EA Considered Doing Its Own Natal, Backs Sensible Motion GamingS

In an interview with Kotaku, the head of EA disclosed some of his company's experience and ideas involving Microsoft and Sony's motion tech, predicting that half of the market will eventually go to motion-control games.

On the final morning of E3, I sat at a closed bar with EA CEO John Riccitiello and learned that the renowned publisher of Madden, Rock Band and dozens of other hits had a shot at being the creator of Microsoft's Project Natal controller-free motion-gaming system.

But the Xbox 360-maker beat EA to it.

"We almost invested to create a platform extension like that for some of the games we're working on," Riccitiello said. "We're very pleased, frankly, that it showed up at Microsoft, because I'd rather them pay for that. They can leverage it better, and we can build software. But I felt the market wanted that technology and I'm glad it's coming."

Riccitiello was at ease during our interview with discussing both Natal and Sony's still-unnamed motion controller that also had its debut at E3 2009. Both projects involve technology EA has already touched.

Regarding Natal: "We were looking at a camera system. In fact we were looking at the camera system they ended up going with. That technology's pretty compelling. I don't think it applies to all genres of games. We thought packing it with some things we're working on in our studios, maybe sports and music, made a lot of sense."

Regarding the Sony tech, Riccitiello said, "I've been playing with that and it is cool. And we saw that two years ago. In fact, I think we introduced Sony to it."

Riccitiello, who is proud of EA's aggressive support of the Wii motion controller — and the MotionPlus add-on that debuts this week and is packaged with, not a Nintendo game but an EA one — is a believer in motion control. He embraces it but recognizes its limits.

"My guess is that where this ends up is: motion controllers end up with half the market. And the other half still ends up with a more traditional game controller."

Traditional controllers won't become extinct, he said. "I really don't know if you're going to want to play FIFA with a motion control device. First off, a 75-minute session would be frigging tiring, jumping all over the place. And frankly the traditional controller is pretty fun. I don't know where, for example, shooters end up, but the camera and/or infra-red reception doesn't give you the precision for a shooter that you get out of a traditional controller. While you can certainly look at Natal and say, yes I can have a gun and do this with it, I don't know that that's necessarily how I want to play."

The EA CEO characterizes the Sony and Microsoft technologies as "good stuff," devices that further the Nintendo Wii's emphasis on game accessibility and the joy of motion-based play.

What Riccitiello sees coming out of this isn't just a market half-full of motion games and half of traditional-controller games. He sees a new platform split resulting from the style of motion controllers each of the big three console-makers now boast:

"The industry, up until the Wii was introduced, was [such] that all genres worked on all platforms in sort of equal balance. There wasn't much difference. My suspicion is that what we're going to find is that different platforms will work better or worse — will get marketed better or worse — for a particular enterprise.

"I could make an argument that fitness will do really well for Natal.

"I could make an argument that 3D movement in space looks like it might be best done on the new Sony system. That brings to mind any number of interesting duck and cover game mechanics that could be fun. For what it's worth I'm not sure that anybody wants to play Splinter Cell and actually duck-and-cover as much as is involved in Splinter Cell, because it'd be like doing 700 squats."

Riccitiello said EA is working with dev kits and ready to move ahead. Specifically of the familiar Natal tech, he said, "We've been working on this kind of stuff before Microsoft had a commitment to this kind of stuff… we're relatively far down the path of understanding how the technology works."

EA's ready for a lot more motion gaming, recognizing its opportunities and where to draw the line.