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Sony, Microsoft readying motion-based game controls

The Nintendo Wii captured the attention of not only gamers when it was released, but also audiences that haven’t traditionally played video games.

The Wii’s popularity soared following its release in 2006, mostly thanks to an innovative and interactive take on gaming. Nintendo returned to a formula that had worked on a smaller scale decades earlier with the Power Glove and the Power Pad.

Rather than targeting a few games, the Wii’s motion-sensitive controllers made every game interactive. That resonated with segments of the population who weren’t traditionally active gamers, like seniors and females.

Rival gaming companies, however, weren’t going to wait long before releasing their own motion-based gaming peripherals.

Microsoft and Sony will both release motion-sensing game controllers later this year to attempt to steal away some of Nintendo’s market share.

Sony plans to unveil PlayStation Move during the holiday season. The Move controllers resemble the Wii’s setup, with one controller similar to the Wii Remote and another optional one that is similar to the Wii Nunchuk.

Microsoft’s peripheral — named Project Natal — works a little differently. Project Natal will include a camera-like apparatus that senses movement and speech. If it works correctly, then Project Natal would be like a Wii without controllers.

Given the two new competitors in the field, Project Natal has the most promise because of its goal to produce controller-free gaming. That concept should work great for fitness games and games similar to “Wii Play.”

The biggest concern I have with both is the potential alienation of the loyal gaming base. From a business perspective, it makes sense to target new gamers with Wii-like add-ons. If either the Move or Project Natal hits big, then either Sony or Microsoft or both have added a new revenue stream and a new band of followers.

But many older gamers aren’t excited about the gimmicky additions. They just want to play solid games. Until now, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners haven’t worried about developers ditching their lucrative franchises to develop motion-based games. That will now be a concern as numerous developers have already spent time and money on developing games with the new technology.

Developers should embrace the new peripherals and should attempt to push the boundaries that the Wii has set. But they also shouldn’t forget the gamers who supported them for years, and they must continue to produce the high quality of games that longtime gamers are accustomed to playing.

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