Not to be outdone by rival Nintendo, which announced this week that it will be offering Wii console owners Netflix streaming discs and is launching its DSi XL portable gaming system on Sunday, Microsoft sent out a “save the date” announcement to the press in advance of its Project Natal unveiling at the E3 video game trade show in June. Project Natal is the code name for a “controller-free gaming and entertainment experience” for the Xbox 360 video game platform, which enables users to interact with the console through a user interface using gestures, spoken commands or presented objects and images.
The Microsoft announcement concerned two events, one for Project Natal on June 13 as well as a press conference the following day that will focus more broadly on Xbox 360 hardware and software. Announced at last year’s E3 convention, Project Natal is scheduled to hit stores by the 2010 holiday season, though no price point has yet been set. “As of now, we’ve only announced that Project Natal will be available holiday 2010, but don’t have specific dates at this time,” a Microsoft representative told PC Magazine via e-mail.
While Microsoft is pitching the Natal “experience” as the future of fun, the company is also playing catch-up with Nintendo; the motion-sensitive Wii has been hugely influential not just in how gamers play, but the very definition of who a potential gamer is. The Wii’s cross-generational and wide demographic appeal is likely to be a factor behind Microsoft’s decision.
The third major player in the console wars, Sony, is also moving forward with a motion-sensitive component of its PlayStation 3 console. The Move is an upcoming motion-sensing game controller platform formerly called the PlayStation Motion Controller, which acts like a cross between Nintendo’s Wiimote and Sony’s PlayStation Eye Webcam. First announced last June, the Move is scheduled to hit stores in the latter half of 2010. Sony also said it plans to provide several different bundle options for PlayStation Move hardware, including a starter kit with a PlayStation Eye, a Move motion controller, and a motion control-enabled game, priced under $100. Confirmed pricing has not yet been revealed.
It is too early to say whether or not these technologies will provide a boost to the video game industry, which are being presented by Microsoft and Sony as major platform releases as opposed to accessory launches. However, with video game sales continuing to fall (February sales were down 15 percent compared with the same period last year), vendors are striving to give sales a boost. Nintendo currently leads the pack in hardware sales, as its Wii console continues to find an audience. Nintendo’s portable DS led overall hardware sales with 613,000 units sold, while the Wii placed second to the Xbox 360 for February console sales.
Earlier this month, rumors (and screenshots) surfaced that Microsoft was also planning to release USB storage support for the Xbox 360, citing the “increased market penetration of high-capacity, high throughput USB mass storage devices.” Xbox owners will reportedly have two options on how the USB device is used by the console, with “Configure now” and “Customize” settings that allow a user to choose between occupying the entire storage capacity of the device or limiting the usable storage space to 16GB, respectively.