The current explanation as to why Nintendo is skipping E3 this year is because it feels it has no games to show. It's a rumour that will likely scare a few people – while Nintendo stays out of the Sony Pony/Xbot console wars, it often feels as if it has the loyalest cabal of fans, and it shepherds some of the longest running and most beloved series in gaming. But it's a rumour that can be true and false at the same time. It may well feel it does not have enough games that it wants to showcase at E3 to justify the expense of attendance, but that's very different to just having 'no games'. Let's take a look at Nintendo's upcoming absence, and what it might mean.
First off, Nintendo clearly has some games in the works. It just released Fire Emblem Engage, which has been lauded as having the best gameplay in the series, and that's one of Nintendo's major B-tier exclusives. In just under 100 days, it's also going to release what will likely be the biggest game of the year in The Legend of Zelda: Tears for the Kingdom. 'Nintendo has no games' was always mindless hyperbole.
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Beyond these two however, the slate is fairly blank. Octopath Traveler 2 appeals to a similar crowd to Fire Emblem Engage and is a rung below on the ladder of cultural significance (plus it’s having a multi-platform launch), and Nintendo's only other big exclusive is Pikmin 4, coming ten years after Pikmin 3, already having been delayed, and which Nintendo has shown almost zero footage of. Having Zelda as your big Spring release is pretty far from having nothing, but beyond that, things are barren.
But that doesn't mean they will stay this way. Nintendo is rumoured to be announcing a Direct next week at the time of writing, which may already have been confirmed by the time this article goes live. That Direct may give us our first look at Pikmin 4, could lock in the date from the ambiguous '2023' we have now, and could bring a host of other reveals. We're due a 3D Mario and new Yoshi, Advance Wars is surely on the way, we get Pokemon spin-offs yearly, Metroid Prime 4 or the rumoured Metroid Prime Trilogy remaster could be in the offing, a new Kid Icarus has been hinted at, and it's never too soon for a new Mario sports game worse than the old ones. Nintendo loves making those.
All this, added to the fact we could see completely new properties, and suddenly it seems like Nintendo has loads of games. If that's true, then why not go to E3? Well, having games that exist is different to having games for E3. While occasionally developers will go to conventions armed with trailers and photo ops (Gotham Knights took a Batcycle but no demo to Gamescom), these conventions are mostly about allowing both press and public to get hands on with said games. You'd think that if Nintendo does have anything big lined up for Christmas, as you'd expect, then it would be playable in some form by mid-June, but that's not the only factor, and hasn’t been for Nintendo since even before the Switch launched in 2017.
Attending E3 is extremely expensive. As the first physical show since the pandemic, the organisers will want to recoup as much revenue as possible so we have no idea what discussions have been happening behind the scenes. It’s also ReedPop’s first show as new owners, so other changes may be putting people off. Nintendo is not the only one skipping – Xbox and Sony are opting out too. That means we either believe that the three major consoles on the market are going to have no games for summer or Christmas, or we accept that missing E3 is not a signal of an empty stable.
The Nintendo Direct reinvented how companies talk to players in the modern age, abandoning traditional conferences in favour of a far more direct (geddit?) format. Nintendo knows it can host another, for free, during the buzz of E3 season and cash in on the momentum without being part of it all. Sony has copied this strategy well. Xbox is still trying to figure it out, although the shadow drop of Hi-Fi Rush has helped tremendously. Not everyone can do it (Ubisoft was criticised for its dull offering adjacent to SGF last year), but the big three can and will. A lot of third party publishers will still attend E3 because it's their best chance of getting players and press to care. Nintendo knows it has a better shot elsewhere, and it can save money too.
I have no idea what Nintendo's upcoming slate is, and having fewer than it would like may be a factor in the lack of E3 attendance. But far more likely is Nintendo knows it can tweet a link to a YouTube video and have the same attention it would have gotten at E3 for a fraction of the cost. It's the end of an era when companies no longer need E3's pull, but it shouldn't frighten us into thinking Nintendo will be shutting up shop for the rest of the year once Zelda comes out.
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