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Motion-sensing game controllers explained

by Parm Mann on 27 July 2009, 16:45

Tags: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Sony (NYSE:SNE), Nintendo (TYO:7974), Xbox 360, PS3, Wii

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What’s wrong with a good ol’ joypad?

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the preferred method of input for the majority of games consoles continued to be the tried-and-trusted joypad. Despite the fact that joypads have remained as the de facto input standard for current-generation consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, they face an increasing threat from motion-sensing controllers.

It's worth noting that the technology for motion-sensed input has been available for many years, but the control method first showed signs of becoming mainstream in 2006 with the launch of the Nintendo Wii console.

Unlike rivals Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo opted to take a different approach to gaming and has since reaped the benefits. Its motion-sensing controller, dubbed the Wii Remote and bundled with each Wii console, has become hugely popular with both new and existing gamers due to its pick-up-and-play nature. It is often cited as the primary reason for the Nintendo Wii’s prominent lead as this generation’s biggest-selling games console, having sold over 50 million units.

What’s the appeal?

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a joypad – and we all still love a bit of button-mashing – the general consensus is that joypads are primarily accessible to users familiar with gaming. With profits in mind, the goal for the likes of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony is to get everyone and anyone gaming.

A motion-sensing controller, therefore, is better suited to gamers of all ages, and, as the Wii Remote has shown during its first few years on the market, there’s plenty of appeal for those who’ve never gamed before. With Nintendo capturing a massive market of ‘casual’ gamers, both Microsoft and Sony – whose current-generation consoles have largely targeted hardcore users – are hoping to one day claim their slice of the casual-gaming pie. How will they do it? Well, the plan is to follow in the footsteps of Nintendo with motion-sensing devices of their own – only, with a twist.

In June 2009, at a major annual games conference, both Microsoft and Sony unveiled upcoming motion-sensing devices that are expected to make their debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, respectively, in 2010.

So, let’s take a look at all three offerings, finding out how they work, and what they offer.