Last summer, I wrote a piece about the future of the console wars. At the time, I was particularly caustic in my evaluation of the prospects for Playstation's wand -- now dubbed the Move -- and Microsoft's Project Natal (whose official brand name has not yet been revealed). This is what I said then:
"I'm more than a little disappointed that Sony has chosen to emulate the Wii. And I'm even more aghast at Microsoft's attempt to do the same, since they seemed to comprehend the strategy of focusing on the core gaming audience much better than their rivals. In the end, I believe both the PS3's wand and the 360's Natal will end up being stillborn (couldn't resist the pun!).
The reasons for this are many and varied. First and foremost is the fundamental issue that plagues Nintendo. You're trying to sell game consoles to non-gamers, and even if you realize short-term gains, it's a questionable strategy in the long run. Secondly, and more importantly, they're doing it way too late — and with way too much baggage. If you ever make a 360 or PS3 game that necessitates motion controls, you alienate a huge percentage of your base that owns the console but not the additional accessory. So, inevitably, you can only incorporate these controls as an option and hence cannot make them play a central role in the game's design. In other words, you can never make the more than a gimmick.
Do you think game developers are really thrilled by the Natal? The Epic guys have already dismissed its inclusion in the 360's best new IP, Gears of War. Bioware has been enthusiastic about it in interviews, but if your read into their statements, they're not including it in their known upcoming titles and believe "to really make use of it you'd want to design a game from the ground up with Natal in mind."
But the incentive structure isn't set up to encourage Natal-only development. If any developer came up with a brilliant design for motion-sensing, why would they bring it to the 360? The majority of the install base wouldn't be able to play it. Instead, the logical course of action would be to rework that concept and bring it to the Wii, whose install base is larger and more excited about motion-sensing anyways. Because of this, it makes virtually no business sense to sink significant resources into Natal games. This reasoning applies equally well to the PS3's new motion controls as well."
After seeing videos of the underwhelming Playstation Move demonstration at the 2010 Game Developers' Conference, I have no reason to change my original conclusions. There seems to be very minimal innovation to differentiate the Playstation's new controller from the existing technology on the Wii. Of course, perhaps this is precisely the idea behind the Move -- they want to court Wii-to-Playstation ports that have proven hugely popular. EA is already doing this to some extent with their upcoming motion-controlled games.
The games shown during the presentation looked extremely bland, which is deeply disappointing. Motion Fighters looks like a knockoff of Fight Night, and it apparently doesn't control very well according to IGN.
It astonishes me that Sony either could not or would not develop a killer app for this new peripheral. If you're trying to convince people to drop around $100 on this new tech, on top of a $299 console, then you need to show them either an established AAA franchise -- Killzone 3, anyone? -- or an entirely new, AAA-quality IP that makes full ues of the Move. Instead, we get games whose graphics look worse than most PSN and Xbox Live Arcade titles, with extremely simplistic gameplay and little discernable narrative.
Fixing the Situation
The stakes for Sony's E3 2010 presentation have just grown distinctly higher. Its core gaming audience wants to see gameplay from some of the console's mysterious but highly anticipated titles -- The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and Agent, to name a few. They want announcements for sequels like Killzone 3, Uncharted 3, inFamous 2, and Resistance 3. And now they're going to be asking an additional question: why in God's name should we sink $100 into the Move instead of picking up two of those AAA titles this holiday season?
The solution isn't spin (and it certainly isn't that ping-pong game they showed off this week). The only thing that can really redeem this peripheral at this point is a major, bombshell announcement. Quite frankly, the only way I'm going to buy the Move is if Sony announces at E3 that they are partnering with Bungie Studios on an original IP that will be built from the ground-up for the new controller. It's really going to take something that big. And, unfortunately for Sony, I think that's a highly unlikely proposition.