Moving On

Just who is expected to buy this year's new motion controllers?

It is no great surprise that, despite Microsoft's slowly building focus on Natal, Sony is likely to beat it to market with its PlayStation Move motion controller. The noise and heat generated by the rumbling PR campaigns behind both technologies occasionally mask the reality - that this is, on one level, a battle between a company usually seen as a technological imitator which has unexpectedly taken on the mantle of cutting-edge innovator, and a firm which has prided itself on high-end engineering R&D suddenly embracing the "disruptive" ideal by employing cheap, tried-and-tested technology.

Both companies are arguably outside their comfort zones. Natal is technologically ambitious, which is not something Microsoft attempts often. PS Move is a low-cost, robust approach, which is equally alien to the neophiliac, technology-obsessed culture which has dominated Sony for decades. Even with both firms playing away games, however, Move's simpler technology was always likely to be first to market, and may well end up sporting the cheaper price tag of the two.

Does this matter? Probably not. It's yet to be confirmed whether Move actually will beat Natal to market (this is simply the relatively sane assumption that's being drawn from Sony's bombastic GDC performance this week), but even if it does, it's likely to be only by a handful of weeks, since Sony has committed itself to "autumn" and Microsoft to "before Christmas".

First mover advantage doesn't really apply here, since neither company is the first mover. Natal, being a much more distinctive technology, has a better excuse, but the reality is that both of these efforts are slinking into the back of the classroom halfway through the lesson - while Nintendo, the prize student, turned up five minutes early and has been sitting up at the front earning gold stars all along.

That reality isn't just important for snarky journalists sniping from the sidelines, however - it's also something that the consumer will be keenly aware of. It speaks to just how badly Sony and Microsoft's cages have been rattled by the Wii that they're willing to take the inevitable reputation hit involved in following meekly in their competitor's footsteps - both firms having decided that the risks of failing to do so justify the hefty servings of humble pie involved.

The extent to which Sony, in particular, is aping the approach of its corporate rival a handful of hours away on the bullet train is particularly notable from the software line-up hinted at in the company's GDC presentation. Looking through the list of supporting publishers, there's no doubt that some of them are going to attempt more hardcore-style titles using the Move technology, but with the notable exception of SOCOM 4, Sony's showcase was a direct response to the Wii - attempting to answer the "where is PlayStation Move's answer to Wii Sports?" question by, er, developing a range of motion controlled sports and party games. Subtle.

In the interests of fairness, it's worth pointing out that most people who've gone hands-on with the PlayStation Move software in San Francisco this week seem quietly impressed. The games sound slick and well-conceived, even at this relatively early stage, the hardware itself is pleasant to use and the motion controls themselves are responsive, accurate and lag-free - just as you'd expect, given the mature technology they employ.

None of this, however, answers the key question which the industry has been asking itself since PlayStation Move (and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Natal) was announced - who, exactly, is going to buy this?

The cards Sony has placed on the table this week suggest one answer to that question. It sees PlayStation Move as being an upgrade path for Wii owners - an invitation to the tens of millions of consumers who have invested in Nintendo's platform to swim upstream to the more powerful, HD-enabled system. Yet even Sony's most optimistic view of the market will be tempered by a dose of realism here.

How likely, exactly, is it that a consumer who has already bought a Wii for its motion controlled games is going to invest in another, more expensive console just because it has a similar motion controller to the one they bought a Wii for in the first place? Some consumers probably will, especially given the right software line-up (software, as ever, is absolutely key to the success of both peripherals), but it's unlikely to be a Road to Damascus conversion for a significant proportion of the Wii's installed base.

What's more likely - and what Sony are probably quietly hoping to achieve a significant proportion of the Move's success through - is that the technology will expand the appeal of the PS3 in the family setting. The Wii has garnered a unique degree of "living room cred" - it's the console that the whole family can engage with, which ensures that it's not banished to a bedroom or study, but has pride of place under the TV in the living room. Move could, in theory, broaden the appeal of the PS3 to encompass not only core gamers, but also the downstream and family Wii audiences - a process already begun by products like Singstar, but somewhat stalled by the Wii's runaway success in this market.

The ideal scenario is this - that PlayStation Move ensures that households which already have a PS3 are encouraged either not to buy a Wii, or to stop buying kids' and social games for their Wii, and to spend that money on PS Move games instead, thus boosting Sony's revenue and its share of the software market. Meanwhile, the success of Move would add another significant string to the console's bow, making it into an easier sell to families. It's a logical move for a console whose key marketing pitch has been that it "does everything" - Sony will hope that in cases where "it's a Blu-Ray player, a movie rentals box, a hardcore games console and a karaoke machine" didn't work out, "it's got Wii-style user-friendly games too" will tip the balance.

And what of the hardcore gamer? Here, the strategy falters, for both Move and Natal. Ideally, it would be nice to get hardcore gamers to invest in the hardware and get publishers to support it in their software, and both Sony and Microsoft make noises in that direction regularly - but both firms know that while there are tons of upstream gamers who enjoy and engage with motion controls, the self-identifying "hardcore" have a strong resistance to the concept, and are most likely to remain welded to their joypads.

How that will pan out over the coming years is impossible to guess. It could be that great software finally brings that part of the market (which is lucrative, but not as lucrative as it is outspoken) over to the motion control camp. Equally, it could be that with the exception of some noble attempts, Natal and Move end up being firmly the preserve of family, social and kids games.

For now, at least, Sony and Microsoft will court the hardcore gamer. Their enthusiasm and support will be very helpful in the early months of both products' lifespans, after all. But in the long run, if the hardcore continue to play PS3 and 360 games on joypads, Sony and Microsoft will be happy enough. The people they want to convince with Move and Natal aren't the existing gamers sitting on the couch playing Modern Warfare 2 - they're the other family members in the household, for whom the PS3 or 360 is presently a closed door, and the Wii a much friendlier option.

The result is that how we measure the success of each peripheral will have to be carefully considered. Neither is hugely likely to sell console hardware in large volumes; while adding a family-friendly aspect to the machines will help sales in some respects, it's hard to see motion controls as a killer application for driving purchase in a market where the Wii already has such a large installed base. Rather, their success will be in driving software sales and broadening the userbase. If Move and Natal are working, look for an uptick not in console sales, but in tie ratio - and if they're not working, of course, listen for the sounds of laughter from Nintendo's headquarters in Kyoto.

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Latest comments (9)

Leif Penzendorfer Studying MA Media Studies, Concordia University7 years ago
Alright, here's the problem with your analysis: neither of these companies has done ANY work on innovating the gaming world in their entire history. Don't give me "Sony brought disc technology to the table" - oooh, ahhh... that's a medium not something that gamers themselves profit from. It's Nintendo the whole way - the NES created a video game industry from the crash of Atari with better graphics, a better controller, and more disciplined game design. The SNES brought another controller revolution (shoulder buttons and the birth of the ever-expanding button scheme) and the move to add motion to backgrounds (the famous Mode 7). The N64 was the first system to create 3D modelling and the analog control stick (oh, nobody copied those, right?) It is with the GameCube that Nintendo suffered it's first real defeat and rightly so - it brought nothing to the table. Improved graphics? So - XBOX was better. Disc media? So - both competitors already had it. An improved controller layout? Nice, but so what - Sony's and MS's were fine. The Wii recreated how we interact with the system, allowing for a closer relation with what happens onscreen. The Sony Move is a blatant copy - as were all of their earlier controllers. The same goes for MS. The Natal and the Sony Eye, however are/were attempts to create a new method for interaction. We'll see how they go... but the Eye was a failure (unfortunate) and that does not bode overly well for MS's iteration, although there are sufficient differences... I'm looking forward to it!
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Victor Perez CEO, Games GI7 years ago
I believe the main critic I can do to this article is that still talking about videogames like a unique product, And I think it is not…. Btw, I have missed one of the best definitions of Wii I have heard:

[link url=

So what Sony and MS want to do, to include “toys” in their product catalog? And that has public inside their platform buyer? Their products are aligned with the price scale when we talk about toys?

When you do TV, you have TV series, Documental, Animation, News, Talk Shows… very different each one and obviously you do not mix them; same in videogames. Imaging CNN changing their programs including more Big Brothers and so on…

I donot say it is impossible but something to see in detail…..
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I actually enjoyed the article, thanks. My take is to honestly laugh at both MS and Sony, who have been spouting off how much a fad the Wii is for years. Welcome to the fad, you two. Took you long enough to figure things out and even longer still for you to actually try to bring your Wii imitations to market.

Neither competitor has anything close to the family-oriented lineup of titles Nintendo boasts. So, you're not going to get many Wii families crossing over. And this article correctly points out that most hardcore gamers don't want motion control. I love playing the Wii with my niece's kids and at the occasional party, but there is no way on this earth I will ever play with a motion controller for hours like I do with a standard game controller.

Cost is and always will be one of the main driving factors in mass market hardware sales, and Nintendo's always understood that fact. While hardcore gamers might buy their own systems, systems for kids and the family are bought by moms. Until recent price drops, MS and Sony were so far off a realistic mom's budget as to be laughable. Now, they're closer to the Wii price, but will still both be siginificanly more expensive to equip a family of four with motion controllers than similar Wii setup costs.

I don't hope for either Natal or Move to fail really. As a developer, I'm always happy to have more platforms for my art. I just don't think either new motion controller is going to be anything but what the manufactures scream at Nintendo; a FAD! Nintendo has got to be chuckling, as the most sincere form of flattery is imitation.
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Show all comments (9)
Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago
This sounds like a mid-age identity crisis, they sell a product priced and targeted towards hardcore gamers, and they do everything they could do do get into a different market segment, which is hardly interested in their platform, if not for anything else, the price.
But there is still a notable lack of AAA games for those hardcore gamers waiting to spend their hard earned cash...
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Mark Vanek7 years ago
@ Victor Perez

Many successful european TV channels have Cartoons, News, Documentaries, Movies, Series aso. on one channel.
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Victor Perez CEO, Games GI7 years ago
Absolutely Mark, but if you try to convert a generalist chain in a sport channel or an adventure thematic channel in a cartoon channel you are just changing your public. What I wanted to say is TV people is not doing just TV, they do TV for a public, same for videogames, it is not to do videogames, is to do it for a public.
Regarding the platform: Even if we talk about the hardware, no way to confuse Wii hardware with MS or Sony’s one (just only for price that is the key for public). BTW a do not care about this as I believe PC is the true platform ;)
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Simeon Paskell Free Lance Writer 7 years ago
re '...while Nintendo, the prize student, turned up five minutes early and has been sitting up at the front earning gold stars all along.'

Is this true though? The Wii is certainly the standard bearer for motion control, and MS and Sony are undeniably extremely late to the party, but has the Wii really been 'earning gold stars all along'? It seems to me that there are many gamers out there that think the Wii has failed to deliver on the promises made by Nintendo's early PR (remember the Red Steel advert with the chap ducking and diving around his living room?) - and that the Wiimote (on it's own) simply doesn't deliver the type of accurate and immersive motion control that Nintendo promised.

I would also argue that even with WMP attached, this is still the case; WMP merely amplifies what the Wiimote can do, it does not offer the 1 to 1 control that Nintendo, yet again, promised. Let me put it this way: Will the Wii 2 (whenever it arrives either 1) settle for just having WMP? Or 2) will Nintendo be working on more accurate tech? In the face of Move, is option 1) even a choice open to Nintendo? I would suggest not.

If Move genuinely delivers the degree of accuracy that Sony promise (and, from reading the many hands-on articles, it would appear that it does), then Sony's late arrival onto the motion control scene seems less easily dismissed as being simply a 'Me too!' gesture.

The same could be said of Natal; a piece of tech that again follows Nintendo's lead, but has the potential to offer something different and (more importantly) something more than the Wiimote.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Simeon, Wii Motion Plus does 1:1 just fine. Where have you heard otherwise?
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Tony Johns7 years ago
It is not the motion controllers that count, but the games for them that will sell both the motion control and the consoles they have.

Wii Sports sold the Wiimote, Wii Sports Resort sold the Wii Motion Plus.

There will be other games that will see the addons and the motion controllers, but it will all be useless if the games are not fun to play or to sell well at the commercial market.
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