Sony's Computer Entertainment head Kazuo Hirai has been speaking to the media about his company's gaming plans, and one little nugget slipped out: The PS3 Motion Controller is due next year. Is Xbox 360 beginning to lose to the PS3?
As part of a longer interview, where Hirai noted the PS3 Slim is really intended to reinvigorate the platform and is on track for its 10-year success (as we predicted), he also said "we are slating [the PS3 Motion Controller] for spring of next year." That's the first time Sony's pinned a definite date on the arrival of its hotly-expected motion device, squashing some rumors, though it hinted at an early 2010 time at its launch. Hirai also noted that Sony's being cautious to ensure the device won't be delivered to the market without games content to make it attractive to consumers: "One of the things is that we just don't want to put out the controller. We need a great software that supports the controller at launch."
That all makes sense—the revamped PS3 slim, at a 25% lower price, will push sales of the console up (expectations of one analyst at NPD are for a 40% to 60% boost) and get the media and public excited about the PlayStation again in time for the Holiday Season. And then when that wave has died down in early 2010, Sony will re-inject life with a totally new and revolutionary gaming add-on. Clearly Sony's being careful with this plan, and Hirai notes that motion control may even have pre-empted Nintendo's development of the Wii—"It's something that we've been working on for the longest time" is how he put it.
All of which begs the obvious question—is Sony gently pulling ahead of Microsoft in the seventh-generation gaming console game? The revamped PS3 is stealing a lot of limelight, and leaves the Xbox 360 Elite temporarily as the most expensive console on sale (a price drop is imminent, and the announcement may have been delayed thanks to Sony's news). Recent media attention on the Xbox has also been less than favorable—the console's been reported as having a 50% hardware failure rate, and Microsoft's overly-PR response failed to deny that stat. When's the last time you laid down $400 on some device with a one in two expectation of its short-term demise? Pretty embarrassing for Microsoft.
And as far as Microsoft's own camera-based casual gaming motion controller goes, the company can't get its thinking straight. Sure, it touted the Project Natal device at last weeks GamesCon event in Germany, even letting reporters have a spin:
But there's conflicting information about how soon we can expect to buy it: Microsoft's own CEO Steve Ballmer played fast and loose with a suggestion that the system would be hitting in 2010. But that prompted the marketing chaps at Redmond to quickly issue a denial that a new Natal-based Xbox was on the way (as Ballmer appeared to be hinting)—the current console isn't "even halfway through" its lifespan and no date has been confirmed for Project Natal." In other words the CEO doesn't know what the real plans are, or his ideas conflict with those of the Xbox team... and we shouldn't expect an Xbox revamp any time soon, nor perhaps Project Natal.
Currently the Xbox has sold somewhere north of 30 million units over the best part of four years, while the PS3 has around 24 million units sold over three years—that's clearly a significant deficit for Sony to recoup...but it's not beyond the possible, especially since Sony really seems to have its development carefully planned. Looks like Sony's expensive but advanced-tech PS3 could even creep ahead in the Console Wars.