It’s a business trend I’ve really started to notice over the past few years: half-step technology. Is it really fair for developers and publishers to use their consumers as guinea pigs?
I define half-step technology as products that exist to acclimate a company to a new platform, a new piece of tech, or when said company is looking to branch out. Usually, you see these kinds of things pop up shortly after the launch of a new platform.
Half-step technology exists to justify a studio expending both financial and talent resources to the learning curve that comes with new tech advancements. Why spend a year learning the ins and outs of a new system or what have you at a loss, when at the end you can release a retail product, and recoup some of that investment.
As with most things, there are good and bad examples of this practice. When done correctly, you get stuff like DQH: Rocket Slime on the DS, and Wolfenstein RPG on the iPhone. Those are games designed to be quality, entertaining experiences for the consumer, and at the same time provide the training the developers will need for putting together their next fully-realized project for those platforms (DQ9 by Square, and something like 40 upcoming titles from id, apparently).
On the down-side (and the inspiration for this article), you have Microsoft’s Natal. Natal is a piece of half-step technology that clearly is only a stepping stone to the controls that will come bundled with the next iteration of the Xbox. It may provide some novelty, but with Microsoft knowing full well that they’ll be cutting their consumer base in half (or less, if Natal bombs), and only two years remaining in the 360’s shelf life, anyone who buys into Natal will end up being a glorified guinea pig. You’re going to teach Microsoft how to get it right the next time around.
Me personally? I think I’m going to sit Natal out. It would have to come priced at no more than sixty bucks, and be bundled with a title as appealing and long-lasting as Wii Sports for me to even consider a purchase. I don’t see either of those things being a possibility.
I’d love to be proven wrong though, Microsoft.