It’s been interesting to watch as Microsoft and Sony simply decided to copy Nintendo’s philosophy and execution of a ten-year console cycle, rather than come up with an entirely new strategy. Nintendo was slightly more sophisticated in execution, as they gave their technology an initial release as “GameCube,” then a secondary release of basically the same hardware with the addition of of a groundbreaking controller interface, as Wii, giving an effective 10-year life to the technology. In the current economic environment, it is probably best not to try to push another round of console hardware down user’s throats (especially at the price points they want to remain at), so, in this way MS and Sony are adapting the model, but it’s no great stretch. Microsoft’s Natal or Sony’s unnamed PS3 technology will probably form the Wii part of their respective cycles. Back in 2006, Sony was saying that PS3 would have a 10-year lifecycle, and at E3 this year Microsoft was saying the same thing of 360.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Natal and the Sony tech match up. Microsoft certainly has significantly larger user and developer bases. -And there is something inherently nifty about not having a controller in hand. The questions I have are whether this can really work well enough that a number of developers can make compelling quality gameplay reliably using it; and MS is not known for having a mastery of the human/computer interface, so how many annoying Microsoftian tweaks will be present, and how much will this impede usage. 360 has succeeded largely because it’s just a game computer connected to a television, and has successively enhanced its implementation of things on 360 that already exist in the broader computer game world.
Sony has been awful with marketing and business development throughout the life of the PS3, and it’s hard to assume that they’ll suddenly get a whole lot better. But I do believe they’re correct that a device in the user’s hand will allow more accurate tracking and gameplay. This would be useful both for core gamers and for casual gamers who actually golf/bowl/whatever, and care that the console experience accurately reflect their skill level. It makes a bit of sense as a next step beyond Wii, since Wii does have that weakness.
Overall, Microsoft and Sony are probably right to head in this direction, but somehow it only makes me more eager to see what Nintendo does next. And there’re getting to be an awful lot of things connected to my television, so who know’s what’ll actually be powering games by 2015.