Motion Control. Never have two words filled gamers with so much dread. The Wii got it right, it was enforced from the start and attracted a new generation of people to put a console under their TV, but Nintendo spectacularly failed to capitialise on this and most ended up gathering dust. Now the replacement isn’t selling well and Nintendo really haven’t managed to come up with a compelling argument (i.e. a good enough games catalogue) to justify buying a new one.
I wonder how important the compulsory part of the deal is. Microsoft are certainly going with that, but although Kinect hasn’t flopped (24million sold earlier this year, more now so any normal person might actually call it a success) it’s never really caught on with us. It works well for things like exercise games, which are really more like apps than games, but I’m hard pressed to think of a single “proper” game that used it well. Add to that living room sizes outside of the US and even the new better camera with the One probably isn’t going to work with most living rooms. From what I’ve seen it’ll work with my living room now, but that’s no good for me as I’ve taken to playing all my games sitting at a desk so I don’t take up the TV. That makes Kinect dead on arrival for me even if the games aimed at me do arrive, and going by past history I find that highly unlikely.
Sony launched the PS3 with built in motion control, and it wasn’t very good. Not a single game managed to use tilting the controller in a meaningful way and even today games use it for meaningless gimmicks like having to shake the controller when The Last of Us decides to make you flashlight flicker. Be honest: how many of you who have played it saw the icon on screen, was confused for a bit and then thought “oh yes, I’d forgotten this controller has motion control” before deciding to ignore shaking it as the light fixes itself anyway?
Later on PS3 launched the PlayStation Move and I really do want to say it flopped. Sony went as far as saying it “had not lived up to their expectations” but it was deeply flawed from the word go. The PlayStation Eye that it needed in order to work had a big, very bright, red LED on it that was always on even when you were just watching a blu-ray, and that was annoying even before people started asking why there was a camera watching them all the time. Next there was the problem of having to buy so many bits, with the camera, wands and navigation controller. The problems continued with only being able to use one navigation controller, which limited the sort of things that games could do in the crucial “two people standing in front of the TV looking silly” market that Nintendo had so successfully created. In the end the thing that did it in was of course the lack of games, as is always the way. It turned out to be slightly more useful than Kinect for “real” games as you could control first person shooters with it, but that was always a gimmick and a controller always felt better.
Lastly we come to the PS4 and yet another form of motion control. The new controller has the light from the Move on the front of it and if you add a Sensor Bar (think smaller Kinect) it has some form of motion control that isn’t entirely defined. The gaming press is of course not exactly clambering for more details as they don’t care, which is a position shared by most gamers. Interestingly although the light is on every controller the sensor bar does not come with the console, a decision that it many believe resulted from Sony shaving some cost from the PS4 in order not to be as expensive as the Xbox One. I think the differences in reaction to the prices of the two consoles well and truly justifies that if it’s true.
I think that win comes at a cost, and the cost is that the motion control on the PS4 will flop. Unless Sony can come up with a compelling feature set beyond tracking controllers then people just won’t touch it, especially if compelling games don’t arrive. I have images of developers working on games that need it crying when Sony announced that it was no longer shipping in the box, but that probably isn’t true. The thing I find odd about the whole thing is Sony’s insistence that the light can be used for other things. Killzone shows your health, games can flash the light when you fire your gun to simulate muzzle flash. All of these things are on a light that you can’t see directly, and will just annoy you if it reflects in your TV. It’s like they are trying to justify having motion control without actually wanting to say it’s for motion control.
So where does that leave us? The Kinect will be the best selling full motion control system of the generation because you have no choice when you buy an Xbox, but the PS4 controller will be the best selling part of a motion control setup by far (it doesn’t have a removable battery so will die like the current one, and you’ll buy more than one controller anyway) so both will be able to claim meaningless victories. If there’s more than a couple of games that truly show off motion control on either system I’ll be shocked, and by the end of the generation we’ll all be wondering why our controller has a light on it, or why we need that camera that we’ve kept plugged in because the system needs it, but have put out of the way behind the TV where it can only barely see the wall through a covering of dust.