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Directionless E3 gifts Apple the last laugh

The once-mighty core games industry's playing catch-up, argues Tim Ingham...

"The graveyard of any industry is filled with the headstones of companies who decided to keep doing things the same old way; playing only on the margin, making things just a little bit better. That strategy works for a while - but ultimately it's fatal."

When a boisterous Reggie Fils-Aime addressed E3 2006 with what he promised was "not just next, but absolutely new", the glee that Nintendo garnered from the sheer disruption of its comeback sung from every syllable.

Wii was a fierce counter-strike to all of those who had written the Japanese platform holder off - and the once-wounded firm's thrilling, ungovernable intentions shone through every morsel of Reggie's finger-pointing sermon.

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All it took to return from the brink of oblivion was a single big idea; one Nintendo was clearly and buoyantly certain would wrong-foot both its competitors and its audience's expectations. It was truly scintillating stuff; a sumptuous future served warm on a platter by a butler defiantly flicking the Vs.

How times change.

E3 2011 was an uninspiring preening ground for some of the most bloated and frightened hardware companies on the planet.

It should have been a week of jaw-dropping tech turbulence; of "how does that work?" befuddlement and "look what we've come up with!" bombast. It should have been a reset button for an industry beset by weariness and unoriginality. It should have been the moment wide-eyed consumers started reaching for their wallets again.

What we got instead was the humdrum repetition of existing ideas by companies very much fixated on the now - and very much fearful of taking risks in a fiscally conservative climate.

One platform holder beamed synthetically as it recklessly crow-barred an unoriginal concept into the remaining precious products of a jaded marketplace.

Another spent half an hour trying to convince us that wiggly sticks and flailing limbs are something to get our hearts racing in 2011 - whilst it heralded a portable touch-screen as a taste of the future. By that point, most of us were busy on our iPhones.

But perhaps the dampest squib of all was the company who finally capitulated in such a sorry manner to the innovation of Cupertino's finest.

What we wanted from Nintendo at E3 was a poke in the eye for the New World order; for 'radical' Reggie to return with a rebellious piece of technology all set to torment Jobs and co's dominance, whilst hacking back at Microsoft and Sony's authority in the more traditional gaming sector.

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What we got instead was an unwieldy touch-screen slate that couldn't have been more inspired by the iPad if it was shoddily branded with a fruit silhouette. The Wii U controller is undeniably stuffed full of exciting features, but Nintendo would struggle to claim any of them as its own.

The depressing message from Nintendo at E3 2011 was that it had given up on ingenuity; that Iwata-san's killer tactic to bring down "the enemy of the future" was to pinch, rather than pummel.

It might have successfully hit back at Sony and Microsoft by out-thinking them with Wii in 2006; but when it comes to its standout modern foe, it seems Nintendo's preferred tactic is to beg, borrow and steal.

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