Vol. 5 Num 694 Sat. May 13, 2006  

Game controllers steal next-gen console spotlight

Once considered an after-thought to eye-popping video game graphics, console hand controllers commanded center stage this week at the game industry's annual expo and opened the door for a new age of interactive gaming.

Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s (7974.OS) Wii console and Sony Corp.'s (6758.T) PlayStation 3 will come to market later this year with new motion-sensitive controllers, allowing a player to swing and tilt a controller to trigger on-screen action.

"The innovation in controllers is what I would view as one of the most important changes in the video game industry," said Robert Kotick, chief executive of U.S. video game publisher Activision Inc.

Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 game console came to market last November, delivering high-definition graphics and online game play but without a motion-sensing controller.

Nintendo's Wii controller, shaped like a TV remote control, allows a player to smash serves and hit topspin forehands in a virtual tennis match with a built-in speaker in the controller to offer both the vibration and sound of hitting the ball.

A player can use one controller or two in order to fend off an enemy with nunchucks or act like a symphony conductor by waving the controller to alter the pace of music.

Sony's PS3 controller, similar in size and shape to that of the PlayStation 2, employs a six-way sensing system to capture motion, but some analysts said the sensor technology did not appear as sophisticated as that of the Wii.

"It was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction in response to Nintendo's controller," said Michael Goodman, analyst at the Yankee Group.

The new controllers could unleash the creativity of game developers and provide Nintendo and Sony with the ammunition to cut into the early advantage of Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 game console, industry watchers said.

"Many developers will opt to make games for the PS3 and the Wii and will not make the same game for the Xbox 360, giving Sony and Nintendo a content advantage over Microsoft," Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a note to clients.

Microsoft, which aims to have 10 million Xbox 360 consoles in the market before Sony and Nintendo debuts, offers a wireless Xbox 360 controller that is lighter than the one for the original Xbox.

Company executives said it sold a similar motion-sensing controller in the past, but there were not many software titles to support it.

"If somebody is telling me that they won't develop for a 10 million installed base ... then they don't understand the business economics of this industry," said Peter Moore, the head of Microsoft's game business.

Activision's Kotick said the new controllers may spur someone who owns more than one console to buy the same game for different machines, because the game play for each platform will be so unique.