcing video games negatively changed over the years? While there are issues, the stance that they’re all pop and no substance is a bit extreme. Game announcement is currently rife with pre-rendered trailers, inaccurately advertised details, and embellished footage. Now, these complaints could accurately be described as “nitpicky”. But, the gaming audience has entirely become too dependent on what I like to call “fluff”.
Fluff can be described as anything added to a piece of informational media that’s not relevant to the product. For example, when announcing a new video game, if most of the announcement is a dance number unrelated to the game, that’s fluff. I won’t argue that these performances are useful for the more entrepreneurial side of gaming. They serve a purpose even if they’re a bit misleading, but we deserve better. If only there was a way to present new information in an organized, entertaining, and concise manner. Oh wait…there just might be.
We Need a Direct Solution
Of course, I’m talking about Nintendo’s tried and true “Direct” format. They’ve been part of Nintendo’s marketing repertoire since 2011 and are pre-recorded, concise presentations on all their newest developments. But only recently did I come to terms with the idea that they’re an essentially perfect announcement format. These Direct have grown over time, adapting and changing to become effective marketing tools. And while we wait for the next Direct due to earthquakes lets look back and really figure out why Direct’s are so great.
It’s no stretch to say that Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 has become fluff heavy in recent years. This conference is now just as much about entertainment as it is electronics. For example, I’m a huge fan of SuckerPunch games, I adore the infamous franchise. But, I didn’t need a 4-minute authentic flute solo before I got a new trailer for Ghost of Tsukishima. Unfortunately, SuckerPunch is not even close to the only offender. The first half of every Ubisoft conference is a music concert. Sony’s are a suit and tie affair, complete with theater performances. And even EA spends half their time interviewing athletes making appearances in the annual FIFA release.
E3 is slowly becoming an environment where video games are a garnish to a visually appealing dish with no substance. That’s not to say these corporate giants aren’t pouring millions of dollars and hours into masterpiece productions. It’s just that announcements are now mostly for shareholders and more casual audiences. Nintendo on the other hand, while still old fashioned on plenty, have figured out how to please their dedicated fans with new announcements.
What Makes the Nintendo Direct Format So Great?
First of all, the Direct’s are purposely quick and succinct. The presentations hyper-focus on maintaining a 30-60 minute runtime all about new releases. They also prominently feature one of the company’s elite “mascots”. We’ve seen plenty of the charismatic Reggie Fils-Aimé, the late great Satoru Iwata, and even the Smash genius himself Masahiro Sakurai. And lastly, they’re themed, whether console or franchise themed the announcements follow a strict guideline. These rules for Nintendo Direct’s are what make them such cornerstones of the current gaming industry.
Now I’m not saying the Nintendo doesn’t have their own brand of fluff. I mean in 2015 their entire presentation was in a Sesame Street-esque format. But, they’ve realized that the flair and spectacle should accentuate the announcements, rather than dominate it. The quirkier parts of their presentations are primarily transitions to the next announcement. They know the right amount of fluff so that their symbolic pillow isn’t overstuffed.
If you take an in-depth look at how Nintendo Direct’s are formatted, you can glean at their perfected balance. Firstly, they’re pre-recorded, so low chance of user error. Secondly, they’ve effectively made their corporate giants into mascots. Reggie Fils-Aimé is recognizable now to even the most casual Nintendo Fans. And lastly, it’s a regimented format. Fans know that each Direct follows a similar makeup, time limit, and style. I mean, they’re so well structured that they legitimately have a table of contents at the beginning.
But It’s Not Really A Perfect Solution Right?
Now I’ll be honest, there is no perfect format for announcing new games, there’s just too many variables. Even Nintendo Direct’s have their drawbacks. Primarily, fans complain about the lack of physical presence for Nintendo. E3 is an expo, an event, one that benefits a company that’s on the show floor. So, when Nintendo is all but nonexistent outside their pre-recorded presentation, the fans who’re physically at the event don’t latch on as strongly.
Now Nintendo has had years where they’ve done both. Expo’s where they showcase the Direct and then the Nintendo Treehouse is on the show floor diving deep into the mechanics of everything. And while I’d adore this at every E3 I understand that it requires double the amount of work on their side. Another double-edged aspect is the surprise factor. Gone are the days of constantly refreshing the Smash Dojo to see if Sonic really is in Brawl. But, with the headline feature, there’s a new form of revelation.
What’s So Unique About The Format?
This Headlines aspect is subtler than one would expect. Rather than plainly stating what will be announced, the presentation states the franchise and a clever line. For example, instead of plainly saying “Minecraft Switch Edition”, the headline instead stated “A Gold Mine of Fun On Nintendo Switch”. This gives fans the opportunity for speculation based on the context rather than laying it all out there.
Finally, there are different Directs for different situations. For example, Super Smash Bros Ultimate is coming out in December 2018 and is essentially a guaranteed best seller. Therefore, Nintendo released a Direct entirely focused on it. This flexibility allows for there to be console, franchise, and even holiday-specific Directs. Can you imagine if Sony had a main stage half-hour presentation focused entirely on Destiny 2? Developers can now aspire for their own presentations where they can really dive deep into the mechanics of their passion projects.
Lastly, Directs are perfect for web traffic! It’s a well-known unspoken rule to keep it short and sweet with online writing. This way you appeal to the most viewers in every demographic. The Direct’s are a format that allows the casual and diehard fans to connect and speculate on the coming announcements. You judge for yourself how easy it is to digest a half hour presentation compared to a three hour one. This goes double for a company like Nintendo who has always been for the younger demographic who stereotypically have shorter attention spans.
How Can This Help The Rest Of The Industry?
This is a mockup I made, it is NOT at all official or an announcement for a new Sony Format, just a mediocre photoshop
Mockup of Sony Direct Format
So, there you have it! Nintendo Directs are without a doubt my current favorite format for new announcements. Other company giant’s like Sony or Microsoft might want to nab a page from Nintendo’s book. This short form format works in both an annual and monthly capacity. I could easily see a semiannual update from Sony that follows this format. If one of these corporate giants could manage both long and short form. then the hardcore gaming crowd could get their un-distilled info, while the casual crowd has their energetic E3 affair.
Nintendo Direct’s promotes indie, AAA, and first-party titles in an equal capacity, and allows for different genres to have their own presentations. Overall, while it does have its fair share of flaws, I’d love to live in a world where E3 was literally overflowing with announcements, all in less than 5 hours. A world where I could easily catch up on a presentation without skimming through only looking for the announcements I care about. So here’s hoping in the next couple years the gaming giants learn to be a little more…Direct.