The first Nintendo Direct of 2022 was full of surprises.
The games have been announced! The release dates have been given! But the most compelling aspect of this 40-minute marketing blitz is all the other things that happen before, during and after. Nintendo has somehow turned the routine announcements into a communal bacchanalia that, every four months or so, shakes up and reshapes the way the industry courts an increasingly fervent fan base.
After quiet beginnings in October 2011 — the very first announcement was the launch of Hulu Plus for Wii and 3DS — Nintendo Direct has become a juggernaut.
The practice of holding reveal events outside of E3 provided a whole new way for game companies to communicate with fans. The early Directs were dismissed as signs of the dying breath of an aging beast: ‘Nintendo” was jumping‘E3 will post videos on YouTube!’ cried the analysts from the chair.
In retrospect, these answers look a lot like those of the stunned squares of Back to the futurewho aren’t quite sure what to make of Marty McFly’s raunchy rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
“I guess you’re not ready for that yet,” Marty said sheepishly. “But your kids will love it.”
And the children of the new generation do to like. Not only Sony and Microsoft followed suit with PlayStation State of Play and various Xbox showcase events, so did everyone else. You see direct-style presentations from indie studios like Yacht Club Games, eclectic publishers like Devolver Digital, themed groupings of titles like Wholesome Games, and even tech mega titans like google.
But only the Nintendo Direct fosters a more befitting reaction to the next Rapture: an occasionally fun, even chilling level of foaming enthusiasm and mindless craziness that surrounds and sometimes even overshadows every 40-minute video.
Nintendo announced the final February direct stream a day in advance. Within hours, hundreds of YouTubers posted videos on the Direct, with a flurry of predictions.
“Tomorrow is our Christmas,” intones the host of a SwitchForce video, eyes closed, palms up. While he was probably referring to “an event where we receive many hoped-for gifts”, an allusion to the birth of a divine being made flesh actually matches the level of hype on display here.
Some of these videos receive more views than the direct-style reels of Nintendo’s actual competitors. Even more videos are produced in the immediate wake, with answers and reactions on the show. We also get live (over)reactions from creators screaming and screaming as the Live itself unfolds in real time, the combined flurry of sound and image a miasma of concentrated desire.
Much of this can be attributed to the performative hysteria found in every corner of the internet. People like to get excited. People like to get angry. Others enjoy watching people go crazy and/or excited. But the frenzy that comes with every new Nintendo Direct stands apart from your daily viral TikTok of teenagers eating raw cinnamon. There are several reasons for this, which I have broken down into three categories: Momentum, Mindshare and Megatons.
It’s easy to forget that Nintendo has been making its Direct videos for over a decade. Even for a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of over $60 billion, the cumulative strength of these intermittent issues resembles the price of the company at the end of a very long and successful grassroots campaign. Nintendo does not shout. Nintendo fans and anti-fans alike are the ones who amplify these videos into something beyond a series of affable commercials with smiling talking heads showcasing game trailers. Each presentation is relatively simple. But behind closed doors, each is undoubtedly a complicated feat of NES, trailer editing, and planning for maximum impact.
Early attempts were charismatic but clumsy, providing a level of access that Nintendo was not known for at the time. This is largely due to the efforts of the late former Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata. Despite all the applause, Iwata has only become a beloved public figure after it began hosting Nintendo Directs. After his death, this is one of the things we remember the most about him. He had an idiosyncratic on-screen charm that belied programming genius and shrewd business acumen. He shared secrets with Luigi. He was holding bananas and staring at them for too long. He introduced the titles as being about “good feeling.” He made great arcs as he said goodbye to us.
Watching past Directs is an exercise in patience and a reminder of the pain and poverty of the Wii U era from a business perspective. But the formula Nintendo landed on to circumvent annual trade shows and the intervening journalists who took away one of their most prized assets – control – has become a finely tuned hype machine that is the envy of the world. ‘industry.
Sharing of spirit
Although the longest directs reached 50 minutes, the aura of these videos permeated the gaming fandom and reached a kind of sensibility: it lives, always. There’s a hive-mind data gathering that happens in the moments leading up to a live, where any potential leads are shared and used as potential evidence of what needs to be revealed.
Shigesato Itoi, creator of the Mother/Earth series, retweeted Direct’s latest announcement on Twitter, adding the intriguing message“7 am, it’s unbelievable. It could snow.
Itoi tweeted a screenshot of Mother 2 / Earthbound after the game arrived on Switch Online.
Soon fans retweeted his message, leaning into the implication that if Itoi spreads the word, there are surely Mother– related announcement to follow. Or maybe not. (This time the teasing was for Mother 1 & 2 coming to the Switch Online service.) The pattern continues, with any shred of potential evidence held back and thrown away, like a collective rubbing of the rosary.
Once the video is over, the wait for the next one begins, with popular forums continually updating dedicated threads predicting when the next Direct will take place. Because everyone is a repository of fan wishes. And next time, maybe yours will come true.
Even the disappointing directs are highlight events for Nintendo enthusiasts. Nintendo knows there’s no bad publicity, and days of reactions and predictions get their name in the “Trending” column regardless of a happy fan base. But when these massive “What if…? » dreams come true before our eyes? Twitter explodes.
Fan streams become a conveyor belt of contextless exclamations: “No way!” “It’s happening…” Those who look along know exactly what is implied. Others, less, such as video game fans will apologize on their feed to subscribers before a new Direct broadcast. The ripples extend outward, catching the eyes of the curious and the confused.
This most recent show was particularly good at providing fans with wicks to light, from the expected (Xenoblade Chronicles 3!) to the strange (Kirby eats a car?) to the unpredictable (live alive?!). When niche titles are appreciated, their fans cry all the louder: for the passive observer, a stranger’s outburst of tears for Chrono-Cross Where Klonoa could raise concerns about their well-being. Nobody likes a fiery klonoa, after all. We then watch a video of an adorable wing-eared bunny and our wish list grows by one. (To this writer, Nintendo Switch Sports was the star and the subject of many repeat views on YouTube.)
But here’s the thing: there are no passive observers for a Nintendo Direct. Each viewer participates in a superior game to each individual title offered. And chances are we’ll be playing the game for a long time.
Cult of Nintendo is a Reverse series focusing on the weird, wild, and wonderful conversations surrounding video games’ most venerable company.