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Will it Move you?

With the PlayStation Move officially dated and priced a couple weeks ago at E3, I find myself still wondering exactly who the product was designed for. The obvious answer would be everyone: core gamers, casual players, Wii owners and even non-gamers. Without an obvious, specific target audience, the Move runs the risk of not selling to anyone.

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Ever since the Move was announced last year it has appeared Sony was happy enough to bill the new control system as simply a ‘Wii HD’. Earlier in the year, Senior VP of Marketing and PlayStation Network, Peter Dille, said, “We like to think the migration path from the Wii household to the PlayStation 3 household is a pretty natural path.” At this point Sony seemed content to play it safe with their motion controller; after all, if it worked for Nintendo it could work for them too, right?

Over the course of E3, and the Game Developer’s Conference earlier in the year, Sony has shown off a number of titles that could theoretically appeal to these existing Wii households, highlighted by the motion sports knockoff Sports Champions. Along with that there were the obvious mini game collections, party titles and light gun games that have been synonymous with the Wii, but none of them have the charm of a Wii Sports – save for possibly EyePet. As much as people bought the Wii for the novelty of motion controls, or even the fad, Nintendo’s simple, elegant design philosophy cannot be overlooked as the driving force behind the console’s success. To put it bluntly, Sports Champions is to Wii Sports, as PlayStation Home is to Nintendo’s Miis. Both Home and Champions are adequate applications, but each feel lifeless when lined up next to Nintendo’s whimsical alternatives.

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I also think Sony greatly overestimates the Wii household’s desire to ‘upgrade’ and join the HD revolution. The mere fact these gamers bought a Wii over a PlayStation 3 – or an Xbox 360 for that matter – to begin with illustrates their apathy towards high end graphics and sound. Along the same thought, many of these same players are likely oblivious to the imprecision found with the stock WiiMote, which means the supposedly 1:1 nature of the PlayStation Move isn’t going to sway them.

On the other end of the spectrum we find the core gamers, many of whom hate the Wii blindly, doubting the entire concept of motion controls. Sony’s answer to these resistant players seems to consist almost exclusively of franchises we’ve all played – and enjoyed – with a controller: Killzone 3, SOCOM 4, Gran Turismo 5 and LittleBigPlanet 2; each of which will ship with Move support, but not require it. Or simply patch pre-existing titles such as Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. Implementing motion controls into existing properties is a dicey proposition; players who have followed the various series through multiple PlayStation formats are likely to resist a new control scheme. You can look at Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds as a viable example, it introduced Advanced Shot as an alternative control scheme to the classic HSG mechanics and appears to have been widely ignored. Players claim to like innovation, but they’re mostly happy to absorb the same core experiences time and time again from the franchises they love – Move support is a far more radical shake up than Advanced Shot.

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Sony isn’t completely oblivious to their current audience’s resistance to motion gaming and that is why the PlayStation Move won’t be required for all their new franchises. Obviously if it were a necessity they’d run the risk of alienating millions of Sony gamers the world over, but not going Move only has its own potential shortcomings. When SOCOM 4 was unveiled around GDC as the first ‘hardcore’ game to support the Move, developer Zipper commented that it had only taken them “a couple of days” to implement their motion controls; this raises a red flag. SOCOM 4 looks like the prototype for Sony’s first-party core game strategy in tandem with the Move: design the game you were intending on, but make sure it supports motion controls. This point was punctuated at the tail end of the E3 2010 Killzone 3 demonstration, when the presentation briefly teased full Move compatibility. I get the point of this strategy, by shipping their traditional ‘AAA’ core titles with full Move integration they are putting motion controlled games in core gamers’ hands, hoping they’ll be curious and buy a Move to see how it holds-up. The problem is these games are not being designed specifically with the PlayStation Move in mind. I’m not getting excited to play SOCOM 4 or Killzone 3 with a wand in hand; I’m simply excited to play SOCOM 4 and Killzone 3. Period.

The greatest hurdle the peripheral will have to overcome is its recently unveiled pricing structure, which is inhibitive to both PlayStation owners and potential adopters. The Move wand will come in three announced varieties: by itself for $49, with a PlayStation Eye and Sports Champions for $99, or bundled with a PlayStation 3, the Eye and Sports Champions for $399. Outside of those options you can also buy the optional – but preferable – Navigation sub-controller for an additional $29. This bundle and pricing structure isn’t conducive to either side of the market.

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For the existing PlayStation owners we’re catered to with the à la carte Move or the Sports Champions bundle, but neither holds much appeal. If you buy the Move on its own you still have to buy the PlayStation Eye separately, and if you buy the bundle you’re stuck with Sports Champions. Not having an alternative bundle for ‘core’ gamers, with either SOCOM 4 or Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, makes the purchase an incredibly hard sell. You’re getting into the $130 range just to get the required Move setup, along with a new game you might actually want to play.

As for those cherished Wii households, they’re looking at spending over $400 to upgrade to a ‘Wii HD’, or more clearly, the price of two Wiis. Sony has been touting its increased momentum ever since the release of the slim last fall, along with the price drop to $300, but once again they’ve pushed the price of admission far out of reach for many potential gamers. $400 is a lot of money, and if you’re really considering a PlayStation 3 to replace your Wii you’ll need the extra Moves, as well as sub-controllers, or DualShock 3s, which remember, don’t come cheap.

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Although it’s still more than two and a half months until launch, the PlayStation Move already feels like an afterthought, rather than an initiative. The premier batch of titles don’t have the snappy mass market design that Nintendo has perfected, while the games for us, the gamers, are all places we’ve been several times before. To successfully launch a new accessory, or hardware, there needs to be a killer app, not only something that utilizes it, but defines it. If Sony really wanted to position the Move to succeed, Sorcery would ship day and date alongside it, and it would have been priced a whole lot more aggressively.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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