When people buy new dedicated gaming hardware, they usually don’t do so based solely on the games that are available at launch: they do so based on the belief that the console’s future will be strong. Yes,
Wii Sports was definitely the system seller for Wii when it launched in 2006, but gamers weren’t just buying into the game of choice for the moment – they were buying into the console’s promise of a gaming Revolution. They were buying into the future of Metroid Prime, of Mario, and of Super Smash Bros. – all games that would come out long after Wii’s debut.

That makes Nintendo’s approach to E3 this year all the more baffling. By all accounts, their lineup for the rest of 2015 and early 2016 is absolutely dismal – barely any new games were announced for Wii U, and the ones that have surfaced for 3DS have received mixed impressions at best. That begs the question: why not give us a peek at the future?

I mean, at this point it’s obvious that the most spine-chilling moments of E3 were all based on games that aren’t coming this year. Sony’s triple-whammy of
The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII, and Shenmue III made for probably the best E3 conference in the last decade – even though The Last Guardian is the only one of those games that even has a chance of arriving in 2016, let alone 2015. The highlight of Square Enix’s conference was, of course, the new trailer for Kingdom Hearts III, a game that also doesn’t have a confirmed release window.

According to Nintendo, these kinds of announcements are “frustrating” to consumers. Here’s what Reggie had to say about
Zelda skipping E3 this year and Nintendo focusing on near-term games:

IGN: We spoke to Miyamoto and he told us, Nintendo has some really great Zelda footage and chose not to show it at E3. Can you talk about the thinking behind that decision?

Reggie Fils-Aime: It goes back to the statement I made earlier about how we view E3. We just fundamentally don’t believe in showing content at E3 that is going to be a long term proposition. We like to show content that typically will launch in the upcoming Holiday and maybe extending into the first half of the following year. And at this point, the new Zelda for Wii U is not a 2015 project.

IGN: Do you worry at all that not showing it this year sends the message to Wii U owner and the potential Wii U buyer that Zelda is not a 2016 game?

Fils-Aime: No. I don’t believe that it sends that message. In fact, in separate interviews [Shigeru] Miyamoto has reinforced that it’s a 2016 game, and I also believe he’s reinforced that it’s a Wii U game because I know that there is that thinking floating around. …Our mentality is more near-term when we think about E3. And, yes, we take it on a case-by-case basis. There’s also a recognition that we didn’t want to frustrate the consumer. We could have scored a lot of points and showed some little tidbit of Zelda Wii U, but in our collective opinion the belief was, in the end, that would cause more frustration than benefit.

There are two distinct points here: 1) that Nintendo doesn’t show games that are more than a year out 2) because they believe that consumers will be frustrated.

The first point is a blatant falsehood. The very first big game Reggie ever revealed was
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in 2004. At the time, the game wasn’t playable, didn’t even have a title, and would be delayed from its original 2005 release date to 2006 as well as transformed into a cross-gen title during the time between its announcement and its release. The Zelda Wii U situation mirrors this almost exactly: announced in 2014, delayed from 2015 to 2016, and – this is admittedly speculation on my part – possibly turned into a cross-gen launch title for Nintendo’s next system.

I remember people being frustrated by
Twilight Princess‘s delay, but I don’t remember them being frustrated by the way Nintendo handled the game at E3. Why? Because the game was actually at E3 in 2005, even though it wouldn’t inevitably release until 2006.

The same is true for
Super Smash Bros. The last two titles in the series, Smash Bros. Brawl and Smash Bros. 4, were both shown off more than a year-and-a-half before release. And, just like Zelda, I remember the frustration at the games’ delays – I don’t remember any frustration about getting a glimpse at what’s coming.

When people evaluate their satisfaction with a console, they don’t just look at the games that are coming out in the near term. Let’s be honest: most people simply don’t buy that many games in a year anyway! Instead, they evaluate the games that are coming over the long term. “Can I be confident that I will get good value out of my console over its lifespan, or does it look like I’ll just have one or two games to buy?” Not only that, but different gamers have different tastes. Not all of them like
Mario games, or Zelda games, or Star Fox games. A good games lineup needs to be diverse enough that everyone can find something that they’ll enjoy – even if the better part of the lineup isn’t for them. Most game consoles have hundreds of games, after all, and most consumers won’t even play a dozen of those before the next cycle rolls around.

Reggie’s comments betray one of two issues within Nintendo: 1) that they simply don’t understand that the best way to draw in customers is to offer them a strong roadmap for the future, or 2) that they’re willing to completely ignore that – and indeed lie about their approach to E3 – in an attempt to cover the fact that
their current lineup is one of the worst in the company’s history, that Zelda Wii U might not be coming along as expected, or that they’re starting to move away from Wii U development to focus on NX.

Either way, as consumers, we really
should be frustrated – not because Nintendo’s showing us games that we won’t get to play for some time, but because Nintendo’s lack of transparency makes it difficult to trust that they can offer worthwhile experiences in either the near term or the long term.

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