There are several attributes that lead to the success or failure of a product. As much as we condemn hype culture in gaming, it is still an element that is essential in developing interest in a product. It leads to consumers indulging in measures that allow for the gauging of interest and potential success thanks to the contribution to measurable metrics, such as pre-orders. Promotional materials do contribute to hype, as can be noted with examples such as Red Dead Redemption 2, where hype did certainly increase after its trailer released, Fallout 4, which had a similar situation and more relevantly Nintendo’s upcoming console, the Switch.
Nintendo has a very inconsistent past when it comes to promoting their consoles. The most recent cases have been the Wii U and the upcoming Switch. I think it’s safe to say that the Wii U was somewhat of a failure, selling 13.67 million globally, according to VGChartz at the time of writing. Contrast this to the 3DS, their previous console, which sold 61.98 million, and the Wii, their previous home console, which sold 101.18 million. Even if you consider the Wii U successful, it is certainly failing in comparison to its counterparts, and it now ceasing production will not lead to sales figures getting any higher. I think it is fair to say that a contributing factor to its lack of comparative success is its advertising. I intend to compare the advertising of the Wii U to the Switch, and how to ensure some kind of success in my opinion when it comes to the promotion of the Switch leading up to its March release.
I think a thing to consider is how much traction the Switch had before its official announcements. We were aware of the Wii U before its official announcement for a long time, with the name Project Cafe. This is similar to the Switch, in that we knew of it as the NX. Granted, I was less deeply entrenched in gaming like I am now, but I think I would have noticed hype for the Cafe if it was equal to the NX. There is no real discussion of promotional materials to be had here — I just felt the differences in hype before the announcements were interesting enough to be pointed out.
The Reveals – Wii U
The Wii U’s official announcement was during E3 2011 and was especially confusing. We’ll begin with Reggie’s explanation of the name. He used the Wii’s name, and then introduced the U after it. This made the Wii U already ambiguous in what it was meant to be, since the naming logic was similar to the DS’ incremental upgrades, such as the DSi. Follow this up with a reveal purely for the controller, and show it used alongside previous Wii peripherals, controllers, and software, and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the Wii U was only a new controller.
Nintendo Wii U Concept Trailer Credit: Game On
It wasn’t until later that the actual console was shown, which made the situation a little easier to understand, but the initial confusion had already set in. Nintendo Directs, where the console was properly revealed, would not pull in as big of an audience as an E3 press conference. This meant a lot of the confusion wouldn’t be remedied for some of the people aware of the console. The muddled reveal and conflicting messaging would lead to a lot of retroactive actions, trying to emphasize that it was a console.
The Reveals – Switch
The Switch’s reveal was a clear improvement. The name was completely new, leading to no possible confusion as to the nature of the device, and was shown with only new peripherals and controllers. This simple and easy trailer reminded me a lot of the Wii’s advertising: simple and to the point. The Switch is to be a tablet and dock, that acts as a home console. The removal of the tablet from the dock will have it act as a handheld. This hybrid nature is incredibly easy to understand, and was illustrated well.
The teases of upcoming releases were also incredibly helpful for the Switch. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild already had a sufficient amount of hype behind it, thanks to it releasing on the Wii U, and lots of gameplay already being shown. Skyrim being teased would definitely tantalize some viewers and cover a large audience. Nintendo put out some footage of NBA in an effort to reach out to the sports market. Mario was an essential element in a Nintendo video, and the (as perceived at the time) ports of high-profile games from the Wii U, such as Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon would definitely help drumming up some hype. This is especially true when it comes to reaching those who had not purchased a Wii U.
Launch Games – Wii U
The Wii U had a launch line-up of 51 games. This is a hell of a lot to cover, so I’ll be purely covering the most relevant and significant launch games. Ubisoft released primarily ports, such as Assassin’s Creed 3. EA would work similarly with Activision and Warner Bros. and release ports such as Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. There were very few original, worthwhile titles that seemed to be worth playing, outside of Nintendo’s first party line up, which contained Nintendo Party, a collection of minigames akin to Wii Sports, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Although, credit must be given to Ubisoft for releasing the most compelling launch title, ZombiU.
A lot of these titles were well-advertised, but very few of them were demoed. Ports don’t really need demos, but they did demo the pertinent games, such as New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU. Nintendo Party also got demoed, but the nature of the thing was very much akin to Wii Sports — to show off the console’s functionality.
Launch Games – Switch
The line-up of launch games for the Switch is dreadfully lackluster, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being the only game that will appeal to core audiences. 1-2 Switch takes up the slot left by Wii Sports and Nintendo Land, and Just Dance 2017 is… Just Dance.
However, to Nintendo’s credit, the Treehouse streams still continue to demo these games in a largely unscripted environment. I’ll touch more on this later, but such demos are important. No Man’s Sky, as you’ll recall, was promoted with fixed, scripted demos, which helped lend to the hype the game was building. An honest representation of the games does help hype change accordingly, and the Treehouse stream for the Switch has been a good example of this.
The games showcased in the Treehouse stream were not launch games, with the exception of 1-2 Switch and Zelda. 1-2 Switch isn’t hyped up much, really, thanks to the casual, party nature of the game, but Breath of the Wild is a new, ambitious addition to a tried and tested franchise. As such, hype could be out of control, and seeing such content can help temper our expectations. I had no strong thoughts on 1-2 Switch upon seeing it, for example, but watching the Treehouse stream made me pretty satisfied about what it was. It didn’t increase my hype, or temper it in any way, but just fleshed out my understanding of the title. This is another valuable effect of promotion and advertising: informing your prospective consumers.
Future Games – Wii U and Switch
The Wii U’s way of promoting their future games are akin to what we have been seeing with the Switch currently. Aside from Nintendo Directs, they demonstrate their games through Treehouse streams during significant events. I’m sure this will continue on in the future with the Switch, and I feel that this unscripted view of the games will continue to affect hype accordingly.
This system is not without its faults, however. The people demoing the games often try to make jokes that miss their mark, as is natural in an unscripted environment, or can say things that begin to detract from the actual gameplay. My case here is Arms. The demo of that during the stream annoyed me slightly, on the basis of them focusing too heavily on a line of thought regarding Rock, Paper, Scissors. By extending both arms, you can perform a grab (consider this “Paper”), which will cancel out a block (consider this “Rock”), and a block will cancel out a punch (“Scissors), and a punch will cancel out a block if you can connect before the grab lands on you.
It seems like the people demonstrating Arms wanted to display deep, nuanced combat whilst, essentially, parroting simple fighting game logic: a block will block an attack, a throw will break a block, and attacking before, or as a throw connects, will break it. This is a bit deceptive in trying to emphasize the game as luck-driven, whilst observing it makes it seem like a game that requires tactical thinking and reading the other player. There were a few times during demos of Star Fox Zero for the Wii U, where controls were mentioned, and said they required adapting to. These controls were criticized in reviews and players, so we need to remember: the people demoing the games will try and influence you into positive directions. This is arguably harmful, but one should maintain skepticism, even during these unscripted demo streams.
This is a small point, but Nintendo are smart in that they tend to dumb down their vocabulary. There’s not many examples of this with the Wii U, but with the Switch, there is one element where this is abundantly clear: HD Rumble.
HD Rumble is, essentially, haptic feedback. If you’ve ever used an HTC Vive and its respective controllers, you’ll have experienced this before, but for those who haven’t used a Vive, or had any experience with haptic feedback, then audiences who aren’t particularly knowledgeable of technology would maybe struggle to understand what they mean. HD Rumble makes this easier to understand. Most people will understand the term “rumble” in the context of a controller providing feedback, and that HD means high definition. This was a nice move, and the succinct explanation during the conference was fantastic in demonstrating this in layman’s terms.
It’s not the first time Nintendo has done this. As stated before, it’s hard to find an example of this being used in the marketing for the Wii U, but the 3DS definitely had many. They opted out of identifying the method of achieving 3D effects. This was obviously stereoscopic 3D, but leaving these technical details out when it comes to advertising to the layman will help prevent confusion.
Moving Forward – Switch
The promotional method behind the Switch is proving strong. Not flawless, by any means, as exemplified with some shortcomings in the Treehouse streams, but exceptionally strong. They have social media dominated after such a show, which will help expose their console and games to a wider audience who’ll potentially just see this stuff. One platform not yet being utilized is TV.
Believe it or not, TV advertisements are still relatively helpful. A large portion of people still watch TV, specifically older audiences. I’m convinced that advertising the Wii so heavily on TV with simple trailers helped it get a lot of the popularity it had in the non-core gaming audience. I would guess that the reveal trailer being shown on TV would definitely help it out massively. Although, we are comparing 2010 and 2011 to 2017, so maybe there’s an argument to be made that doubling down on TV advertising may not be massively beneficial.
Nintendo Wii – Get Involved TV Advert Credit: newsupermariobrosuk
My other suggestion is to do things similar to what they did with the 3DS. I can’t speak much for the USA, but in jolly old Britain, Nintendo were parading and showing off the 3DS in cities all over the UK. I recall going there and falling in love with the console after playing around with the likes of Kid Icarus: Uprising. I think giving people the opportunity to try it out will definitely push some purchases.
In terms of advertising, Nintendo has things locked down, although they’re still going to get a sting from other elements. The battery life, although being similar to the 3DS (3-5 hours on the old models, and 3.5-6/7 on the New 3DS and New 3DSXL respectively), is currently under fire, for example. The price is higher than many expected, but the Joy-Cons are even more so, at £75/$80. Online multiplayer is getting people annoyed and rightfully so, considering that Nintendo have yet to present an online system worth paying for. The launch line-up is scarce, with 4 games announced, and only Breath of the Wild getting notable degrees of hype. Not to mention that the built-in 32GB memory is low, and that they support only MicroSD cards, known for being expensive, slow, and quick to succumb to breaking, and leading to corrupted and lost data. Either way, I wanted to explore the promotion and advertising of the Switch, and exemplify how Nintendo has learnt at least some lessons when it came to the failure that was the Wii U.