Project Natal for £30

Clever marketing or panic stations?

With news leaked that Microsoft’s Natal could go on sale in 2010 for as little as £30, is this a good or bad sign for the most hyped project in recent years?

Project Natal is expected to give the visibly aging Xbox 360 console a shot in the arm. With the 360 now in its fifth year, the age that most consoles get shown the door, the addition of Natal is hopefully going to extend the 360’s life for another 2-3 years. But with the recent news that Natal could be sold for as low as £30, does this cast a veil of doubt over Natal’s expected success?

According to the UK gaming site MCV, details have been leaked that Natal could go on sale in Q4 2010 for $50-$80. When you consider what a high-tech piece of kit Natal is, and the fact that it’s going to have 14 games built in, £30 sounds exceedingly cheap. Microsoft has said that the reason the price would be so low is that they want to market it as an impulse buy. This would make sense, as if it does come out in time for Christmas 2010 with a very merry price-tag, you’d suspect it to fly off the shelves faster than Tracy Island. Also, Sony is developing a similar item (albeit far less sophisticated), so Microsoft will have to compete for shelf space.

But is there another side to this story? Surely if they wanted to, Microsoft could sell Natal at anywhere from £100 upwards and still expect to sell out within the first week. And surely Natal is not a cheap item to manufacture, not to mention the countless hours of development time they’ve invested. Why would you sell what could be the most important piece of gaming technology for 25 years, at a low budget price? Maybe because, despite expectations, it’s not that good?

Having seen the video promos that have been available for months, with families playing games together without a single controller in sight, Natal looks like a phenomenon. Motion capture technology that can pick up even the slightest movement sounds like a fantastic concept, and while watching the video it’s hard not to get excited. But what if Natal is massively flawed, or it’s not even up to the standard of the Wii? It would explain the price drop, and since these details were leaked after Microsoft had numerous meetings with UK game publishers, it may be the case that Natal is not as good as expected.

We’ll have to wait another year till Natal can finally be accurately judged, and to be fair the information that has been leaked is still only a rumour. But this whole price-slashing story still seems a bit odd. To be honest, the concept that Natal could be released with 14 games as a cheap bundle, reminds me of Sega’s ill-fated Menecer light gun. Originally thought of to be a fantastic idea, and the future of gaming for the MegaDrive, it was in fact a total failure due to it being completely rubbish. Let’s hope Natal is not going to go this way, and end up on the scrap heap of failed ideas. It would be a massive shame, not only for the future of the Xbox 360, but also the future of gaming itself.

Scott Tierney

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