Wednesday, June 03, 2009
E3 2009: Microsoft challenging Nintendo, Sony finished
So, the three press briefings have come and gone. What remains? Quite obviously, Microsoft had the biggest surprise in store for us. Project Natal is certainly ambitious and may serve to position the Xbox360 quite differently in terms of target demographic. Nintendo, while briefly showing that odd finger sensor had almost no surprises when it comes to hardware. Team Ninja working on a new Metroid game was the big news of the briefing and it is hard to exaggerate the ramifications of this collaboration, given Nintendo’s poor track record with third party developers in the past.
Immediately, arguments ensued over whether Xbox360’s Natal or Wii’s Motion Plus will be the more accurate system. But that appears to be an academic debate. The big question in my mind is: where does that leave Sony? The truly gargantuan sales figures of a ´Brain Age´ and a ´Wii Fit´ clearly show where the gaming mainstream has shifted to (or rather, where the new mainstream has been discovered). This is precisely where Nintendo is positioned and it clearly is where Microsoft would like to be with Natal. Sony, however, will have nothing to offer this new mainstream. If they really are working on a Wiimote-like controller themselves, they will show it no earlier than E3 2010 and it will launch no earlier than 2011. This will be too late for this generation because, in my mind, by 2011, Microsoft and Nintendo will be talking about their successor consoles. And with the next generation of consoles, no one will care about a PS3 peripheral.
It seems quite obvious that the PlayStation3 will be falling behind even further, after the E3 announcements. While mainstream gaming has shifted (and opened up to millions new gamers in the process), Sony has remained where the mainstream used to be. Of course, ´God of War III´ will be a spectacular game. But, in terms of sales figures, it will be a niche product and fail to move substantial amounts of hardware. Especially given that Sony boss Stringer will not allow a price cut until Christmas at the earliest. I am absolutely sure: Sony will remain in third place for this generation and I am even less optimistic about Sony’s progress in the next console cycle.
EDIT I stand corrected. Sony did show motion controls other than the Sixaxis. I was unable to watch the Sony conference and really had not seen the motion control section in Joystiq’s live transcription. Sorry. Thanks to Some Guy for pointing out my mistake.
It is interesting to note that I wrote about the patent most likely implicated by this technology back in 2005 and I even tried out a similar prototype at the 2001 ECTS, London’s former videogame expo. There, a webcam connected to the PlayStation2 was tuned to certain bright colours and had the dimensions of various tools and weapons stored in memory. Holding a brightly coloured plastic sword or mace, the console could estimate a 3D position based on the object’s dimensions by comparing them to the actual view in perspective. This way, the same weapon was replicated in the game and moved almost in real-time to my movements. Considering this was fake 3D – since the console only estimated a spatial position based on the distorted perspective of a 2D image – it worked pretty well. It seems to me that the demo shown at the Sony conference was almost the same technology and will work the same way.
However, even if the technology shown will be available next year and works well, it is still no comparison to Nintendo’s and Microsoft’s real 3D motion controls. The only advantage is that Sony’s approach should work with a standard webcam, which will make it the cheapest of the three. But the experience may be less immersive, too. So I stand by my initial judgement: Microsoft may be successfully moving on what now is Nintendo’s turf – the new mainstream – but Sony will most likely fail to catch up.