Source: British industry site MCV.
What we heard: When it unveiled Project Natal at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, Microsoft did not announce a release window for the new camera-based, controller-less motion-sensing technology. However, with Sony saying it will launch its rival LED-controller-based system next spring, it was widely assumed that Microsoft would also be targeting a 2010 release.
Today, MCV announced with typical self-promotional enthusiasm that it has learned details about Project Natal's launch. It cited unnamed sources who attended a behind-closed-doors meeting with Microsoft, which is apparently making the rounds at British developers and publishers to lay out its plans.
Unsurprisingly, those plans call for Natal to go on sale during November, the month when Microsoft traditionally launches new initiatives like the upcoming Twitter-ific, Facebook-friendly, and Last.fm-loving Xbox Live fall update. Microsoft also plans a sizable initial shipment of 5 million units, about one Natal for every seven of the nearly 34 million Xbox 360s that have been sold to date.
One thing that is surprising about Microsoft's reported plans is Project Natal's price. While early analyst guesses were in the $100-$150 price range, MCV's sources claim that Microsoft is pushing to make the add-on just £50 (approx. $83). The company is allegedly "trying to get as close as possible to [an] 'impulse buy'" price point for the add-on, despite it packing such complex features as voice recognition, facial recognition, and three-dimensional real-time motion sensing.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Given Microsoft's history, the November window seems likely. The confident-but-cautious initial shipment number also appears to be in the ball park.
That said, the "impulse buy" price point seems questionable. Microsoft is infamous for its inflated accessory prices, which it just reinforced by locking out all third-party 360 memory units. Would a company that charges $150 for a 120GB hard drive, $100 for a wireless network adapter, and $40 for a 512MB memory unit sell something as advanced as Natal for under $100?
Then again, Microsoft has shown no qualms in the past about taking deep losses to introduce new hardware. In its rush to bring the 360 to market, the company accepted a hardware failure rate that ended up costing it over $1 billion in warranty extensions and widespread criticism from consumers.
Also, if Natal is priced too high, third-party developers may be reluctant to get on board. "I think they said they were going to ship Natal with every Xbox when they actually launch the thing, so everybody will have one," declared Epic Games vice president Mark Rein last month. "And then they are going to sell it to everybody who doesn't have one. Or try."