For some, Nintendo was the clear victor of E3 2014. Let’s join their parallel world for a moment and admit that fact. What did they make of this “victory”?
In 2014-2015, the manufacturer regains profits. More important, the operating result is positive, thing they had been pursuing for long to ease the shareholders’ doubts. Cash & cash equivalents are on the rise too, and inventories are cut. A dream-like situation by the look of it.
But in more details, it’s not that simple. The revenues are down 4% and Nintendo is forced to compensate by cutting costs like mad : cost of sales and general expenses have been axed 15% in just one year! Furthermore, foreign exchange gains amount to 34 billion yens, which makes up for 80% of the total profits. We can thus conclude the Bank of Japan and its quantitative easing, more than Smash, Mario Kart 8 or amiibos, allowed Nintendo to achieve such good results.
Because commercial results are nothing to boast about. WiiU barely reached its miserable 3.3 million objective (5 times less than PS4), proof that its always acclaimed line-up is nothing at all. 3DS fails to meet objectives again this year, even the revised ones set to 8 millions. New3DS did no miracle, the hype deflated quickly after every hardcore fan got his new collection item. This new version showed very little actual benefit for the player and is mainly bought for show, especially with shiny faceplates on it. It’s quite obvious that New3DS was just a way to buy some time until the definitive collapse of the 3DS ecosystem, facing saturation and lifeless audience.
Amiibos are a success, but maybe not the kind of success the company had hoped for. Without convincing gameplay features, those overpriced physical DLCs are a joy for collectors but nothing interesting for the mainstream audience. Nintendo probably wanted to imitate Skylanders’s success to make WiiU take off, but the figures tell another story. Consequently, Nintendo has no choice but to become a toy maker and come up with new amiibos all the time to take advantage of the collectors’ passion and of course the big margin behind it. Nintendo creates shortages of some amiibos on purpose to keep the buzz going, even if it means screwing consumers that are unable to find the one they want at normal price. Again recently I was asking for a Lukina amiibo for Fire Emblem Fates, on what I was told that they could get me one from Germany for 3 times the base price.
So this year, the Kyoto-based firm made some kind of transition towards a economic model closer to the Gamecube era : a less lavish marketing, end of the all-out casual business and a better dialog with its core audience. A good recipe for what appeared to be a new start.
But did the manufacturer really change? This E3 casts doubt on Nintendo’s ability to renew itself, because what they showed was beyond pathetic. The Digital Event, which serves as a conference, kicks off with StarFox Zero, a shoot’em up profiled like a low-end GameCube game, with apathetic action and basic modeling. As they clearly wanted to blow up their IP live, they also shared the horrible photoshopped boxart. Disaster is looming. Then goes The Legend of Zelda TriForce Heroes, a generic coop’ puzzle game light years away from the epic Zelda WiiU shown last year, the lack of which rousing anger here and there. Still nothing compared to Metroid Prime Federation Force, a 3DS shooter so hideous that it immediately triggered a petition calling for its cancellation. A first in gaming history… To make it even worse, Nintendo spends a long time explaining their fantastic collaboration with the Skylanders franchise to make… more amiibos!
Relief comes with Fire Emblem Fates, which despite looking like a sub-PSOne game will certainly have many qualities to offer. Out in Japan since late April, Xenoblade Chronicles X doesn’t impress much anymore as conflicting reports question its overall interest. Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei (pictured above) is the big surprise. Not because it’s just been rebranded Genei Ibun Roku #FE, name that would drive any Japanese linguist into despair, but because it transformed into an idol game with a flurry of J-pop music and dating at every corner. Perfect for me of course, but conservative Nintendo fans are thunderstruck. By the way, the game doesn’t look like it’s able to display NPCs…
Here show up Paper Mario X Mario&Luigi crossover, Yoshi’s Wolly World, a 3DS port of Hyrule Warriors no one asked for, a WiiU version of Mario Tennis, final confirmation that brainstorming sessions don’t happen anymore in Kyoto. At least, every possible rehash will have been done until WiiU is discontinued, which is obviously coming fast. Mario Maker is shown during a long time, much too long given the desperate need of anything spectacular to save the day. No such thing will happen. The video ends with Miyamoto discussing with another old dude about the joy of making 8-bits stages. Seriously I don’t expect anyone to be particularly interested in making 8-bits stages. Long-term fans will boycott this software because it will remind them of this horrible conference. Casual gamers barely clear 3 or 4 stages in a average mario game, so I doubt they’ll go through the hassle of creating them. That leaves the big trump card in Nintendo’s hand : Yôkai Watch, fairly capable of boosting the 3DS again in the West.
An awfully-paced video, presented by puppets that provoke bursts of laugther every time I think of them, given how the idiocy of the thing contrasts with the enormous expectations in a show like E3. With such a poor performance, Nintendo admits that they can’t keep up with the big publishers and that they are incapable of producing ambitious games like Fallout 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, The Division or many other state-of-the-art productions on the showfloor. Their poor excuse for a line-up is going to be mowed down by PS4/X1 games. The manufacturer failed to address gamers efficiently and lost all the goodwill they had been building for a year. They have made themselves irrelevant for the year to come, or maybe is it just the first signs of a total collapse.