Steven Spielberg introduced it. It has its own YouTube page. And yes, it even made it onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. So what exactly is Microsoft’s “go to market” strategy with Project Natal? It’s a question worth considering, since I’ve never seen such a large consumer media push for a tech demo with no firm release date, price or even a final name. If my sources are to be believed, the hardware behind Natal isn’t even final, and a release probably won’t happen until late 2010 at the earliest. Or will it come sooner?
There are certainly elements to Natal that don’t add up for me. Why would Xbox aggressively build equity in the “Project Natal” name unless it plans to actually use it at launch? There’s also the photo of the Natal sensor. In its final form it will supposedly be all black, which definitely clashes with the 360’s white color scheme for Arcade and Pro units (the target market for Natal). In addition, why would Xbox spend so much time talking about a “controller free gaming platform,” only to say you first need to buy an Xbox with a controller and then purchase Natal on top of it? That’s not the way to court the Wii consumer. (And let’s face it — Natal is a directly response to the Wii).
Here’s one theory: In 2010 Xbox will launch a “new” re-branded console at $199 that includes the Natal sensor in the box, a new and simplier Xbox dashboard interface, and is aimed at directly competing with the Wii. Perhaps the rumored “Xbox Fluid” code-name will be used, and “Fluid” will be a slimmed down Xbox 360 arcade unit with Natal packed into the box. (The big question: Will it include a controller in the box or not?) Of course Microsoft will still make the Natal camera available for existing 360s, but the consumer push will be focused on converting the Wii audience to this “new” console.
At least I hope that’s Microsoft’s strategy. Convincing new consumers to buy a 360 and then purchase Natal on top of it is a messy and complicated proposition — especially for Xbox, which has never quite nailed the platform marketing. The fact that Xbox is still using a “code name” for the platform makes me think they haven’t yet decided on a go to market strategy.
Meantime, what does Xbox do for the next 18 months to compete with the Wii? The E3 briefing lacked any new mainstream games like You’re In The Movies, Scene-It or even a new Viva Pinata, which makes me wonder what Xbox’s strategy is to court mainstream consumers through the holidays.