Cheats and Walkthroughs
There's plenty we don't know about Microsoft and Sony's specific roll out plans for Project Natal and whatever Sony ends up calling their motion technology, but both are saying they're crucial developments. No matter how impressive their respective technologies, even if there are must-have games designed from the ground-up to best demonstrate their strengths, there's one thing I know for sure: if both companies aggressively fail to bundle their motion hardware to the point that every user would eventually have one no matter what, it's destined to fail in mainstream acceptance.
The biggest takeaways from what Nintendo's accomplished in the last few years can be derived from an artfully delivered combination of excellent brand management (see: the evergreen sales of games like New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart Wii) and correctly understanding what it takes for consumers to adopt something brand new by making sure it's in their hands from day one.
Accessories are called accessories for a reason: they're optional. The Wiimote was not an option; it was the cornerstone of Nintendo's new philosophy on gaming. There were concessions made for the status quo, like the nunchuck and its analog stick, but the Wiimote caught people's attention and the reason it achieved such sharp penetration as a control device is because it's in every Wii sold since 2006.
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched before Wii changed things. It's too late to go back and change the past and it's too early to launch a brand-new piece of hardware, which is why each company is scrambling for a way to execute this game changer in the middle of a hardware generation. Something on this scale simply hasn't been done before, which is why both companies face such an uphill battle, one I don't suspect they can win unless each company is willing to spill blood and lose money to ensure their devices are in consumers' hands.
If they want these things to truly take off, these add-ons should essentially be free. They should be bundled in with every game that takes advantage of them in the early going, just as Nintendo's in the midst of executing with its own games and third-party releases for MotionPlus. If Nintendo has trouble convincing Wii owners to make an upgrade, that's bad news for everyone else. Considering the relatively poor sales of Punch-Out!! this month, maybe Nintendo doesn't know their audience as well as they think they do. Then again, if any company deserves the benefit of the doubt, it's Nintendo.
Nintendo's failed at this before (remember GameCube to Game Boy connectivity?), but it didn't matter; back then, accessories were treated strictly as described -- accessories, not platforms. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are claiming motion technologies are the key to their futures. Nintendo has nothing to prove on that front, whereas its competition has everything to both prove and lose. Sony's said their motion technology is "one of the essentials" to succeeding with their proposed 10-year lifecycle for PlayStation 3. Microsoft has described Project Natal's launch as an event that will rival, if not exceed, the launch of Xbox 360. But no one's willing to go on record -- at least not yet, anyway -- and say "it'll be packed in."
If Microsoft is serious about their promises to market Project Natal like a hardware launch, they're on a path re-brand Xbox 360 as a platform. Instead of launching a new piece of hardware, they mix up the feature set, redesign the look of the device and voila, it's like a brand-new console -- but not. Microsoft wouldn't need to upgrade graphics, just change perception. That's where Nintendo succeeded with Wii. Two GameCubes duct-taped together isn't an insult, it's a compliment. Changing the public perception would even allow them to say "look, this is the new face of Xbox, but you can purchase this as an accessory, if you still want to jump on board." Will the launch of Project Natal mark the moment Microsoft makes a serious move away from the hardcore, as Nintendo has transitionally done since the launch of Wii? Assuming it succeeds.
The above rambling can be distilled thus: if Microsoft and Sony treat this technology like accessories of the past and not platforms of the present (i.e. look at Wii Fit), each of their respective efforts will ultimately fizzle out. Is either company willing to go all the way and risk alienating the base they have now?
Let me know in the comments -- I'll be watching. Or e-mail me.