Picture This: Autumn 2011 in Japan. The late Satoru Iwata looked at what they did at E3 and basically said “Nah, we can do better. This lead to the development of Nintendo Direct: a showcase of an array of new Wii and 3DS games. The first one aired October 21, 2011 online. At the time, the idea seemed insane. Discontinue the costly Nintendo E3 presentations and do your own thing… Online? Who would watch? Well, every single Nintendo fan. Let’s not forget that at the time, the Wii was a force to be reckoned with and the 3DS was recovering from its initial stumble to become the best handheld on the market. The idea seemed wild, but just look where it is now?
Nintendo Directs came at a pace of about 2-3 months apart, showcasing big reveals for upcoming games along with some smaller games that may be more niche or even hidden gems. As the Nintendo Direct progressed, it had several versions of the Direct Mini to the Indie Showcase. But no matter what form it took, people tuned in. Waiting for big events for news? Done. They were happening pretty regularly, with 2020 being the exception due to the current world pandemic. The crazy idea paid off well. So well, that their competitors are now trying to copy the format. Enter, Sony‘s State of Play and Microsoft‘s Inside Xbox.
March 25th, 2019 was the first State of Play and it was… fine. It didn’t have a whole lot going on unless you had a PlayStation VR since the big reveals were: Iron Man VR game, a Day Gone update, and a Mortal Kombat 11 update. Otherwise, it was either an update or a VR game with a couple of indies sprinkled in. The reception wasn’t pleasant either. At the time of writing, the YouTube like to dislike ratio sits at 2.4k to 12k. Not a great start. To its credit, the State of Play would get a little better, but it would never be something people looked forward to that much. Unless they were a diehard fan, anyway. At best, the State of Play was just okay. At worst, it was flat out boring.
March 5th, 2018 was when Inside Xbox was announced and was a much different show, but with a very similar idea. Inside Xbox didn’t just show gameplay trailers. They had interviews, behind the scenes looks at games, and commentators to give real gameplay demonstrations. It was different enough to not be seen as a clone of the Nintendo Direct like State of Play was, but tried to accomplish the same goal. They wanted people to get hype for Xbox games without having to wait for big events to show off. Alongside it was This Week In Xbox, which was pretty much a recap of all the games coming to the platform. Honestly, their only failing is the Xbox lineup. Otherwise, I like their presentation style.
Both of these companies were late to the party Nintendo started, but they each are trying their own thing; Microsoft more than Sony. Still, why is it they can’t generate that hype or make people as excited for their presentations? I ask, why should we be? If the latest Inside Xbox has shown us anything, it’s that big companies have no idea what the words “gameplay trailer” mean. Not to mention, the companies at these presentations have been known to show trailers that don’t represent the game in a more truthful light (i.e. Ubisoft). The trust between these AAA companies and the consumer is tense, so presentations like the latest State of Play are necessary. An 18-minute showcase of a game we’ve only seen citizens of inspires confidence. Or at the very least, it informs people of what’s to come.
Nintendo Directs are usually filled to the brim with announcements that follow with gameplay. More often than not, you know what you’re about to be playing when you see a Nintendo trailer. Sometimes, they do, miss… hard… like StarFox Zero levels, but they do better than just a cinematic trailer. Let’s also face this: the Nintendo Directs were not afraid of being corny, cheesy, or comical. They wanted you to have fun with their products and for the most part, we did. Or at least I did. In the last few years, that was not the case with Iwata’s passing and Reggie’s departure. That didn’t deter people because we still had the games to look forward to.
Now that E3 is looking less and less favorable as time goes on, it looks like other companies and developers are looking to just toss their trailers on Twitter or YouTube and some even want to have their own online showcase shows. Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll ever get to be Nintendo Direct levels of excitement or hype. They don’t have the trust and they certainly don’t have the fanbase. Nintendo’s fanbase runs deep and is insatiable when it comes to Nintendo content. Sony kind of has that sort of hype and Xbox fans seem kind of chill in this regard, but Nintendo fans are a different breed. Ubisoft, EA, and Activision could never. Bethesda maybe. They’re still convinced people to play Fallout 76.
Honestly, I think publishers should stop chasing these formats and just drop the trailers. Making Direct-style, content just seems pointless and a waste. Drop the trailers and let the hype generate organically. Leave the big shows for deep dives like the Ghost of Tsushima showcase. Leave the Direct stuff to Nintendo. They were clearly the only madmen that could make their format work for them and replicating it is a waste of time. Though, I think Inside Xbox is on to something. There is something valuable about interviews with developers to some, even though I still wouldn’t trust them. Plus, being able to visibly see people playing these games is always a plus. State of Play needs to stop being a knock off Nintendo and just be Sony. Please.