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A Slew of My Nintendo-related Positions

I get asked a lot of the same questions all the time on either the podcast or on the forums. I have no problems reiterating my positions on things, but I was recently emailed by a student of journalism who asked me several questions about Nintendo-related topics and I took the time to provide very wordy answers to his questions. I figured that I would publish them here so that you guys can know where I stand as well the fact that I feel it is good to have a written record of where you stand on various things.

Here were his questions:
On the subject of E3 2008
- How did you initially view Nintendo's press conference?
- Should/could Nintendo have done things differently, specifically to please the core gamers, or does their new view of E3 make sense?
- Three months on, how do you look back on the conference and some of Nintendo's more recent announcements?
- How do you think Sony and Microsoft performed in contrast to Nintendo?
- Is the end nigh for E3?

On the subject of the DSi
- How would you rate Nintendo's decision to add MP3 and camera capabilities to the system?
- Should they have looked at alternative ways, if any, of improving the platform?
- Would you suggest these additions are designed specifically with the gamer in mind or as an attempt to compete with media-enabled handhelds like the PSP and iPhone/iPod?

The inevtiable Casual vs Core debate
- Where do you stand on this issue?
How did you initially view Nintendo's press conference?

Directly after the Nintendo press conference, I remember being quite perturbed with regard to the announcements. For one, we had all expected announcements from Nintendo that were meant to counter the rising threat from Sony. My personal belief was that Sony and Microsoft, with their respective price drops and developing online platforms, were gaining on Nintendo in terms of delivering what people wanted to see, and I thought that Nintendo should have taken the opportunity to counteract that during this year's E3.

I remember during the press conference there were many opportunities where I was saying to myself, "Wow, Nintendo can make this into a Steve Jobs moment if they announce something right here." The whole press conference was an emotional roller coaster for me. There were two instances that stood out most to me to exemplify this. The first when Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America's new Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, came out on stage and introduced herself. This was an opportunity for Nintendo, but mostly her, to set their image. Now, everyone thinks of her as an annoying soccer-mom who believes that Nintendo's fans are all six-year-olds. The second instance was when the lights dimmed towards the end of the conference just before the announcement of Wii Music. I felt that they could have really used that tension to their advantage by introducing a new Zelda or other core title. There were other instances, but those were just the two that were the most blatant to me.

Should/could Nintendo have done things differently, specifically to please the core gamers, or does their new view of E3 make sense?

I think that no one actually feels that Nintendo had a particularly good press conference. I was in the "Broadcast Media" section of the press conference and was seated next to WIRED Magazine, perhaps the largest technology magazine at least in the United States. I can still remember Chris Kohler, their main Nintendo reporter saying on video directly after, words to the effect of, "Hi, I am Chris Kohler and I am here at Nintendo's E3 2008 Media Briefing where Nintendo has essentially said, 'If you're a hardcore gamer, we don't want you.'"
I really do believe that Nintendo should have handled the conference very differently. I still say to myself that had they simply shown at least one trailer for a Zelda game or announced something like the DSi at the press conference, then they could have completely turned people's perceptions around.

I think what Nintendo was trying to do was to use the sheer size of the E3 conference to announce things that they felt would be good for a massive audience. They felt that because E3 is the event that basically gets the most non-core gamer attention, that perhaps mainstream TV networks and newspapers would cover anything that they announced. What I think they failed to realize is that E3 is still, regardless of what Nintendo might have thought, a gaming event, and that the stories that the big TV networks and newspapers run get their initial boost of attention from the core gamer media like IGN, Gamespot, and of course, LITHCast. Due to the fact that the gaming media wasn't happy about it, Nintendo never received the attention they wanted from the main steam media.

I personally feel that there was one thing that no one really discussed as speculation prior to the conference, but something that I feel would have helped them immensely during the conference and that was Nintendo WiFi Connection (WFC). I, and perhaps almost every other person on God's green Earth, believe that WFC will be unable to exist in the future the way it is configured. In a period of more, not less, Internet exposure, we have to understand that the notion of Nintendo sheltering each of their customers by implementing hard-to-remember Friend Codes for each game that a person owns and limiting the amount of contact that users can have within games, is not compatible with the way most of us live our online lives. We recently saw more of one of the most anticipated first-person-shooters (FPS) for the Wii, The Conduit. To this day, it still baffles me how few quality FPS games there are given the natural point and shoot capabilities of the Wii Remote and Nun-chuck. I believe that this is not due to lower graphical performance of the Wii, but rather due to the fact that most people dismiss FPS's if they lack good online play. Good online play almost literally cannot exist on WFC and I felt that E3 was the ample opportunity for them to revamp it.

In the past, someone could have simply written Nintendo a pass on their online service saying that unlike Microsoft's XBox Live, WFC is free of charge. No longer can such an excuse be made because Sony is taking the fight right to them with the PlayStation Network (PSN). In order to stop the rising Sony tide, Nintendo would have done well to restructure their online platform as well as to reveal new games at this year's briefing.

I think even Nintendo was not satisfied with their performance at E3. They actually sent me a postcard a few months back that, at least to me, sounded very apologetic. Here is a link to the postcard they sent me and you can decide for yourself what this unsolicited postcard means:

Three months on, how do you look back on the conference and some of Nintendo's more recent announcements?

Nintendo's more recent announcements during their Fall Media Summit were very encouraging. While I still think they could have done more, I feel that they did to a pretty good job with these announcements and I think that had they made more of those types of announcements at E3, people wouldn't have had this general feeling of remiss about Nintendo that they did back in July.

Looking back, I do not think that I have any different feelings about Nintendo's announcements than I did at E3. To be fair, I am very excited for Animal Crossing: City Folk due to come out in about a month. This was perhaps my favorite of all the titles announced at E3 2008, although the game itself did still fall slightly below my expectations.

How do you think Sony and Microsoft performed in contrast to Nintendo?

Certainly the general perception at E3 was that both Microsoft and Sony performed reasonably better than Nintendo. I basically agree with this notion. Microsoft announced a plethora of new and exciting titles along with a major update to the XBox Dashboard. I didn't follow Sony particularly closely, but they did elaborate more on games like Little Big Planet. Overall though, I feel that Nintendo was looked at as the worst performer at E3.

Is the end nigh for E3?

This is one of those questions that I still haven't quite formed my opinion on yet. I find this to be one of the toughest questions currently out there in video gaming media. On one hand, I think we have certainly seen a decline in the excitement for E3. I have only been to three E3 conventions: 2006, 2007, and 2008. By no stretch of the imagination were the last two E3's anything close to E3 2006; 2006 simply dwarfs them by comparison in both quality of announcements and excitement.

I think though that the biggest problem with E3 is that it is run by an organization that just isn't very tied in with the state of the gaming community, The Entertainment Software Association (ESA). We have recently seen conventions like ComicCon and Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) rise in popularity. I think the reason for this is that they are run by people who are far more in touch with gamers than the ESA is. While I think that E3 was a great conference and was essentially my inspiration for getting into the whole Nintendo podcast thing, I think that they need to not try to reform the conference by making it a more serious, more business oriented conference. Video games aren't about seriousness. This is something that trade shows like PAX truly understand, which is why I think we will be hearing more about them in the future.

In short, I do not think that E3 as a conference is in a spot that they are stuck in and will never be able to lift themselves out, but what I am saying is that they need to make the convention all about the announcements again and not make it an event designed for business meetings. That was their aim back in 2007 and that scared away considerable numbers of people for 2008 in my opinion.

How would you rate Nintendo's decision to add MP3 and camera capabilities to the system?

I think that the DSi as a whole was more meant to cater to the Japanese audience. It seems to me that they seem to care more about "convergence devices" than we do here in the United States. While I think that adding more features to a system is never really a bad thing, I have to wonder if the experience of owning a DS will be any more fulfilling for having purchased a DSi for these features. I, and even Nintendo of America's President, believe that the DSi will not be able to perform the functions of a camera nor an MP3 player nearly as well as a dedicated device for these purposes. While these functions are great to have, I think the more exciting additions come in the form of the other announcements Nintendo made about the DSi such as: larger screens, downloadable content, built-in web browser, and games that are meant to work only on DSi. In addition to that, let's not forget the added homebrew potential created by Nintendo adding an integrated SD card slot even if not intentional.

Should they have looked at alternative ways, if any, of improving the platform?

As previously stated, I think that the biggest favor that Nintendo could have done for themselves is to have revamped Nintendo WFC. This could have been an update that would have affected all of Nintendo's products in a positive way. I also think that the DS Lite wasn't really due for a redesign, but rather for an overhaul. I feel that it was really time for a DS 2 with better graphical and online capability.

Would you suggest these additions are designed specifically with the gamer in mind or as an attempt to compete with media-enabled handhelds like the PSP and iPhone/iPod?

I feel that these announcements were made actually with the Japanese market in mind. As I said, it seems that they get excited about "convergence devices," and because neither the MP3 functionality nor the camera are meant to replace a dedicated device, I believe that the intention was to make the purchase of a DS more appealing to a Japanese audience. In fact, in an interview with G4 TV, Reggie Fils-Aime basically said that the reason for the DSi coming out later in the United States than in Japan was due to the fact that demand hasn't subsided in the United States as in Japan.

Where do you stand on this issue (hard core gamer vs casual)?

I feel that Nintendo needs to embrace both. I do believe that without the casual gamer, Nintendo would not be first in sales compared with the other consoles. On the other hand, I believe that Nintendo would be out of business entirely had it not been for the core gamer. Throughout the era of the Gamecube, Nintendo struggled in sales and has now gone from that point to being the second-largest company in Japan after Toyota in terms of market capitalization. Their former Chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Yamauchi, is now the richest man in Japan thanks to his Nintendo stock options. Nintendo would not have lived to see these prosperous times for them had it not been for the gamer who was a Nintendo devotee and supported them throughout their toughest times.

I actually think that Nintendo is not releasing any fewer titles geared towards the hardcore gamer than during the Gamecube days, but in spite of this new prosperity, we have seen no increase in the number of games on the part of Nintendo. They simply let the task of releaseing hard core games fall to the 3rd parties at this year's E3, which I can assure you, is not why people go to a Nintendo press conference.

Not only that, but we have actually seen things that I believe are a direct step against the core gamer. The two that stick out most to me were Nintendo's cancellation of Camp Hyrule, their popular online "summer camp," and their NSider Forums. Both of these things were probably very easy for Nintendo to maintain and yet they decided to do away with them. For what reason? I am not 100% sure, but I do take these very seriously as gestures that are directed against the hard core gamer as these two things were platforms on which many dedicated Nintendo fans commingled. I am heartened though by Nintendo's recent decision to bring Club Nintendo, a service you Brtis are all too familiar with, to the United States.

I think we should see more titles from Nintendo that appeal to the hard core gamer. I think that Nintendo has a lot to do to help themselves. This is not a bad thing. It just means that they have room to grow! I think Nintendo has some work to do with regard to pleasing the hard core gamer and I can't wait until we see that take place! The only things that bother me are when Nintendo does these symbolic steps against the hard core gamer.