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Culture » Video Games

Nintendo's Competition

Yes, Wii Can: Can Nintendo fight off the new generation of motion-sensing systems?


When you hear the cliché about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it’s rarely being tossed about by the person getting ripped off— especially when the ripper is trying to take the copied item or idea and beat the rippee to death with it.

For example, I doubt that the Nintendo Co. was feeling very flattered last month after market analysts recommended that the company further drop the price of its Wii from $199 to $150. The reason? This fall, both Microsoft and Sony will be hoping to severely cut into the Wii’s business by offering their own motion-sensing peripherals to compete with the groundbreaking Wiimote.

At last year’s E-3 conference, both Sony and Microsoft unveiled motion controllers for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively. And while they’re hoping to compete with the Wii, the devices coming out later this year range from very similar to pretty innovative. PlayStation 3’s motion controller is a funny-looking wand with a light-up red ball on the end that combines an apparatus similar to the Wiimote and a motion-sensing camera. Although the product was introduced last year, its big demonstration is expected this month at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

While PlayStation 3 still plans on having a remote or wand, gamers on Xbox 360 won’t need anything but their bodies. It’s unclear what the new system will be called or how much it will cost—although early indications are it will be pricey—but the development code name for it, for some unknown reason, is Project Natal.

Natal consists of a system of cameras and microphones that copy your movements and transfer them to the screen. For example, if you’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to punch someone in the throat, then you punch them in the throat— no remote, no button combinations, just working off of your actions. This is the one that Nintendo needs to worry about.

While it’s disturbing that PlayStation’s unit—rumored to be called Arc—looks like an alien’s anal probe, it’s not as big a factor as the simple “wow” feeling you’re going to get playing a completely hands-free game. Plus, thanks to the year head start that Xbox 360 got over PlayStation 3, more people own the former than the latter. If the hardware and game titles can live up to at least half of my expectations, it could take a serious run at making the Wii obsolete. The 360 is a trusted, quality system beloved by hard-core console gamers. If they can get a product that also caters to the casual gamer—the Wii Fit, Rock Band crowd—they’ll have a potential juggernaut on their hands.

So, what does all of this mean to Nintendo—and, most importantly, to you? Well, it turns out your interests are intertwined. If you don’t have a Wii, you may be able to pick one up for around $150 in the near future. “We believe Nintendo needs to cut the price of their console from $200 to $150 immediately, as they should establish as meaningful of an installed base as possible before the Natal and Arc are introduced,” industry analyst Mike Hickey wrote in a recent newsletter. “We believe they also need to generate strong hardware sales momentum into their competitors’ release or face the raconian consumer perception of the Wii having a dramatically reduced entertainment value proposition over a faded technology innovation; Rock Band, anyone?”

The boon for Wii lovers, though, is that maybe the many rumors we’ve been hearing about the design of a Wii 2—complete with HD graphics and a better gaming experience—may come to fruition in the near future. It’s only logical that if Sony and Microsoft are trying to attract the casual gamer who loves Wii, then Nintendo would be readying a product to take on the big boys at their own game. I honestly believe a Wii with an eye toward hard-core gamers will be much more successful than the alternatives hitting the market.