What Nintendo has learned from Kickstarter

Nintendo would make the best Kickstarters.

Consider Nintendo Direct, the two-year-old video series in which the company's top brass makes big announcements directly to fans via short videos. We've seen dozens of these over the past two years, but for the most part they've been used to discuss known products or announce smaller, less consequential software and hardware. Some have been downright confusing, like the Nintendo Direct used in the lead-up to discuss the Wii U's user interface.

Yesterday, though, the Nintendo Direct took on a very clear and bold tone: We've listened to your requests, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said. And here's what we are going to do about it.

Compare this to last year's E3 press conference and its many companion Nintendo Direct videos, where the company was reluctant to announce the big games from its beloved properties, despite its launching a new system in the same year. The difference was noticeable to developers, fans and journalists alike:

Which brings me to my Kickstarter comparison. With yesterday's Nintendo Direct, Nintendo tapped into what makes Kickstarters so seductive: big promises, creative transparency and the illusion of direct contact with the consumer.

The video game industry is notoriously secretive, using embargoes, non-disclosure agreements and litigation to keep its products hidden from the public until they're ready to be presented via a traditional and proven press cycle. What we saw yesterday from Nintendo Direct was a company reversing the trend, pulling back the curtain on a large swath of its portfolio, ignoring the press and speaking directly and frankly to the consumer.

And why shouldn't it? With a company like Nintendo, it's no surprise to learn about a new Mario or Yoshi game.

Nintendo Direct has also adopted the humble, almost hat-in-hand tone of so many Kickstarter videos. In yesterday's video, Iwata went so far to as to apologize to fans for the lack of new Wii U software. "I apologize to those supporting Wii U for the lack of new titles from Nintendo in January and February," said the president of Nintendo.

Capybara's Nathan Vella made a great point when he noted Iwata's continual use of the word "you":

But what did Nintendo actually show? Not much. Unlike a traditional press conference, like those during trade shows like E3, many of the company's games were promised, but not presented. We were promised but not shown a new Mario game from the makers of Super Mario Galaxy. We were promised but not shown a new, reimagined Zelda. We got a screenshot of the new Yoshi game and a handful from a Wind Waker HD remake. Invest now to get the HD Wind Waker remake, and down the line you'll get a new Zelda. It's like a stretch goal.

As of today, the Wii U isn't maintaining its solid holiday sales. According to Famitsu, in Japan during the week of Jan. 12, sales dropped from a pace of 70,000 units a week to 21,000. By comparison, the Nintendo 3DS, which also experienced a post-holiday slowdown, is still selling 106,000 units per week. And over the coming months, as Iwata apologized for, few big games will be released for the Wii U, providing little incentive for purchase.

So Nintendo is wisely getting in front of possible consumers, promising that an investment now will get you what you want in the future. It's a Kickstarter update. We need you interested. We need to hit our fiscal goal. Invest now in what we'll give you later.

Except where many Kickstarters are spearheaded by amateurs and financially unreliable businesses, Nintendo has a history of delivery and a bank account full of cash. And it has real investors to answer to. It will almost certainly make good on these promises.

OK, Nintendo Direct is like a Kickstarter video, but reliable.

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