Posted by Will Nelson
With the announcement of the Ubisoft Forward coming on July 12th, and the recent Microsoft Inside Xbox online showcase, it seems companies are moving towards online presentations. At a time like this they have to of course, either that or they get left in the dark. With no other options most have been leaning towards the Nintendo Direct format. Pre-recorded trailers, gameplay showcases and developer talks take centre stage in favour of rousing up a crowd.
The last we heard of Nintendo was in a Direct Mini back in March, so there’s been quite a gap in online presentations up until recently. To that end, I want to take a look at the Nintendo Direct format, and see if that truly is the way to go forward for the rest of this year. Or are other publishers offering interesting ways of presenting their games online?
WHAT THE NINTENDO DIRECT FORMAT GETS RIGHT
What this format has over everyone else is how concise it is. Usually capping out at around 40 minutes viewers are well aware of what they’re in for. It’s either a showcase of upcoming games, info on a specific franchise, or 38 minutes on another Fire Emblem character in Smash. Expectations are for the most part, tempered.
When looking at Nintendo’s official history of Directs, which you can find here, you’ll notice just how many there are. In recent years you get roughly 5 annually. With 2–3 of these being general Directs, and the rest on specific games. This works on two fronts; fans across the world can be kept up to date easily, and specific fans can have massive info dumps on their favourite franchises. Whether or not you’re happy with the information given is a completely different conversation. But the fact that Nintendo’s biggest franchises are focused in on, in a compact fashion is a massive consumer benefit.
Keeping them in the loop as much as possible leads them to feel ‘part of it’ and excited. It generates hype.
THE PRESENTATIONS THEMSELVES
This comes down to taste more than effectiveness. As some might prefer live (that you still watch online) stage presentations. There’s often a certain level creativity and prescence required for these to work. It’s like the difference between listening to an album and watching the band live. They both offer different types of experiences, but still the same music.
The Nintendo Direct format, being pre-edited and I assume massively tested, allows for consistency in presentation. Familiarity rears its head, fans know what to expect. Faces like that of Shigeru Miyamoto, Reggie Fils-Aimé and the late Satoru Iwata stir up the emotion of seeing and old friend. It also helps when they bring in industry heads associated with specific franchises. If you see Aonuma or Sakurai you start to realise where the announcements going.
Notice how I haven’t really mentioned how trailers and talks are laid out specifically? That’s because largely that doesn’t matter. Anyone can easily throw up a trailer and a title card saying ‘World Premier’, but the online presentations need character, and Nintendo gets that right.
Sometimes it’s silly, and you’ll get industry heads as puppets, and sometimes it’s more straight down the middle and informative. But both of these generate fan interaction, anticipation and fun. They’re as much an event as Kevin Butler roasting fans on an E3 stage.
The Nintendo Direct format doesn’t work solely on the base of communication and consistency, but it heavily bases itself on character too. Fans don’t just enjoy them for the reveals, but the events themselves. This gamesindustry.biz article about Nintendo turning their executives into personalities highlights just why the Nintendo Direct format works.
SONY AND MICROSOFT DIRECT THEMSELVES… TO MIXED RESULTS
When asking the question “Is the Nintendo Direct Format The Way To Go?”, the best way to answer that question is to see how other companies have adapted it.
SONY AND ‘STATE OF PLAY’
First up to the plate is Sony’s ‘State of Play’. Watch their most recent presentation from December 10th last year if you need to, you’ll find it here.
Is it bad? Not at all, it does what its supposed to. It shows off upcoming games, reveals Resident Evil 3, and comes in at 22 minutes. Viewers get a quick blast of trailers and before you know it… it’s over.
Although something feels off, there’s a disembodied voice for most of it, who is this? Who’s leading our presentation? There’s no draw to the presentation itself. Only after 19 minutes are we treated with Ken Kutaragi — the ‘father of the PlayStation’.
Apart from that it feels so lifeless. It’s not presented as an alternative to live presentations, more like something screened in a boardroom. Much like with the Nintendo Direct format there is clear communication and consistency, but that was it. Having four over the corse of 2019 was a great move. After departing from E3 Sony needed something to keep fans informed. Sadly though it lacked any sort of character. I’m not trying to lay disrespect at the feet of Ken Kutaragi. I’m just saying that if you’re going to show a face, make it entertaining.
Now of course not everyone has to emulate Nintendo to a tee, presenting your brand as family friendly, easy going and somewhat aware doesn’t work for everyone. But presenting your brand as a collection of videos and a random voice is much worse. It’s a shame too because Sony are known for having a bombastic stage presence. Look at the live orchestra for the God of War reveal, or the tent created specifically for The Last of Us Part II.
Despite what you think about the end result, they captured the stage, made it their own. And they haven’t even tried to do that in ‘State of Play’. They feel like formalities, not events.
MICROSOFT AND ‘INSIDE XBOX’
Things are getting better.
Microsoft came out the gate swinging here. Their communication was top notch. First off they announced Xbox 20/20, which promised monthly live-streamed events showcasing everything from gameplay, trailers, and developer chat. This is going to last for the rest of the year, and they even made it clear that July will be when we see Xbox Game Studios games. Before then they promise its not just trailers, they’ll be presenting everything Xbox.
Expectations were set high, and for the most part they delivered. Not only was the first Inside Xbox filled to the brim with trailers (all of which you can find here), but details on Smart Delivery, and actual developer interviews. Whilst the interviews seemed to be done on low connection Zoom calls, they were still interesting. Perhaps most importantly though Microsoft have given themselves room to breath, and to adapt. They recently issued a statement about how they set the wrong expectations after fan backlash due to the lack of gameplay.
What this means for them is that they’re willing to adapt. This is immensely important, they haven’t really done anything like this before, so they know that what fans tells them post each livestream is astronomically important. So who knows, by the end of the year we might have something more in line with the Nintendo Direct format, but still Microsoft’s own spin on it.
With that said they still had some good ideas, bringing in developers to talk about the games they showed helped to flesh them out. Albeit sometimes they weren’t clear. This is where proper pre-recordings would come in handy. On top of that you had personalities like Patrick Mahomes presenting the NFL 21 trailer, and even Nolan North and Troy Baker saying hello in Dirt 5.
These are great ideas. Cater to the different audiences with different people, bring in their recognition as part of the games brand. Don’t rely just on a trailer. I’m already a fan of Ashraf Ismail, the Creative Director of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and that was the first I’ve heard of him.
Microsoft at least took this Nintendo lesson on board: character creates connection. They didn’t do it exactly the same, but it worked. They could use Phil Spencer as the unifying thread between each presentation, having him drop in. That would help create familiarity.
They also showed more than just trailers, and have tried to be more clear, which helps.
IS THE NINTENDO DIRECT FORMAT ACTUALLY THE FUTURE?
For the foreseeable future the answer is yes. With no E3 this year and an industry wide funnelling to Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest, we’ll be seeing plenty of online presentations. Publishers like Ubisoft, with no other options, will have to adapt for the time being. Although it really depends on how these online presentations are treated.
When asking ‘Is the Nintendo Direct Format The Way To Go?’ it’s difficult to answer. With no other option for now it will be the way things go. But that doesn’t mean everyone will actually follow the parts of the Nintendo Direct format that actually work… looking at you Sony. Wonder how tomorrow’s ‘State of Play’ will shape up? Will it be informative but lifeless? Or will we get some dashes of character thrown in?
What it needs to work is character, personality, and to not just be trailers. That’s what everyone loves about Nintendo Directs. Just having trailers is fine, but that’s just it… fine. More needs to be done if you want to stand out in the crowd.
Now only time will tell.
How do you feel about all of these online presentations, and what do you think works about them? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @thecognetwork. And as always, thanks for reading COG!