Ten years ago today, many of us woke up to a seemingly innocuous Friday, unaware that Nintendo was launching something that would change the cadence of how we learn about upcoming games forever: Nintendo Direct. The Nintendo Direct has evolved a lot since its early days, and today it's nearly unrecognizable compared to its humble beginnings. Not to mention that many other companies have followed Nintendo's lead and opted for a digital Direct style when pushing out news in favor of live press conferences, such as Sony's State of Play and Microsoft's various showcases. What was the first Nintendo Direct like all those years ago? Let me take you back.
The First Nintendo Direct was Bite-Sized Compared to Today
The first North American Nintendo Direct featured then Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime sharing some upcoming updates about the Nintendo 3DS and Wii consoles. This Direct clocks in at only seven minutes and 48 seconds, over a half hour shorter than the most recent September 2021 Nintendo Direct. It also has a more muted presentation than what we're used to. Reggie brings his classic enthusiasm and charisma, but over the course of a decade, the production value has gone up quite a bit.
The first Nintendo Direct aired just six months after the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, and the Wii console was slowly beginning to wind down its life cycle, though major titles like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword were still weeks away from launch. This was a time when Nintendo was still on top of their game financially, despite initial lackluster sales of the Nintendo 3DS. So of course the Direct was focused strongly on pushing 3DS software sales, as well as discussing some upcoming Wii games.
"This marks a new endeavor for Nintendo: Direct video news feeds designed just for you," Reggie says as he starts off the presentation. "For this installment, we've got some important news if you're an owner of Nintendo 3DS, or just thinking of becoming one."
Some of the Nintendo 3DS updates he mentions include the addition of Hulu Plus, specifically shouting out shows like Dancing with the Stars, Modern Family, and Glee. Reggie also goes on to specifically call out the unique 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS, such as recording 3D video and even pursuing things like stop-motion animation.
Weirdly enough, Reggie also announced a Thriller music video featuring characters from DreamWork's Shrek, surely disappointing fans of the animated ogre for the next decade over the lack of Shrek content in each subsequent Nintendo Direct.
Of course what would a Nintendo Direct be without software announcements? The games and software specifically highlighted in the first Nintendo Direct include:
- FreakyForms: Your Creations Alive
- Dillon's Rolling Western
- Pokemon Rumble Blast
- Super Mario 3D Land
- Mario Kart 7
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The last four titles on that list all released within weeks of this initial Nintendo Direct airing, making it a stacked holiday season for Nintendo back in 2011. One of the final things mentioned in the inaugural Direct was the Legend of Zelda Symphony Orchestra concert, which would premiere that very same day before going on tour.
From Live Press Conferences to Pre-Packaged Directs
Up until the Nintendo Direct began to take precedent, Nintendo relied on either live press conferences or individual game trailers to get information out about their software and hardware. The Direct allowed them to get more information out in a smaller amount of time, enabling the company to show exactly what they want to show and omit any information they'd like to keep secret without the risk of a leak.
Nintendo found the Direct format to work so well that in 2013 they decided to forgo a live E3 presentation in favor of a digital event. Information about upcoming Wii U games was released, press questions were answered, and Nintendo did everything they could to drive more sales for the Wii U console. Moving forward, this would become the E3 norm for the gaming giant: pre-recorded videos that would first be called Nintendo Digital Events, and eventually just simply be known as E3 Nintendo Directs.
Admittedly this format removed some of the most iconic moments fans loved about E3, like Reggie's introduction of kicking ass, taking names, and making games, or Reggie's body is ready or… you know what, really any moment Reggie got to spend time on stage was memorable. That's not to say the Directs didn't lend themselves to the weirder side of Nintendo. Remember Nintendo at E3 2015? When Reggie, Satoru Iwata, and Shigeru Miyamoto got to star as their very own muppets?
Or how about that same year when Nintendo brought back the Nintendo World Championships and showcased a video of Reggie retiring from Nintendo so he could compete? The point is, the Digital Event format allowed Nintendo to be as quirky and fun as ever, allowing the creative team to stretch their legs when it came to events that were entertaining and informational.
How the Direct Inspired Change in the Gaming Industry
Today, largely due to the pandemic, in-person events are still somewhat difficult to come by, and the industry as a whole seems to have adopted the precedent that Nintendo set all those years ago with digital events. Whether it's a Sony State of Play, Microsoft's showcases, an indie developer showcasing their own game, or even Nintendo dedicating an entire Direct to a specific game, like the most recent one for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the convenience of a pre-packaged video is one that was too good to pass up.
Live press conferences are great, and I do still hope we get more of those in the future. But when you can set aside the technical difficulties, set-up time, and other potential problems in favor of a presentation that can be cut and edited to your precise specifications, it's no wonder why these have become the industry norm rather than the exception. And seeing how video game sales are going as strong as ever, newcomers and seasoned gamers alike are continuing to take time out of their days to watch these Directs when they're dropped. The September 2021 Nintendo Direct currently has 5.1 million views on YouTube, and the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct that dropped on Oct. 15 has over 3.3 million. Sony's Horizon Forbidden West showcase? Currently sitting at 8.2 million views. Announcements for these digital events create hype, and that hype leads to more people eager to empty their wallets for the latest title.
We've had 10 great years of Nintendo Directs, with many legendary Nintendo icons making appearances along the way. It doesn't look like the Nintendo Direct is going anywhere anytime soon, so here's to another 10 years and more of Nintendo Digital Events!
Do you have a favorite Nintendo Direct memory? Do you like the cadence of these digital events or would you rather Nintendo return to live press conferences? Let us know in the comments!