Xbox needs an answer to the Nintendo Direct
Microsoft could borrow a great deal from Nintendo.
In many ways, Xbox is forward-thinking in how it communicates and engages with fans. From transparent messaging from key members of Xbox Game Studios to fun and relatable social media strategies, Xbox generally seems to be pretty in touch with its audience. Unfortunately, there's one critical area in its current approach that feels questionably trapped in the past, and that's how and when it presents the games coming to Xbox.
The recent excitement following this week's Nintendo Direct, combined with the frustrations I've seen online from various members of the Xbox community regarding the immediate future of Xbox games, has led me to seriously evaluate the flaws of how Xbox handles its game showcases. While we know huge titles like Fable and Hellblade 2 are on the horizon, it's crystal clear that Xbox needs to improve the cadence with which it delivers gameplay to fans. It's time Xbox provides a worthwhile answer to the Nintendo Direct.
One foot in the future, one foot in the past
Some of the most exciting things about the Xbox platform are the myriad of ways it's innovated the video game industry. Services like Xbox Game Pass have entirely changed the way players interact with gaming content while simultaneously eliminating some of the financial barriers traditionally associated with software. Additionally, social-driven advancements like Xbox Live forever changed the online gaming landscape. When I look at the current team at Xbox, I see promise and possibilities. And as someone heavily invested in the longevity of gaming, that's exciting.
However, for every avenue Xbox disrupts or blazes new ground, there's another tied to a more conservative legacy. As it stands, Xbox still leans heavily into conventional media events like E3 as its primary means of delivering reveals and annoucements. While we have witnessed the team step outside of its comfort zone by announcing the Xbox Series X and Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 at The Game Awards, this still felt like a reliance on established gaming events. Compared to much of Xbox's current directives, this fixation on twice-a-year content dumps feels somewhat antiquated and misaligned with the nimble, new Xbox.
It's impossible to know how tough it would be to make changes on this level for a company so large. That being said, I find the duality of the progressive and regressive strategies currently in place at Xbox confusing, and I see huge opportunities for meaningful change.
We've already seen prominent players like PlayStation and Nintendo move away from conventional E3 conferences in recent years, and it feels almost like Xbox is the last bastion clinging on to a comfortable relic of the past. Fresh new iterations of video game media events like Summer Game Fest have emerged, and rather quickly superseded the efforts of the ESA. E3 no longer carries the same weight it once did, and as a company with the resources to step and produce its own shows, it feels like Xbox is poised to take advantage of the new video game information distribution methods. Now it's merely a matter of whether or not we see Xbox make this transition.
Why people love Nintendo Directs
It's hard for even the most loyal Xbox or PlayStation fans to ignore the excitement surrounding a Nintendo Direct. Like major E3 presentations, fans pour endless hours into detailing their hopes, dreams, and expectations ahead of these tight, well-presented video game showcases. With essentially no fluff or filler, the Nintendo Direct formula taps directly into what most of us love about gaming: the video games.
Another enormous reason Nintendo Directs are so successful is their frequent ability to surprise the audience. There's something undeniably magical about letting yourself get lost in the moment and being treated to something you genuinely didn't see coming. Xbox has seen similar success with more recent Xbox Game Showcases, but the consistency and cadence at which Nintendo delivers on that feeling is commendable. Anything is possible in this 40 minutes, which feeds into the feverish speculation surrounding Nintendo Directs.
Ultimately, what I feel makes the Nintendo Direct approach so impactful is that it clearly demonstrates to fans what they can expect and when they can expect it. In the latest one, the company proactively let its fans know that the games showcased would primarily be coming in the "first half of the year." That meant when massive announcements like Nintendo Switch Sports and Mario Strikers: Battle League appeared on your screen, you knew it wouldn't be long until you got your hands on these titles. This is drastically different from how Xbox handles reveals. We've known about games like Hellblade 2 and Fable for years and still don't even have a release window.
It's apparent that Nintendo works hard to deliver a consistent flow of first-party and third-party content to its most loyal audience at a fairly predictable pace. When Nintendo announces a Nintendo Direct, they immediately set the expectation for when the games presented will be released, and that instantly bolsters interest in those titles. There are few great feelings than discovering a game you're ecstatic about and knowing you can play it in a few short months.
How Xbox can adopt a similar model
In the past, Xbox has attempted what some would argue are similar formats to a Nintendo Direct. Inside Xbox, for example, served as a fan-centric breakdown of exciting titles and features coming to the Xbox platform. Unfortunately, even more dedicated fans found the show's production a little overbearing and occasionally long-winded. I didn't mind the deeper conversations and dissections of these games and features, but I also felt that Inside Xbox was not a great format for the average Xbox player.
We know Xbox isn't afraid to communicate what's coming to the platform. In fact, the Xbox Game Pass team has done a stellar job breaking down what each and every month looks like for subscribers. Xbox also clearly understands the weight a simple tweet or blog post can carry when it comes to getting fans excited. However, I'd love to see more synergy between Game Pass announcements, third-party reveals, and first-party game updates demonstrated through a fresh new video format.
In my opinion, Xbox should be aiming to deliver one 30-minute Nintendo Direct style showcase per quarter. Here, it can partner with amazing indie developers, exciting third-party partners, and its own in-house Xbox Game Studios developers to curate a list of games Xbox fans can look forward to in the next three months. Lean into day one Xbox Game Pass releases and show viewers through gameplay why they should unquestionably be stoked to play on the Xbox platform. I understand that it's difficult for developers to offer up early slices of gameplay ahead of launch, but as Nintendo Directs have proven, it's more valuable when presenting these games to the average player.
Outside of mainline Nintendo Directs, fans in the Nintendo camp are also treated to smaller, focused showcases like Indie World and even Pokémon Directs. Xbox has dabbled with similar presentations, typically revolving around their ID@Xbox program, but the frequency of these events is sporadic. Fans have been clamoring for deep gameplay dives into upcoming Xbox titles, and generally speaking, Xbox hasn't delivered at the level some expect. Introducing a series of smaller showcases throughout the year would undoubtedly be a welcomed change by the community.
Easier said than done
As someone who creates and edits plenty of videos for Windows Central, I know firsthand that producing polished, well-crafted video content takes a great deal of time and effort. My stance comes from a position of potential growth and engagement opportunity for Xbox and someone who just loves video games and wants to see more of them.
Telling Xbox to capture lightning in a bottle by mirroring the Nintendo Direct formula is easier said than done, but I think it would go a long way to quell some of the frustrations of the Xbox community. Too often, we hear fans and critics complain about the gaps in Xbox's current video game release schedule. The reality is that Xbox has many games coming soon, and it desperately need to get better about how they present that. If Xbox could show fans the best games coming to Xbox Game Pass, some first-party highlights, and a few new third-party trailers every few months, I think they could easily tap into the fervor of Nintendo Directs.
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Miles Dompier is a Freelance Video Producer for Windows Central, focusing on video content for Windows Central Gaming. In addition to writing or producing news, reviews, and gaming guides, Miles delivers fun, community-focused videos for the Windows Central Gaming YouTube channel. Miles also hosts Xbox Chaturdays every Saturday, which serves as the Windows Central Gaming weekly podcast.