Project Fatal

E3 just ended with a lineup of some pee-your-pants-in-excitement game trailers (the new Metroid looks amazing!) and an unexpected hardware trailer from XBOX 360–Project Natal. I’ve included the trailer below:

As you watch you’ll notice that they have gone for the “Wii effect” with their marketing angle–diverse groups of gamers (hardcore/softcore, young/old, male/female) in a stunning living room that no one could possibly ever hope to own for themselves if they spend all their time only playing video games.

Still, let me start by saying, wow.

There’s a definite cool factor to this forward-thinking technology and the way they brought it to life in this demo. Not only does the concept appear seamless and intuitive, but it places XBOX 360’s strategic sights on the softcore gamer, a prized and broad demographic which has led to a major part of Nintendo’s recent success with the Wii. The attraction for the softcore gamer was the removal of the complex button configuration on the controller, replacing it with simple motion. And, in the case of Project Natal, eliminating the controller entirely means completely intuitive human interaction–in other words, anyone can play regardless of their gaming skill level.

Project Natal’s technology isn’t for everyone.

For instance, a more hardcore game like Halo would be hard-pressed to fit into this interaction properly. In-game camera angles would be an absolute nightmare let alone handling issues like reloading, gun switches, and on-screen movement. And, there’s always another reason Project Natal isn’t for everyone. Few gamers have a living room that size!

Wii had America swinging its limbs around, yes, but it was fairly contained movement. Based on XBOX 360’s demo it seems as though the player would be taking up a lot of space and perhaps ask for too much physical involvement–whoops, there goes the vase with grandma’s ashes (why did we even keep that near the game consoles?)

Those physical demands bring on an important consideration. Part of the fun in gaming is that you can go beyond your physical limits here in the real world. DDR is an example of a physically demanding game which did not turn away hardcore gamers. However, I don’t know what the reception would be for a Tony Hawk game which forced you to do every single kick flip in real-life. In other words, if you’re going to go that far with the movements in skateboarding, you might as well actually skateboard.

Then there’s the last issue–can they actually make this work? A demo with actors synching to pre-planned onscreen images is one thing, but executing the technology is an entirely different beast. Even Wii’s remote turned out wholly different than anyone expected. When we all played Zelda’s Twilight Princess, we thought we could actually hold the Wiimote like a sword and similarly slash the baddies. Nope. It took three years, but now WiiMotion Plus is the final addition to the controller that will make it work on an x, y, and z axis. It wasn’t until this peripheral release that the original sword slash intent could now come to fruition.

Let’s put the games on pause and touch on one last point that interested me as an advertiser: the shopping. The portion in the trailer where the girls compare outfits for a party is a look at the HSN of the future. Instead of traveling to the physical store you can spend time finding out what you like before hand while getting direct feedback from friends. This could prove especially useful for males who have been noted for their heavy preemptive research of products so that the physical shopping becomes a quick, get in and get out experience. This adds further potential for marketers as games used can also be indicative of interests. For example, a user with three skateboarding titles may be the perfect candidate for real products from skate companies involved with clothing or board designs.

Project Natal has definitely generated the excitement, but now it has some major overhaul to follow through. A successful execution will result with a fatal bite into Wii’s ownership of the softcore gaming market, however, a poor execution will only result in a fatal misstep of an investment for XBOX 360.

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