Smitten with Nintendo's motion-sensing Wii remote, which helped popularize interactive entertainment amongst mainstream audiences, its chief rivals are also launching gesture-tracking interfaces designed to help players literally get in the game.
But while Sony's wand-based PlayStation Move and Microsoft's controller-free Kinect promise a more user-friendly control system than traditional gamepads, they may, both literally and figuratively, rub audiences and game makers alike the wrong way.
Launching Sept. 17, the PlayStation Move, a wand-like remote tipped with a glowing ball, offers strikingly accurate on-screen precision when mimicking actions such as swiping swords or swinging bats.
Debuting on Nov. 4, the Kinect does it one better, eliminating handheld components entirely, using a gesture-tracking 3D camera to track natural movements, effectively making your body the controller.
Each provides a surprisingly satisfying hands-on experience. Each will launch with an array of simple, casual amusements ranging from virtual pets whose fur you pretend to stroke to motion-powered mini-game collections and sports simulations.
Unfortunately, each will also run you roughly $300-$400 (the cost of the individual accessories plus a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 system) to enjoy, and the last I checked, there's nothing casual or nonchalant about that.
Likely to sell to existing PS3 and Xbox 360 owners more than newcomers, it's surprising that there isn't more traditional game software for these devices that's aimed at diehard enthusiasts.
Sony hopes to lead the charge with support for hardcore titles like military blaster SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals, platform-hopper cum game creation toolkit LittleBigPlanet 2 and trigger-mashing gunfight Killzone 3.
For now, Microsoft is leaving the battle to third party publishers such as UbiSoft and Konami with psychedelic shooter Child of Eden and arcade snowboarding challenge Adrenalin Misfits, respectively.
But while novelty value, brand loyalty and the thrill of being an early adopter can carry sales of the gadgets for a time, it's hard to see the fit between current customers and the present software selection. Sales may quickly taper off after an initial holiday run as a result.
While these add-ons will potentially help expand each system's audience, without any killer apps or must-have game offerings shipping immediately, it's hard to see the incentive for fans to upgrade en masse.
Present uses for these technologies are primitive, merely hinting at their potential, and with no existing user base, there's little financial incentive for game makers to double down on it or push the envelope.
Even if they didn't have to be concerned with already supporting dozens of platforms from the iPad to social networks, or building bigger games more akin to services than products, developers also face several fundamental challenges when working with these units.
Presently, few game designers know just what feats such hardware is capable of. Fewer still know how to take best advantage of it, as creating games designed for play in a 3D space is a completely different art than that of designing for 2D systems.