There was a time when video game announcements were few and far between. Fans would wait with bated breath until E3 or Pax came around, and maybe, just maybe, get a minute long, pre-rendered trailer of the next installment of their favorite franchise.
However, in the age of instant Internet gratification, developers are starting to break away from the traditional model of announcing at mass conferences. Instead, they’re opting for direct announcements on livestream, allowing players to get the news they want faster without having to slog through announcements from studios they aren’t dedicating their attention to. The two largest pioneers of this do-it-yourself ecosystem, Nintendo and Sony, attract massive audiences as they spend up to an hour announcing everything coming out from their studios.
However, 2021 has proven to be a tricky media landscape for developers to navigate. With the lackluster performances of Nintendo Direct 2021 and Sony’s recent February State of Play, it’s time to ask the question: why do we have these video game ego-fests in the first place?
There’s absolutely a time and place for video game announcements; at E3, those pre-rendered triple-A trailers were meticulously crafted to attract investors and pre-orders alike, and Pax was often the only chance that indie developers had at getting some kind of exposure on their hard work. But that’s exactly what made those events work for developers: having a year to prepare their presentation, knowing that they would have limited time to show off a curated collection of their best projects coming down the pipeline.
But allowing developers to have as much time as they want to release a cookie-cutter montage of smaller titles and ports of older games to newer consoles doesn’t provide much value to the industry. In the most recent Nintendo Direct, there was no mention of Mario Odyssey 2, or Bayonetta 4. There were instead a slew of JRPGs showing near-identical gameplay while narrated by a single voice and bordered by the exact same red-and-white Nintendo overlay. By the end, I couldn’t tell the difference between Bravely Default II and Project Triangle Strategy (yes, both of those are real titles).
I have nothing against JRPGs, but this was the first Nintendo Direct since the pandemic started. The livestream was hyped up to reveal groundbreaking information, a beacon of hope during a year that saw many major titles get delayed. Players expected updates on big games that were confirmed to be in development in early 2020. In perhaps the biggest slap in the face to those expectations, the Direct ended with Eiji Aonuma, project manager of the Legend of Zelda series appearing on screen only to say that there would be no update on the highly awaited Breath of the Wild 2 (but Skyward Sword will be getting a Switch port).
This begs the question, why did Nintendo even have a Direct if they knew that players were waiting for updates on these major titles? Why would they build up expectations only to tear them down, leaving players disappointed and angry at one of the most consistent video game studios ever? The answer is that it was simply because Nintendo could have a Direct. Gamers weren’t expecting any news to come from Nintendo for a while; during the pandemic, most players expected and kindly understood that there would be delays on major titles. However, Nintendo’s on no one’s timeline except their own, and it backfired on them.
Nintendo isn’t alone in this “rush something out to keep players satisfied” mentality. On February 25th, Sony livestreamed their State of Play event, taking roughly 40 minutes to show off some of their own upcoming projects. Admittedly, there were some really interesting trailers shown; Kena: Bridge of Spirits is shaping up to be a beautiful third person fantasy adventure game, and Deathloop’s detailed worldbuilding and innovative mechanics are reminiscent of the oft-forgotten but nevertheless masterfully crafted Dishonored series.
But once again, there were no updates on God of War 2, or From Software’s newest highly-anticipated project, Elden Ring. There was no word on what games would be coming to the massively popular PS+ network in March or news on whether PS5s will ever be attainable. In another Zelda moment, the biggest announcement of State of Play was Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, which is essentially a PS5 port of the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake but with a couple extra plotlines to work with.
Sony could’ve easily waited until they had more to show, or when the PS5 supply line is actually viable again. They chose to rush out announcements that disappointed fans of successful titles and if anything, decreased hype for the next State of Play.
Both Nintendo Direct and Sony State of Play felt like unnecessary attempts to placate players and assure them that there are games coming. But studios need to trust their fanbase and realize that players prioritize quality over quantity, which is what made those iconic reveals at games conferences of days past so exciting: the chance to see something that is truly next-gen.