Sunday, 7 June 2009


This week saw the world’s biggest nerd-fest; E3 take place in Los Angeles. E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is, as the name suggests, an exhibition for video game designers to launch their upcoming projects to the world. After last year’s disappointing series of sequels, E3 returned to form with some very juicy announcements from all three of the major console makers that are sure to give every video game nerd across the globe raging erections. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all announced new controllers for their respective consoles.

Given how much money the Wii has been raking in for Nintendo it was inevitable that the other console developers would want to tap into the market and they have taken the opportunity presented at E3 to do that. Sony announced a motion sensing camera, which seems to be rather limited compared to Microsoft’s Project Natal; a motion sensing device more accurate than anything produced previously. Microsoft claims that it can do voice and face recognition, and register movement to an accuracy that does to require a controller and allows the player to interact with characters on screen in a completely revolutionary way.

Of course Nintendo made claims about the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities which proved to be rather overoptimistic and because of that they’ve announced yet another accessory for the Wii that makes the control actually do what it’s supposed to do. We are now a few years down the line and the promotional videos show Project Natal working very well, but I can’t help but fear that the motion sensor will not live up to expectations.

I am also sceptical that the motion sensor will work with more hardcore games like Shooters and RPG’s. Clearly motion sensors make for a more realistic experience, which is great for sports games and such, but the whole point about video games is that you can take on the attributes of someone or something else and do things that you would not normally be able to do. There is no way that a game which centres on motion sensors can provide this experience. The hand-held controller remains the best way of playing hardcore games, so removing it can only really condemn Project Natal to a casual gamer’s gimmick. From an economic perspective this is no bad thing; the Wii has made massive profit for Nintendo by appealing to the casual gamer and Microsoft understandably wants to muscle in on that market. However Project Natal seems to be a break from the hardcore gaming demographic that has made the Xbox 360 so successful. Hopefully Microsoft will recognise that controllers are still the best way of playing most video games and continue to release games that do not depend solely on the motion sensor.

You would hope that the novelty of motion sensing will wear off eventually (although the continued success of the Wii demonstrates it’s continued popularity) and people will stop making ever more gimmicky games that have arbitrary features which are only there to make use of the motion sensor. Until then I guess we’ll continue to be bombarded with ever more realistic sports games. Inevitably people want games which effectively emulate how the sport is really played and this is probably where Project Natal’s real potential lies, until people start thinking outside the box and just going outside to play the sport in question for real. Rather than standing in front of your television posing like a sportsman you could just be outside doing the same thing, looked less ridiculous, burning more calories and getting more direct sunlight.

It remains to be seen just how effective Microsoft’s foray into motion sensor based video games will be. I can see Project Natal selling very well (although it will have to in order to make up all the money Microsoft and no doubt spend developing it), but I don’t think that full motion sensor based gaming without any controller is the way it will go. I can see better and better takes on what the Wii has already don’t being successful with both casual and hardcore gamers, but Project Natal really represents more of a gimmick which will work in the short term rather than that next generation of video game consoles. Nevertheless, with consoles now living in every household and videogames no longer being the reserve of nerd living in their parent’s basement, the casual gaming demographic will only grow, meaning that the major developers will have to pander to their desires to continue to compete. Fortunately that hardcore gaming market continues to be large enough that the major developers cannot ignore it; the increase in popularity of casual games will not spell the end of the hardcore gamer.

1 comment:

  1. I think the fact that Natal is like the Eyetoy (in that its an add-on to your current 360) shows that Microsoft do view it as a gimmick, or if not that, then a way to stop the monopoly the Wii has over the family gaming market.