Control Freak

Before the launch of the Wii, Nintendo’s new console was codenamed the Nintendo Revolution. And an apt name it was, because the Wii has sparked a revolution in console gaming by single-handedly creating a demographic of gamers that didn’t exist before – the casual gamer. While Sony and Microsoft, who dominated the previous console generation, sat snugly behind their HD graphics and hardcore billing, the Wii came out of nowhere, dominating console sales and captivating consumers with a cheaper and comparatively simpler piece of hardware, and an innovative new control mechanism. Motion-controlled gaming took the world by storm.

Three years later, the Wii is still comfortably outselling the more “hardcore” Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and Wii games still top the software charts. Somewhere along the way, Microsoft and Sony decided that they too wanted a slice of the enormous casual gaming pie. So this year will see the Xbox 360 and PS3 being bolstered with their very own motion control peripherals – Natal and PlayStation Move respectively. With this, they attempt to replicate Nintendo’s success with the casual audience, while still continuing their two-way battle for the hardcore segment, which is dwindling in comparison. Not to be left behind, PC gaming too will get a taste of motion-controlled gaming soon enough. High-end gaming peripherals manufacturer Razer has collaborated with Sixense and is working closely with game developer Valve to bring motion controls to PC gamers. HP has also introduced the Swing motion controller, which will be bundled with all HP Pavilion desktop PCs.

So while it appears that motion-controlled gaming is here to stay, each of the above manufacturers has their own philosophy towards motion controls, and therefore, each employs a distinctly different motion control technology. Regardless of how accurate or lag-free this technology is, motion controllers are no good without compelling and immersive games. We’ve seen that with the success of Nintendo’s quality first-party Wii titles, and the failures of a lot of the third-party Wii shovelware. So releasing their respective motion technologies will only be the beginning for Microsoft and Sony. After that, they’ll have to give us reasons to buy that technology, and there’s no better reason than a library of good games.

At least for now, motion controls and casual gaming go hand-in-hand. So even with motion controlled gaming coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3, don’t expect the next Halo or Gran Turismo to completely ditch the traditional controller and adopt motion controls. Some games are still best played the old fashioned way. So while you will see the occasional hardcore game sprinkled with motion control elements, Natal and the PlayStation Move are very much targeted at the casual gamer. So expect the games that make extensive use of these technologies to be primarily targeted towards that audience.

Much like Avatar has led a 3D revolution in film, the popularity of motion controlled gaming following the launch of the Wii has snowballed into something far bigger. Besides Nintendo’s competitors in the console space, we now have cell phone makers stuffing accelerometers into their phones, and PC hardware manufacturers bundling their own motion controllers with their products. A lot of this is simply the bandwagon effect, but that just further proves how big an impact motion controlled gaming has had. It is the latest evolution of gaming, and like it or not, it’s here to stay.

Published Date: May 24, 2010 11:33 am | Updated Date: May 24, 2010 11:33 am