Microsoft’s Natal game system in stores this year

Microsoft plans to get its Natal body-gesturing gaming system into stores in time for this year’s holiday shopping season, hoping to boost sales of its Xbox console and associated games.

Natal, which lets gamers control on-screen movements with hand gestures and voice commands, without a handheld device, is the software giant’s counter to Nintendo’s hugely successful Wii.

“Wii was an important innovation, it was a part step. Natal is a giant step,” said Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices unit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to change the [gaming] experience in a pretty fundamental way,” Bach told Reuters in an interview. “It’s an accelerant in the business, because it will create new experiences for everyone.”

The Wii, which went on sale in 2006, also employs motion-sensing technology. But players wield a controller — a device that doubles as everything from a tennis racket to a steering wheel.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console is now a distant runner-up to Nintendo’s wildly popular gaming platform. Bach is hoping the controller-less Natal system will draw in new audiences, including older generations — not currently a big market for gaming products.

Natal will require new hardware, essentially a motion-sensing camera, but will work with existing Xbox 360 consoles. Bach did not give pricing for the new system.

The company is also pushing growth of Xbox Live, which lets remote users play against each other and access Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and other web services.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 sold 820 000 units in November in the United States to the Wii’s 1,26-million. But the world’s largest software company hopes to bring the console into the centre of the living room, transforming it into more than just a gaming box.

Bach laughed at the suggestion his unit will develop a “Zune phone” based on its well-reviewed but still unpopular digital music player.

“We’re doing tons of work in the phone space,” Bach said. “But I’ve said consistently, we don’t have plans to do a Zune phone, and we don’t have plans to do Microsoft phones.” – Reuters

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