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Will motion controls reinvent gaming?

Microsoft's Kinect has a 3-D camera that makes your body the controller, eliminating the need for handheld hardware entirely.
Microsoft's Kinect has a 3-D camera that makes your body the controller, eliminating the need for handheld hardware entirely.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Microsoft and Sony are releasing motion-sensing gaming systems this fall
  • The Wii proved motion controls' power to extend video games' mainstream appeal
  • Despite systems' high price tags, both companies counting on appeal to casual enthusiasts
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Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. The creator and host of online video series Game Theory, he frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.

(CNN) -- Four years ago, Nintendo's gesture-tracking Wii system proved the power of motion controls to extend the mainstream appeal of video games.

Now Microsoft and Sony are readying their own motion-sensing solutions. But will these user interfaces be novel enough to move gaming fans en masse?

Launching September 17, ($99.99 starter bundle) the wand-like PlayStation Move claims to offer greater precision than the Wii remote when translating gamers' physical movements into on-screen actions.

Debuting November 4, Microsoft's Kinect system ($149.99 starter bundle), employs a 3-D camera that makes your body the controller and eliminates the need for handheld hardware.

Each aims to broaden the appeal of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively. But despite their high price tags (roughly $300-$400 total, including accessories), both are betting their chips on their appeal to casual gamers. Initial software offerings clearly reflect this sentiment, with a range of virtual pets, mini-game collections and sports-themed games.

It seems a strange fit, because their steep costs are likely to limit early sales largely to current system owners -- most of whom are die-hard gamers.

Sony hopes to bridge the gap by supporting traditional games, ranging from military shooter "SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals" to colorful platform-hopper "LittleBigPlanet 2." For now, Microsoft is mostly leaving third-party publishers such as Sega and UbiSoft to fight this battle instead.

On the bright side, both Move and Kinect deliver on user friendliness and accessibility in hands-on tests. But neither seems to offer any must-have titles or even anything that expands greatly on previously explored Wii game concepts, making it difficult to justify the upgrade.

Early game offerings hint at the hardware's grand possibilities. But with few reasons for shoppers to buy, beyond first-adopter bragging rights, there's also little incentive for software makers to raise the bar.

Developers need time to gauge these units' capabilities and come to grips with the vast differences between developing for 2-D and 3-D playing fields. As a result, we'll likely see games which offer only passing glimpses of these gizmos' potential for the next several months.

One also has to wonder why sales of the Wii and supporting game software are finally slowing.

Is consumer interest in motion-controlled gaming cooling? Is the novelty of gesture-tracking fading as developers struggle to invent novel applications?

Or does everyone who wants a Wii already own one?

Some observers even question whether exhausting yourself flailing around with so-called "active" games is really preferable to issuing commands by pressing buttons -- as evidenced by the thousands of Wii Balance Boards gathering dust in people's closets.

Of this fall's two big new offerings, it's Kinect that appears to offer the most potential -- but, curiously, not for its gaming features.

Microsoft's system also supports living-room videoconferencing and lets you browse menus and multimedia with spoken commands or a wave of the hand, which seems like a natural way to make everyday electronics more accessible to people.

So it's too early in the game to predict how either Move or Kinect will fare. But there's still reason to be thankful for both.

By delaying the release of new PlayStation or Xbox consoles, they're sparing us the cost and headaches of replacing our current hardware.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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