The Nintendo E3 2017 event did a lot by doing very little
Coming into E3 2017, Nintendo found itself in a position it hasn’t been in for several years – riding a hot streak. The launch of the Nintendo Switch was a huge success by any measure, putting Nintendo in a position it hasn’t been in for quite a while.
In just one month following its launch on March 3, Nintendo recorded sales of 2.74 million units worldwide, and those numbers would likely have been much higher if not for the global shortages. Even now, more than three months after its launch and despite a fairly slim library, Switch consoles are in high demand with units selling on Amazon for nearly double the $299 launch price. And yet even with those supply issues, the Switch continues to outsell the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
The Switch may inevitably cool down, but right now it is the hottest console in gaming. In its first two months, it has outsold the Nintendo Wii during the same time frame, a console that also suffered shortages at launch, but then went on to sell over 100 million units worldwide on the way to becoming the fifth best-selling gaming console of all time. The 3DS continues to sell well, but it has arguably never garnered quite the attention that a console has, and the Switch has a lot of attention on it.
Despite the promising sales of the Switch, there remains at least one major question mark next to the system: its library. The Wii U was, perhaps, doomed from the start, but Nintendo did it no favors by failing to release more than a few compelling and big name titles, and by garnering very little third-party developer support. So while the Switch may have launched with a Zelda game that is an easy contender for game of the year, one game does not make a console library.
Over the last few years Nintendo has gradually scaled back its E3 presence, going from a standalone press event in a high occupancy theater, similar to those annually put on by Sony and Microsoft, to a quick press briefing in its booth an hour before the E3 show floor opens. There, Nintendo gives a brief outline of how it is doing, what it is planning, and then it debuts a few new games. Last year with the Switch still nearly a year away and the Wii U more or less dead, Nintendo’s show was just somewhat sad. This year, however, it was a much different story.
Nintendo arrived with a much brighter outlook. There were smiles and excitement, which stood in stark contrast to last year’s funeral dirge atmosphere. The Switch had officially been announced (it was then still the NX), but Nintendo wasn’t ready to show it yet. There was Breath of the Wild – which everyone that played instantly fell in love with – but as a whole, it wasn’t a good show for Nintendo. It also wasn’t that long ago that Nintendo was openly looking for new sources of revenue and the company looked like it was in serious trouble.
What a difference a good year can make. The Switch, coupled with the unexpectedly major hit that was the NES Classic Retro Console, positioned Nintendo in a great spot for this year and they were able to capitalize.
Nintendo had one goal, to reassure Switch owners and those considering buying one that there will be a decent library in the years to come. That’s a difficult thing to convey just three months after the launch of a new system, but Nintendo offered just enough in the way of games to keep people’s excitement levels going. It didn’t need to blow people away, it just needed to convince them that the Switch is just getting going, and it did that.
Thanks to a series of ports, remakes, and teases of more to come, the Switch is in a good position. Sure, it would have been better to announce ports of some of the upcoming major releases unveiled at E3 and the lack of the virtual console on Switch is still a little baffling, but the confirmation of several new games, including of two new Metroid games (even if one is technically a reboot and it’s heading to the 3DS anyway), the preview of an ambitious new Mario game, and the hope for more was enough.
To give one interesting stat to highlight the interest in Nintendo’s announcements, the Metroid Prime 4 teaser is just 40 seconds long, shows nothing beyond a logo, and it’s not even clear who the developer is, but the YouTube trailer has over 1.3 million views in just two days.
It also says a great deal about the Switch to see how excited people were by the confirmation of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim coming to the new system. The game is nearly six years old, and yet the idea of being able to play it on the go is incredibly appealing. It also hints at more third-party support for Nintendo than we’ve seen in the past, and the possibility that we’ll see other ports of hugely popular games given new life thanks to the Switch’s nature (even if they are older).
Nintendo didn’t steal the show and its E3 presentation probably won’t win over any skeptics on its own. Nintendo didn’t unveil any new hardware, nor did it offer any major new IPs. Even the Metroid unveiling wasn’t all that surprising, but it did what it needed to. It showed a future for the Switch, and for the millions of people that want to see Nintendo succeed, that’s enough.