With a new President, more third-party support than ever before, and a strong console, E3 2019 highlighted the bright future for Nintendo.
What do you think about when you hear E3? For many, the first thing that comes to mind are the video games. For E3 veterans, the first thing might be networking or the ridiculous crowds. While those are all true, E3 is actually a deeper event than most think. The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is a chance for developers (both indie and AAA) to excite their fanbase with their latest wares. It’s a chance to change perceptions and earn trust for the future. In a lot of ways, E3 represents a new beginning.
This year, no developer exemplified that more than Nintendo. The iconic Japanese company has been a mainstay of E3 for what feels like forever. Each year, Nintendo shows up with an extravagant booth, often themed around a certain game. Previous years saw a Breath of the Wild-themed booth, Super Mario Odyssey-themed booth, and so on. This year, however, saw their territory become a massive water gym for Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. It was beyond impressive.
I’m heaping a lot of praise right now, but putting on an out-of-this-world event is actually the norm for Nintendo at E3. They’re usually well-prepared, well-designed and often pull out all the stops to impress both the media and the fans in attendance. What was out of the norm came a few hours prior to E3 opening its doors, though, and it marked a new, exciting era for the beloved brand.
Since the Nintendo Switch debuted, in 2017, Nintendo has been going through a transition, of sorts. It all started when they announced that they had partnered up with tons of 3rd-party developers to port their games onto the Switch. This had been a no-no for several years, as most 3rd party players, like Bethesda, couldn’t even think of putting their games on the likes of the Wii and Wii U. By bringing in loads of outside projects, Nintendo showed that they were open for business. It was a big change and showed that more changes were coming to Nintendo. Little did we know that these changes were just the tip of an iceberg that would ring in a new era for the red and white brand. That new era began the moment Nintendo pressed play on their Nintendo Direct.
The most obvious change for Nintendo this year was the retirement of beloved President of Nintendo America, Reggie Fils-Aime. He had become one of the most recognized people in Nintendo, over the years, with his hilarious videos and inviting presentations. When he decided to step down, the gaming community was absolutely gutted. Being elevated in his place was the more-than-capable Doug Bowser, who made his E3 debut in 2019. His introduction was short and sweet, as he shooed away his cartoon counterpart, the wicked King of the Koopas, Bowser. While he didn’t do much, during the presentation, Bowser made sure to be available at all times for interviews and photo ops with media and fans. Making yourself open and available is a great way to begin your term, but it was his answer about one particular delay that will likely define his first E3 as President.
That delay, in question, is Animal Crossing: New Horizon. During the E3 2019 Nintendo Direct, Nintendo’s Deputy General Manager of Entertainment Planning & Development Yoshiaki Koizumi announced that the game would be delayed from a 2019 release date to 2020. Unfortunately, he didn’t divulge any more information, causing fans to speculate. It wasn’t until an interview with IGN that Doug Bowser clarified,
“The crunch point is an interesting one…For us, one of our key tenets is that we bring smiles to people’s faces, and we talk about that all the time. It’s our vision. Or our mission, I should say. For us, that applies to our own employees. We need to make sure that our employees have good work-life balance…One of those examples is, we will not bring a game to market before it’s ready. We just talked about one example [in Animal Crossing’s delay]. It’s really important that we have that balance in our world. It’s actually something we’re proud of.”
The topic of an appropriate work-life balance in video games has been an important one, as of late. With well-documented cases such as Epic Games, BioWare, Rockstar, and countless others working their employees into the ground in order to meet a certain release date, it’s absolutely wonderful of Nintendo to rally behind their employees and consider their needs. Most gamers never stop to think about the toil and trouble these developers go through to make our games. It’s difficult, time-consuming work and it’s high time a developer/publisher as big as Nintendo recognized it and took action. My hope is that every other studio looks at the example Nintendo is making and follows suit. We’re only on this Earth for a short time, so it’s important that we have a chance to enjoy it, as opposed to the alternative.
While appreciating the work-life balance is monumental, there was something else announced during the Direct that proved to me that this isn’t the Nintendo we used to know. That was the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2.
If you didn’t know already, I’m a lifelong The Legend of Zelda fan. I’ve played every game, listen to the soundtrack early and often, and at least 3 Zelda games are in my Top 10 favorite video games of all time (Ocarina of Time is #1. Don’t @ me). So, when Nintendo snuck in that they were developing a Breath of the Wild sequel I. WAS. FLOORED.
Outside of my fanboy bias of excitement for a new game, the reason for my reaction is because a The Legend of Zelda sequel is almost unheard of in this day and age. Sure, there was a direct sequel for A Link to the Past with Link’s Awakening and A Link Between Worlds, but that was over 2 decades ago. Since then, Nintendo has deemed it best to create installments rather than sequels, with the rest of the series. They ended up tying all of the games together with Skyward Sword, by revealing that The Legend of Zelda series is one endless loop of good vs evil. It was a neat development, but it still created one of the most screwed up timelines in gaming history, with many variations like the one below.
With that in mind, it’s absolutely massive that Nintendo has decided to continue the Breath of the Wild story. It shows that Nintendo has a clear-cut plan for the Zelda franchise and it isn’t about to cut bait and start over. It’s to tell a complete story, something Nintendo doesn’t do very often. Breath of the Wild was special, though. It broke records while enveloping us in a world so vast, it made all of the other Zelda games seem hollow.
I can’t tell you how many times I completed a Zelda game and wondered what was next for Link, Zelda, and the kingdom of Hyrule. It always just felt like there was still unfinished business, more to the story to be told. Despite my continued excitement for new games, I could never really shake that feeling. It’s amazing to think that we’ll finally get to find out what happens after Breath of the Wild. Plus, the potential of playing as Zelda within a terrifying environment is absolutely mental.
It’s an exciting time for Nintendo. You can just tell that Nintendo is having fun right now. Why not? The Nintendo Switch was a massive success, they blew away the competition with their E3 presentation, and best of all they can avoid the console war. This is a new Nintendo that we’re seeing. One that’s innovative and cool, with a new boss, a new outlook on development, and a focus on improving employee health. It is indeed a new era for Nintendo and we’re set to reap the benefits.