Gaming 2010: No New Consoles, but Plenty of Tech Advances

While the video game industry has its share of problems, complacency is not one of them. Innovations roll out at a staggering pace—which is part of the reason gaming can be such an expensive hobby.

Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, a gesture-recognition controller – a camera that is able to detect subtle movements and sounds from players.
Source: Microsoft
Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, a gesture-recognition controller – a camera that is able to detect subtle movements and sounds from players.

Generally, the life cycle of a game console goes something like this: After a splashy launch, the system will spend roughly five years in the spotlight, followed by another three to five years living in the shadow of the next generation. But for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii, the spotlight will keep shining for the next several years.

That doesn’t mean Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are sitting on their hands. Each of the major console manufacturers has new technologyon display at this year’s E3, the gaming industry’s trade show. And Sony and Microsoft, at least, plan to have their products on the market within the next six months.

For those two companies, the big steps are something of a catch-up move with Nintendo. The Wii (and its motion-sensor controller) has stolen audience share from both companies. And both are hoping to win some of that back with Kinect (aka Project Natal) and the PlayStation Move controller.

The moves are gambles, but both companies have the benefit of having watched Nintendo—letting them learn from its mistakes. Sony, whose controller more closely resembles the Wii’s, for instance, has specifically told its publishing partners that if a game flopped on the Wii, they’re not interested in it on the PS3.

Beyond Motion Control

This year's advances go far beyond motion control, of course. Just as stereoscopic 3D is pushing its way into television, it’s a growing force in the gaming world. (Pictures of these products are included in this slideshow.)

Nintendo is taking the most visible role in the movement with the 3DS, a handheld gaming system that shows games in lifelike 3D without the need for special glasses. But it’s hardly alone. Several publishers, including Electronic Arts have 3D games on display at the show. And Sony last week released a four-pack of 3D games for the PS3. (The hitch, though, is you’ll need to own a 3D TV to see the effects.)

Even something as seemingly simple as how people get their games is in the midst of an evolution. Digital downloads continue to gain popularity among players. Activision Blizzard , for instance, saw 2.5 million people pay $15 for a downloadable add on to “Modern Warfare 2” in just one week in April—a $37.5 million haul. And the company made over $2 million in just four hours by putting a virtual pet up for sale in “World of Warcraft” that same month.

Moving this concept forward, OnLive hopes to bring cloud computing to the gaming world, letting people play graphically maxed-out games on virtually any computer—no matter how underpowered it might be.

Peripherals, meanwhile, continue to change how people play games. Five years ago, a game that required something other than the standard controller to play was scoffed at. Then “Guitar Hero” hit the scene, and the industry never looked back.

Today, balance pads (like those found in “Wii Fit” and “Tony Hawk: Ride”) are considered standard equipment. And “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” games ship with full—albeit plastic—instrument kits (including a keyboard in the upcoming “Rock Band 3”).

Over the coming months, the industry will roll out new products tied to games that range from monitor the flow of oxygen in your blood to letting you control onscreen action purely with the power of your mind.

Kind of makes you wonder how far away we are from holographic gaming, doesn’t it?