My initial response to Sony's press conference during the Game Developers Conference that revealed the first details on their motion controller, PlayStation Move, was simple: "oh, so it's Wii HD."
I can understand why, on its face, that might come across as an insult. There's an insinuation that Sony simply lifted what Nintendo's already pioneered with the Wii and brought it to a high-definition format. Sony would most likely dispute that assessment (see: EyeToy), but Sony's intentions mean less than what we're actually being presented with and to my eyes, that looks like a Wii HD.
Here's the thing, though. I think that's potentially a really good thing for developers, publishers and gamers. Sony has an opportunity to capture a market that Nintendo's failed miserably at, a market that many are convinced exists, yet Wii developers have consistently been unable to capitalize on:
I know. On Feedback, I've maligned Sony's current pitch for Move and hardcore gamers. Bringing out SOCOM 4 with grafted motion controls was a bad move I'm hopeful Sony can make up for in the coming months. We went through several years of painful motion growing pains on the Wii and Sony has only opened the floodgates to developers being able to "embrace" motion by slapping bare-bones interfaces onto their shooters.
How many times have we, as gamers, demanded there be more "hardcore" games on Wii? And how many times have excellent "hardcore" games been released on the Wii -- I'm looking at Capcom's Zach & Wiki, Sega's MadWorld, Konami's Silent Hill: Shattered Memories -- and then no one buys them? The people that do give these games a chance tend to enjoy them, but it doesn't translate into sales. The message that's being sent to publishers? "Please, stop making these games!" Based on what I've seen, that message seems to be sticking.
The takeaway, however, might be "don't make these games...for Wii." It's been an impossible question to answer whether failed hardcore-targeted games on the Wii would have been a success had they been released on a platform, ala Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, where that audience tends to embrace them more emphatically and migrate from game-to-game on a more regular basis. There's a reason the same handful of games are on the sales charts for Wii every month: those are the games that people tend to buy and still play on their Wii. That's not a problem we see as often on the other machines.
But just as Nintendo faces a perception problem with the Wii that's seemingly preventing them from allowing their third-parties to have commercial success with adult-oriented products on a platform with the largest userbase worldwide, Sony faces the opposite, but very daunting, problem. Move will have a consumer base used to rabid consumption of hardcore games but Sony needs to actually get Move into their hands. In general, peripherals are a hard sell. Move might be marketed as a PlayStation revolution, but unless Sony's willing to send free Moves to everyone who's purchased a PlayStation 3, the only way to guarantee Move's a universal success in terms of adoption, it's an accessory, an add-on -- something optional Sony needs to convince everyone "hey, you need this, too."
Being essentially Wii HD also means developers and publishers have another outlet for their projects. You don't have to rely on the notoriously picky and unpredictable Wii consumer to purchase your new motion-driven IP -- you also have the option of appealing to Move owners with different expectations.
The flip side is whether Move should be targeting hardcore gamers at all. Wii wasn't a success because the hardcore flocked; it was a success because of a different audience. That, however, is a wildly different argument, one that needs time to simmer and for Sony to show more of its hand.
Nintendo doesn't seem interested in Wii HD. Microsoft is ditching the controller entirely. I don't see any reason why Sony shouldn't be allowed to step in and give something we all said we wanted. Whether or not that ends up being a success is something we'll see start to unfold this fall. It'll be a wild ride.