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At E3, checking vital signs is key for console rivals

Nintendo unveils a new device to monitor the pulse of Wii users; Sony aims to raise gamers' blood pressure with exclusive titles.

June 03, 2009|Ben Fritz and Alex Pham

Reflecting their disparate positions in the video game industry, Sony on Tuesday tried to get gamers amped up while Nintendo told them to chill out.

Red-hot game maker Nintendo unveiled a new device for its No. 1 Wii console called the Wii Vitality Sensor, which clips to players' index finger and feeds their pulse into games.

"Maybe everyone under pressure in our stressful society could use this as a way to relax with a video game," Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said during a news conference tied to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, video game conference in Los Angeles.

The Japanese company already has sold more than 50 million units of its Wii video game console. Its dominance gives it leeway to experiment with new technologies that could continue to expand its audience. Plenty of attendees didn't know what to make of the Vitality Sensor, which Iwata said would come out next year along with games designed for it.

"With the sensor, we can tell whether you are breathing in or out," Iwata said in an interview. "We can tell how nervous you are."

Many reacted with similar bewilderment at E3 two years ago when Nintendo unveiled its Balance Board, which has since driven the sale of 15 million units of Wii Fit, a health and weight loss title that has proved particularly popular with women who don't otherwise play video games.

In its own news conference Tuesday, experimentation wasn't at the top of the agenda for Sony, which has sold only 22 million units of its PlayStation 3.

By displaying a big lineup of exclusive titles, the struggling electronics manufacturer focused largely on the avid gamers whose loyalty it needs.

In addition to showing highly anticipated titles such as God of War III, Sony announced surprise partnerships for a new game from Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar and for Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV.

Many attendees gasped at the news that the latter game will launch only for PS3 in late 2010, because Final Fantasy XIII will come out that spring for Sony's console and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.

Exclusive titles for the PS3 or Xbox 360, which have similar capabilities, are increasingly rare in the industry and usually require a console maker to provide significant financial incentives to the game's publisher, either directly or in the form of marketing support.

Sony also unveiled several new games it is developing itself for the PlayStation 3 and hand-held PSP, including Mod Nation Racers, a driving game in which players can create cars and racetracks and share them online. The title is similar in spirit to last year's heavily hyped LittleBigPlanet, which also gave users tools to create their own video game levels but sold poorly.

"We intend to ensure that when you think about great gaming, you think about PlayStation," Sony Computer Entertainment America Chief Executive Jack Tretton said.

Neither company completely ceded turf to the other, however.

Nintendo announced a few new games targeted at avid gamers, including two that star industry icon Mario.

And as expected, Sony unveiled its own motion-sensing controller that is more precise than Nintendo's Wii-mote.

But it won't come out until next spring, by which time Nintendo will have upgraded the Wii-mote and Microsoft will probably be close to launching Project Natal, the hands-free camera controller it debuted Monday.


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