[As Sony's PlayStation Move launches this weekend, Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris gathers his thoughts about the debut of the PS3's motion control device, and the intuitiveness and needle-threading it requires to satisfy all parties.]
A little over a week ago, my wife fell asleep early when we were watching TV. I knew if I played Halo: Reach
, it would likely get too loud, wake her up and I’d be in the doghouse for the rest of the weekend, so I figured this would be a good time to do some testing with the new motion control device for the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Move.
I had just set things up and was turning the system on when she woke up. She looked over at me, got a confused look on her face and asked, "Are you holding a vibrator?"
When I stopped laughing, I started thinking. If someone who pays absolutely no attention to the inside jokes of the gaming community automatically leaps to that conclusion, the Move could be in for a rough time with the mainstream world.
Aesthetics matter – especially when you’re pursuing the general audience. This isn’t news to Sony, which wisely dumped the George Foreman grill design of the PlayStation 3 for the slimmer model last year. But it’s a lesson the company seems to have forgotten when they were in the design phase for Move.
I should clarify: I’m not trying to review Move here, though I've tried it and its launch titles. Better minds will tackle that task. Sony, though, has made it clear that it hopes to lure more casual gamers to the PS3 with the device. It’s an admirable goal that could be quite lucrative for the company - but some of the decisions it has made along the way are real head-scratchers.
Part of what has made the Wii so successful, beyond its introduction of a new way to play video games, is that the controller isn’t intimidating. It’s sleek, familiar and simple to understand – even for non-gamers.
Move, which takes pride in its inclusion of buttons, isn’t as intuitive – and that learning curve could frustrate some players and ultimately hurt future software sales. And having to calibrate the controller before every game is another step that’s bound to frustrate the mainstream player.
There is, of course, a school of thought that Move isn’t meant for casual audiences – but instead more for the “tween” gamer, someone who’s ready to graduate from the Wii’s antiquated graphics and often simplistic play to a high definition system. Take-Two CEO Ben Feder, in fact, discussed that Tuesday
at a Kaufman Bros L.P. Investor Conference.
"What Sony and Microsoft have really done with Kinect and Move -- especially Move, is provide a bridge for guys that are used to playing the Wii system with the wand and bringing them over to a HD system," he said.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that is Sony’s objective. If so, it still hasn’t given those people a particularly big incentive. Move’s pricing is steep – indicating Sony once again seems to be forgetting its missteps from earlier this generation. (PS3 sales only began to ramp up when the system’s price left the stratosphere.)
For people to get the complete Move controller set, which consists of the primary Move device, the navigation controller and a camera, they’ll have to spend $130. If two people wish to play cooperatively on the same machine, the price increases by another $50-$80. That’s not much incentive for current PS3 owners to pick one up – never mind the $400 bundle (plus another $30 for that navigation controller) for folks who don’t own the system.
With Kinect, Microsoft has never hidden the fact that it’s trying to extend the lifecycle of the Xbox 360 by several years. Sony has shied away from being that direct, but given the costs that went into developing the PS3 (and its mantra that PlayStation consoles have a 10 year life cycle), its goals are likely similar.
To achieve that, both companies desperately need the mainstream world to buy into these new controllers. Yet, both face some notable hurdles out of the gate. Kinect’s controlling mechanism is unusual enough that it has a curiosity factor, if not buzz. Move, though, has been rightly called derivative – and that’s going to make things even harder for Sony.
Hard doesn’t mean impossible, of course. Sony, if nothing else, has always taken a long-term view, which has served it well. Hopefully, the games it still has up its sleeve for Move will make the device more compelling. And hopefully, the majority of the buying public will think of something other than a sex toy when they see it for the first time.
Just to be safe, though, the design team that did the system’s successful makeover might want to start working on some early sketches for Move 2.0.