July 27, 2021

Directly (Chasing) Nintendo: Thoughts.

So the age-old “Let’s Follow Nintendo” joke for the industry finally arrives at the Nintendo Direct port. Sony are doing a Direct called “State of Play”, and Microsoft are offering one for Indie games.

Both of these announcements followed a day after what is widely considered one of Nintendo’s best “Nindie Direct” presentations – kicking off with Cuphead, weaving around The Red Lantern and a new Double Fine game, and then ending with a new Zelda-themed Crypt of the Necrodancer – not the first time Nintendo has leased its IP out to a smaller studio, as MercuryStream got to release Samus Returns a couple years ago, but another example of the Big N loosening its vice-like grip on its IP and being open to talented studios experimenting with their products. It was an excellent and interesting role-call of talent and ideas.

I’ve seen people complain about this too – most of course making that joke I mentioned at the start that the industry at times feels a step behind Nintendo in some regards, but personally… I’ve been saying for years that if there’s ANY concept or idea that the industry should be ripping off from Nintendo, the Direct format is the one they should be aiming for right now.

Having said that – as much as I will defend the move to follow Nintendo with Direct-style showcases a few times a year, it’s worth reminding ourselves that sometimes, when the industry follows Nintendo, it kind of loses something in translation.

This is a cheap shot.

I mean that quite literally too – a Nintendo Direct is a language these days, a means of communication with the fans, the press and the wider audience. Take that Nindies Direct; they started with Cuphead. A big, bold, archaic capital letter font at the very top-left of the page that grabs your attention. They interrupt in the middle with something interesting – The Red Lantern, for example. And then they end with that big flourish exclamation point – Cadence of Hyrule – something so weird and interesting and wonderful that you know that that is the end of the show.

Nintendo has crafted a video dialect in the last seven years and four months that is quite unlike anything we’ve had in this market. That is what makes the Direct format work – because as effortless as that may look, working out the best means to convey what you want likely takes weeks, if not months, of arguments and trial and error.

Do I think Sony and Microsoft will nail it first try? No. And I base that on having watched their live shows.

Sony’s E3 2018 show was so… baffling. They had big stuff – including, of all things, a Resident Evil 2 Remake trailer which should have been a headliner. And it wasn’t, because Sony was busy doing this weird “extra-sensory” thing that was lost on the press there and didn’t translate at all to the audience at home.

It’s also why Inside XBox Live was so cringe-inducing – with Major Nelson doing the weirdest, most out-of-touch spoof of shopping TV. The whole event had lots of excited people, but it felt so forced and lacking in any substance – those people would have cheered for anything, which reminds me of the bad ol’ Wii U days really.

This is another cheap shot.

Neither company has had a good reputation for a while – don’t get me started on PSX 2017 – when it comes to putting on a show for the gaming crowd. Optimism is fine, but don’t put any money down on the triple-axel dismount with the double-middle-finger flourish.

Especially because… well, take the Epic Store. Sure, it’s ‘new’, but it lacks features and functions. Being ‘new’ only gets you so far these days – we’re so used to things as they are that competition is judged on what the competition has done. If people think all these things are normal, they’ll expect all those things and more. Epic has a dwindling window – and an increasingly hostile PC Gaming scene – to put things right.

Whatever Sony and Microsoft do with these Direct-style videos, they will invariably be judged by the current standards of Nintendo. Because we just accept that as the de-facto norm. We understand the lingo, we know it’s worth stopping for a moment to drink it in, and not meeting those standards may be seen by many as a failure.

Just… I hope they don’t end up binning the idea, like so many of the past.

There is space for Sony and Microsoft to do this. They’ll mess up a little but they’ll learn. As I said earlier, keep in mind Nintendo has been doing Nintendo Directs since November 2011 – over seven years now, and they’ve tinkered with the format a lot over the years. The current format is… well, about two years old now, it’s Switch-era Directs. They’ve had time to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s why the current method is so good – changing and refining and honing it into the current moreishly addictive form.

Zelda also helps. A lot.

So even if my expectations are low… I will be understanding and forgiving. Following Nintendo is always a dangerous game – remember SmartGlass? Or Vita Controller? – but sometimes, you do have to do it. Because whatever your opinion of Nintendo as a company… when they’re right on it, they’re RIGHT ON IT.

After that last Nindies Showcase… I’d even commend Sony and Microsoft for following it so quickly. It’s very brave.

And very, very stupid… but timing is something they can work on.


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