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E3: Nintendo adds pulse sensor to Wii, tells players to relax

June 2, 2009 |  2:02 pm

Nintendo, which has not been shy about telling players to lose weight, this morning unveiled a pulse sensor for its Wii console that would tell players to take it easy.

Vitality sensor2
The Vitality Sensor can detect your pulse rate, possibly encouraging a new focus for video gaming. Credit: Nintendo

Called the Wii Vitality Sensor, the gizmo clips to your index finger and feeds your pulse into games. While Nintendo did not show games incorporating the sensor, the company's president, Satoru Iwata, said it could be used to encourage people to relax.

"With the sensor, we can tell whether you are breathing in or out. We can tell how nervous you are," Iwata said in an interview. "It can create an entirely new way to think about video games."

So instead of heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled action games, there could be titles that could challenge players to keep their cool.

Nintendo triggered a revolt against the traditional game controller with its byzantine array of buttons and joysticks in 2006 when it launched the Wii console, which uses a simple, wireless candy-bar-sized remote controller that senses motion. A year later, it launched Wii Fit, a fitness game that came with a device resembling a bathroom scale called the Balance Board that senses weight.

Nintendo plans to release the Vitality Sensor next year, along with games to show off its capabilities, Iwata said.

The announcement is part of Nintendo's strategy to ...

... push video games into mainstream audiences. The company has sold more than 50 million Wii consoles worldwide, compared with 30 million Xbox 360s and 22 million PlayStation 3s. Many of those who bought the Wii -- seniors and women -- don't fit the stereotypical gamer demographic of young, tech-obsessed males.

But some have questioned whether Nintendo is tapped out of new customers. Iwata disputed the notion, saying Nintendo's internal surveys show that there are 149 million people in the U.S., Europe and Japan who don't currently play games but "might." The survey also estimates that 295 million people "actively play games."

"For every two people playing, there is another person who is not but might," Iwata said at the news conference. "We still have a long way to go to expand our gaming population."

While the company has focused on reaching out to newcomers, it has struggled to keep its core audience of advanced players happy.

Metroid
Nintendo will be releasing Metroid: Other M to appeal to its core advanced gaming audience. Credit: Nintendo

"Nintendo delivered a suite of compelling games, including some for core gamers, but nothing that raised eyebrows," said Scott Steinberg, publisher of DigitalTrends, game and technology review website. "But Nintendo is not playing the same game as the rest of the industry. They're attempting to bridge the hard- core player with the reticent gamer."

For the avid player, Nintendo showed off several titles with edgy themes, including The Conduit, a fast-paced shooter from Sega; Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, a horror title from Capcom; Dead Space Extraction, an action game from Electronic Arts; and Metroid: Other M, an installment of Nintendo's popular action-shooter franchise that's being co-developed with Team Ninja.

Whether those titles will sell better than Take-Two Interactive's Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is an open question. The GTA title met with disappointing sales when it launched in March for Nintendo's DS hand-held console.

But Iwata said the title continued to sell in recent weeks rather than dropping off a cliff, as many games do within a few weeks of launching. "It's too premature to conclude that Chinatown Wars did not succeed," Iwata said. "This question should be asked a year from now."

-- Alex Pham


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