Before we get into today’s edition of Hit Points, some brief housekeeping. With not-E3 done and dusted, I’m going to experiment with the format a bit, and drop down to three editions per week for a spell. There are a few reasons for this: we’re probably looking at a quiet few weeks in terms of news; last week’s infant-Covid scare made me realise I probably need a bit more flexibility than a daily cadence allows; and with not-E3 finished and the release schedule looking a little busier, the consultancy side of my work (hello, interested parties!) is picking up.
I’m also increasingly conscious of striking the right balance of how frequently I slide into your email inbox. I want Hit Points to be something you are excited to receive, maybe even look forward to — and I worry that a daily email is just going to get annoying over time, particularly when not much is happening. If you have any thoughts on all this, I’d love to hear them.
Anyway! On to business, such as it is; as is traditional, the pace of things in the game industry has rather dropped off a cliff now not-E3 has been and gone. Now the recriminations begin, as players and press alike mourn the things they’d hoped to see at the show — and, worse, the things they’d been assured would be shown off, but ended up nowhere in sight.
The biggest of those is, of course, Switch Pro. Rumours of a more powerful upgrade to Nintendo’s console have been floating around for more than two years, but finally began taking concrete form last month. Bloomberg and Eurogamer reported that the device would be on sale before the end of 2021, and announced shortly before not-E3 so that developers could spend the show talking about the games they’ve been making for it. It was happening, definitely. And then it didn’t.
It’s been suggested that the global semiconductor shortage impacted manufacturing and forced Nintendo to change its plans, but I struggle to accept that would only have become apparent in the handful of weeks between Bloomberg breaking its story and Switch Pro’s not-E3 no-show. I certainly don’t buy the theory that outlets with the reputation and track record of Bloomberg and Eurogamer simply got this one wrong. Rather, it appears Nintendo pulled back, putting the announcement in a drawer because it wants to unveil the console on its own terms. Outlandish though this may sound, it makes plenty of sense, I think.
While I can’t get into specifics — I don’t want the ankle bracelet to explode — I have firsthand experience of Nintendo’s distaste for leaks and broken embargoes. I have also heard tell of it substantially changing its plans for at least one major gaming event in response to a leak. And there is public evidence of how seriously it treats this stuff: when details of Pokemon Sword & Shield leaked online before release, Nintendo and The Pokemon Company publicly outed and blacklisted the outlet responsible. “To surprise and delight players through new experiences is a shared passion for Nintendo and The Pokemon Company,” the two companies said in a statement at the time. “We will pursue all avenues to preserve surprises for players of future Pokemon titles."
That phrase, “surprise and delight”, is one I’ve heard a lot in my years writing about games, most frequently from Nintendo (with Bungie in second place, if you’re wondering). Delight is an internal factor, a measure of quality; it is something of which Nintendo is in full control, because it makes great games. But ‘surprise’ is reliant on it being able to decide when its projects, be they software or hardware, are unveiled to the world. You can’t surprise your fans with something that’s been in the headlines for a month already. So, what do you do? You make it so those headlines are wrong, and hope that if the press is seen to stumble too many times, it will no longer report on leaks. It’s a power struggle, really, and one Nintendo seems quite intent on winning. It’s a risky game to play, and rather a distasteful one too. But if I’m honest, I kind of respect it. The surprise is all part of the fun, after all, especially at E3.
TheGamer EIC Kirk McKeand has been mucking around in Unreal, had a minor breakdown at the complexity of doors, and wrote about his woes here. This is not an isolated case: evidently, doors are shits. I am reminded of this thread from Naughty Dog game director Kurt Margenau on the trouble with doors in The Last Of Us II; relatedly, this morning Eurogamer brings word of a door that instantly kills players in COD: Warzone. I am beginning to think that doors are up to something, and must be stopped.
The serial innovators at EA are experimenting with a novel phenomenon in FIFA Ultimate Team: showing players the contents of a loot box before they buy it. I believe this is known in some quarters as ‘shopping’.
There you go! See you Wednesday, I think, unless something insane happens in the next 24 hours. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed this, please do the things with the buttons below.