Immersive tech pulls players at E3 2010

The annual games bacchanalia otherwise known as E3 recently drew to a close and despite the chaos of multi-story megabooths staffed by both the bizarrely and scantily clad, two important trends were easily identifiable. Here’s a quick overview of this year’s dominant themes.

Motion control

Imagine you’re playing a baseball game. Would you rather push a button that tells the pitcher to initiate a throwing motion or would you rather whip your arm forward and watch the player mimic your movement. Anybody who’s played a videogame in the last 30 years is familiar with the button paradigm; at E3 2010, the games industry was clearly intent on adding the more novel notion of physicality to the controller mix.

Microsoft officially introduced Kinect, the peripheral/system formerly known as Project Natal. Kinect is exciting because it removes the controller entirely and helps bring  motion control to the more general living room environment, where Microsoft has worked diligently to make the Xbox serve as a robust entertainment hub. Sony officially unveiled PlayStation Move, a dual controller scheme that appears to have great potential in bringing motion control to the hardcore gaming market. It was difficult to traverse the show floor’s maze-like demo corridors without either narrowly avoiding an errant swing of a gyroscopic stick or stopping to admire the wild gesticulation of someone learning to play without the customary joystick. However, the industry is very far from leaving its button mashing roots and the motion control trend won’t kill off the directional pad anytime soon.

Of course, none of this is news to Nintendo, which arguably established the motion control trend with the Wii. This year’s motion control trend is not as much the sudden manifestation of industry-wide innovation, as it is the inevitable competitive next step against what Nintendo unveiled several years ago. Considering the number of Wii’s sold worldwide is almost more than the number of Xbox’s and PlayStations combined, Microsoft and Sony can clearly see motion control as a necessary next step in narrowing the number of boxes sold.

While Sony and Microsoft were (literally) jumping up and down regarding motion control, Nintendo once again stood apart by doing something different.  Nintendo’s big story was its 3DS, the next generation in its extremely successful line of handheld products. The obvious differentiation in this new version is the addition of a 3D screen.

What made the 3DS unique among some of the other 3D demos at the event was that the 3DS creates depth without the use of glasses. Gaming is commonly seen as one of the forces that will eventually drive greater adoption of in-home 3D technologies. Sony has already updated the PlayStation with a recent console update. However, the need for accompanying glasses is one of the great hurdles that 3D device manufacturers will need to overcome.

Few games have been developed for the 3DS and it’s not clear how passionate consumers will be about the handheld’s 3D capabilities, but early indications are that the company may once again have changed the game. With a history of high profile success and failures, it’s Nintendo’s repeated willingness to bring unconventional products to market that ultimately plays a vital role in helping push the market in interesting new directions.