For the past four years, Nintendo has the market to itself when it comes to motion control gaming. That’s finally coming to an end – and it has some people wondering about how the company will fare moving forward.
In mid-September, Sony launched PlayStation Move, a motion sensor that mimics – and, in some ways, improves upon - the Wii remote. Come November, Microsoft will join the fight with Kinect, a camera-based system that eliminates the need for controllers altogether.
Both companies are counting on the new peripherals to extend the life of the PS3 and Xbox 360 – and are planning full-scale marketing assaults as the holidays draw near. Expect those ads to tout the convenience of motion control blended with the beauty of high definition graphics and a robust multiplayer environment.
The Wii might seem to pale in comparison. While it might have been the innovator in the space, Nintendo’s system is graphically far behind the others – and the company has never shown a strong interest in online gaming. Players (especially long-time fans) have criticized the company on both points. Repeatedly.
But while the Wii might not have the horsepower or online presence of the Xbox 360 or PS3, it’s far from obsolete. Nintendo still has several things working in its favor in this fight – and it could have a few tricks up its sleeve as well.
The biggest advantage? Price.
Kinect will cost $150, which is $50 more than most publishers were hoping. Move’s pricing is more complex, since it has multiple parts, but for people to get the complete set, they’ll have to spend $130.
That’s just for the controllers. Packs that include the console will run $300 for the Xbox/Kinect bundle and $400 for the PS3/Move bundle. Compare that to just $199 for the Wii. If Microsoft and Sony are serious about trying to woo the casual audience, they’re going to have to lower prices - and fast.
That’s assuming they can convince casual players that they have something drastically different to offer. The first batch of games for the Move and Kinect could easily pass for a “Wii greatest hits” collection – with exercise, brain training and pet-simulation games leading the charge. The thinking, apparently, was to coax players over with something familiar – but given the still shaky state of the economy, that may not be enough to lure Wii fans.
Microsoft and Sony are also extremely dependent on the core gamer and will have to walk a balancing act. Kinect and “Halo” don’t seem like a natural fit – and the Move elements of “SOCOM 4” that Sony has shown so far haven’t exactly made players eager to try them out.
Although Wii sales haven’t been as brisk this year as they have historically, the system still has a tremendous base of users. Worldwide, over 73 million Wiis have been sold. In the U.S. alone, 30 million are in homes. And the owners of those machines have had a lot of time to get used to them and learn what sorts of games they like. So has Nintendo.
Even if Move and Kinect begin to significantly chip away at the Wii’s lead, there’s plenty of room for Nintendo to lower the system’s price – and at least one analyst thinks Nintendo could have more aggressive plans to fight back.
“I expect a console refresh as early as the last part of next year,” says Colin Sebastian of Lazard Capital Markets. ”I think a high definition ‘Wii Plus’ – something with a much bigger and better online platform – would be fairly significant. It would put them, from a platform perspective, on a more level playing field.”