Jan. 20, 2011 at 4:56 AM ET
Sony passed on using the technology behind the Kinect gaming device years ago, says an executive with the company. Yet despite the runaway success Microsoft's motion-control add-on has had during the past few months, he still thinks that was the right choice.
In fact, John Koller, director of hardware marking for Sony Computer Entertainment America, believes his company's competing motion controller — the PlayStation Move — is poised to offer something Kinect can't: motion-controlled gaming for hardcore players.
In the coming months, Sony will launch several big motion-controlled shooting and action games, along with a gun made especially to house the Move controller while playing shooters. And gun play is something Kinect doesn't offer ... at least not yet.
Sony's recently launched Move controllers are hand-held wand-shaped devices that work in conjunction with PlayStation Eye cameras and PlayStation 3 consoles to detect the movement of the player and translate that onto the screen. During an interview with msnbc.com, Koller said Sony has struggled to keep Move in stores, especially during the holidays.
"We basically sold out across the board. There were very few pockets of inventory," he said, though he declined to release updated sales numbers. "I can tell you that we've had a substantial and spectacular holiday ... As soon as we ship it in, it goes out the door."
Back in November, Sony announced that they had shipped 4.1 million Move devices to retail in the two months after it launched. But the competing Kinect device for the Xbox 360 — which uses no controller and instead reads the movements of the player's entire body — was a big hit during the holidays. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it had shipped 8 million Kinects during its first three months. (For more on the competing motion-gaming technologies, follow this link.)
The motion-sensing technology used to make Kinect what it is today is something Koller said Sony was shown four years ago.
"My group evaluated it. We decided not to go there, and there are a few reasons for it," he said. "The technology is very interesting so I don't want to say that it wasn't. But when you look at the types of games that can be played, it was somewhat limiting. And we talked to our developers and we ran it through our engineering group and a lot of them said, 'You're not going to be able to play a lot of the sports games that you want to do, and you're not going to be able to play the shooters and the action games.'"
Certainly, Kinect has hogged the gaming spotlight since it launched. It has not only drawn in people who didn't play games before, but has drawn intense interest from a hacking community who enjoys tweaking the gadget to do all kinds of unusual things. Still, Koller has a point.
So far Kinect games have been targeted at casual and family gamers. From "Kinectimals" to "Dance Central," there's little to no Kinect-controlled gaming that would fall into the hard-core shooting and action categories. And with Kinect not using any kind of hand-held controller, it's difficult to imagine how some of the tasks in the more complex action games could be accomplished with nothing but the waving of hands, arms and legs.
That doesn't mean it's impossible. If these folks can bring Kinect to "World of Warcraft" ... anything is possible. But Microsoft certainly hasn't made it clear what plan they have to bring Kinect to hardcore gaming. And Microsoft and other Kinect developers are going to have to find ways to diversify the Kinect-enabled game offerings and soon lest the device wear out its wow factor and start gathering dust. (I love "Dance Central" but you can only play that game for so long.)
Consider Nintendo's motion-controlled Wii. Yes, it has sold by the millions and inspired all this motion-control madness. But core gamers have also abandoned the machine in droves, aggravated by the lack of games that cater to their interests.
So far, Move owners have not only had access to plenty of casual and family games ("Sports Champions," "EyePet," "Start the Party") but have also already been able to put their gunning skills to the motion-control test with recently launched PS3 games like "The Shoot" and "Time Crisis: Razing Storm."
And Koller said that, in the coming months, Sony will be bringing out the big guns to show gamers just how very capable the Move controls are when it comes to stepping into the shooting and action genres.
Two big shooters slated to launch in the coming months — "Killzone 3" (launching Feb. 22) and "SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs" — can be played with Move controls. Players point the controller at the screen as if it were a gun and move it around to aim and shoot. Meanwhile, rumor has it that highly anticipated open-world action game "inFamous 2" will be Move enabled — though a developer from Sucker Punch who demonstrated the game for me said that has not been decided.
Koller said he believes core gamers — gamers who have been reticent about the whole motion-controlled gaming thing from the get-go — will actually prefer to use Move controls over the handheld controls they've traditionally used.
"PlayStation Move is very very accurate," he said. "So if you're looking at becoming that character in the game — that kind of Holy Grail of gaming — you can do that with PlayStation Move."
Msnbc games editor Todd Kenreck and I have both had a chance to play some early "Killzone 3" using Move and both certainly liked how it felt. Check out Todd's video here:
Meanwhile, to further show its love for core gamers (or at least offer them something to buy), Sony will begin selling the PlayStation Move Sharp Shooter in February — a plastic gun gadget designed to hold the Move controllers and make shooting games more realistic. Koller said this is only first of many such peripherals designed to be used with Move controllers coming down the line.
More plastic? I'm not so sure that sounds like a good thing. And whether core gamers move over en masse to Move for shooting games and the like remains to be seen. But Sony is making another play for hardcore gamers looking for immersive experiences ... with a little thing called 3-D.
Koller said that Move was the company's priority in 2010 but that 3-D gaming will become a more important pillar to their strategy in 2011.
"At the end of the holiday season we had a handful of games available in 3-D, probably five to seven games. But as we go into the back half of this year we will probably end up in the 25 to 30 range," he said, pointing out that many gamers they surveyed believe that playing in 3-D gives them a competitive edge.
In the next year, Sony will launch big name titles like "Uncharted 3," "Crysis 3," "Killzone 3" and "SOCOM 4" — all core action and shooting titles all in 3-D.
Of course, gamers need to own 3-D TVs for 3-D gaming to really take off. But Koller seems to believe it's a feeding cycle: the more 3-D games available, the more gamers will be willing to buy 3-D TVs.