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E3: Sony's Koller Talks Motion Control Rivalry, Core Versus Casual
E3: Sony's Koller Talks Motion Control Rivalry, Core Versus Casual Exclusive
June 4, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

When assessing the head to head between Microsoft and Sony's E3 briefings this year, there may be something of a role reversal visible.

Whereas Sony once stressed the PlayStation 3's potential as a multimedia device, this year it gave a very software-focused, core-targeted presentation, while it was Microsoft talking more about the "future of home entertainment" than it has in years past.

Even some analysts seemed to think that Sony's gesture recognition scheme debut was more 'gamer-oriented,' while director Stephen Spielberg's comments about accessibility and broader audiences led attendees and industry-watchers to peg Microsoft's Project Natal as having more relevant implications for wider or more casual audiences.

But Sony director of hardware marketing John Koller says that although capturing the core audience is certainly a goal, there was no deliberate attempt to refocus on prioritizing that market, and that Sony, too, remains interested in being "expansionary."

"Most of the games you saw... there are certainly others we didn't get into, some things the Xbox 360 got into -- for example, Rock Band: Beatles is coming to PS3 as well," Koller tells Gamasutra. "We didn't want to wave the defensive flag for every single game."

When it comes to those motion control solutions, Koller says Sony is "intimately familiar" with Microsoft's approach and how its own differs.

"Microsoft's is impressive because it does a full-body scan," he says. But he claims Project Natal has "depth issues on the Z axis" that Sony's PlayStation Eye-tracked solution avoids. "The PlayStation Eye is more accurate and more precise," he adds.

Taking a wider-lens view of both solutions, the largest question becomes whether or not it is preferable for the player to have an object in hand. At its briefing, Microsoft said controllers and their buttons were the last barrier between video games and "everyone else."

Sony counters that argument with the assertion that there are some gameplay experiences that require an object in hand or a button to push. "It's not necessary for every genre," says Koller. "But without it, you can't play every genre."

"Microsoft's [solution] is going to have issues with shooting games, for example," he suggests. "We want to be as diverse as we can; the controller that we're looking at will be open as possible."

With both technology concepts in such early stages, there are few definitive conclusions to draw about the merits of one approach versus the other. Analysts suggest the concepts are different enough that, alongside a lengthening lifecycle, it might drive opportunities for more individualized audiences for each console, as it could become more relevant for users to own both.

The first to market will also be a factor. "It's not going to be this calendar year," says Koller of Sony's plans. He suggests the company is currently working on having a strong lineup of software to support the peripheral at launch.

"Developers are looking at it now," he says. "The halfway answer is that there are a number of first-party and third-party games that will launch, and the idea is to have both franchise-type games [that are] very familiar, and to have new IP."

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Peter Dwyer
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There are plenty of games out there that require this or that accessory to play them. The new motion plus games are a very recent and good example.

It's a simple matter to sell two copies of a game where one is bundled with the required accessory (for those who have yet to buy it) and one is cheaper but, not bundled. This is how light gun games have always been sold. The fact that Natal replaces the existing 360 camera also means that you could sell Natal instead of the camera without any issues. On Sony's side, their playstation eye is going to be used for their new controller and so they will need to bundle a package that contains the camera and one or two controllers, along with a game but, they will also need to do an additional package which contains only the controllers for people who have the camera, making three combinations.

No-one is saying this stuff is mandatory as obviously you will only need it for games that take advantage of the new technology. If the tech. takes off, then that may be a lot more games than you think.

Christopher Plummer
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Just because a console lasts 10 years doesn't mean that another one won't come before that. I'm sure both of these companies are going to test the waters on the current-gen with sub par experiences and depending on the reactions, they'll run with it.

My vision of the next hardware iterations after this E3:

The Natal ends up evolving into the rumored XBOX 720 when all is said and done (with the camera imbedded in the console itself) and the same thing with an EyeToy like device embedded in the PS4. Instead of a peripheral sitting in front of or above your TV, you'll have the hardware that contains all you need. With Digital Distribution, they'll be able to slim them down and keep persistent storage small and remove the need for disc trays.

At first, people will balk at the idea of no discs, but then they'll get down with it the way PC players have. We still won't be ready to remove controllers entirely, because the AI and interfaces won't be good enough to keep things as convenient and trouble free (plus if your controller breaks you can buy a new one, if your mic goes or your camera goes you've got to take it to the shop).

The camera functionality and voice recognition capabilities will still be side-offerings. After failing to replicate the "Wii" experience to the masses on the HD consoles both companies will sell this new imbedded tech to their core consumers as video-conferencing, picture-in-picture for games/online experiences, the removal of the "Avatar" and the introduction of your real self online.

steve roger
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It's always going to be about the games. That's why I agree that these motion control accessorys need to be bundled with a game. Nintendo got it right with their marketing strategy where they sold the Wii with the full featured control system bundled with a relevant game. Wii sports was the first thing you played after setting up your console and detection bar. It all came together in seconds.

Here Sony and Microsoft are touting the motion controllers and detection instruments separate from the console and the potential game. This is a big disadvantage.

As a consumer I really don't care about motion controller technology all by itself. It is just an interesting gimmick. Motion control games are a genre of their own and I need a game to define the relevancy to my gaming interests.

I can't tell you a game off the type of my head that screams for me to use the motion controls other than Wii Sports, Wii play is a distant second. Raving Rabbits is there too. But there is nothing in my mind to connect motion control with Sony or Microsoft.

They are so late to this dinner party.

Yes, it is neat that Microsoft has full body 3d motion detection technology that they are ready to sell me. Sure, it is fascinating that Sony believes that motion detection requires me to hold a controller in my hand in order to have fun.

But what game woud I wave my hands about for with or without a controller in my hand?

steve roger
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Christopher has it right too. This motion technology has to be implemented in a new console to make it relevant. Further, I agree dispensing with discs in nessary too. But Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo in order to make this work need to stop cutting corners on the size of hard drives that come with the basic system. The hard drives they offer have a history of skimpy and tiny.

Stop making me buy portable memory of all shapes and sizes. Give me a big drive so I can forget about having to delete and re-download. Everytime I buy something for my PS3 and 360 I constantly worry about how much space I have and what I will have to give up access too.

That little discussion in my head has killed 90 percent of my impulses to buy. Just last night I decided against Ultimate Paradise for the PS3 because of this. Sony lost out on my $29.99 and I have $50 in my wallet, but I didn't want to part with any of my previously downloaded games, because I just downloaded the Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta and my hard drive is pretty much full. And I have an 80GB drive.

So how much drive space should be present? Nobody likes to take the time to delete and re-download. What is the solution? And don't say OnLive!

Kouga Saejima
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"with the camera imbedded in the console itself"

this has to be one of the stupidest things I have read on the internet.

And where should we put the console to recognise our faces and motions correctly?

On a flat TV? Yeah right.

Kevin Fauteux
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Steve - "I agree dispensing with discs in nessary too." "Nobody likes to take the time to delete and re-download. What is the solution?"

I'm not 100% sure if you meant "Disposing of discs is necessary" or "Distributing with discs is necessary". However, in regards to the fact that nobody wants to delete items from their drive to make room for a new download, I believe that until we have massive HDDs, disc based distribution will still be the main form of game purchases. No need to worry about how much room you have available, the time it take to download/re-download, etc. As far as I'm aware, for the most part, a disc is cheaper than an HDD anyway, which means the hardware doesn't have to be more expensive, just look at what the 16GB SSD did to the price of the PSP Go.

Eddie Vertigo
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All these discussions make me realize we're all at the beginning of something that won't be fully realized right away. It's like when automobiles first came about; people were convinced they would never replace horses, then people were convinced you couldn't improve upon the core model. Then came rubber tires, then rubber tires filled with air, etcetera. We're dealing with a new and exciting form of video game technology that's still in its infancy, and that's saying something!

Christopher Plummer
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Kouga have you seen the size of the Natal camera? It's pretty big. And at that size it might as well be the front plate of a slimmed down console. And the next eyeToy will probably have to be bigger as well to provide a decent lighting solution for more people's homes.

Kouga Saejima
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@ Christopher

Have you seen the size of the X360 and the PS3? It's pretty big. With built-in cameras they would be even bigger. And now again where and how are we supposed to place the consoles in an adequate position to use it's functions properly? Considering how people place their consoles on various places a built-in camera would be a total misconception.

Amir Sharar
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Steve Roger said: "This motion technology has to be implemented in a new console to make it relevant."

I'm not saying that you're wrong, but it's interesting to see how Guitar Hero has, like the Wii, been a part of making gaming more accessible to others, and bringing in "non-gamers". And it is something that wasn't "implemented with a new console".

It is important to package experiences into retail friendly SKUs. Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band have entire band sets, and similarly Microsoft may see it in their best interest to include Natal with all new hardware.

Because MS has been successful in redefining their console through software (look at the NXE upgrade)...I think they will have a change and introducing this mid-generation and implement it as part of the 360 experience. The demo where the user stood in front of the camera, and it automatically signed into the correct profile, tells me that they are keen in doing this.

Sony on the other hand, I'm not sure if they are ready to pack this in with their console. For the 360, it can be an extremely user friendly interface for not only games, but movies and music as well (as it can rely on voice commands). We've seen MS venture into a similar market with Sync (implemented in many new Ford vehicles). It would really compliment the 360 experience. But Sony...I can't imagine them wanting their users to use motion controls to get around the XMB, or play movies, or play music.

I can't comment on which technology will be ultimately the best and most adopted (though I think Sony has something really technically solid, and they have the talent to make great 1st party games for it)...that largely relies on games. But I can say that MS is in a position to leverage the current Xbox experience (whether it's games, movies, or music) with their camera and it would make sense to include it with the 360. I mean, I'm sure people wouldn't mind a voice activated DVD player.

An Dang
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With Sony's motion sensing wand, a lot of Wii games can be ported fairly easily, I think. That is key; it kind of makes up for the Cell being difficult to program for, since casual games don't require too much power, these Wii games should have no problem being tossed onto the PS3. Since Natal has no remote to point and click with, porting or multiplatform developing with motion sensing in mind going to be a bit more difficult.

Phil Ledru
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I totally agree with Kouga Saejima. For those who might have a doubt, do you really think everyone puts consoles or DVD players or receivers vertically above/under their TV set? Would you impose that to consumers as a manufacturer?

I personaly have those on the far side of the living room. Any built-in camera would just see my left profile. Check the market: cameras are *never* built-in *but* on screens and phones. That's because you must actually face those devices to use them, which does not and cannot apply to consoles or tower-PCs... It's all about house ergonomy. Nintendo's solution is the best: light-weight (sits on flat TV), long cord. Ok, make the camera wireless and you're done improving its connections.

An Dang definitely has a point, too. A Wii port on PS3 w/ new eye toy would actually work only on x and y axis, forgetting the z that is specific to the new Eye Toy thing.

As for upcoming marketing stances, I think the point of both MS and Sony is to widen their audiences and that means diversifying the offer, including controlling devices today. Bundling EyeToy2 or Natal with the console is mandatory if they are to ever succeed, but I hope they'll still offer "just the machine and a regular controller". My opinion is Sony will, MS might not.

As for PS4 and 720? Sure they'll come one day maybe. Does MS need a 720 for Natal? no. Does Sony need a PS4 for its new Eye Toy? no. So why in the world would they go through the trouble of rushing billions of development just to sell a working accessory? In the game industry you don't wait for next gen, you downgrade whatever game/accessory you're making so it can be sold asap. Especially since the current cycle barely started its casual phase hasn't even really kicked off for PS4 yet.

Finally, I think Edward Vertigo has the right vision. This is just the beginning.

Interfaces never evolved until the Wii, that's just a few years ago. The PC will see just the same evolution when someone comes up with better than the mouse/keyboard combo. Honestly, replacing the keyboard with a gaming-oriented key-thing (with an ergonomic WASD/cross-button, relevantly placed action buttons since 1-9 is just a pure joke to console players, etc.) I'm actually surprised such a device didn't make it to the mass-market yet. Anyhow, an EyeToy/Natal-like for PC is just a few years away imo. 720 and PS4 should have already improved versions of those. Perhaps mixing Eye-Toy with Natal is the best: body recognition + handheld device to confirm/feedback infos and allow the triggering of a button. Has it been said you can't use a light gun with Natal?

steve roger
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@Amir Sharar

Thanks for the clarification. From a marketing standpoint Guitar Hero peripherals worked. Just like Joysticks and racing wheels work for flying and racing games. Now days if a person thinks about a music based game they almost universally think if the guitar controller. I am stating the obvisious when I point that the reason the guitar peripheral sells so well is because of Guitar Hero. The game made the controller relevant.

So far that is what is missing in Microsoft's strategy for motion control. Can you tell me any games that define this controller?

Others have stated that the only successful way to market the motion controller is to pack it into a game. I agree, because that is all they can do now along with selling it stand alone.

And my point was just that if you want to make a peripheral relevant to the customer the best way is to sell it with the system and with console. Otherwise the peripheral is just an option.

When Microsoft talks about the motion control the press seems to act like it is integral to the system. I am suggesting that is not really possible unless there is a game that defines it as absolutely necessary to enjoy it. Or better a game that unifies the console and controller mechanism.

While I so far think that motion control in the Wii has been a bust as for how it has been implemented overall with released games, I do think it was boon to the selling of the Wii itself. That is why I think that the motion control needs to be integrated into the next 360 either, as a bundle or a brand new console.

Imagine a campaign where you console is turned on by a snap of your fingers and then recognizes your face. Next you scroll through menus and with a flick of your wrist. Then you select a game with your voice by saying "Halo 3" and "Multiplayer." The screen relfects that you are in game with action.

Now that would be an effective use of this technology.

steve roger
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When I said the game recognizes your face above I meant to add that the console would say "Hello Gonzo."

If Gamasutra wants to you could integrate this edit into my above post. Thanks.

Christopher Plummer
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I was referring to future consoles, I wasn't talking about taking an XBOX 360 or PS3 and adding a camera to it.

With the move for TVs to slim down, wires to be reduced or altogether eliminated, and for consoles to usurp the cable box as the "center of the living room", I don't think it is unreasonable for consoles to house the camera. They will get smaller, because they will not be forced to use certain archaic components that currently require lots of space (HDDs, disc trays, etc...).

Where do you guys expect to put your Natal PS Eye, if you want it to track you properly? Everything shown by the manufacturers suggests that it needs to be above or under the TV to be used properly. If you aren't going to use the camera functionality then it doesn't matter where you put it, but if you are I think they've already imposed this on you to some degree based on the size and the connector used, and will continue to do this so that all customers get the intended experience.

Kouga Saejima
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Dear Christopher,

it simply doesn't make sense to build a camera or whatever into a home-console unless it is some kind of futuristic sonar tracking or scanning device. By building a motion tracking device into a home-console the consumer is forced to place the console at a certain position in relation to the TV screen, and not everyone has the same amount of place or setup. Again, unless it is a futuristic sonar tracking or scanning device that is able to track every movement in the room and doesn't care where it is placed it simply doesn't make sense.

steve roger
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I think it would be help for us to clarify what we mean about putting the motion control with the console. There is a big difference between building it into the actual box and just packing it in as a bundle along with a game, the latter of which I was intending to say.

Joseph Vasquez II
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Does either the NATAL or the PS3mote have a pointer solution? When I'm at a friend's house with both families kicking back on the couches watching a Photo Channel slideshow we use the Wiimote's DPD to point at things in the pictures/videos, to click on buttons, etc. If my friend buys a NATAL or PS3 thingy would one of us have to stand up and wave our hand (or lamp) around in order to do the same thing? I know they're both still early in development, but has either company mentioned a pointer solution yet?