E3 2013 Wrap-Up – E3 Showed Nintendo Feels the Pressure

Anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Nintendo’s position in the industry knows this—Nintendo needs games to sell its system, and those games are taking longer than anticipated to make their way into the hands of the people who want to play them. Software sells hardware, and the hardware can’t sell if the software isn’t there to entice people to do so!

As a result, third-party support for the Wii U has been tricky and seen many ups and downs over the past year… not the least of which was the Ubisoft / Rayman Legends delay and loss of exclusivity. Companies like Ubisoft are now in the position of holding off on developing more games (or any games, in some cases) for the platform until sales improve—but when games are needed to boost sales, well, that’s the very definition of a Catch-22.

So, if third party support is lagging and waiting for sales to increase, what’s going to boost the sales? The very same thing that has sold Nintendo systems for the past three decades: Nintendo games. Games by Nintendo, featuring beloved Nintendo characters, which build on specific Nintendo franchises and concepts.

But things aren’t as easy for Mario’s family these days, because with increased technical capabilities of consoles comes increased expectations. Despite the seeming casualness of mobile gaming, when it comes to home consoles, gamers aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the latest. And that makes things difficult for the Wii U, whose potential purchasers want the best quality HD-visuals and no excuses.

That means the development teams have got to be feeling the pressure—especially knowing that Sony and Microsoft’s new product releases are right around the corner. Naturally, high-quality, competitive HD means higher budgets, and more time spent getting the games just right… and as a result? Delays for game releases.

So it’s no wonder that momentum for Wii U sales has slowed, in a big way. In 2013, Nintendo’s console sales have slumped to the point that it feels almost like desperation every time a financial statement is released or there’s yet another “no, we’re not dropping the price point” announcement tacked onto a “new games are coming!” press statement. We simply haven’t had the Nintendo games that create Nintendo console sales. Simply put, much of the public is still waiting for a reason to purchase a Wii U.

Consider, for example, Pikmin 3. The game was supposed to be a launch window title, but won’t be seen until late July/early August of this year. And what of the summer games? We thought we’d be seeing Wii Party U and Wii Fit U in time for the sunny summer months, but now these titles won’t appear until we’re tucked away under our fleece blankets in October and December.


Nintendo has responded to inquiries about these delays in a few ways, the first being the most predictable and seemingly sensible—delays mean more time is needed to get the games up to snuff; to make a game the absolute best it can be and giving the player the best value for their hard-earned dollar. But the flip side of this is also a nod to the fact that the rapid HD shift caught Nintendo’s development teams somewhat off guard, causing the cost for development to increase in terms of time, tech, and personnel. In fact, Satoru Iwata admitted during the investor Q & A this year that “some staff members from development teams working on other titles had to help complete [our first-party titles].” In the same talk, he said that the company has found it “increasingly challenging” to figure out what the minimum development resources are to ensure satisfied customers—especially when the $50-60 price point for retail titles is seeing blowback from the gaming community.

Some might say that the difficulty comes in the expected lower-quality visuals from a Nintendo system, but it’s not all about the challenge of getting someone to pay $60 for a Mario title. Rather, creative endeavors ultimately come down to the hook and the perceived value—what’s unique and different about a game that makes it worth the time, money, and effort to play? Especially when there are hundreds of thousands of mobile games for free or just a few bucks, and can be played anywhere at any time?

Nintendo doesn’t just want to show off great visuals or meet the public’s expectations for mind-blowing HD, no—they want to be able to demonstrate the uniqueness and amazing content that can only be found on their system. They want the gaming public to understand that the Wii U isn’t just another Wii. It’s something completely different, which means they need to ensure their first-party titles do just that, and do it so well that consumers are willing to shell out several hundred dollars to bring their system home and play it.

And so, we ended up with a Wii U launch window that frustrated many gamers who complained there was “nothing to play.” Nintendo more or less wrote off the first half of the year in 2013, and we read more than one statement saying the second half of 2013 would be the big one. The system mover. The period in which the gaming public would finally understand just how incredible, fun, and unique the Wii U really is. But with the summer releases like Wii Party U and Wii Fit U being pushed into colder months… will Nintendo need to write off the middle of the year, too?

Yes, we’ll see Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101 this summer—and they both look like fantastic offerings for the system—but will anyone buy a Wii U just to play Pikmin 3? More importantly, will many someones buy Wii U’s just to play Pikmin 3, to make enough of a difference in Nintendo’s sales figures? There’s no arguing that Wii Party U would have been the perfect summer title, and it seems a shame that this opportunity will slip past the company.

But perhaps that can be rectified in the holiday months. We have Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD heading to the system for holiday sales—but again, arguably the biggest title yet announced for the Wii U won’t make it onto the console until Spring 2014. That there’s such a period to wait for Mario Kart 8 is shocking—how could Nintendo possibly miss the holiday window for such a big title?—but it’s telling of the pressure on Nintendo to deliver a solid, high quality experience. The only explanation is that it simply won’t be ready in time for the end of 2013. It will instead have to play the role of sales-booster in 2014.


If it sounds like doom and gloom for the Big N, it’s not. If anything, E3 showed consumers that Nintendo is willing to take the time to get their games right before releasing them to the world—even if that means delays that might hurt sales. They’re not willing to rush a product to market, which is saying something in the shifting game marketplace of new-game-every-year franchises that simply recycle old ideas and slap a pile of DLC onto the game after the fact, in order to give purchasers the new experience they were craving.

Between now and the end of 2013, Nintendo does have a solid slate of games on the way, starting with this month’s highly anticipated New Super Luigi U. Hopefully, this coming line-up will do just what Nintendo needs it to do—deliver the sales needed to secure third-party contributions again, allowing the company to invest their time and resources into providing consumers with a steady stream of quality, anticipated titles in 2014.

Nintendo obviously can’t do this all by itself—the delays and resulting slowed sales have showed that. Public expectations have changed and increased, and the company is going to need to rise to the challenge again and again, delivering quality and unique experiences on their system. That said, Nintendo is known for its commitment to innovation, fun, and memorable gaming, and this year’s E3 showed that the company will continue to pursue this in the year ahead—now all they need is for the public to come along for the ride.


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Author: Faith View all posts by
Faith likes games and books and cake and writing and Lara Croft, not necessarily in that order. She also thinks a Skylanders cartoon show is a really, REALLY good idea...

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