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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    How Microsoft will drop the ball on Project Natal

    In video games, merit can be found in motion control. At the beginning of this home console generation, Microsoft and Sony opted to win the sales race with high-definition powerhouses while Nintendo gambled with its innovative motion-controlled system.

    Four and a half years later, the numbers don’t lie: Independent companies like the NPD Group and Famitsu report the Wii to have sold more than the Xbox 360 and the PS3, respectively.

    The drastic disparity in numbers left Microsoft and Sony scrambling to make up the difference in any way they could. We saw Sony push Blu-ray, numerous price drops on both consoles and gigantic advertising campaigns for all console-exclusive games. Finally, on June 1, 2009 at the Electronic Entertainement Expo, Microsoft revealed something bold. In front of an audience of hundreds of video game journalists, the company demonstrated playing games without … anything. No controller was used to drive the cars in “”Burnout Paradise.””

    No buttons were pressed when paint was thrown around a room in “”Paint Party.”” The person involved is the controller.

    Project Natal had arrived.

    Over the last year, we have witnessed people everywhere claiming Project Natal as the true herald of interactive media. Director Steven Spielberg even went so far as to claim that Project Natal would carry with it a range of change, the ripples of which will reach far beyond video games.””

    The only thing Project Natal will carry with it is failure.

    Motion control has obvious potential, and the aforementioned Nintendo Wii’s sales figures do nothing to dissuade that opinion. But for a video game format to succeed, it must have a resonating feature — or 10 — that validates the purchase. It’s the same reason Sony putting Blu-ray into the Playstation 3 was such a risk and didn’t succeed until recently; the PS3 didn’t have the gaming library to back up the technology.

    Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the home-console party. The company showed excellent foresight in releasing the Xbox 360 before the other two consoles in 2005, and by all accounts, they have favorably adapted to the competitive climate of the industry. It leads its main competitor, Sony, in domestic sales with most estimates concluding the Xbox 360 has outsold the PS3 two-to-one. It has historically taken only small and calculated risks, and this has paid off immensely.

    That all changes with Project Natal. This year, Microsoft decided to take the role of innovator from Nintendo, and we will all be here to witness the fallout. For all its good business moves and smart practices, Microsoft prematurely acts as though it owns the industry. Though the company has demonstrated Project Natal with favorable results and is placing the appropriate advertising support behind it, Microsoft will ultimately fail to deliver on changing the gaming industry.

    It’s a valiant idea, but it will fail for the same reason the Wii currently fails at delivering quality software: Microsoft is treating the industry as a business and forgetting about the consumers. We, the gamers, are a particularly stubborn group who pride ourselves on buying only quality games. Microsoft, for all its good moves thus far, refuses to take the right approach with this market.

    This is evidenced by the company inviting media members to test Project Natal instead of the mass gaming audience. It’s shown through developer support for the platform, not consumer survey results. Microsoft hasn’t gobbled up popular developers and their related gaming franchises, it hasn’t published any large-scale customer feedback and it hasn’t asked its online subscribers how they feel about Project Natal. Everywhere you look, Microsoft caters to anyone but you.

    While Sony develops its “”Move”” motion controller and promotes it through a commercial campaign on commonly watched channels, Microsoft staged private press conferences about Project Natal and attempted to woo positive feedback from those who attended. Isn’t there a discrepancy here?

    I would advise you to wait before purchasing your very own Project Natal motion-sensing camera later this year. Wait for the support to come. Microsoft, as a company, should know better than to associate positive critical acclaim with resounding success. There are dozens of games released every year to great review scores that get ignored for the more-popular and user-friendly titles. If you buy Project Natal at launch, you have to wait for the support to come. Advertising to media and not consumers usually means low sales numbers. Low sales numbers mean fewer quality titles. Fewer quality titles mean less developer support, which leads to even fewer quality titles. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Until Microsoft recognizes that consumers should be goal number one don’t buy Project Natal. The games will come once the change in attitude exists. Until then, hold on to your hard-earned dollars.

    — Joe Dusbabek is a sophomore majoring in French. He can be

    reached at arts@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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