But without Wii, does anyone care?
PAX is “in the can", as they say, and if you’re wondering why we didn’t talk much about it, it’s because there isn’t all that much to say. Nintendo showed off about nine games for the Nintendo DS, including the fantastically quirky Elite Beat Agents, and the Lemmings-esque Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2, but the Wii was nowhere to be found.
I’m sure that Nintendo will put out a press release talking about how successful a show it was for them, but the truth of the matter is that there was an underlying sense of frustration, for the gamers, for the press, and even a bit from Nintendo’s staff themselves. Nintendo had a golden opportunity to steal the show from even Penny Arcade themselves, and the company squandered it.
Before you write this off as sour grapes from someone disappointed that he didn’t get to play with Wii, hear me out. Microsoft and Ubisoft had the largest presences at the show, but the longest lines went to America’s Army (who had a training simulator running), and Red Octane, who showed off the amazing Guitar Hero II. Ubisoft had video of some Wii titles on their giant projection screen, and when watching them, I heard several people mention that it looked interesting, and that they wished they could have tried them.
What I’m talking about is “mindshare". Nintendo had an opportunity to basically outclass an entire game expo, and put the machine into the hands of the people that are the most vocal supporters of gaming. Instead, the crowd response was tepid, and people were more interested in playing with their own DS systems (numbering roughly 20:1 over the PSP). These were Nintendo fans, through and through, and Nintendo had a chance to really engage the crowd and, quite frankly, they blew it.
Why are they doing this? We’d all like to think that there’s a plan in place somewhere, and if it’s anywhere, it must be in the impenetrable vault that is NCL, Nintendo’s Japanese parent company. Supposedly they are holding off on any public displays until September, probably just trying to manage the flow of information. Perhaps that’s the plan itself, to make the company look like bumbling incompetents so that they will surprise everyone. That’s probably why there are rumors floating around that Nintendo is intentionally hiding the graphical prowess of the machine so their competitors won’t be able to react.
The fact is, Wii is a great machine, and they don’t need to have people making up stories to get the buzz going about the machine. Let it stand on its merits, and it’s enough. Much of the discussion heard around PAX revolved around the “Wii60"; the idea that people will buy an Xbox 360 first and get the Wii as a secondary machine. The same sort of thing was heard at E3 as well. What’s great is that Wii as a secondary machine to either the Xbox 360 or to the Sony PS3 makes Nintendo the winner, since everyone will have one.
But the last reason is all the more frustrating. PAX will grow by more than double next year, moving from a 70,000 sq. ft. venue, to a 170,000 sq. ft. venue … the largest game show in North America. A strong Nintendo showing this year would have put the focus completely on them for next year, when the Wii is finally in people’s homes, and all this would be happening in Nintendo’s own backyard of Seattle. Instead, all of the talk was about how great the Xbox 360 is, and how badly Sony’s PS3 might fail, but Nintendo was hardly even a blip on the radar.
Hopefully Nintendo is taking a long-term approach to marketing and community management with Wii, but in doing so they’re missing the biggest factor, which is that word-of-mouth has momentum, and it needs time to really get going. Starting that word-of-mouth this weekend would have carried them into the launch and well into next year.